UFC 209 is undoubtedly the biggest UFC event so far in 2017. The main event features a rematch between Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson after their UFC 205 welterweight title bout ended in a draw. The co-main is an MMA fan’s dream, as Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov square off for the interim lightweight belt.
The rest of the card features plenty of name value (Alistair Overeem, Rashad Evans) and intriguing prospects (Lando Vannata, Mirsad Bektic).
Tyron Woodley vs Stephen Thompson II
Most of the basics that pertain to this match have remained the same since Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson fought the first time at UFC 205. That breakdown can be found here.
We are going to take a different approach to this preview and largely examine the first fight to see who has the edge the second time around.
First, we look at ‘The Chosen One.’ Woodley did a great job at being patient and not getting himself into terrible positions in the first bout. He found a home for his big right hand on several occasions and showed that he had a strength advantage in the clinch.
The biggest issue was his lack of Octagon control. Woodley has often been criticized for coasting at times and giving bursts of explosive, fight-ending power. The first fight with Wonderboy was no different, as Woodley spent a good chunk of the bout with his back against the cage. From there, he only rarely attempted to move from that position with the occasional combo to push Wonderboy back. However, Woodley would almost immediately be walked back to the cage and give Wonderboy too much cushion.
When Woodley wrestled, he had the advantage. This was most notable in the first round when he caught a lazy kick and took Wonderboy down. From the top position, he methodically put on ground and pound and didn’t rush himself into bad positions. The path of least resistance for Woodley is likely the takedown and wrestling Wonderboy. However, he also seemed hesitant to attempt the takedown and put himself into a position to be kicked.
Wonderboy was largely allowed to fight his type of fight at UFC 205. He was able to stay at range and slowly pick apart Woodley with his kicks while occasionally countering with some effective combos with his hands. Wonderboy’s karate-based style seemed to cause Woodley issues, but it also left Thompson open to the counter right that rocked him so hard in the fourth. His stance naturally leaves Wonderboy’s hands low and you could hear his corner frequently telling him to keep his hands up, which almost cost him.
On the ground, Wonderboy looked overpowered when he was on the bottom. Though this only really happened once and he did a good job at trying to get out, Woodley was heavy and kept the challenger down. This strength also showed up in the clinch, as Wonderboy struggled to get off the cage when Woodley got a hold of him.
Ultimately, Woodley had the advantages in the grappling to cause problems for Wonderboy. However, the champion simply did not use it very often. This isn’t new, as Woodley has almost abandoned his wrestling and just waits to counter with his powerful right. For some reason, I don’t see this changing. Woodley is too content to lose Octagon control in hopes of landing the knockout. Wonderboy should keep this bout at a distance and should improve his defense, which means he wins a decision.
Prediction: Stephen Thompson (-160)
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson
This fight is officially canceled due to weight cutting issues for Khabib Nurmagomedov. Khabib went to a Las Vegas hospital the evening before the weigh-ins and was not medically cleared to fight.
There are few fighters in MMA history who have been as dominant as Khabib Nurmagomedov. ‘The Eagle’ is 24-0 with most of those wins coming via complete mauling. Khabib’s entire game is built around his grappling skills, which may be unrivaled in MMA today. Nurmagomedov’s vast skill set (black belt in judo, two-time world champion in sambo) has created a wrestling machine that averages more than two takedowns per round. When he gets top control, his constant pressure mixed with stellar technique makes Khabib almost unstoppable. A specific skill he has perfected is trapping his opponent’s arms, which allows free strikes to the head. His abilities to not only create his own opportunities but capitalize on scrambles means ground fighting with Khabib is almost always lethal.
Khabib’s striking has been refined over the years thanks to his work at AKA. We have seen his ability to probe for openings and counterpunch grow by leaps and bounds, but he has been able to retain his natural skills that make him a difficult opponent. Khabib loves to throw a powerful left hand and will do so at odd angles that probably shouldn’t work, but his natural strength and precision make up for the strangeness. He will generally like to rush his opponent to hide a takedown attempt where he can dominate a fight. However, Michael Johnson reaffirmed that Khabib is hittable. The Dagestan native will walk through punches and has an iron chin, but this is still risky.
Tony Ferguson is one of the most well-rounded fighters in MMA today. His free-flowing style and unique movement have caused constant headaches for his opposition, which has led to ‘El Cucuy’ being undefeated for nearly five years. Ferguson’s creativity is most noticeable in the striking game, as he will seamlessly switch between stances and move about the Octagon with ease. When he wants, he can use his long reach and pick an opponent apart but Ferguson also has dangerous boxing skills and some slashing elbows in tight. The one issue in Ferguson’s striking game is his propensity to get into slugfests. This was an issue against Lando Vannata but it has yet to cost him.
Ferguson is a successful high school and collegiate wrestler but he rarely shows these skills off offensively. He could likely use his grappling skills more offensively but opts to use it defensively so he can work his unorthodox striking. That being said, Ferguson is a deadly submission fighter. He has spent heaps of time working under Eddie Bravo at 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu, a gym that always seems to be on the cutting edge of submission techniques. Ferguson is MMA’s best practitioner of the brabo or d’arce choke, an extremely difficult technique that focuses on isolating the opponent’s neck and arm.
This is a fight between two of the best fighters on the planet. I personally have wanted to see this fight for about two years now and I’ve gone through every scenario in my head. Ultimately, I don’t think anyone in the world can fight Khabib for 25 minutes and not get taken down and beat up.
Prediction: Khabib Nurmagomedov (-190)
Rashad Evans vs Daniel Kelly
Rashad Evans has always been somewhat underrated, especially with so few fights over the past three years. He has black belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Gaidojutsu to accompany his Division I wrestling credentials. Those skills combine to make Evans a great fighter at going the distance, with 10 of his 19 career victories coming from the judges.
Evans has seemed hesitant to pull the trigger. This has made ‘Suga’ hittable without much fear of repercussion, which caused Evans to get knocked out at the hands of Glover Teixeira in his last outing. Maybe we will see more power in Evans’ hands now that he is fighting at 185 lbs for the first time in his career.
Daniel Kelly is an experienced grappler, as he has been an Olympian in judo a ridiculous four times. Aside from his fourth dan black belt in judo, Kelly also has a black belt in BJJ. These skills have created a grinding, punishing style that allows Kelly to wear down his opponent.
In the striking game, Kelly is slow and plodding. He’s not overly exciting to watch from a casual fan’s point of view, but his excellent striking defense makes him a tough out. The Aussie also has a tendency to eat some strong shots from his opponent early and keep moving forward. Almost all of his fights in the UFC have seen him struggle early before grinding out the victory.
This fight is really intriguing to me. Both Evans and Kelly are grinders. They want to get a hold of their opponent and slowly chip away. Evans is more athletic and mobile in the striking game but has a tendency to get walked down. Though Kelly isn’t a marvel on the feet, he will move forward no doubt. I’m not expecting a particularly exciting bout, but I lean to Kelly even if it is just for the betting value.
Prediction: Daniel Kelly (+175)
Lando Vannata vs David Teymur
Lando Vannata has quickly made a name for himself in the UFC on the back to two exciting outings, one of which saw him almost unseat Tony Ferguson. His striking game is aggressive and versatile. His premier strike is his right hand, which he will throw from every conceivable angle. ‘Groovy’ also has good kicks but generally uses them to pester his opponent more than go for the knockout (aside from his victory over John Makdessi). Vannata’s head movement is wonderful, as his ability to weave through strikes is among the best around. However, dropping your head as often as he does can leave Vannata open to knees or takedowns.
Vannata has not really shown much of his grappling skills in the UFC but he has in the regional scene. There is no doubt that he can wrestle, which shouldn’t be questioned working out of Jackson-Wink, but he would rather be striking in space.
David Teymur is a talented striker who has won each of his past four bouts via knockout. Teymur has an extensive striking background, as he has been training in Muay Thai since 2004 and has won four Swedish Muay Thai championships. He will use kicks to gauge space in the standing game but Teymur tends to keep his heavy hands cocked for counter-striking opportunities. Though he has plenty of technical acumen, there are times when Teymur can get wild.
Most would expect that taking Teymur down would be their key to victory, which is still true, but he has had great takedown defense so far in the UFC. Teymur will shoot the occasional takedown himself, but his top control typically comes from his ability to catch kicks and trip his opponent.
This is a fight that could go either way. There is a good chance that the fighter who finds a home for his big counter-strike wins this one. Teymur’s kicks and knees are honed from years of Muay Thai and I think he can catch Vannata with one of those when he drops his head.
Prediction: David Teymur (+300)
Alistair Overeem vs Mark Hunt
Alistair Overeem has always been one of the deadliest strikers in the heavyweight division. He has a wide array of attacks from every distance and has power in all eight limbs. ’Reem is dangerous in the clinch, as his tight grip and power cause problems for opponents — if you get tied up in the clinch with Overeem, then massive knees are incoming. ’Reem has done a good job at becoming more measured in the Octagon, which has helped him pick his spots and hide his questionable chin. That’s not to say he is a master defensively, as he can be hit (watch his last fight vs Stipe Miocic).
Overeem is a surprisingly solid grappler, though many don’t talk too much about it. If he does take the fight to the mat, he is more likely to look to pound on his opponent rather than go for the submission.
Mark Hunt, a.k.a. The Super Samoan, a.k.a. The King of Walkoff Knockout, has made a living out of absolutely smashing other people’s heads off. He has managed to overcome his height disadvantage in the heavyweight division and has become a lethal counterpuncher. His combination of power and timing makes every second standing incredibly dangerous for his opponent.
As great as Hunt is on the feet, he is still greatly out of his element if the fight goes to the ground. He has little to no ability to maneuver from his back and isn’t able to do much more than rain down punches if he has top control. However, he has put a tremendous amount of effort into his defensive grappling skills and getting the Kiwi to the ground is not as simple as it once was.
Hunt’s ability for a flash knockout is real in this bout and if you feel compelled to back the Super Samoan, take him to win via KO. That being said, I think Overeem is too versatile and should dominate once he gets Hunt in the clinch.
Prediction: Alistair Overeem (-140)