While it may not do blockbuster business, next weekend’s UFC 209 is a massive card for hardcore MMA fans. Headlined by a pair of very intriguing title fights, the card also features plenty of fan favorites, and several of the more highly regarded prospects on the roster at the moment. The main event will be the welterweight title rematch between Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson. Their battle on the massive UFC 205 card turned out to be a far better contest than most expected, ending in a majority draw. Woodley had the far more demonstrative moments in the fight during the first and fourth rounds. However, Thompson was able to back him against the cage for long stretches of the middle rounds, and although he didn’t accomplish much once there he took those rounds. The fifth saw Thompson open up on a tired Woodley and end the fight on a strong note, but it was just enough to get him back level on two scorecards. Just as Woodley and Thompson did at UFC 205, the co-main event could steal the show here as well. The interim lightweight title bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson features two of the fighters in the division who have taken the long road to their title shots. Nurmagomedov is now 8-0 inside the Octagon and 24-0 overall in his career. He has been tapped for big things since entering the UFC, and after overcoming a rash of serious injuries, finally seems consistently fit and is favored to win the belt on March 4th. Ferguson has seen his own bumps in the road on the way to this shot. After winning the 13th season of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ back in 2011, he scored three consecutive wins. He dropped a decision to Michael Johnson in 2012 that only halted his momentum for a moment. Since then, he has reeled off nine consecutive wins against the likes of Rafael dos Anjos, Edson Barboza, and Josh Thomson, consistently putting on must-see fights. The combination of Nurmagomedov’s dominance and Ferguson’s high-paced, all-action approach makes their bout of the best bookings in the UFC in some time, and almost makes you forget that there’s a guy out there holding the UFC lightweight title who seems to have no desire to defend it. The main card of UFC 209 also features a heavyweight rematch between Alistair Overeem and Mark Hunt. The two fought in DREAM back in 2008 under far different circumstances. Overeem was just beginning his transformation into Ubereem, while Hunt’s commitment to the sport was about in line with Mario Yamasaki’s desire to stop fights on time. Both men are much different fighters at this point, as Overeem has adopted a much more conservative style and Hunt has rounded out his game significantly. In their first fight, Overeem quickly took Hunt down and submitted him, but we haven’t seen too much of his offensive grappling game recently. Will this fight mark its return, or will the K-1 Grand Prix champions engage on the feet? Rounding out the main card, former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans makes his
long-awaited middleweight debut against the always surprising Dan Kelly. The now 37-year-old Evans is 2-4 in his last six, and hasn’t won a fight since 2013. Kelly, despite turning 40 later this year, has impressed in his UFC run — although the level of competition has been a far cry from what Evans would have offered in his prime — going 5-1 despite being the betting underdog in each of his UFC outings. Finally, one of the rising stars at lightweight gets another chance to show off his striking, although from a technical perspective this may be his stiffest test yet on the feet. Lando Vannata stormed into the UFC, nearly upsetting Tony Ferguson on short notice in his debut, and then scoring the popular pick for 2016’s knockout of the year against John Makdessi. He’ll be facing an underrated opponent in David Teymur, who has a pair of TKO wins on his UFC resume after breaking into the organization through TUF. The undercard also has some fights to keep your eyes on, as undefeated prospects Mirsad Bektic, Luke Sanders, Paul ‘The Bear Jew’ Craig, and Tyson Pedro make their returns. The latter two are paired together in a light heavyweight division which desperately needs fighters to rise up the ranks. Meanwhile, Bektic and Sanders face their stiffest professional tests against Darren Elkins and Iuri Alcantara, respectively. The top three fights on the card already have lines released, as Thompson (-130) is a slight favorite over the defending champion Woodley (+110); Nurmagomedov (-190) is favored to remain undefeated and capture the lightweight title against Ferguson (+165); and Overeem (-140) is just barely favored to pick up his second win against Hunt (+120). MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas opened the betting odds for the remaining UFC 209 bouts today at 5Dimes Sportsbook. Take a look: ——————– UFC 209: Woodley vs. Thompson 2 MARCH 4, 2017 T-Mobile Arena | Las Vegas, Nevada MAIN CARD (PPV, 10pm ET) Welterweight Title Tyron Woodley +105 Stephen Thompson -135 Over 2.5 -190 Under 2.5 +150 – Interim Lightweight Title Tony Ferguson +165 Khabib Nurmagomedov -205 Over 3.5 -190 Under 3.5 +150 – Daniel Kelly +160 Rashad Evans -210 Over 2.5 -150 Under 2.5 +110 – David Teymur +170 Lando Vannata -230 Over 1.5 -185 Under 1.5 +145 – Mark Hunt -105 Alistair Overeem -135 Over 1.5 +165 Under 1.5 -215 – PRELIMINARY CARD (Fox Sports 1, 8pm ET) Luis Henrique +100 Marcin Tybura -140 Over 2.5 -125 Under 2.5 -115 – Darren Elkins +250 Mirsad Bektic -350 Over 2.5 -180 Under 2.5 +140 – Iuri Alcantara +115 Luke Sanders -155 Over 2.5 -170 Under 2.5 +130 – Daniel Spitz +110 Mark Godbeer -150 Over 1.5 +135 Under 1.5 -175 – PRELIMINARY CARD (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30pm ET) Tyson Pedro +130 Paul Craig -170 Over 1.5 +140 Under 1.5 -180 – Amanda Cooper -110 Cynthia Calvillo -130 Over 2.5 -270 Under 2.5 +190 – Albert Morales -105 Andre Soukhamthath -135 Over 1.5 -170 Under 1.5 +130 – ——————– Brad’s Analysis: I’d say this would have been a laughable booking at any other time in these fighters’ UFC careers, but Dan Kelly has only been in the UFC since 2014, and Rashad Evans has not won a fight since then, only competing twice over that period of time. Seeing Evans not medically cleared to fight in New York or Toronto just a couple of months ago has to give you significant pause if you’re thinking of backing him here. For me however, that thought never crossed my mind. Kelly has been one of the most profitable fighters to bet on in the UFC over the past few years, and this could be another opportunity for him to do so. Skill-wise, Kelly is outmatched, but that’s nothing new for him, and there are so many red flags surrounding Evans these days. An unclear training situation with the breakup of the Blackzillians, an unclear health situation, all of the known injuries he’s suffered, nearly a year layoff, age (and the fact that it’s showing far more with him than with the older Kelly), the fact that he hasn’t scored more than one takedown in a fight in over five years and remains woefully inactive on the feet. All of those things might add up to me taking a shot on Dan Kelly to see if the old man can do it one more time. It’s hard to criticize Lando Vannata too much for his run in the UFC thus far, but very early on in the Makdessi fight nearly everything Makdessi threw, landed. Obviously that all got erased less than two minutes into the fight. What’s going to happen against a very decorated and talented striker in Teymur, who can have success with many of the same fundamental techniques? If Vannata doesn’t land the big shot will he get broken down as Teymur’s other opponents have, or can he find another way in this fight? Will Vannata just land something huge again and none of this will matter? That’s a real possibility as well. Still, I think the hype on Vannata might be a bit too much for where he’s at right now, and if this is the parlay piece on the card everyone uses, the line could get to a point where a shot on Teymur could certainly be warranted. The most telling thing on Daniel Spitz’ resume is that he fought ‘Cabbage’ Correira… in 2016. Something tells me that dude should not still be getting fights. Despite that, ‘Cabbage’ has been the only fighter thus far to go to decision with Spitz (or even make it out of the first round), and it was good to see Spitz prove himself as more than just a heavyweight who finishes everyone early or gasses. He’s 6’7 and uses his length decently on the outside with kicks and straight punches, and also gets into the clinch and does good work while there and on his exit. That should all serve him well against Godbeer, who got mauled in the clinch by Cheick Kongo and clipped by Justin Ledet at range before being submitted. Spitz also seems to be decent on the ground, although I haven’t seen as much grappling from him against solid competition to really make that determination. Regardless, I think he can score at range, work Godbeer over in the clinch, and likely has an advantage on the ground in this one, so I think he picks up the win in his UFC debut. One of the new patron saints of #FGF is back, as Luis Henrique takes on Marcin Tybura. Henrique has the perfect #FGF combination of durability and a grinding grappling skillset that seemingly leads to his fights going over their total regardless of if he wins or loses. Tybura is yet to be taken down in the UFC, so I can see this one stalling out in the clinch a bit early, and then coming down to who has more left in the tank. Tybura still looked good late against Timmy Johnson, and he is the more skilled striker in this matchup, so I could see him outscoring Henrique on the feet late if he can keep it there. It’s a tough fight to call for a side, but I do think it goes over, even if the price isn’t ideal. This is why guys like Darren Elkins are in the UFC. Provide a stiff test to the up-and-coming prospects, but ultimately lose because the athleticism simply isn’t there. Bektic will be worlds faster than Elkins on the feet, and stronger in the grappling exchanges. It will probably get more competitive as it goes, since that will close the gap between the two physically, but I just don’t see that being enough for Elkins to squeak out with a win. Luke Sanders and Iuri Alcantara is an excellent fight, but I think it will mark the end of the 36-year-old Alcantara’s days as a top 15 bantamweight. The big difference here will be pace and volume. Alcantara is as dangerous as anyone at bantamweight on a strike-by-strike basis, but when Sanders is outthrowing him 5-to-1, I don’t think that’s going to matter. An historically durable fighter, I could even see this being the first time in his career Alcantara gets stopped by strikes. Once you hit that mid-30’s mark in these lighter divisions, the fall is swift. This could be where Paul Craig willing to accept being on the bottom could come back to haunt him. Tyson Pedro is a solid grappler in his own right, and I still don’t think we’re at a stage in MMA judging where you’re going to win many rounds from your back, even if Craig is throwing up all sorts of submissions. That said, Pedro has never been deep in a fight, and this is his first fight outside of Australia, so fatigue may become a factor, and we saw how keen Craig was to put Frank Waisten away once he showed signs of fatigue. Albert Morales wants to strike. New addition to the bantamweight division, Andre Soukhamthath wants to strike. This could very quickly turn into a fun one, but I give Soukhamthath the slight edge on the feet, so have to favor him to win even though Morales has the UFC experience on him. Cynthia Calvillo was pretty impressive in her last appearance on LFA, and I think her style really suits her well against Amanda Cooper. Cooper struggled with the wrestling of Tatiana Suarez (who is a better wrestler than Calvillo, mind you), but I think more than anything she doesn’t react particularly well when her opponent is dictating the fight. Against Anna Elmose, she looked alright when Elmose was doing nothing, but seemed unsure on the rare occasions where she was being pressured.
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