As I sit down to write this, it’s early Wednesday afternoon. June 29th. The UFC’s biggest, and potentially best event in history goes down over ten days from now. Not only that, we even have two very good cards to look forward to before then. But every time I think about this landmark event, I get butterflies in my stomach and I feel a sense of anticipation like very little else I can ever remember as a sports fan.
If I counted how many times I think about Saturday, July 9th each day, I can say with certainty that the figure would be astronomically high. You know the saying ‘Men think about sex every 6 seconds’? It’s like that. And bear in mind that I’ll be watching proceedings almost five-thousand miles away here in Northern England. Just imagine what those who are attending that night in the brand-new T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas strip feel like. Not to mention those who will actually step into the Octagon in front of a 7-figure amount of viewers on Pay-Per-View.
Promotion for the event is in full swing now; fighters are putting the finishing touches to their training camps and the media are readying their notepads and laptops for a night like no other.
Fight breakdowns and predictions likely won’t appear until the middle of Fight week, maybe even later due to the two cards prior (The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale and UFC Fight Night: Dos Anjos vs. Alvarez) but as a mere, average Joe hardcore fan, I just had to write something about it NOW. So here it is.
These are the thoughts that go through my head each and every day (not quite every 6 seconds, but often) during the countdown to Saturday, July 9th. I appreciate you taking the time to read and welcome your thoughts!
1. Daniel Cormier wins the main event.
Yes, that’s right. I’ve watched UFC 182’s Jones vs. Cormier I numerous times and yes, Jones won it fairly comfortably. Yes, Jones is in the top 2 pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. Yes, Jones is considerably younger. Yes, Jones is probably a better overall athlete. Yes, Jones can get under Cormier’s skin like nobody else on the planet. But here’s why I think things will be different this time:-
-On top of all his legal troubles over the past couple of years, there’s definite signs that Jones’ athletic peak might be coming to an end. This was apparent in his relatively underwhelming April victory over late replacement Ovince St Preux.
Was it down to cage rust? Was him opting to lift huge weights during his training camp a factor? Was it because he was facing a tricky southpaw who he hadn’t specifically prepared for? Perhaps. Or is Jones just one of many athletes over the years who peaked early? That’s my feeling.
If this is the case, he’s still an incredible, world-class fighter capable of beating anyone in his division, but once you start losing your speed and athleticism, your rivals can close the gap on you. I’m so curious to see how he looks in that cage a week on Saturday.
-Cormier has prepared with his number 1 training partner this time. As ‘DC’ says often, Cain Velasquez is the best fighter he’s ever faced. He has only faced him in practice and sparring, and in fact openly says he would lose to him in the Octagon.
In losing his Heavyweight title to Fabricio Werdum in June 2015, Velasquez didn’t look particularly good, and his lack of altitude acclimatisation was especially evident in the second round onwards. But make no mistake, ‘Sea-Level Cain’ is still an absolute beast and I struggle to think of anyone who can better help someone prepare for Jon Jones. Okay, so he doesn’t use his length the same as ‘Bones’ does and isn’t as tall, but he’s overall a much bigger man with considerably more power in his hands.
Wrestling-wise, I’d definitely give him the advantage over the Interim Light Heavyweight champ. I honestly think training with Velasquez alone will give Cormier 10% more this time.
-Cormier hits hard and Jones has been hit a lot in his recent fights. Gustafsson, Teixeira, Cormier and St Preux. Despite those reach disadvantages and not possessing the diversity of strikes Jones has, they didn’t have a great deal of trouble landing punches to his head. People seem to look back on his win over Teixeira and view at is some kind of dirty boxing masterpiece, but I disagree. He won the fight clearly, but got hit too much on the inside for my liking.
Glover hits hard but doesn’t have the speed and explosiveness of Cormier. I have no doubt that Cormier catches Jones at some point, and you never know when a chin that has been cracked before is going to lose the resistance it once had.
Holly Holm viciously knocked Ronda Rousey out and deserves 100% credit for doing so, but I always felt Rousey’s striking defence was wide open and it would cost her one day. The shots she took in both of her fights against Miesha Tate, and in particular some big right hands from Sara McMann weakened that chin, if you ask me.
-Cormier wants this more. ‘How on earth do you know that, you idiot?!!’ I hear you say. And you’re right, I don’t know for sure. But what I do know is that Jones has now had 5 years of the benefits and trappings of success and fame. He’s done it all.
Even as the champion, Cormier enters that cage on July 9th like a wounded animal looking for revenge against a fellow animal that loves nothing better than to wound him. I’m positive that has made him train like a maniac over the last couple of months. If he did so smartly, he’s going to be very, very dangerous when that cage door closes for this hotly-anticipated main event.
-This fight will stay on the feet. The majority of their first fight was contested vertically, but Jones’ takedowns, albeit brief, were crucial in terms of striking psychological blows to Cormier’s ego and self-belief. I think they cancel each other out when it comes to wrestling this time and it’ll be a bloody, back-and-forth striking war. I think Cormier lands a huge combination on Jones’ chin in the championship rounds and fells the giant, shaking the world in the process.
2. Frankie Edgar beats Jose Aldo this time around.
My reasoning for this is ‘virtually identical’ to my Cormier pick above, so I won’t go over each and every detail. I’ll just add that I think Edgar gets it done via decision, by mixing up his trademark boxing and footwork with his wrestling. It would be nice to see WEC Aldo back, but sadly, I just can’t see it. Then again, what if he does return and Edgar still beats him? That will be something special.
3. I hope the media shuts up about Ronda Rousey and Cris Cyborg when writing about and interviewing Miesha Tate.
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll have seen me mention this a number of times, and you’ll also know I’m a hardcore Miesha Tate fan. But that’s not why I have such a problem with this; it’s more because I feel it’s disrespectful to almost everyone concerned.
The fight we’re looking at is Miesha Tate vs. Amanda Nunes. Until she says otherwise, Ronda Rousey is an inactive fighter. Amanda Nunes is, in my opinion, a highly-deserving and dangerous challenger. Miesha Tate has talked about Rousey and Cyborg countless times over the years. The media know every single opinion she has about them and potential fights against them. Yet we all know they’ll still harp on about ‘Rowdy’ in next week’s pre-fight press conference.
Let Tate and Nunes have their spotlight. They deserve it. Despite Rousey being uncharacteristically quiet over recent months since her own Come To Jesus meeting in Melbourne, I do wonder if she’d have been better off just publicly announcing she was taking a set amount of time off. Instead, all we’ve heard is little snippets of information (‘She’s getting back to work’, ‘She’s coming back in November’, ‘She’s coming back at the end of the year’ etc.) from Dana White, whose word is about as reliable as a pair of sunglasses on a man with one ear.
My point being, maybe she doesn’t want to constantly be talked about. I mean, it was only a few months ago that she forbade media from even asking her a question about fighting. So, although I think she could halt all the talk about her will she/won’t she/when will she/who will she comeback very quickly on social media, I think she deserves to take a break from fighting and not constantly be in the media if she chooses.
Now Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino has left her destructive mark in the Octagon, it’s only natural that her name’s going to be associated with the current Women’s Bantamweights at the top. But I feel like talk of her taking on the winner of Tate vs. Nunes at 140 pounds, or against her long-time enemy Rousey, is talk for another day. And that day is not before July 9th. Post-fight press conference? Is normal, as ‘The Spider’ would say.
Make no mistake, Tate vs. Nunes is an incredible fight. If you’re one of the many who isn’t particularly familiar with Nunes’ fights and skills, do yourself a favour and get on Fight Pass or YouTube and do some homework. She’s strong, powerful, dangerous and is on a very nice winning streak. She deserves to be where she is, and although I always root for ‘Cupcake’, I’m happy to see her there.
Speaking of Tate, as I said earlier: the media knows every single opinion she holds about those other fighters I mentioned. Yes, we know Rousey is still the biggest female star in the sport and her name generates clicks and revenue, but live in the moment. We’ll have plenty of time to talk about who’s next when this one’s over.
4. Hunt vs. Lesnar and Zingano vs. Pena will be spectacular and memorable.
With the former, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s over within a minute. Either way. Hunt could catch Lesnar with something straight away, and not many can cope with the dynamite he possesses in those Super Samoan paws. Or maybe Lesnar runs towards him like he did after he rocked Heath Herring and mauls Hunt on the ground.
I’m predicting a first-round finish...I’m torn on which way but if pushed, I have to think Hunt will be able to land something of note first.
Zingano vs. Pena is absolutely fascinating, to me. Zingano has been out so long and has fought so infrequently over the last 3+ years, that you have to wonder how she’ll look. She has stated that she’s been working to get better each and every day since her title defeat to Rousey, but Father Time and Mother Cage Rust can be very unforgiving. If she looks better than ever, I won’t be surprised. Similarly, if she looks a shadow of the woman who (eventually) finished both Tate and Nunes, I won’t be surprised either.
Something my wife (who is a casual fan at best, simply because I watch so much MMA in the house) said yesterday struck me. We were watching a half-hour special on Miesha Tate, and she commented on how Julianna Pena has a lot of the qualities Tate has. And she’s right. Tate has always had raw talent, will to win, heart, strength and aggression, but over the last 3 years or so, she has seemed to come into her peak by bringing everything together and refining it. It’s been said that she’s not a particularly high-level athlete, but I think she’s become one over time, and with dedicated hard work.
Pena is similar. She’s always had those raw qualities, but in every fight it appears like she’s slowly but surely making everything click into place. She’s also only 26, with her best years likely ahead of her. One of these ladies could emerge as the next challenger for that coveted 135-pound belt and don’t be surprised if this one secures the Fight Of The Night bonus a week on Saturday.
5. The winner of Velasquez vs. Browne is surely close to a title shot.
Alistair Overeem is next for newly-crowned Stipe Miocic, but after that, things seem quite open. Velasquez was scheduled to step back into the cage with his Brazilian conqueror Werdum back at (what was originally) UFC 196 on Superbowl weekend, but injury derailed things.
Browne has fallen short previously when on the cusp of title contention, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can get over that hump this time. I certainly wouldn’t want to be standing across the cage from Cain when he’s coming off a loss, but Browne’s athleticism and takedown defence could make this interesting. Like others in his gym of choice, lack of striking defence has been his problem, so it’ll be interesting to see if that’s something he’s worked on in preparation for the heavy-handed former champion.
6. It’s the Annual International Fight Week, which means the stars will be out.
But so far, it seems one that shined the brightest won’t. Ronda Rousey’s name isn’t on any of the lists of those appearing that I’ve seen, and it does appear that she’s taking a lengthy sabbatical. But with her boyfriend Travis Browne in a huge fight on the main card, it would be quite surprising if she wasn’t cageside. And quite honestly, with two massive fights in the division she once had in the palm of her hand going down, her very presence could make waves and even affect certain foes, whether they’re past ones or potential future ones.
Let’s be honest, her entering the cage to challenge the winner of Tate vs. Nunes for the belt would be all kinds of epic. Okay….enough Rousey talk. As I mentioned earlier, she’s an inactive fighter unless she says otherwise, despite what her bald, emotionally-charged mouthpiece says.
7. 'Stacked' doesn’t do this behemoth justice.
I’m literally looking forward to every single one of those 12 fights. I haven’t even mentioned the awesomeness of Dillashaw vs. Assuncao II or what promises to be a fascinating wrestling battle between Hendricks and Gastelum.
You can make a case that every single fight on the entire card could main event a card of some kind. Every main card fight could headline a Pay-Per-View; three of the FOX Prelims could headline a On FOX card OR Fight Night card and the three Fight Pass offerings could almost certainly be the top of a Fight Night bill. Crazy.
Buy it, tune in, eat, drink, tweet, be merry, shout, swear, laugh, cry and thank the MMA gods for bestowing this most beautiful night of high-level violence upon us. We’re not worthy!