She’s baaaaaack! It’s only been a few months since we last saw Ronda Rousey competing in the Octagon, but some injuries on this card forced a quick turnaround for the women’s bantamweight champion, who is now set to defend her title for the sixth time. Trying to knock off the greatest female athlete on the planet will be former boxing champion Holly Holm, who was able to take just a pair of UFC wins and turn them into a shot at gold.
Rousey is undoubtedly going to be the star attraction at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia, in front of a rowdy Australian crowd that is likely to break the UFC’s attendance records, but she’s not the only woman putting UFC gold on the line that night. The co-main event is set to feature current 115-pound champ Joanna Jędrzejczyk, who puts her belt on the line against Canada’s Valerie Letourneau in the strawweight division. Poland’s Jędrzejczyk is coming off back-to-back dominant knockout victories over Carla Esparza and Jessica Penne, and she’ll look to make it three in a row against the streaking Letourneau, who’s on a decent winning streak of her own.
The rest of the main card should be a lot of fun as well, with the long-awaited heavyweight rematch between Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Mark Hunt as the obvious attraction, Uriah Hall looking to build off of a huge knockout win against Aussie Robert Whittaker, and Stefan Struve attempting to make it two in a row opposite strong wrestler Jared Rosholt.
Things will get started on UFC Fight Pass at 6:15 p.m. ET with four preliminary bouts. From there, the card pops over to Fox Sports 1 for the remainder of the prelims at 8 p.m. ET before heading to pay-per-view for the main card at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers John Franklin and Vince Carey preview the card in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Women’s bantamweight title challenger Holly Holm has underwhelmed in her two UFC appearances, but her undefeated record and reputation as a top female boxer has allowed her to take a short route to a title bid. Will she fall to champion Ronda Rousey in the same quick fashion as many of her predecessors, or has the UFC finally found a challenger that will end Rousey’s amazing run at the top?
Franklin: Well, the biggest thing going in MMA is upon us: a Ronda Rousey fight. Like The Beatles and The Dream Team, wherever Rousey seems to go, there is a tidal wave that follows her. It’s a tidal wave of promotional hype, media and fan support, and so far she has been able to ride the wave like an Australian surfer. But tidal waves weren’t meant to be ridden. They largely destroy the things they come in contact with, and the question with Rousey revolves around when all this becomes too much to handle.
Now, to the fight. My preface was meant as a way of saying that we are reaching the point with Rousey where the out-of-the-cage stuff is so big that it can begin to affect the in-cage stuff. That’s the hope for Holm. The former boxing champion was brought to the UFC for this fight. She is here under the premise that a boxer should be able to knock out an MMA fighter or, more importantly (and probably more accurately), that notion can be sold to fans. The problem here is that Holm hasn’t shown herself to be a finisher. She was about even — 44-40 in strikes to be exact, with the edge to Holm — on the feet in her first fight with Raquel Pennington and won a split decision. Against Marlon Reneau, the gap was wider — 65-26, Holm — but the New Mexico-based fighter didn’t put forth an effort that demanded a title shot. It’s not like Holm dominated Jessica Eye or anything (Sorry, Miesha Tate). It’s generally understood amongst those in the know that Holm is nowhere near as evolved as Rousey is, but does she have enough, coupled with the weight of the world on Rousey’s shoulders, to find an opening? Most likely not.
Anyone who cares to know (and some that don’t) know how great Rousey is. UFC President Dana White has seen to that. And honestly, I don’t begrudge him that. He’s got a bonafide, once-in-a-lifetime icon on his hands and he is maximizing the potential to make money off of that. In the cage, Rousey is nothing short of a wrecking machine. She does what she wants, when she wants, and her opponents have done very little to change the course of events. No one even goes to the second round with her. Well, except… (Sorry again, Miesha). So it looks like she is going to cruise in this fight, just like she has in all the others.
The only path for victory for Holm is to change Rousey’s reality in this fight and get her out (and I mean way out) of her comfort zone. How does she do that? Well, she’ll have to make Rousey fight in a way she has never fought. Don’t just cut her — she’s been cut. Instead, close one of her eyes. Holm is a southpaw, so that means there is a shorter and more direct path for a jab to reach that lead eye. Kick the legs. Epically kick the legs — like José Aldo kicking Urijah Faber. The key is to isolate a part of Rousey’s body that Holm can attack while keeping herself safe. These are things Holm can do, skill-set wise, but can she do all them while avoiding Rousey’s offense? That is what remains to be seen.
Carey: John, I think you just convinced me that we need to use the #SorryMiesha hashtag when we post this on Twitter. Here’s a shout out to “Cupcake,” who’s been awesome since her loss to Rousey and is still probably the biggest threat to “Rowdy” in the division. If it were up to me, Ms. Tate would be fighting for gold this weekend. Sadly, she’s not, and that leaves Holm to try to slow down the Rousey hype train.
Overall, my colleague hit the nail on the head with his breakdown of this one. Holm’s inability to finish her opponents inside the Octagon thus far puts her at an almost impossible disadvantage in this fight. Rousey finishes fights inside of two minutes. Holm has gone the distance in both of her UFC wins, and she didn’t look all that great in either performance. It’s not hard to see how this fight is probably going to play out. As much as I’d love to see Rousey tested even a little bit, it’s hard to envision any scenario that doesn’t end with Rousey latching onto a submission, likely in the first round.
Holm’s going to be the best striker that Rousey has ever competed against, but on the whole that doesn’t really matter. Even though we haven’t seen a ton of it, Rousey has some pretty decent striking of her own and, to be honest, it really only needs to be good enough to give her an opening to get the fight to the mat. This fight would be incredibly interesting if it turned into a kickboxing bout, but there’s absolutely no reason to believe that’s a possibility. Rousey’s the most dominant fighter in the sport in large part due to her ability to instantly take the fight to the floor whenever she wants to. Against a former boxing and kickboxing champion, Rousey’s more than likely going to take this to the mat immediately, and once you’re in Rousey’s world, it’s damn near impossible to escape. Rousey’s adding another arm to her collection on Saturday night.
The theme of UFC 193 seems to be female title challengers who might be getting the chance at gold a bit prematurely. We’ve already talked about Holly Holm, so now let’s shift our focus to the other title affair, which takes place in the women’s strawweight division and features champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk defending her title against Valerie Letourneau. Is Letourneau an even less worthy title challenger than Holm? Which of the two title hopefuls, Holm or Letourneau, has the better chance at leaving the cage as a champion?
Carey: With all due respect to Holm, when you compare any fighter on any card to Ronda Rousey’s opponent, that fighter is going to have a better chance at a victory. There are mismatches and then there are Rousey fights. So I’ll give Letourneau the slightly better chance at leaving Australia with some gold around her waist, but I don’t have a ton of confidence in her ability to outstrike fellow striker Jędrzejczyk this weekend. I give all the credit in the world to the Canadian for her three-fight winning streak and willingness to step up and take this fight on somewhat short notice, but she’s headed into far and away the toughest match-up of her career.
Letourneau has looked good in her trifecta of UFC wins, but she’s facing a completely different animal in Jędrzejczyk. While the Canadian has used her stand-up skills effectively inside the Octagon, she hasn’t exactly dominated the majority of those match-ups. Her UFC debut against Elizabeth Phillips was an absolute brawl that had both women looking like they’d gone through a war after the bout, and she ate quite a few hard shots in her last fight against Maryna Moroz as well. Sure, Letourneau was able to fight through some adversity and earn herself a couple of hard-fought wins in those bouts, but it also proved that she’s very hittable. That’s not what you want to be against a strong finisher like Jędrzejczyk.
If Letourneau is looking to leave Australia with a belt, she’s going to have to go about things a little differently than she has in her UFC career thus far. Standing and exchanging against Jędrzejczyk for five rounds is practically suicide for someone like Letourneau that hasn’t proven she’s able to finish UFC-level competition. However, she did prove she can mix things up well with her fight-sealing third round against Moroz. With the bout deadlocked at one round apiece, Letourneau showed off her grappling skills, took the Ukrainian youngster to the mat and, perhaps most impressively, kept her there and rained down ground-and-pound for the rest of the fight. If Letourneau can do something similar against Jędrzejczyk, it would be her best chance at pulling off an upset. I don’t see it happening, but I still give her better odds than Holm.
Franklin: Vince, the hardest part about writing about Jędrzejczyk is typing her name over and over again. The easiest part about writing about Jędrzejczyk is talking about her skills. I want to agree with you that Letourneau has a better chance of pulling off the upset than Holm does. That much is true. However, I don’t think that the gap between Rousey and Holm is that much greater than the gap between Jędrzejczyk and Letourneau. That’s not a knock on Rousey, but I have a ton of respect for Esparza and Penne, both of whom — and particularly Esparza — were destroyed by Jędrzejczyk. The beating the champ gave Esparza was every bit as impressive as what bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw did to Renan Barão. Esparza may never come back from that fully.
Letourneau is on a winning streak, but it’s not an overly impressive one. However, like Bill Parcells says, you are what your record is. With that being said, it most likely wasn’t the three decisions wins, over women who most fans largely forgot after the decisions were read, that got Letourneau this fight. It was most likely the fact that she split a decision once upon a time with Claudia Gadelha, the only woman who may be able to give Jędrzejczyk a real fight at 115 pounds. Gadelha has a split with Jędrzejczyk on her resume. So MMA math dictates we would have this fight.
I just don’t see Letourneau having in her what she needs to leave Australia with the belt. Her only real opening is on the ground, and not only does Jędrzejczyk have great takedown defense, but part of that takedown defense is making people pay when they try to take her down. Esparza, who is a much better grappler, only managed one takedown and it got her nowhere. It’s why I still think the Rousey-Holm fight is more intriguing than this one. Holm does something extremely well that is not the strongest part of Rousey’s game. Letourneau doesn’t do anything extremely well, especially not when stacked up against Jędrzejczyk. The pick is Jędrzejczyk, and the fight could get messy.
Mark Hunt and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva put on one of the greatest heavyweight fights in MMA history in their first match-up, a 25-minute classic that ended in a draw. Will the two aging heavyweights be able to live up to the high expectations for the rematch this weekend? And perhaps more importantly, do we get a definitive winner this time around?
Franklin: The first fight between these two was so monumental that UFC President Dana White was sporting a Roots of Fight shirt touting the rematch — this rematch — six days after the first fight. That was December 2013. This is November 2015. A lot has happened in the time between. Before that first fight with Bigfoot, Hunt fought 17 times and only two men — Melvin Manhoef and Junior dos Santos — had knocked him out. Since the Silva fight, Hunt has fought three times and been knocked out twice. Now, in fairness, those knockouts came against heavyweight champion of the world Fabricio Werdum and one of his likely next two or three opponents, Stipe Miocic. Those aren’t exactly a couple of bums, but it does give us a glimpse into two potential things. One, Hunt’s chin may be gone. Two, Hunt might be content to be an all-or-nothing, kill-or-be-killed type of fighter (as if he wasn’t before?).
That brings us to Bigfoot. The Brazilian’s career was in a full-blown nosedive following the draw with Hunt. For starters, his portion of the fight was turned to a no-contest after he popped for elevated testosterone in post-fight testing. His chin helped the resurgence of both Frank Mir and Andrei Arlovski when they each took him out in the first round. I was all set to tag the toe of this guy’s career and then along came Soa Palelei. Bigfoot rediscovered his own chin and destroyed Palelei, who is not a guy a lot of people stop. So, who is Bigfoot now? Is he still the iron-fisted jawbreaker who finished Travis Browne, Alistair Overeem and Palelei? Does he have to be that to finish this version of Hunt?
The short answer — and I’m not proud of it — is that I don’t know. You really can’t know. The level of consistency with both these fighters is dwindling. There was a time when I would have bet my house on Hunt’s chin, but now I’m not sure if he’s lost it or if the competition has been that much better. What I do know for sure is that whatever is left of these two, they will have it on display in Australia. It’s who they are. They have made an unspoken deal with themselves, the fans and the MMA gods, that it’s home-run derbies from here on out. They get in the Octagon, find the pocket and swing for the bleachers. That’s what they are, for better or for worse.
I know the fight will be good, but I’m not sure about the winner. If I’m pressed, I’d say Hunt. At this point, I have more faith in his power and his ability to move his head. Also, the fight takes place on his home turf in Australia.
Carey: John, you’re right: this fight is pretty much impossible to predict. Not only is this a fight between heavyweight sluggers, which practically ensures a roll-of-the-dice prediction regardless of who’s in the cage, but Hunt and Silva are on such similar career paths that it makes this one even harder to try to figure out. Both men have made their careers by showing no regard for their personal safety and playing dangerous games during exchanges. As both Hunt and Silva have struggled more and more to take a punch, we have indeed seen their consistency take a serious nosedive.
I really only have two predictions for this fight. First, it’s going to be awesome for however long it’s able to last. As John mentioned, these two seemed to have made a gentleman’s agreement to just beat the living hell out of each other the last time they stepped into the cage. Judging by their respective performances since that date, there’s no reason to believe things are going to be any different this time around. Am I saying we’re going to get another all-time classic on Saturday? Of course not, but it seems safe to say that we’re going to get an extremely entertaining bout nonetheless.
My second prediction is that while the first fight between these two had a 25-minute time limit and still went to the scorecards, that won’t be happening this weekend. Silva’s chin has been suspect for a long time now, and his recent losses have only confirmed that his ability to stand and trade punches in the pocket is starting to fade. Throw in the previously indestructible Hunt getting finished in both of his last two fights and it looks more and more like even the 15-minute time limit isn’t going to allow these two to hit the scorecards again. If I’m picking a winner, I’ll agree with my colleague and take Hunt, mostly because his chin seems to have held up a little better. “The Super Samoan” may have been finished by Miocic in his last fight, but it took the Ohio native the better part of a dominant five rounds to put Hunt away. That kind of durability is enough to convince me that Hunt has the edge over Bigfoot.
Robert Whittaker was all set to fight Michael Bisping when the injury bug bit the Queen’s favorite fighter. In Bisping’s place, we have the enigmatic Uriah Hall. Hall is a compelling fighter because we have expected big things from him ever since he knocked Adam Cella’s head out of The Ultimate Fighter cage. But his performances in official UFC bouts have left us wondering what we have in Hall. So, what do we have in Hall, and is Whittaker the man who possesses what it takes to show us what all Hall can be?
Carey: Every time I think I’m finally out on Hall, he finds a way to pull me back in. Following his run on TUF, I was like everyone else. I was prepared to watch Hall use the gobs of talent and potential he had to start running though the middleweight division like a hot knife through butter. However, Hall started off his UFC career with back-to-back disappointing decision losses and, outside of a big win over Chris Leben to save his job, “Primetime” never looked like the fighter that some called “the next Anderson Silva” when he was destroying people left and right on TUF. Then, just as I had officially written off Hall as a bust, he took a fight on short notice six weeks ago and absolutely wrecked top-10 middleweight Gegard Mousasi.
As skeptical as I remain about Hall actually becoming the fighter that we’ve hoped he would become at this point in his career, this fight against Whittaker, a tough guy who also likes to stand and bang, should offer quite a bit of insight as to whether or not Hall will realize his potential. Whittaker, who is also a TUF veteran, went from a middle-of-the-pack welterweight to a borderline contender with a shot at cracking the top 10 since his move to 185 pounds about a year ago. His two performances in his new division have both been eye-openers. He launched his 185-pound career with a fantastic “Fight of the Night” finish over Clint Hester and followed it up with a 44-second knockout of fellow rising star Brad Tavares soon after. If Whittaker can make it three straight with a win over the 10th-ranked Hall, it won’t be long before Whittaker finds himself fighting in title eliminators.
On paper, this looks like a “Fight of the Night” candidate, but I’ve seen enough of Hall’s previous performances to not let my hopes get too high. In the past, Hall has had supposedly fan-friendly bouts backfire into what eventually amounted to tentative sparring sessions. This fight could easily go the same route if these men show each other a little too much respect. I want to pick Hall to win this fight and do so in spectacular fashion, but I’m not sure Whittaker is the guy that’s going to allow “Primetime” to truly showcase what he can do.
I’m going to stick with my guns and pick Hall to spoil the fun for the Aussie crowd and send Whittaker back to the gym with a loss. However, I don’t foresee an impressive win that’s going to send Hall vaulting up the middleweight ladder.
Franklin: I’m with you, Vince. I don’t know what to make of Hall. He’s a super introspective guy, which is something I totally admire and find compelling about him as an athlete. However, it’s that level of introspection that might make him more adept at explaining why he has struggled to fulfill expectations than it makes him adept at fixing the problem. Perhaps his future is going to be best served as a coach, an analyst or what have you, but I think he gets in his own way as much as any fighter I have seen. I would love to blame UFC President Dana White for this after the UFC head heaped praise on Hall early on in his UFC career. It’s an easy finger to point. The problem is that it’s White’s job to draw interest to fighters, and had Hall held up to his end of the bargain, the Mousasi fight would have led to this being a No. 1 contender fight, probably with Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza that would have led to a possible rematch with Chris Weidman, this time for the UFC belt rather than the Ring of Combat title. Yet, Hall just can’t be trusted enough to give him that spot.
Anyway, Hall did knock out Mousasi. Now, he can look in the mirror every morning to see the entire list of guys who have done that to Mousasi. So, despite having some things that he doesn’t need inside the cage, he has everything that he does need to be a top-five middleweight in the world. I don’t feel that way about Whittaker (oh yeah, there’s another guy in this equation). Whittaker can push Hall, though, and that’s really the point here. Let’s put Hall in there with a guy who will create some openings to make him look good and probably won’t make him look that bad.
Don’t get me wrong. Whittaker does have some pop. You don’t knock out Tavares and Hester with the jab-and-grab game. The kid can bang, there’s no doubt about that. But when it comes to Hall, he’s more of a Stephen Thompson than either of those guys. Thompson knocked Whittaker out because he is a unique striker. Well, Hall is a unique striker too. Despite some of Hall’s hiccups in the cage, he takes risks when he strikes. Usually guys take risks for a couple of reasons. There is an opening that is only truly there when you make an out-of-the-box move or when the fighter has some sizzle in them and likes to do something no one else can do. Hall has that sizzle, and the quick turnaround helps him. He’s still in the Mousasi headspace. I like Hall for the win, but I’m not betting anyone’s college fund on it.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Franklin: Any time I see Gian Villante on a card, I fall into the same trap. I think his proximity to Chris Weidman’s greatness will at some point lead to greatness of his own. It hasn’t. It may never. So, while I’ll have an eye on him, the pick here is Stefan Struve’s heavyweight fight against Jared Rosholt.
Rosholt is one of those guys that, just when you are ready to forget about him, shows you he could be maybe a top-15 guy. He beats Walt Harris and Soa Palelei, but then gets his clock cleaned by Oleksiy Oliynyk. (Where’s Oliynyk been, by the way? Dude looked real sharp against Rosholt and then goes Jason Bourne on us.). Rosholt has some Tim Boetsch in him. He doesn’t look like a world-beater, but he shows up and puts in solid efforts.
I feel similarly but different about Struve. Just when I am prepared to anoint him as a top-five fighter, somebody clips him. He beat Christian Morecraft and Sean McCorkle — not high-level guys, admittedly, but he finished them. — and then here comes Travis Browne to superman-punch him back down the ladder. Next, Struve records a string of four straight finishes, and not against punks either, mind you. A knockout of Dave Herman was bookended by submission wins over Pat Barry and Lavar Johnson. Then Struve knocked out Stipe Miocic — yeah, the Stipe Miocic everyone is screaming about deserving a No. 1 contender fight. Then Mark Hunt puts a knockout on Struve that will never leave UFC highlight packages and Alistair Overeem hit the light switch on the Dutch fighter. Struve bounced back with a win over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira that led the Brazilian to file retirement papers.
Listen, I think this kid is super talented. He’s a world-class striker and has some serious ground game. It’s just that any time Struve is in there, I feel like someone put a giraffe in the lion cage. That’s not just a bad tall joke, either. It’s a commentary on the fact that Struve just has too much area on his body to protect. He’s too exposed. I love the skill set. He’s made the most of what he was given, and I even like him in this fight. I just don’t think he was put on this Earth to be a UFC champion. But Spud Webb wasn’t put on this Earth to win dunk contests either, so who knows.
Carey: We’ll go from heavyweights to flyweights here. My sleeper fight is actually the 125-pound match-up that’s set to kick off the card. Ryan Benoit shocked the MMA world his last time out when he knocked out rising star Sergio Pettis with a vicious hook. Instead of getting rewarded for his efforts, he’s being relegated to the UFC Fight Pass prelims. What’s equally upsetting is that his opponent, Ben Nguyen, is coming off a fantastic knockout win of his own. So, since the UFC apparently refuses to give the flyweights some love where the bout order is concerned, I’ll make sure they get a little love here on Combat Press.
The way I see it, we’re going to learn one of two things from this one. Either Benoit is going to come out and prove his win over Pettis was far from a fluke and impress once again, or Nguyen will score a minor upset and start to earn some hype of his own due to his current winning streak. The power that Benoit showed off against Pettis makes me think that the latter isn’t likely to happen, especially since Nguyen has been knocked out in four of his six career losses. “Ben 10” is pretty explosive in his own right and has scored finishes in the vast majority of his wins, but if I have to choose between Nguyen’s four knockout losses in comparison to Benoit’s zero, then the decision becomes pretty easy. I’m expecting a fun slugfest in a weight class that doesn’t deliver them often. If these two were on a televised part of the card, I wouldn’t have been shocked to see them in the running for a bonus when the night ended.
Pair this card with…
Carey: All of your casual MMA friends. I have friends that will sit down and watch a few fights, but it seems like the interest level hits an all-time high the second Rousey’s face appears on the screen. That’s especially true among the ladies in the group. If you’re a guy and have a significant other you’re trying to get into MMA, this card is a great opportunity, especially with the two women’s title fights in one night. “Rowdy” is only going to be around to create new fans for so long, but if you’re looking to get friends and family into the sport, then she’s as good a plan as any.
Franklin: The young female athletes in your life. I am not always crazy about how Ronda Rousey conducts herself with respect to being a role model for young girls. However, the time she really shines is the 24 hours before, during and after a fight. She is everything you would want her to be in that time frame. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. She shines the brightest when the lights are brightest. If you want to give those athletes someone to emulate, you can’t do a whole lot better than Rousey. Also, with female fights at the top of the card, it sends a good message.
|Fight||Franklin’s Pick||Carey’s Pick|
|Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)|
|Women’s BW Championship: Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm||Rousey||Rousey|
|Women’s StrawW Championship: Joanna Jędrzejczyk vs. Valerie Letourneau||Jędrzejczyk||Jędrzejczyk|
|HW: Mark Hunt vs. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva||Hunt||Hunt|
|MW: Uriah Hall vs. Robert Whittaker||Hall||Hall|
|HW: Jared Rosholt vs. Stefan Struve||Struve||Struve|
|Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)|
|LW: Akbarh Arreola vs. Jake Matthews||Arreola||Matthews|
|WW: Kyle Noke vs. Peter Sobotta||Noke||Noke|
|LHW: Anthony Perosh vs. Gian Villante||Villante||Villante|
|FlyW: Danny Martinez vs. Richie Vaculik||Vaculik||Vaculik|
|Preliminary Card ()|
|WW: James Moontasri vs. Brendan O’Reilly||Moontasri||Moontasri|
|MW: Daniel Kelly vs. Steve Montgomery||Kelly||Kelly|
|WW: Steven Kennedy vs. Richard Walsh||Walsh||Walsh|
|FlyW: Ryan Benoit vs. Ben Nguyen||Benoit||Benoit|