On Saturday, Dec. 19, the UFC returns to broadcast television for UFC on Fox 17. The show will be the fourth and final broadcast network show of 2015.
In a continuing trend for the Fox broadcast shows, a title is on the line. T.J. Dillashaw defended his UFC bantamweight title in a rematch against Renan Barão at UFC on Fox 16. Now, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone hopes to earn a different outcome in his rematch with UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos. Their contentious bout at UFC Fight Night 27 in August 2013 was the last time Cerrone tasted defeat. The Jackson-Winkeljohn fighter has amassed eight victories and five finishes on his current 25-month undefeated streak.
Cerrone has torn through the top of the lightweight division on his way to a title shot, facing resistance just once when he met former UFC champion Benson Henderson on just 15 days’ notice earlier this year at UFC Fight Night 59. Every other foe has fallen, some by devastating knockouts and some by way of opportunistic submissions.
Dos Anjos, on the other hand, has lost since fighting Cerrone. He was absolutely ragdolled and controlled for the entirety of his 15-minute unanimous decision loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC on Fox 11. Since the loss, dos Anjos has looked next to unstoppable. The Brazilian ran through Jason High, the aforementioned Henderson and Nate Diaz to close out 2014 and earn his shot at the title against Anthony Pettis. Dos Anjos put on one of the most dominant five-round championship performances by an underdog in the history of the sport. From the start, he was in the face of Pettis, never letting the then champion off of the cage, never giving him a chance to counter or fight his way back into the fight. The relentless pace of dos Anjos showcased the improvements the Brazilian has made in his striking game under Rafael Cordeiro at Kings MMA.
The first fight between the two men started off even, with dos Anjos pushing the pace and getting into a rhythm moving just outside of kicking range and into boxing range. Cerrone was landing his kicks, but dos Anjos was returning his left middle kick from the southpaw position, a devastatingly effective kick against the orthodox striker Cerrone. Cerrone looked slow to start, a bad trait he has shown in his past fights, and dos Anjos took advantage. The Brazilian threw a leaping left hook and follow-up right hook that hit Cerrone with enough force to drop the much taller fighter. Dos Anjos was the first man to put Cerrone on the ground for a significant amount of time. In nine previous UFC bouts, Cerrone was on the mat for all of 16 seconds. Dos Anjos changed that tune with the knockdown and following barrage of left and right elbows from the guard to finish out the round. Cerrone has an active submission attack from his guard, but the Brazilian’s experience on the mat extends many years past that of Cowboy and he was able to shuck off any submission attempt with ease. Cerrone was able to fight his way back into the fight in the second round with a takedown of his own, but dos Anjos continued to press the fight and get another takedown of his own. Dos Anjos was two rounds up on the scorecards with a possible 10-8 round due to a near finish in the first frame. Cerrone displayed the desperation he needed to fight his way back into the contest by pressing dos Anjos and throwing kicks and punches to counter the Brazilian and throw him off his rhythm. Cerrone’s volume and accuracy improved as the third round continued on. Dos Anjos could never quite find his rhythm. The fight ended with Cerrone carrying all of the momentum, giving many pundits an idea that the fight could once again be a competitive affair, especially over the course of a 25-minute title fight.
The heavyweight division’s contender carousel could create a clear frontrunner out of the battle of behemoth strikers Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem. The match-up that was previously scheduled to take place on two separate occasions has long been desired by MMA fans around the world. Two of the best strikers in the heavyweight division will meet in the center of cage with a big question make in play: Who can stay up the longest? Former UFC heavyweight champion dos Santos has employed some of the best boxing in the heavyweight division in the sport’s history, with hands that may only be matched by the kicks and knees from the former Strikeforce and K-1 World GP champion Overeem. The promotion has options depending on who wins the fight. A fourth match with Cain Velasquez may be too much to ask of the promotion to sell, but dos Santos holds a 2008 knockout win over the current champion Fabricio Werdum. Overeem has split fights with the current champion, losing by submission in a Pride openweight tournament quarterfinal bout in 2006 and winning in the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament quarterfinals in 2011. The title shot could be on the line for this much anticipated match-up that could potentially set up a No. 1 contender fight with the likes of the streaking Andrei Arlovski, Stipe Miocic (who dos Santos beat in his last outing) or Ben Rothwell (who Overeem lost to in 2014). The heavyweight division can take many paths following this fantastic fight that will almost guarantee a knockout finish.
Michael Johnson looks to start another winning streak after a controversial decision loss to fellow top lightweight Beneil Dariush. Johnson was on a four-fight winning streak, including wins over Edson Barboza, Gleison Tibau and Joe Lauzon. The much-improved striker will be taking on Stockton, Calif., bad boy Nate Diaz. Diaz is just three years removed from his shot at the UFC lightweight title, magic he is looking to try to recreate when he returns to the Octagon for the first time since losing a dominant decision to dos Anjos at UFC on Fox 13 in December 2014.
Women’s strawweights round out the Fox main card when The Ultimate Fighter 20 semifinalist Randa Markos takes on Polish fighter Karolina Kowalkiewicz, who will be making her UFC debut. Markos earned her spot in the division’s top 10 with a rugged grappling style and a win over one of the show’s early favorites, Tecia Torres. The win, along with another against Felice Herrig, gave Markos an opportunity to join the promotion after the show. The Canadian fighter, who was born in Iraq, made an impressive debut against former Invicta FC atomweight champ Jessica Penne in a close, losing effort. Markos returned with a win over top-10 fighter Aisling Daly at UFC 186 in April. Kowalkiewicz has slowly become one of the best strawweights outside of the UFC. She cemented that standing with two wins —a split decision over talented Japanese prospect Mizuki Inoue at Invicta FC 9 and a decision over former World Series of Fighting title challenger Kalindra Faria at KSW 30 — in the past 13 months. The bout will be a great stepping stone for the debuting Polish fighter, but Markos can make a claim at title contention with a win over the undefeated Kowalkiewicz.
The UFC on Fox 17 card kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET with three fights on UFC Fight Pass. The action shifts to Fox Sports 1 at 5 p.m. ET for the remaining six preliminary bouts. Finally, it’s off to Fox for the four-fight main card at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Zachary Aittama preview the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Donald Cerrone challenged for the WEC title on three occasions and came up short each time. Now, after years of building up an impressive UFC resume — and avenging two of those title losses against Benson Henderson — the “Cowboy” finally gets his first crack at the UFC title. It comes against champion Rafael dos Anjos, who handed Cerrone a decision loss in 2013. Can Cerrone avenge another of his previous losses and change his luck in this title bout?
Huntemann: This really is an interesting match-up. We’ve talked about the other title fights in the UFC at length recently, but this one doesn’t seem to be getting as much publicity as it should. Once we finally emerge from UFC 194’s shadow as this week progresses, it might.
Since 2010, Cerrone has only lost four times — to the aforementioned Henderson, twice, and dos Anjos, plus Anthony Pettis. He’s currently on an eight-fight winning streak and has never looked better. In fact, he looks like a new Cowboy. The old Cowboy just seemed to be happy to show up, fight and get paid so he could buy a new pair of jet skis. Times have changed.
The time for Cerrone to be champion is now. Dos Anjos absolutely dominated Pettis to win the belt. He grounded the high-flying Pettis and smothered his way to the title. Cerrone is known for his stand-up and wanting to throw down in the middle of the Octagon. Dos Anjos is currently a slight favorite among Vegas bookies. If he can take down Cerrone as easily as he took down Pettis, then the Brazilian will retain.
However, Cerrone is the man who will emerge victorious. He hits hard and he hits often. He’s going to bring the fight to dos Anjos and immediately put the champ on his heels. This is a different Cerrone than the one dos Anjos fought in 2013. Cerrone will land a huge shot in the third round that will allow him to finally capture his first title.
Aittama: This is certainly a winnable fight for Cerrone. He has a three-inch height and reach advantage, a pronounced statistic when looking at the first fight between the two men. The open-stance fight was contended at the Brazilian’s prefered range before Cerrone started to feel the desperation late in the third round. Cerrone should take a different approach in this fight. He had success moving forward with his right hand and kicks. Cerrone will need to keep dos Anjos out of his rhythm. He can do that by continuing to counter the champ when dos Anjos enters boxing range, throwing his effective rear-leg teep to the midsection and moving his feet and avoiding stay in one place.
Dos Anjos was able to keep Cerrone in his fight for the majority of the bout. The southpaw would throw his hard middle kick and look to set up an obviously oft-drilled left-hook, right-hook combination to close distance. Cerrone did a better job late in the fight, but dos Anjos was consistently landing his straight punches when in range. Dos Anjos had trouble reaching Cowboy’s chin from the outside, which leaves Cerrone with an area of major opportunity if he wants to dictate the pace of the fight. Cerrone couldn’t get much done on the mat, truly showcasing the level of grappling dos Anjos operates under.
Dos Anjos will look to drag this fight wherever he can to get the win. The Brazilian has come out aggressive in his past four victories, opting to go all-out in the first round and take over the fight early. Cerrone needs to avoid the onslaught early if he expects to not be fighting off a dos Anjos lead late into the championship rounds. Dos Anjos has more paths to victory, but, as we witnessed on Saturday at UFC 194, all it takes is one perfectly timed shot to capture a world title.
Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem clash in the evening’s co-headliner. JDS has held the UFC heavyweight crown, but Overeem has never quite lived up to the high expectations placed upon him when he first entered the Octagon. Is Overeem, who’s finally on a UFC winning streak, poised to put together a run and challenge for the belt?
Aittama: Combined, these two heavyweight behemoths have 28 knockouts, 49 finishes and 74 fights of experience. This is a match-up that has been in the making since the Octagon debut of Overeem at UFC 141 on Dec. 30, 2011. The Dutch kickboxer made his UFC debut in the main-event slot against Brock Lesnar, one of the promotion’s biggest pay-per-view stars. Lesnar was only 14 months removed from holding the UFC heavyweight championship belt, a title he lost when Cain Velasquez bulldozed over him in one round. Overeem is a former Strikeforce and Dream heavyweight champion who had also entered and won the world’s most prestigious kickboxing tournament in 2010. Overeem defeated some of the best kickboxers in the world during the 2010 K-1 World GP tournament. He beat the undersized Tyrone Spong in his quarterfinal bout. He followed it up with a hard left kick that broke the arm of top heavyweight Gokhan Saki in the semifinal. Then he beat three-time K-1 World GP champion Peter Aerts with an aggressive finish in the first round to become a champion in two separate combat sports. The only thing missing was the UFC heavyweight title.
Overeem entered the Octagon as a relative unknown compared to the mainstream media and fan base of the World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Lesnar. The fight was advertised as a battle between two monsterous heavyweights featuring the tagline, “It doesn’t get any bigger than this.” It’s an accurate tagline, too. The match-up could only get three pounds bigger, as Lesnar weighed in at the 266-pound heavyweight non-title limit and Overeem tipped the scales at 263 pounds. The match-up seemed to be an opportunity for Lesnar to earn another shot at the title. The plans for Lesnar wearing the title belt once again fell apart quickly. Very quickly. The -140 betting favorite at most sports books, upon the lines closing before the fight, made the former champion well acquainted with his left middle kick, the same kick that broke the arm of the aforementioned Saki. Lesnar dropped faster than the betting line for Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm when the bettors realized the immense skill difference in striking during the stand-up exchanges. Overeem kept the fight standing long enough to crumble Lesnar with a powerful left body kick after a knee to the body may have started off the damage to Lesnar’s core just seconds earlier.
The kick landed Overeem his shot at the title that had just changed hands a month earlier. UFC on Fox 1 was the first time the promotion graced the Fox network and broadcast television. The opening broadcast featured an hour-long time slot and just one fight, the showdown between champion Velasquez and challenger dos Santos. Velasquez was the undefeated champ with seven UFC wins in only nine career fights. Dos Santos capped off a seven-fight winning streak with a decision victory over Shane Carwin at UFC 131. The heavyweights were on a collision course in what became a rivalry that has dominated the heavyweight title picture for the past few years. The fight ended quickly with a whipping overhand right from the Brazilian that looked like a professional baseball pitcher’s fastball delivery. His right hand connected just above the left ear of Velasquez, the sweet spot. The equilibrium of the champion was broken, and he was down and out in just 64 seconds. The baddest man on the planet was a rising heavyweight from Santa Catarina in southern Brazil. The fight we all wanted to see was a match-up between the UFC and Strikeforce, between boxing and kickboxing, and between Brazil and the Netherlands.
UFC 146 was scheduled to take place on May 26, 2012. The heavyweight title fight was the main event of a five-fight, heavyweight-only pay-per-view that featured former champions Velasquez and Frank Mir. A pre-fight drug test revealed that Overeem had been training with an elevated testosterone-epitestosterone ratio of 14:1, more than twice the allowable limit of 6:1, by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Overeem was pulled from the bout and replaced by Mir, who was scheduled to fight Velasquez, who got a replacement opponent in Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. Dos Santos finished Mir in the second round with a right hand on the cheek and subsequent ground-and-pound, while Velasquez made a bloody mess of Bigfoot with a first-round stoppage to earn a shot at the title in the absence of Overeem.
The hopes of dos Santos and Overeem clashing for the title were dashed by an absolutely dominant performance from Velasquez over five brutal rounds. Velasquez battered dos Santos with relentless punches in the clinch and on the ground. He landed 11 takedowns in the lopsided decision win that sent JDS’s stock tumbling from the title-contender hopefuls.
Not long after the loss by dos Santos, Overeem would too fall, but in a much more shocking manner. Overeem stood up from his stool with a two-round lead heading into the third frame with a potential title shot up for grabs. Bigfoot came out looking to earn his own shot at revenge and Velasquez’s title. Bigfoot didn’t let Overeem bully him like Overeem had done to so many opponents in the past. He pressed the superior striker and put him out against the cage with an unrelenting stream of punches. Bigfoot’s dramatic knockout and upset sent both Overeem and dos Santos to the back of the line, setting up another potential meeting of the two heavy-handed strikers. The fight was scheduled for a second time, this time for UFC 160 in May 2013. Overeem was again pulled from the bout, this time due to injury.
This third scheduled meeting is now just shy of a week away. Despite the losses suffered by both men, they still sit near the top of the rankings in the UFC heavyweight division. Dos Santos took severe beatings from Velasquez in both the second and third bouts, getting knocked out in the third fight at UFC 166 in October 2013. Dos Santos last fought title contender Stipe Miocic one year ago at UFC on Fox 13. The Brazilian went back and forth with the American over the five-round “Fight of the Year” contender. Dos Santos won the bout, but he wasn’t in line to challenge for the title that has since changed hands and will be defended by Fabricio Werdum in his rematch with Velasquez at UFC 196 in February. The opening to make the fight with Overeem was never better than now.
Overeem’s stock continued to fall following the knockout loss to Bigfoot. Overeem nearly finished top-10 fighter Travis Browne before taking the lengthy heavyweight’s front kick to his chin. Overeem lost by knockout once again when Ben Rothwell cracked him with punches in the first round of their UFC Fight Night 50 bout. Overeem’s success returned when he made the move to train with the Jackson-Winkeljohn gym in Albuquerque, N.M. He has looked impressive in his last two bouts, a first-round knockout of Stefan Struve and a three-round beating of Roy Nelson.
Fans should have high hopes for this fight. It features two heavy-hitting heavyweights, one of whom might just rekindle UFC title hopes with a win. The fight is certainly up for grabs, but do I believe Overeem can win a UFC title? Yes, he can eventually win a title, but that doesn’t mean he will. Dos Santos has shown he won’t go down unless his opponent breaks significant striking records, while Overeem has had trouble staying out of trauma-induced micro-naps. The former champion should be the favorite to win this fight, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if Overeem had his hand raised after 15 hard-fought minutes.
Huntemann: Man, how do I follow up this epic sermon? Well, Overeem seems to be getting his stuff together after a very uneven start to his UFC career. One might surmise he came into the UFC just a little bit too cocky and was humbled after back-to-back losses to Bigfoot and Browne. Since then, his only loss has to been to the resurgent Rothwell.
Dos Santos is coming off a controversial decision win over Miocic last year. I thought dos Santos lost that fight. He took an unbelieveable amount of punishment against Miocic and in his last two fights against Velasquez. He took so much punishment, in fact, that it was to the point where he literally urinated blood after losing the title to Velasquez in 2012. Overeem is every bit as dangerous a striker as Velasquez and has two first-round finishes on his UFC resume. If dos Santos is still feeling the effects of his recent wars, Overeem might finally have a chance to live up to his hype.
However, dos Santos is probably the best pure puncher in the UFC. I’m sure guys like Gilbert Yvel and the aforementioned Carwin, Mir and Nelson would agree. I actually like the Brazilian in this fight against Overeem. The time off to heal his injuries will lead to a focused and refreshed dos Santos, who’s been itching to square off with Overeem for some time. Those two jawed at each other while dos Santos was the champion, but a fight never came to fruition.
If Overeem can get past dos Santos (and especially if he’s able to finish him), then he can definitely make his long-anticipated run at the title. Right now, the contenders for the belt consist of Miocic, Andrei Arlovski and Rothwell. These are all very tough fighters, obviously, but not an insurmountable mountain for Overeem to climb if he’s focused and commits himself fully to being the best.
Myles Jury drops to featherweight for the first time to meet Charles Oliveira on Saturday night. Lightweight title challenger Donald Cerrone ended Jury’s six-fight winning streak. Can Jury get back to his winning ways in his new weight division? Can Oliveira start a winning streak of his own after Max Holloway ended his four-fight streak?
Huntemann: I’ve never been that high on Jury, if I’m being honest. His bout against Cerrone went a long way toward showing why. He fights a slow, plodding style and his record is somewhat padded with unproven or past-their-prime fighters. His best win probably came against Michael Johnson, who has yet to live up to his own potential. When paired with elite competition like Cerrone, Jury’s shortcomings became glaringly obvious. He was simply outclassed and switched to a defensive style that frustrated Cerrone to the point where the Cowboy literally gave Jury a kick in the butt. Several, actually.
Conversely, Oliveira’s four losses in the UFC are to some of the very best and toughest fighters in the world — guys like Jim Miller, Cerrone, Frankie Edgar, Cub Swanson and the aforementioned Holloway. Oliveira’s loss to Holloway came from an unexpected injury early in their fight. He’ll get another crack at Holloway, especially if he defeats Jury.
Oliveira is known for his submissions. He’s also defeated some tough fighters, including Jeremy Stephens and Nik Lentz. Oliveira might not fare any better against elite competition than he has to this point, but he can defeat Jury and make another run at the top. He’s still young enough.
Aittama: Oliveira has a clear-cut advantage if this fight hits the mat, and an even more apparent edge if Jury comes in drawn out and undersized after making his first attempted drop to featherweight. Jury’s streak of six wins includes the top-10 fighter Johnson, but while Johnson has shown improvements since the fight three years ago, Jury has had moments to showcase that his progression might have slowed slightly. Could this be an opportunity for him to prove us wrong?
I could definitely see this as another loss for Jury, only the second of his career outside of The Ultimate Fighter exhibition bouts. Oliveira is an aggressive fighter with a knack for locking up submissions with incredible skill and at an absolutely blistering pace. The Brazilian can pick Jury apart on the feet if he avoids the counter right hand and potential takedown attempts from the American.
For Jury to win this fight, he will need to stay off the mat, keep his jab working and make Oliveira pay for any overexertion the Brazilian makes while entering striking range. Jury can certainly win this fight, but it won’t be any easy first cut to featherweight. These questions force me to side with my counterpart and take Oliveira.
Is this the last hurrah for Nate Diaz? He’s lost three of his last four fights, and his grievances over compensation are well known. It’s likely he’s not going to be a fan of whatever payout he gets from the UFC under the Reebok deal either. While he’s only 30 years old, his style of fighting has probably left him with the body of someone several years older. He’s also come up short against top-level talent in his UFC career. If Diaz loses to Michael Johnson, is his UFC career done, or does he have one last run at the top in him?
Aittama: This will not be Nathan Donald Diaz’s last hurrah. The resident bad boy of the lightweight division may have had trouble in three of his past four fights, but he still has the ability to fight at the highest level. Years have past since Diaz challenged and lost to Benson Henderson for the UFC lightweight title at UFC on Fox 5. He was on a three-fight winning streak prior to the championship fight. He defeated former Pride lightweight champion Takanori Gomi and top-10 lightweight Jim Miller by submission, but the win that highlighted his two-year run was a dominant decision over title challenger Donald Cerrone in a fight where he was almost a three-to-one underdog. Diaz landed an astounding 238 significant strikes in the 15-minute affair. He almost tripled Cerrone’s total strikes landed and quadrupled the amount of significant head strikes landed.
That fight was four years ago at the end of this month. While the shocking performance was maybe the best of his entire career — and one that will be hard to follow, even years later — Diaz has the skill in all phases of fighting to begin another winning streak. The question of whether or not Diaz can compete at the highest level, however, we can answer this weekend when the Cesar Gracie Jiu Jitsu product takes on the Blackzilian-trained Johnson.
Johnson has earned his place in the UFC’s top-10 rankings with a continuously improving skill set every time he steps back into the cage. His boxing, both offensively and defensively, has been among the most obvious improvements in the 29-year-old’s overall fight game. Johnson lost a controversial split decision to Beneil Dariush in his last bout at UFC Fight Night 73 in August. Despite the loss (in a fight that I scored in Johnson’s favor), he has continued to showcase improvements while knocking off fighter after fighter. Johnson holds wins over top-10 fighters Tony Ferguson and Edson Barboza, who fought each other at The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale on Friday and may have put on one of the best fights in the lightweight division this year.
This is a great fight that will most likely be determined by the fighter who can control the pace of the contest. Johnson is the better wrestler, giving him every ability to dictate if he wants to stay up or control Diaz on the ground like Diaz’s last opponent, the UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, did in their bout in December 2014. Johnson will be slightly faster on the feet, giving him the edge in the striking. Diaz needs to use his jab and keep Johnson outside of his preferred striking range. Diaz will have trouble getting the fight to the mat, but he is always dangerous with a choke in transition. Johnson was caught with a brabo choke against Reza Madadi not that long ago, so it wouldn’t be outside of the realm of possibility that Diaz could pull off a submission win if Johnson makes a mistake.
I don’t believe the end is near for Diaz. His motivation has obviously fallen by the wayside in recent years, but when the cage door closes, Diaz typically shows up to defend his honor. He will scrap, he will fight and he will brawl his way to a better life, whether that is in the UFC or in Bellator MMA. Diaz is likely to find his best opportunity to earn that better life in the Scott Coker-run Bellator, where he has potential rivalries building with former opponents Josh Thomson and Henderson, who may himself be leaving the UFC for better pay. It’s possible Diaz keeps fighting once a year in the UFC, but after he fights Johnson on primetime television Saturday night, a place that has featured the younger brother from the 209 often in his UFC career, it could be the launching point to his new career. Diaz will have to navigate his career around another loss, however, when he gets beaten by a younger, much-improved Johnson.
Huntemann: I’m glad my colleague is still high (no pun intended) on Diaz (and his older brother too, I assume), because I’m not. The Diaz brothers are as tough as they come in MMA, no question. However, they’re also among the most overrated. For all the talk we hear about how accomplished they (especially Nick Diaz) are at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, we never really seem them use it, do we?
But I’m veering off topic. Nate Diaz doesn’t have another run at the top in him. He hasn’t looked the same since he was thoroughly outclassed by Henderson in 2012. In his last fight against dos Anjos, Diaz looked like a guy who just didn’t want to be there by the end. If I suffered as many leg kicks as Diaz absorbed from dos Anjos in that fight, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to be there at the end either.
Diaz’s only win since 2012 came against an over-the-hill Gray Maynard in 2013. So it’s been two years since Diaz won a fight. Even if he loses to Johnson, and he will, the UFC will still keep him around. He and his brother are still fan-favorites who fight a crowd-pleasing style, and UFC President Dana White seems to have a soft spot for the Diazes, even though I’m certain the brothers have at least partly contributed to the fact that White has no hair.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Huntemann: The bout between Randa Markos and undefeated prospect Karolina Kowalkiewicz is an interesting match-up.
Kowalkiewicz’s signing was much ballyhooed, since she hails from the same country as current strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk. The champ has dominated everyone she’s stepped in the cage with so far. Meanwhile, the UFC’s next big thing, Paige VanZant, was just dominated by Rose Namajunas. So, right now, Jędrzejczyk is short on viable challengers.
Markos is a very tough fighter, both in and out of the cage, as this excellent profile by Bleacher Report can attest. She navigated the “Mean Girls” drama on season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter with admirable strength and focus and submitted tough veteran Felice Herrig on the show. She lost a close fight to Jessica Penne in the finale, but looked dominant in her recent victory over Aisling Daly.
If Markos triumphs over the undefeated Kowalkiewicz, a No. 1 contender fight against Namajunas wouldn’t be totally out of the question. However, if Kowalkiewicz defeats Markos and keeps her undefeated record intact, we might see the biggest Polish conflict since the Eastern front in World War II when Kowalkiewicz and Jędrzejczyk eventually square off.
Aittama: Much like the signing of UFC strawweight champion Jędrzejczyk two years ago, the addition of one of the top 60-kilogram kickboxers in the world, Valentina Shevchenko, is an exciting development in the UFC women’s bantamweight division, which is in desperate need of more high-level strikers. Shevchenko is a world-class kickboxer with 60 victories and just one defeat. She suffered her lone loss to fellow top fighter Wang Cong in a back-and-forth title fight at Kunlun Fight 33 just two months ago. Shevchenko will be hungry to avenge the loss in her first impression with the UFC. She has nine wins and just one defeat under MMA rules. The loss came against UFC veteran Liz Carmouche more than five years ago.
Shevchenko’s opponent, Sarah Kaufman, has been a top-flight bantamweight for the past six-plus years. The Canadian has beaten high-level competition and only lost to the very best in her division in her 20-fight career. Kaufman holds wins over top-10 fighters Miesha Tate and Alexis Davis, but she lost in her last bout, a rematch with fellow Canadian Davis, at UFC 186. Kaufman has not defeated a fighter other than Leslie Smith over the past three years, a concerning statistic heading into a fight with one of the best female kickboxers in the world. Expect fireworks in this match-up and possibly a new potential player in the women’s bantamweight division.
Pair this card with…
Aittama: Your boxing gloves. From top to bottom, the fight card features well-matched fights between exciting fighters with a penchant for striking. Put on your boxing gloves so you can spar imaginary foes in the same form as your favorite fighters Cerrone, dos Santos, Overeem, Shevchenko and many more will on Saturday night. Expect the fights to lift you off your seat with your hands raised, ready to strike. But remember, keep your hands up.
Huntemann: Budweiser. I mean, Cerrone is in the main event, right? We all know Bud is his beer of choice. When the weather gets hot, it’s mine too. Roll your eyes if you must, beer snobs, but there’s nothing more refreshing on a hot summer day than an ice-cold Budweiser or Bud Light. #sorrynotsorry. This card is full of smash-mouth, meat-and-potatoes fights like Cerrone/dos Anjos, dos Santos/Overeem and Johnson/Diaz. So if you have a bunch of old-fashioned fights to enjoy, why not enjoy them with an old-fashioned beer?
|Fight||Huntemann’s Pick||Aittama’s Pick|
|Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)|
|LW Championship: Rafael dos Anjos vs. Donald Cerrone||Cerrone||Cerrone|
|HW: Junior dos Santos vs. Alistair Overeem||dos Santos||dos Santos|
|LW: Nate Diaz vs. Michael Johnson||Johnson||Johnson|
|Women’s StrawW: Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Randa Markos||Markos||Markos|
|Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 6 p.m. ET)|
|FW: Myles Jury vs. Charles Oliveira||Oliveira||Oliveira|
|MW: C.B. Dollaway vs. Nate Marquardt||Dollaway||Dollaway|
|MW: Tamdan McCrory vs. Josh Samman||Samman||Samman|
|LW: Danny Castillo vs. Nik Lentz||Lentz||Lentz|
|FW: Jim Alers vs. Cole Miller||Miller||Miller|
|Women’s BW: Sarah Kaufman vs. Valentina Shevchenko||Kaufman||Shevchenko|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 3:45 p.m. ET)|
|WW: Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman||Usman||Usman|
|WW: Hayder Hassan vs. Vicente Luque||Hassan||Hassan|
|HW: Luis Henrique vs. Francis Ngannou||Henrique||Henrique|