The best fight of the summer that no one is talking about is set to go down this Saturday night in Canada when the UFC makes its first-ever stop in Ottawa for UFC Fight Night 89.
The last few weeks have been insane in the MMA world, starting with Michael Bisping’s shocking title victory at UFC 199 and only getting more hectic with the Ariel Helwani ban after the event and the subsequent fallout from that fiasco. Throw in the return of Brock Lesnar and the UFC’s all hands on deck approach to International Fight Week and the three cards in three days culminating with UFC 200 in Las Vegas early next month, and it’s not too surprising that a Fight Night card would be largely overlooked, even one with a main event as exciting as the one featuring welterweights Rory MacDonald and Stephen Thompson.
Currently ranked as the number one and two contenders behind champ Robbie Lawler, MacDonald and Thompson are two of the premier welterweights in the game today. They are fighting with a lot on the line this weekend. Thompson has been on a roll that has produced highlight-reel finishes in his last two bouts, but he’s facing his toughest opponent to date in MacDonald, who is among the most well-rounded fighters on the entire UFC roster. A win would push “Wonderboy’s” winning streak to seven, and that streak is littered with enough big names to almost guarantee Thompson a title bid. Meanwhile, MacDonald is looking for a rematch with Lawler after dropping one of the greatest bouts in UFC history to the champ last July. MacDonald likely just needs to beat Thompson in order to get there.
The stakes are almost title-esque in the main event, and the rest of the card has the potential to be extremely exciting despite not having a ton of star power attached to it. The co-headliner features fan-favorite Donald Cerrone looking to make it two in a row at welterweight against longtime Canadian veteran Patrick Cote, who’s been putting together a solid resume of his own as of late. The rest of the main card features a solid combination of good prospects and potential finishes to keep fans on their toes on Saturday, and there’s even going to be a little history made with the first of possibly many women’s flyweight fights set to open up the broadcast.
UFC Fight Night 89 kicks off from the TD Place Arena in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada at 6:45 p.m. ET with four fights on UFC Fight Pass before heading over to Fox Sports 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET to finish off the preliminary card. No need to turn the channel after that, as the card stays on FS1 for the remainder of the night with the main card officially set to start at 10:30 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Vince Carey break down the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
After stumbling against Matt Brown early in his UFC career, Stephen Thompson has put together an impressive run that includes victories over Robert Whittaker, Jake Ellenberger and former champion Johny Hendricks. Will he be able to add Rory MacDonald’s name to that list?
Huntemann: Well, if Thompson wants to make himself famous and earn a title shot, you can’t do much better than a victory over someone who gave Lawler the fight of his life last year in one of the best fights I’ve ever seen.
MacDonald is constantly talked about as the next big thing in MMA. He is always compared to his mentor, Georges St-Pierre. However, the record doesn’t lie. MacDonald is supremely talented and probably should have held the welterweight title at least once by now, but he’s come up short against Lawler twice already and suffered a late knockout loss earlier in his career to Carlos Condit. Is MacDonald destined to be the next Michael Bisping, who routinely failed to get over the hump until his upset victory over Luke Rockhold at UFC 199?
I definitely think the time is now for Thompson to take that next step to bona fide title contender status. He’s been on an absolute tear since his loss to Brown and gets better with each fight. He holds a 6-0 record in that span, with four of those victories by knockout and three of those knockouts taking place in the first round. The fact that Thompson put Hendricks away in the first round is pretty telling. People forget the battles Hendricks had with Lawler over the welterweight title, and many people thought Hendricks beat GSP when they squared off for the title a few years ago. Hendricks has had issues with weight-cutting lately, but he’s still no slouch. Yet, Hendricks was still knocked out in the first round by Thompson.
So, if you’re expecting me to tell you who wins, you’ll have to check my picks at the bottom. But do I think a victory by Thompson makes him the No. 1 contender? Absolutely.
Carey: There are a ton of great match-ups coming up over the next month or so — we’re getting five title fights and the return of Brock Lesnar in a few weeks — but for some reason this fight between MacDonald and Thompson feels more intriguing than anything else the UFC has on the docket right now. It’s not that I’m expecting a “Fight of the Year”-worthy barnburner or even a highlight-reel finish, but these two have the potential to put on a really fun, technical fight on the feet that could honestly go either way.
Thompson is one of the most talented strikers in the UFC today. He has the credentials — an undefeated kickboxing record and highlight-reel finishes inside the Octagon — to possibly claim he’s the best of them all. “Wonderboy” is going to have an advantage on the feet against damn near anyone when it comes down to pure striking skills, and that will likely be the case even against MacDonald, one of the most naturally talented fighters in the UFC.
However, MacDonald uses his range incredibly well most of the time and is one of the best in the world at adapting his game plan on the fly. He should provide Thompson more problems than most on the feet due to his fight IQ and savvy. “Wonderboy” should still have the advantage in a straight striking match, but MacDonald’s ability to mix things up and put the threat of the takedown in the back of Thompson’s mind could play a big factor in this one.
We still have some questions about Thompson’s ground game, and that makes this fight even more interesting. MacDonald is extremely well rounded and intelligent in the cage. If he starts to fall behind in the striking game, then he has the clinch work and takedown ability to turn this one into a grinding affair. Thompson has done well against a couple of very good wrestlers in Hendricks and Ellenberger in his last two bouts, but MacDonald’s ability to mix in his takedowns with his strikes is top notch and his length should make grabbing ahold of Thompson a little easier than it has been for previous opponents.
Thompson’s loss to Brown was a long time ago, but it came in a bout in which Brown turned things into a gritty battle from jumpstreet. I don’t think we’ll see MacDonald employ that strategy right away, but I do see this one ending up against the cage and on the floor more often than not. With this in mind, I’m leaning toward a MacDonald victory.
Donald Cerrone won his welterweight debut against Alex Oliveira. Now he draws veteran striker Patrick Cote. Will this be another impressive performance for the “Cowboy”? Can Cerrone contend for a title at his new weight, or is it just a matter of time before a top-tier fighter sends him back to the lightweight division?
Carey: This fight feels like it was set up for Cerrone to continue to work his way up the 170-pound ladder. “Cowboy” is one of the more popular fighters on the entire UFC roster, and after coming up with the big win in his welterweight debut, it makes sense the UFC would set Cerrone up with a winnable fight in order to allow him to work toward one of the big names in the division. After all, the idea of matching up Cerrone with a guy like Matt Brown or Carlos Condit is enough to make fight fans salivate a bit, and the faster the UFC can get the former lightweight to that level, the better it is for business.
That being said, I’m not sure this fight is going to be the cakewalk that many fans think it is for Cerrone. While Cote has been flying under the radar since he made a shift of his own and moved down to 170 a few years ago, he’s quietly been putting on impressive performance after impressive performance since leaving the middleweight division. Currently sitting on a 6-1 record at welterweight with the only loss coming to top contender and UFC Fight Night 89 headliner Stephen Thompson, Cote has earned a shot at a big name like Cerrone. Cote has been so exciting recently that this fight has to be a strong contender to earn these guys some bonus money at the end of the night.
I’ll be honest: I don’t expect to see Cerrone hit the top five of the welterweight division anytime soon. While I’m picking him to squeak past Cote on Saturday, I don’t love his chances of earning many more wins in the division. As good as the lightweight division is, welterweight has even more talent at the moment. After he struggled against the cream of the crop at 155 pounds, it’s hard to see where Cerrone’s move up in weight will help him find the win column more often. While getting a few fun fights like this one out of Cerrone at 170 is fine, his title aspirations are still most likely to come to fruition at lightweight. Expect him back in that division within his next couple of bouts.
Huntemann: Cerrone’s career has been an interesting one to watch. Often, he fights like he gives exactly zero fucks (pardon my French), which is why his style is endearing to so many fans. He just puts it all out there and truly doesn’t care what you or his opponent thinks. But then there are times — like in his fights with Rafael dos Anjos, Anthony Pettis and Nate Diaz — where he just looks listless, like his head isn’t into it. This is pretty amazing, considering his last fight with dos Anjos was for the title.
Cerrone better not take Cote lightly. The former middleweight is every bit as dangerous a striker as Cerrone. Cote won his last two fights by knockout and could be a good litmus test to see if Cerrone can sustain a career at welterweight.
While the welterweight division would be a difficult climb for Cerrone, it’s probably his best option right now. The lightweight division is still extremely crowded, and Cerrone has already come up short against that division’s best and its champion, dos Anjos. However, welterweight does pose some interesting challenges. Can you imagine Cerrone against Johny Hendricks? Tyron Woodley? Rory MacDonald? Man, talk about your barnburners.
After suffering the first loss of his career in his last outing, Elias Theodorou looks to rebound in the Fight Pass headliner against the hard-hitting Sam Alvey. Is this a fight for “The Spartan” to turn things around and stay relevant as a top prospect at 185 pounds, or will “Smilin’” Sam play the spoiler and possibly earn his fourth knockout win in his last five bouts?
Huntemann: Oh, Elias Theodorou. The UFC’s resident heartthrob. I tell ya, Vinny, some guys just have all the luck with the genetic lottery. I follow Elias on Twitter, and while he is a funny, clever and very intelligent dude, he’s also very popular with the ladies. More than once, he’s been asked to father the children of certain women. So, yeah, dude’s got it made.
Wait, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, his prospects at 185 pounds. Theodorou’s career is still very young and he has plenty of room to grow. His loss to Thiago Santos last year was his first in the UFC, and it came by decision — at least Theodorou went the distance. He hasn’t really been tested yet, which makes his fight against Alvey pretty important.
Alvey is a 33-fight veteran. Before his first-round knockout loss to Derek Brunson last year, he rattled off three straight first-round knockout victories of his own. He is no walk in the park for Theodorou, but “The Spartan” will emerge here and get back to his winning ways.
Carey: For a second there I was worried my colleague wasn’t going to be able to get over his (completely understandable) man crush on Theodorou long enough to actually talk about the fight. But once he actually got down to business, I didn’t find much to argue with here.
Theodorou suffered a bit of a setback against Santos, but at 28 years old he’s just now entering his prime and his fans are hoping the loss will prove as more of a learning experience than anything else as the Canadian prepares to makes his run. Theodorou showed quite a bit of promise during his winning streak to open up his career, but a second straight loss would kill a lot of the goodwill The Ultimate Fighters: Smashes winner earned early in his career, making this a must-win fight for the UFC’s Disney Prince doppleganger.
I’m going to agree with Mr. Huntemann and pick Theodorou to get back on track against Alvey, but I’m not as confident as I’d like to be with this one. Yes, Theodorou looked good early in his UFC career, but the level of opposition was increased for his last fight and he fell short. Alvey is another step up in competition over the guys “The Spartan” took out in his first three fights, and how Theodorou performs is going to answer a lot of questions about his potential to move forward — and upward — in the UFC’s middleweight division.
The UFC is dipping its toe into women’s flyweight MMA with former strawweight title contender Valérie Létourneau facing Joanne Calderwood at 125 pounds. The UFC has billed this as a “catchweight” bout. So, on the surface this fight doesn’t seem to be the formal introduction of a women’s flyweight division. But should it? Or should the UFC continue to just focus on building its women’s bantamweight and strawweight divisions?
Carey: I actually wrote about this a few weeks back when the fight was announced, but I’ll give you guys the cliffnotes version here.
You’re damn right we need a women’s 125-pound division in the UFC. I understand the argument that the UFC doesn’t want to water down its product by adding more and more divisions, but in this case it’s more about giving fighters opportunities to fight at a healthy weight. The lower the weight class, the more dangerous it becomes for these athletes to cut weight. The 20-pound gap between the two current UFC women’s divisions has forced plenty of fighters to fight either above or below their ideal weight.
Someone like Létourneau, who started off as a bantamweight inside the Octagon, shouldn’t be forced to drop almost 10 percent of her body weight in order to make the next smallest weight class. The same goes for someone like Jessica Eye, a natural flyweight whose talent has been overshadowed by the fact that she’s been outmuscled by larger girls at 135 pounds every time she gets some momentum going. Between women like Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Holly Holm at bantamweight and Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Paige VanZant holding it down at 115, there’s enough star power to keep those divisions going strong even if the UFC wanted to create a permanent flyweight division for the ladies. Since the company is obviously flirting with the idea, it might as well go through with it.
Huntemann: Even if there is enough talent to sustain a women’s flyweight division in the UFC, the organization doesn’t need to create one. Frankly, the UFC doesn’t do a good enough job with the women’s divisions it has now.
But what about Rousey, you say? Tate? Holm? VanZant? Jędrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha coaching the current season of The Ultimate Fighter? All valid points. But on the whole, women’s bouts in the UFC are far more under-represented on fight cards than men’s fights. The UFC seems to be developing a good habit recently of opening the main card of its Fox and Fox Sports 1 broadcasts with women’s fights, which is a good way to showcase talent. But if it’s not a bantamweight or strawweight title fight, or it features a star fighter like Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, it seems unlikely you’ll see a women’s fight on a UFC pay-per-view main card.
I wish I had more than anecdotal evidence to back up my claim. Unfortunately, a Google search for statistics on the frequency of women’s fights in the UFC took me to a website that looked legitimate on the surface, but then almost gave my computer a virus (which may be an indictment of my stance, who knows?). But I’m sure the statistics are out there for someone with better searching skills than I.
Ultimately, even if a women’s flyweight division in the UFC would better serve certain female fighters who currently have to fight above or below their natural weight, it just appears to me that adding yet another division would yes, water down the talent, but also not improve their position any in the company. They would likely be neglected at best, and forgotten at worst.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Huntemann: The fight between Tamdan McCrory and Krzysztof Jotko could definitely open some eyebrows.
Jotko only has one loss thus far in his career and is a highly-touted southpaw. McCrory came back to the UFC last year after a brief stint in Bellator, and he emphatically re-introduced himself with a triangle-choke victory over Josh Samman.
Only one of McCrory’s 14 career victories has not come via a finish, whereas only six of Jotko’s 17 career victories have ended in a stoppage. Jotko will likely look to slow the fight down and not give McCrory a chance for a knockout or submission. Meanwhile, McCrory will most definitely look for the finish, as he is wont to do.
It’s a great contrast in styles between a guy who looks to add to his highlight reel and one who would rather grind his opponent out. This fight should serve as a good indicator of whether or not Jotko is ready for tougher challenges in the middleweight division.
Carey: This card looks to be full of really close match-ups, but one that’s really caught my eye is the recently added fight between Colby Covington and late replacement Jonathan Meunier, who stepped in to take the fight about ten days out after Alex Garcia was forced off the card.
Covington is one of the more interesting prospects in the welterweight division. He’s a former JUCO national wrestling champion, he’s suffered only one loss, and he trains out of one of the sport’s premier camps, American Top Team, which is loaded with welterweight talent. Throw in his big win over Mike Pyle last year and it’s clear that Covington has a lot of potential. However, Covington’s loss to Warlley Alves in his last outing slowed down his hype train and proved he’s still not quite as polished in the face of frenetic pressure after he became a bit too aggressive with his takedowns and was caught with an early guillotine choke.
Alves starts fast, hits hard and finishes quickly. While I haven’t seen a ton of Meunier, his resume suggests that he’ll be showing up with a similar killer instinct on Saturday. After all, he’s 7-0 with all of his wins coming by finish and the majority of those finishes coming in the first few minutes.
Covington will be the obvious favorite heading into this contest. He probably has the skills to wrestle his way to victory, but I want to see how “Chaos” holds up if he finds himself in a warzone early.
Pair this card with…
Carey: The College World Series. I’ve got to represent my city here, and as an Omaha native, I can’t recommend anything better to do with your Saturday than to prelude the fights with the first two games of the College World Series. I’m probably more than a little biased when it comes to the CWS, but I feel that it’s one of the most entertaining tournaments in college sports. If you want to get the entire experience, you’ve got to get in on the action from opening day. It may be the middle of summer, but if you’re not up for a day of fun in the sun, then there’s some high-stakes baseball action to fill out your day before the fights kick off.
Huntemann: *CoughHomercough* I kid, I kid. For me, there’s only one way to enjoy this exciting night of fights: by lounging next to the closest pool you can find for the entire afternoon beforehand. Why? Because that’s exactly what I’m going to do. This weekend is a great one for fight fans, and especially for fans of free fights. Before this card airs, we get to enjoy Bellator and the World Series of Fighting go head-to-head with fight cards of their own on Friday, with each card having title fights to boot. So you can start your weekend off right with those fight events, then keep the good times going on Saturday with a relaxing dip at your local pool (maybe even with a cold beer, if your pool allows that sort of thing) and then finish the day strong by watching fighters like Thompson, MacDonald and Cerrone put on exciting performances. Yup, this weekend is going to be awesome.
|Fight||Huntemann’s Pick||Carey’s Pick|
|Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10:30 p.m. ET)|
|WW: Rory MacDonald vs. Stephen Thompson||Thompson||MacDonald|
|WW: Donald Cerrone vs. Patrick Cote||Cerrone||Cerrone|
|LHW: Steve Bosse vs. Sean O’Connell||Bosse||Bosse|
|LW: Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Thibault Gouti||Gouti||Aubin-Mercier|
|Women’s FlyW: Valérie Létourneau vs. Joanne Calderwood||Calderwood||Calderwood|
|Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 2, 8:30 p.m. ET)|
|LW: Jason Saggo vs. Leandro Silva||Silva||Silva|
|LHW: Misha Cirkunov vs. Ion Cutelaba||Cutelaba||Cirkunov|
|MW: Tamdan McCrory vs. Krzysztof Jotko||McCrory||McCrory|
|BW: Joe Soto vs. Chris Beal||Beal||Beal|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:45 p.m. ET)|
|MW: Elias Theodorou vs. Sam Alvey||Theodorou||Theodorou|
|Women’s StrawW: Randa Markos vs. Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger||Markos||Markos|
|WW: Jonathan Meunier vs. Colby Covington||Covington||Covington|
|FlyW: Ali Bagautinov vs. Geane Herrera||Bagautinov||Bagautinov|