August usually means the “dog days of summer,” but the UFC is not content to rest on its laurels and just ride out the end of a remarkable summer for the organization. Rather, the UFC is ending summer with a bang and giving us one of the most highly anticipated rematches in recent memory of a bout that only took place five short months ago.
Nate Diaz stepped in on short notice to fight Conor McGregor at UFC 196 in a welterweight bout. Frankly, Diaz outclassed McGregor, particularly on the ground, en route to a shocking second-round submission victory. Since this is McGregor, the UFC’s biggest star, we’re talking about, a rematch was basically booked immediately for UFC 200. After some squabbling between McGregor and the UFC, the fight was moved to the UFC 202 card.
Has McGregor learned enough jiu-jitsu in the last five months to avoid suffering the same fate a second time against the black belt Diaz? Will another loss to Diaz cause irreparable harm to McGregor’s aura as the UFC’s biggest star? Does another victory against McGregor make Diaz a title contender?
This definitely isn’t a one-fight card, either. Anthony “Rumble” Johnson faces Glover Teixeira in the co-headliner, which is presumably a No. 1 contender bout. Meanwhile, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Rick Story will surely put on a performance that will bring fans to their feet.
The action kicks off at 6:30 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass with three preliminary card showdowns before shuffling over to Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET for the four remaining prelim contests. From there, it’s off to pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET for the five-fight main card. Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Zach Aittama are here to get you ready for all of the action.
Nate Diaz already has a win over Conor McGregor at welterweight, but the UFC is giving fans an immediate rematch. Will McGregor fare better in the second go-around, or will Diaz prove that his first victory over McGregor was no fluke? Should this rematch have taken place at lightweight?
Aittama: Let’s take a step back and look at what transpired in the first fight.
We need to look back even further to fully comprehend the storyline of the first clash between McGregor and Diaz. It was announced 10 days before UFC 196 that lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos was injured and unable to defend his title against the featherweight king McGregor. The UFC scrambled to find a potential replacement opponent from a list of formidable candidates that included former champ Anthony Pettis and fan-favorite Donald Cerrone. Zuffa brass took just one day to make one of the most monumental decisions in 2016.
UFC President Dana White joined McGregor and Diaz for an impromptu pre-fight press conference that quickly went viral. The UFC’s decision to put Diaz in the fight greatly increased the hype around the newly crowned featherweight champion’s return to the Octagon following his 13-second destruction of long-time featherweight champ José Aldo. The decision to bring in an “out-of-shape” lightweight contender turned out to be one of the best moves the UFC could have made — and maybe one of the worst, too.
Diaz and McGregor did more than enough leading up to the fight to sell the bout to the casual fans tuning in to see what everyone else was talking about on social media. McGregor seemed upbeat and confident heading into what he and much of his fan following believed would be a easy win for the heavy-hitting Irishman. McGregor stepped on the scales at a comfortable 168 pounds. Diaz would have struggled to make lightweight on short notice, so the fighters met in the welterweight division in what was essentially a battle of lightweights not having to cut to make the weight.
This is where the problems began for McGregor. The massive featherweight walked onto the scale after a week of steak and luxuries he would never be afforded if he had to cut to make 145 pounds. The struggle to get down to featherweight was a torturous venture for McGregor that made him hungrier come fight time. The average observer may take not having to cut weight as a benefit for McGregor, but it turned out to be just one of many complications that made this fight different than his destructive path through the featherweight division.
Many pundits and fans believed McGregor was given softballs on his path to the UFC featherweight crown. The brash trash-talking “Mystic Mac” marched through the weight class with win after win, knockout after knockout. The red flags were waving when McGregor was given striker after striker. That may be the case when it comes to his match-up with Dennis Siver to earn his title shot against Aldo. However, McGregor had to defeat top fighters Dustin Poirier, Max Holloway and eventually Chad Mendes when Aldo pulled out of their UFC 189 bout on 12 days’ notice. Any notion about softballs would change when McGregor was slated to face Diaz, a strong transitional grappler with a knack for pulling off that “fuck you” submission against some of the top lightweights.
In Diaz, McGregor was fighting one of his most experienced opponents to date and a guy with the best ability to absorb and avoid punishment. Diaz was fresh off a dominant comeback performance against rising lightweight contender Michael Johnson at UFC on Fox 17. He was by far the best grappler that McGregor had ever faced. Anyone who was a fan of the Skrap Pack knew that even on 10 days’ notice, Diaz was going to be one of the toughest tests of the 27-year-old’s career.
McGregor seemed just a little off in his approach. He was pushing Diaz back with spinning attacks and power punching. Diaz was sneaking in his own shots during the exchanges. Diaz was bloodied up by the end of the first frame, like both Nate and his brother, Nick, often are. McGregor had his moments of success with his counter left hand off of Diaz’s lead right jab. The featherweight king showed improvement in his head movement and overall boxing ability despite getting hit with some strong left straights and jabs from Diaz throughout the round.
McGregor wasn’t quite comfortable fighting against someone taller who held a reach advantage. McGregor’s bout against Mendes was against a fighter giving up nearly eight inches of reach, and the results were clear. McGregor put Mendes away with a left hand in the second round after he brutalized the body in the first round with hard kicks and punches. McGregor wasn’t afforded that advantage against Diaz.
Diaz put his significant advantage to use in the second round with his signature “Stockton Slap” to counter the aggressive McGregor. Diaz started putting his combinations together as the time ticked off the clock and McGregor continued to taunt and push the pace in the fight. Diaz completely changed the course of the fight with a one-two combination that stunned McGregor. The simple southpaw favorite morphed the close fight into a domination after a major momentum swing in Diaz’s favor. Diaz turned up the pressure as he smelled the blood in the water. He battered McGregor in the clinch and continued to press forward with his right jab-left straight combinations until the Irishman couldn’t take the punishment on the feet anymore. McGregor was sapped of his energy from the punches and he made a major mistake. McGregor shot in for a takedown against the far superior grappler.
The maneuver signaled the end for McGregor. Diaz jumped on a guillotine and used it to get into the mount of a tired and reeling McGregor. Diaz landed two strong punches from the top position that forced McGregor to turn over and give up his back. Diaz stretched McGregor out, landed a few quick strikes, put his arm under the chin and tightened up the rear-naked choke. McGregor tapped and the fans in the audience, from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to Niall Horan from One Direction, had their spirit crumbled by the bloodied underdog’s second-round submission victory. Diaz took to the mic in the post-fight interview to tell the countless doubters watching worldwide that he was confident in his abilities. Diaz spoke his mind, saying, “I’m not surprised, motherfuckers!” The nearly three-to-one underdog toppled the biggest superstar in the sport.
McGregor wanted the rematch. Despite his coach’s wishes, he wanted the rematch at welterweight. Following a risky business move by McGregor, the fight was pulled from the UFC’s crown jewel event, UFC 200, after the Irishman failed to meet his promotional requirements set out in his UFC contract.
The two sides came to an agreement, though, and now the fight is on for UFC 202.
This is where we stand today. Just six months following his upset defeat, McGregor has brought in boxing champions and high-level grapplers to prepare for the biggest fight in his career. Diaz enters the fight with a full camp himself. Many have questioned the timing for McGregor after taking such a hard loss less than a year ago. However, the UFC is in the business of making money and this certainly is a money fight.
I don’t believe the outcome will change the second time around, but I do believe McGregor will approach this fight differently. He won’t look to put Diaz away in the first and he won’t pressure Diaz. Instead, he’ll look to counter the excellent boxer with a combination of his left cross, a strong jab and straight, and, for his sake, a few strong leg kicks to the lead leg of Diaz. Diaz won’t need to change much heading into the second bout. He will have to capitalize on any McGregor mistake and make the most of his opportunities, because they could be less frequent against a better prepared McGregor.
Diaz brings it home for his Stockon faithful and continues to build his own profile as a star mixed martial artist. He’ll lock up another submission victory after a close and competitive main event.
Huntemann: Good God, dude. Must you write so long every single time? UFC 202 will be over by the time we finish reading your responses. I’ll just stick to the script and answer the questions as presented, thank you very much.
Will McGregor fare better with a full training camp specifically tailored to facing Diaz? Yes, he will. No one should have been surprised that McGregor was confident facing Diaz on short notice at UFC 196. Unlike some of his contemporaries, the Irishman has no problem facing an entirely new opponent with minimal time to prepare when unexpected circumstances arise.
I’ll be honest, too. I thought McGregor would make short work of Diaz, much like he did of Aldo. I underestimated the possible effects of what moving up two weight classes might have on McGregor, and I also greatly underestimated Diaz. I believed his best days (as they were) were behind him and McGregor would just enjoy another easy payday. Oh, how wrong I was.
All that said, while I don’t think McGregor will be submitted in the second round again, I don’t think he will win either. Simply put, Diaz is unlike any other fighter McGregor has faced. Diaz isn’t intimidated by McGregor like other fighters have been, even if those guys will never admit it. Diaz isn’t letting McGregor get in his head, as happened to Aldo when the Brazilian lost the featherweight title to McGregor last year.
Another way to put it? Diaz gives exactly zero fucks. He dishes it out just as good as he takes it, and he dishes out the trash talk to McGregor just as good — and better, frankly — as McGregor delivers it. Even with a full training camp to prepare this time, McGregor won’t be able to keep up with Diaz on the ground. McGregor may have trained nothing but jiu-jitsu for the last five months, but Diaz has been training in it most of his life. If this fight goes to the mat again, I don’t like McGregor’s chances.
I’m also not sure having this fight at lightweight would change the outcome any. McGregor wouldn’t have to put on as much weight, but I don’t think it’s a matter of mass for him. It’s a matter of skill. While McGregor is as skilled a striker as they come, Diaz eats strikes for breakfast. He took McGregor’s best shots in their first fight and just smiled. If McGregor can outland Diaz in strikes, he has a chance to win a decision. But if Diaz takes McGregor down, the Irishman is in big trouble.
Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and Glover Teixeira serve as the evening’s co-headliners. Both men are high-level light heavyweights, but they feel like also-rans in a division controlled by Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones. Can either man shatter that notion? Is Rumble capable of beating Cormier in a rematch? Can Rumble contend against Jones?
Huntemann: As much as it may pain some fight fans, Jones needs to be removed from this equation, at least for the time being. He’s likely facing a multiple-year suspension for his recent drug-test failure and will be a non-factor in the light heavyweight division until he decides to stop pissing away (literally) his extraordinary talent. That said, he did post an optimistically vague video on social media over the weekend that seemed to imply he might come back to the UFC sooner rather than later. For now, though, let’s operate under the assumption that he doesn’t.
A rematch between Cormier and Rumble doesn’t sound like the most exciting on paper. Neither does a bout between Cormier and Teixeira. Cormier dominated Rumble to win the title last year, and while Johnson rebounded nicely with dominant performances of his own against Jimi Manuwa and Ryan Bader, it remains to be seen if he can fare any better a second time against an elite wrestler like Cormier.
Teixeira could present a more interesting fight. He’s won his last three contests, all via finish, including back-to-back knockout wins over Patrick Cummins and Rashad Evans. Teixeira has top-level jiu-jitsu to go with his knockout power, so he would likely be just as comfortable standing with Cormier as he would going to the mat. If you’re hoping for an exciting title fight in the light heavyweight division, you’re rooting for Teixeira to defeat Rumble.
I was all set to pick Johnson, given his impressive performances since his loss to Cormier. However, after further consideration, I’m changing my mind and going with Teixeira. He can match Johnson’s power and surpass him on the ground, which makes the difference here. There’s no aspect to this fight that should make Teixeira uncomfortable.
Aittama: Unlike my colleague, I don’t believe you can take Jones completely out of the discussion. He’s been one of the most dominant fighters in UFC history, if not the most dominant. He’s done everything in his power to remove himself from this discussion through controversy after controversy, but you can’t really evaluate the talent in the light heavyweight division without factoring in Jones. Besides, there are fights for Jones that offer mass appeal: a rematch with Cormier, a fight with Rumble, potential rematches with Teixeira or even Alexander Gustafsson. Yet, I wouldn’t consider Jones to be an active participant in the upcoming title picture.
The potential match-ups between Rumble, Teixeira and Cormier, in any order or combination, will offer fans an exciting championship triangle for the time being. It’s clear that the winner of this fight should be the No.1 light heavyweight contender for Cormier’s title.
I disagree with my fellow writer’s assessment that a rematch between Johnson and Cormier wouldn’t be exciting. Their first bout was a tale of two fights. Johnson hit Cormier with some heavy punches and a devastating head kick, but the champion’s chin has been known to stand up to punishment better than most fighters. Cormier had serious trouble getting Johnson to the floor in the first fight. It took Cormier lifting Rumble clear off the ground to finally get him to the mat. That’s when the fight changed drastically in the other direction. Cormier elbowed and punched Johnson into a bloody mess in the second round. The turnaround left Johnson in a world of trouble that had his coaches concerned he was giving up. Johnson’s will and heart had come into question in a few of his past fights. However that notion was only brought back up when Johnson met extreme adversity against Cormier. Rumble did succumb to Cormier’s rear-naked choke submission in the third frame.
Teixeira could certainly fair better on the ground against Cormier, but I would question whether or not Teixeira could stay off of his back. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt does his best work from top position, and no one wants to be under the smothering former Olympic wrestler. I could absolutely see Cormier getting the better of both fighters. However, both men carry otherworldly power into a potential match-up with Cormier. Sometimes all it takes is one mistake or misstep.
Teixeira has already fought Jones in a weird and somewhat disappointing performance. Jones opted to yank on Teixeira’s shoulder in the early going before giving the eye-poke enthusiasts even more to talk about. Jones cruised past Teixeira in one of the Brazilian’s more reserved outings. Teixeira took another loss to former UFC fighter Phil Davis before starting up his current three-fight winning streak. Teixeira was dropped, but not broken, against Ovince St. Preux. He weathered the early storm in each round to put on a dominant grappling performance that ended with a rear-naked choke to put the Tennessee native to sleep in his home state. Teixeira made quick work of the aforementioned Cummins before putting away former UFC champion Evans in under two minutes. The Brazilian has impressed since his last loss to Jones, but again, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he overcomes one of the greatest fighters in the sport’s history.
The Johnson-Jones match-up is an interesting potential future bout. Rumble is one of the hardest hitters in the sport, with an impressive eight knockout wins in his last 12 fights. His only loss in that stretch was the aforementioned bout with Cormier. This potential fight is so intriguing because most fans want to know how Jones will navigate the dangerous exchanges on the feet. Jones is a strong wrestler, especially inside, but getting there and actually getting Johnson, a strong takedown defender, down is a different story. It’s a fight I don’t want to lose in the wake of Jones’s suspension.
Now, back to the fight this weekend. Teixeira and Johnson make for an exciting match-up of power punchers who aren’t afraid to hunt for the knockout. Rumble has finished 15 of his 21 wins by way of knockout. Teixeira has finished 21 of his 25 career wins. This is a fight that has all the makings of an all-out action showdown with one man leaving on his own accord and another leaving the Octagon on a stretcher. You might want to cover your children’s eyes when these two behemoths clash inside the cage, because someone is getting knocked the fuck out.
I will leave with my childish impressions of this fight. This matchmaking brings me back to when I first started watching the UFC in 2003, a time when the light heavyweight division was the premier division in the sport with names like Wanderlei Silva, Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell and many others. Rumble and Teixeira are two of the best in the division fighting for the next shot at UFC gold.
What to make of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone? He’s probably the most popular fighter in the UFC and can always be counted on to deliver entertaining performances. However, almost every time he has a big fight, he comes up short, most notably against Rafael dos Anjos last year. Is Cerrone just a gatekeeper now? A special attraction? Will he ever hold a UFC title?
Aittama: I can get behind the idea that Cerrone doesn’t always show up when the fight matters most, but I don’t believe that he falters in every big fight. Cerrone rose to the occasion more than once over his career inside the Octagon. He has earned 17 wins since joining the UFC in 2011, including victories over current UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, former champ Benson Henderson and many more top-flight competitors. Cerrone has stopped a record 15 opponents inside the UFC/WEC with spectacular finishes over Edson Barboza, Charles Oliveira, Jim Miller, John Makdessi and many others. The list of Cerrone victims is far too long to list, which certainly plays to the fact that Cerrone is a fan-favorite and sellable fighter among the casual observer.
It’s hard to find a fight involving the brash Colorado native and New Mexico transplant that doesn’t include an entertaining bout and an exciting finish. Cerrone is the performance-bonus king, with an astounding 17 fight-night bonuses. To say Cerrone is a special attraction is an understatement, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t be able to get back into the title picture. Yeah, he got dropped and stopped in under 70 seconds by dos Anjos in his first attempt at UFC gold. That loss doesn’t mean he won’t have a fighting chance to find himself back at the top. If he makes his way back to the top, though, it will be in his new found weight class, the welterweight division. It’s a division where he has already picked up two wins in 2016 with finishes of Alex Oliveira and, most recently, Patrick Côté.
Cerrone has 10 wins and only one defeat — the loss to dos Anjos — in his past 11 fights. His last loss before his impressive streak of eight wins came at the hands of dos Anjos, too. The Brazilian took advantage of his superior grappling and a strong first round to take home a decision victory, but Cerrone started to climb back into the fight in the third round. Cerrone is a fighter who very much relies on the ebbs and flows of the fight game. Cerrone needs to find his rhythm to get rolling and showcase his full set of skills. He wasn’t able to find the rhythm when he dropped two fights to dos Anjos, ate a nasty liver kick from Pettis and was on the wrong side of a UFC record of significant strikes from Nate Diaz. Cerrone has shown inconsistencies in his offensive attack and mental state in his past fights. I believe many of those technical inconsistencies and mental lapses have subsided with the addition of striking coach Brandon Gibson to the all-star stable of Jackson-Winkeljohn.
Cerrone showcased his entire skill set against Côté, a very durable veteran, at UFC Fight Night 89 in June. He was able to expertly hit two double-leg takedowns on the aggressive Canadian before showcasing a brief look into his high-level ground game. He demonstrated his power and striking ability with three knockdowns, one in the second frame with a left hook and two in the third and final round. Cerrone looked calm and confident in his diverse offensive attack against the former light heavyweight with a strong series of kicks and punching combinations that eventually shattered the iron chin of Côté. Cerrone snuck in a left hook and two right hands to put Côté down before finishing him off with a series of punches on the ground against the cage. Cerrone kept his streak alive in an utterly dominant performance.
It’s hard to say that Cerrone will never reach the top of the welterweight division, especially with the revolving door of welterweight contenders, but if he has to put together another eight-fight winning streak to get his title shot, like he had to in the lightweight division, the likelihood he gets another crack at the belt drops significantly. Cerrone has one of the best records of active UFC fighters, but the welterweight division has become highly competitive with the retirement of Georges St-Pierre a few years ago and the emergence of the deep contender pool of one of the sport’s most talent-rich divisions.
One of those contenders has been overlooked in this line of questioning, and that man is the fighter who will be standing across the Octagon from Cerrone on Saturday night. Rick Story has put together an impressive winning streak of his own in his past three fights with victories over top contenders Gunnar Nelson and Tarec Saffiedine. Story is a bruising welterweight with a knack for throwing heavy leather and grinding on and breaking his opponents. Story finally broke through to contendership with a decision victory over Nelson in 2014. The MMA Lab product previously defeated former champion Johny Hendricks and title challenger Thiago Alves over five years ago. However, Story wasn’t able to pick up another top quality win until the five-round fight with Nelson nearly two years ago. He changed his fortune with a close, but clear-cut decision victory over former top-10 fighter Saffiedine in his return to the cage at UFC Fight Night 88 in May. Story found a home for his left hook and winging punches throughout the 15-minute affair.
Story has a style that could frustrate Cerrone in their upcoming clash. He makes use of his strength to hold his opponents against the cage and wear them down over the course of the fight. Cerrone won’t be the shorter of the two on fight night, but he will likely be smaller than Story. That doesn’t necessarily mean Cerrone will get bullied, as he is more than ready to battle back if the fight stays on the feet or the mat. Cerrone can’t get complacent with his success if he wants to continue his climb up the welterweight ladder. He will need to show up in top form and make good use of his much more diverse offensive attack. He will have opportunities to counter his aggressive foe, especially with one of his favorite techniques, the rear leg head kick. Saffiedine glanced a few right high kicks off of the back of the neck of Story in their fight and I don’t see Cerrone passing on the opportunity to land a few of his own.
“Cowboy” continues his impressive run and keeps his title hopes alive, but he’s more likely to keep his focus on collecting bonuses and calling for big money fights, and I don’t blame him one bit.
Huntemann: Facts are facts, my friend. Yes, Cerrone has a bunch of victories in the UFC. Yes, he’s beaten some of the best names out there, including Alvarez and Henderson. But before he defeated “Bendo” in the UFC, he lost to him twice in the WEC with a title on the line. He also lost to dos Anjos twice. He’s also lost to Diaz and Pettis when victories would have put him in line for a title shot.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Cerrone is a bum. Far from it. He still has a lot left in the tank. It’s just perplexing that when he has something significant to fight for, he comes up short. Is it a matter of skill? I don’t think so. Cerrone is as talented as they come, with elite striking to boot. Should he perhaps put down the jetskis and ATVs and maybe spend a little more time in the gym?
Cerrone isn’t a gatekeeper, and I’m not exactly questioning Cerrone’s work ethic. But if Cerrone wants to be known as more than just a guy who puts on a fun fight but can’t quite seem to get over the hump, it might behoove him to try changing things up a little. Cerrone takes on all comers, which can be a good thing or a bad thing as he tries to achieve gold in the UFC.
Cody Garbrandt put himself into bantamweight title contention with an impressive first-round knockout of Thomas Almeida in May. Is his fight with Takeya Mizugaki a step in the wrong direction, or is it another opportunity for Garbrandt to put his name on the map?
Huntemann: My kneejerk reaction is that a fight with Mizugaki does represent a risk for Garbrandt. But once you get past the hype that surrounds Garbrandt, you should realize that he’s more or less right on track with his career. Yes, he knocked out a fast-rising prospect in Almeida and it would be understandable to get caught up in that and reward him with an immediate title shot against Dominick Cruz.
But that would have been a mistake. Cruz is one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world right now and likely would have exposed the fact that it might have been too much, too soon for Garbrandt. Giving him a battle-tested veteran like Mizugaki is a great way to determine if Garbrandt is truly ready for the UFC to get behind him and push him as one of its next bright young stars.
Now, if Garbrandt knocks out Mizugaki as quickly as he did Almeida (which I think he will)? Then I’m definitely open to having a conversation about Garbrandt receiving a title shot.
Aittama: I share this line of thinking when it comes to the proper development path of Garbrandt. He doesn’t need to be rushed to a title when there are qualified challengers waiting around him. T.J. Dillashaw is coming off a win at UFC 200 where he avenged one of his three career defeats. Bryan Caraway impressed in his decision win over formerly undefeated prospect Aljamain Sterling. John Lineker is scheduled to meet John Dodson in October after he recently handed Michael McDonald the worst beatdown of his career. There isn’t much room for Garbrandt to slide into the title picture in the near future.
That’s why this match-up isn’t a step back, as my colleague put it. It’s a fight against a battle-tested veteran that presents a bit of a risk for the up-and-coming Garbrandt. This fight has just enough risk to sell Garbrandt against a fighter who has been among the top 10 or so bantamweights for the past six years. Mizugaki offers both excitement for the fans and potentially another name for Garbrandt’s growing resume. The Japanese bantamweight is not too far removed from a five-fight winning streak that featured wins over Caraway, Francisco Rivera and Erik Perez. The streak came crashing down when the aforementioned champion Cruz returned to the Octagon for the first time in three years. That loss doesn’t look so bad after Cruz took the title from Dillashaw in January and defended it against Urijah Faber in June. Mizugaki was submitted for only the second time in his career in his next outing against the aforementioned Sterling. The 32-year-old did get back on track in his most recent outing, a decision win over George Roop in September 2015.
Garbrandt put his boxing skills on display in his last outing against the formerly unbeaten Almeida. The 25-year-old Team Alpha Male prospect ended the Brazilian’s 21-fight winning streak with a first-round knockout in May. The win was Garbrandt’s first top-10 win and the biggest of his career. Mizugaki has a stronger resume than Almeida and has been around the UFC and WEC for far longer. A win over the returning Mizugaki could be the showcase fight UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby was looking for after Garbrandt’s coming-out party in May.
Since joining the WEC, Mizugaki has just one win when he opened as the betting underdog. He is more than a five-to-one favorite heading into this bout with Garbrandt. The Californian throws his hands with bad intentions. Garbrandt has finished eight of his nine wins by knockout, and Mizugaki isn’t exactly invincible when his chin is touched. Mizugaki has been dropped in many of his past fights, but oddly enough, only two men — Cruz and Kenji Osawa, all the way back in 2006 when Shooto still employed the knockdown rule — have finished the 11-year veteran. Garbrandt definitely has more steam on his punches than Osawa and Cruz. Even if Garbrandt doesn’t get the finish, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he doesn’t get the win.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Aittama: To continue on my theme of the day: someone’s getting knocked out. South Korean gunslinger Hyun Gyu Lim will go blow for blow with Octagon newcomer Mike Perry.
Lim hasn’t been inside of a cage since he fought and lost to top-10 welterweight Neil Magny at UFC Fight Night 66 in May 2015. “Ace” showcased his powerful punches and knees in his three Octagon wins which ended in knockouts. Lim had setbacks in exciting fights with former Strikeforce welterweight champion Tarec Saffiedine and Neil Magny. The tall and lengthy fighter puts his chin on the line in order to put his opponents away during wild exchanges.
If you’re looking for a single fight on this card that could be a potential all-out brawl, this is it. Lim was originally slated to face Sultan Aliev before a wrist injury forced Aliev off the fight card. Undefeated “Platinum” Perry brings seven knockout wins in his seven professional fights. Six of those seven knockouts have come in the first round.
This fight makes for a solid addition to the pay-per-view lineup. Many fans won’t recognize either fighter going into the bout, but they won’t forget either man after they leave it all in the Octagon on Saturday night.
Huntemann: The strawweight bout between Randa Markos and Cortney Casey could be sneaky good to watch, if you know what to pay attention to.
Both fighters are coming off impressive victories, particularly Casey, who knocked out Cristina Stanciu in the first round last month. Markos is 2-2 in the UFC, but her two losses came to former title contender Jessica Penne in a closely contested bout and in a fight that went the distance with the probable next title contender, Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
Since Markos moved her training to the Tristar Gym in Montreal, she’s experienced immediate dividends with improved striking. In Casey’s last fight and when she faced Joanne Calderwood, “Cast Iron” demonstrated that she isn’t afraid to throw down. If you like crisp, technical striking and know it when you see it, you’ll enjoy this fight.
Pair this card with…
Huntemann: Popcorn. Why, you ask? Because, as former NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens used to say, “You need to get your popcorn ready” to watch this card. Between McGregor/Diaz 2 and fighters like Rumble, Teixeira, Cerrone, Story and Garbrandt competing on this card, it should be an exciting night of fights. Even if popcorn isn’t your snack of choice, make sure you have yours with you. You’ll want something to savor as you enjoy what will no doubt be some entertaining performances.
Aittama: The first aid kit. UFC 202 is pure excitement from top to bottom. By the time the main event rolls around, you may need to perform CPR to wake your guests back up after getting knocked out from all of the action. Your guests will be left battered and bruised after the back-and-forth slugfests seemingly popping out of your television and into your living room. Don’t forget the smelling salts and cold press!
|Fight||Aittama’s Pick||Huntemann’s Pick|
|Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)|
|WW: Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor||Diaz||Diaz|
|LHW: Anthony “Rumble” Johnson vs. Glover Teixeira||Johnson||Teixeira|
|WW: Donald Cerrone vs. Rick Story||Cerrone||Cerrone|
|WW: Hyun Gyu Lim vs. Mike Perry||Lim||Lim|
|WW: Tim Means vs. Sabah Homasi||Means||Means|
|Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)|
|BW: Cody Garbrandt vs. Takeya Mizugaki||Garbrandt||Garbrandt|
|Women’s BW: Raquel Pennington vs. Elizabeth Phillips||Pennington||Pennington|
|FW: Artem Lobov vs. Chris Avila||Lobov||Avila|
|Women’s StrawW: Randa Markos vs. Cortney Casey||Markos||Casey|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)|
|WW: Neil Magny vs. Lorenz Larkin||Larkin||Magny|
|WW: Colby Covington vs. Max Griffin||Covington||Covington|
|WW: Alberto Uda vs. Marvin Vettori||Vettori||Uda|