Eight takedown attempts. Three successful takedowns. Three submission attempts. One tapout.
The night of May 23, 2015 is one Anthony “Rumble” Johnson would certainly like to have back. After scoring an early knockdown of Daniel Cormier in a scrap for the light heavyweight championship, Johnson found himself on the receiving end of all those takedown and submission attempts. In the end, Rumble’s fingers were the ones tapping the mat four times, quickly, before referee “Big” John McCarthy pulled Cormier off his back. Cormier had won after securing a rear-naked choke.
Now, Rumble gets his chance to succeed where he once failed. The former welterweight has another shot at the UFC light heavyweight title against a familiar foe. Cormier’s wrestling, clinch work and dirty boxing allowed him to march to victory in the first contest. However, Johnson’s pure power cannot be overlooked. Rumble has a chance for vengeance, but can he drop the champ?
The light heavyweight tilt headlines a card that also features top middleweights Chris Weidman and Gegard Mousasi, as well as rising stars Will Brooks, Kamaru Usman and Cynthia Calvillo. It’s a night full of high stakes as fighters look for gold and a move up the ladder.
UFC 210 takes place at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, N.Y., on April 8. The action kicks off with four fights on UFC Fight Pass at 6:15 p.m. ET before moving to Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET for the four remaining prelim bouts. Then, it’s off to pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET for the five-fight main card. Combat Press writers Zach Aittama and Bryan Henderson preview the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
It’s rematch time! Daniel Cormier puts his UFC light heavyweight strap on the line against Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, a fighter Cormier beat for the vacant title in 2015. Does anything change from their first meeting?
Aittama: Johnson would have us believe that he is a completely different fighter than the one who faced Cormier at UFC 187 in May 2015. There are a few important factors as to why he may in fact be correct in his self-assessment.
First, Johnson is a stronger, faster and more dominant version of the fighter that fought at welterweight. Since moving up to light heavyweight, he has won 11 of his 12 fights, with his only defeat coming in the first match-up with Cormier. Cutting out his tremendous weight cut to 170 pounds and allowing his body to add lean muscle mass not only improved his already incredible power, but it allowed Johnson to focus more on honing his craft rather than spending a large chunk of his fight camp on shedding weight. The improvements in his game have been apparent.
Second, this will be the third time these men are scheduled to meet. This may be a small detail, but it’s very important to note that the first fight was on relatively short notice. Johnson was scheduled to meet Jon Jones at UFC 187 before Jones was pulled from the fight about four weeks out due to the indefinite suspension handed down by the UFC for his reckless driving accident in April of the same year. While switching an opponent is commonplace, the contrasting styles of Jones and Cormier made the proposition difficult for Johnson’s first attempt at UFC gold. Cormier was already in training camp for a scheduled No.1 contender fight against Ryan Bader. The American Kickboxing Academy product’s opponent changed as well, but his days in the wrestling room and at tournaments give him a distinct advantage when taking on an opponent with little to no prep time. This time around, Rumble cut down on this advantage when their second scheduled meeting at UFC 206 was canceled due to an injury sustained by Cormier. Johnson has now had two full fight camps in preparation for the champion, which will build his confidence leading up to fight night.
Third, Cormier cut down his training time for this fight camp from 12 weeks to eight weeks to avoid another potential injury. This could be another minor detail that could potentially shape the fight. Cormier was injured in December, albeit with a minor groin injury, but it was the second injury for Cormier in the past year. He has become accustomed to not having his No.1 sparring partner, former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, because the fight camp has been plagued by frequent injuries. Less than two months ago, Cormier was out of shape and not ready to take on one of the next best light heavyweights in the world. There is no questioning Cormier’s professionalism, his respect for the sport, and his resume on fight night, but the build-up to this fight opens up some questions for the champion heading into only his second title defense in the past two years. We don’t know how Cormier will react to a shortened camp and, more importantly, what steps Johnson has taken to mitigate the issues he faced in the first meeting.
Cormier is without a doubt one of the best light heavyweights in the sport’s history. In his 19-fight career, “DC” holds victories over three former UFC champions and a who’s who of top contenders on his way to the top of two different weight classes. If not for Velasquez, Cormier may have entertained the idea of becoming a two-division champion despite his smaller stature. However, the champ is now 38 with a lifetime of damage to his body. The question of how long Cormier can stay at his peak athletic state will start to come soon. He’s spent much of his MMA career fending off bigger opponents, but there will come a time when he’s no longer able to take down the goliaths of the world.
Most people remember the pair’s first fight differently than what actually transpired. Cormier did not dominate the wrestling exchanges until the latter part of the fight. In fact, Cormier struggled to take Johnson down in the first round. Cormier was able to get inside and work his takedown attempts, but Johnson used his size and strength to fend off every attempt and remain on the feet. It wasn’t until the second round that Johnson was taken down and kept down. Johnson conceded the takedown only after Cormier had to pick Johnson entirely off the ground and move him to the center of the Octagon. This is where Cormier was able to control position, pass to a dominant top position and start to land a nasty, and I mean nasty, series of elbow strikes and ground-and-pound that took the fight out of Johnson. An ill-advised takedown attempt from Johnson to start the third round was reversed by Cormier, and the champion eventually used a snap down to take the back and sink in the rear-naked choke. There is no question that Johnson folded under Cormier’s intense ground pressure, but there were some positives for Johnson in the fight.
Johnson was able to hit Cormier on multiple occasions throughout the first two rounds of the contest. He hit Cormier hard enough that Cormier knew he didn’t want to exchange blow for blow with the power puncher. Cormier’s striking was merely a means to an end. Johnson stunned Cormier with a right hand early in the first and a left head kick in the second frame. Johnson’s moments of offense were few and far between, but he surely made every exchange matter. That’s what makes this match-up so dangerous for Cormier. The champion was able to stand for the duration of his 25-minute affair with Alexander Gustafsson with relative comfort, but he was extremely uncomfortable trying to navigate the safest path to Johnson’s hips in the first fight knowing his night could end with just one shot.
Since their last meeting, Cormier needed five rounds to get the dangerous Gustafsson out of their championship bout at UFC 192. He then coasted past short-notice replacement and former UFC middleweight champ Anderson Silva at UFC 200. Johnson, on the other hand, has finished all three of his top-10 ranked opponents in an average of two minutes and 22 seconds. Rumble knocked out Jimi Manuwa, Bader and Glover Teixeira to earn another crack at Cormier as the most deserving contender in the division.
This brings us to fight night, where I believe we will have a new UFC light heavyweight champion. I’ve previewed Johnson’s last three bouts for this site, and each time I have gone with Johnson to take home the victory. I’ve watched his career extensively over the past few years, and there is so much to like about his fight game. Johnson has shown his worth as a fighter. Only Cormier and Jones rank above him for the honor of the best light heavyweight in the world. This fight is not only a great title bout, but probably the best single fight we have had so far this year. These two men really are two of the very best mixed martial artists in the world. For now, the guy sitting on top is Cormier, but there comes a time when every great eventually falls. That time is Saturday night.
Henderson: My colleague has some great points, but he’s not swaying me. Does anything change? Maybe. Perhaps Rumble will go an additional round before he stops being competitive. Or maybe not.
Rumble’s chance against Cormier really does boil down to how quick he can land a knockdown or a knockout. If he drops Cormier, something he did twice in the first match-up, then he has to capitalize and finish the job. I’m certainly not ruling out this possibility. Johnson, as my colleague noted, has demonstrated an ability to stop the takedown early — remember, Cormier only scored three successful takedowns in eight attempts — but Cormier is one hell of a persistent wrestler. Johnson’s chance to change the outcome fades with each passing minute of the five-round fight. Meanwhile, Cormier’s chances of ragdolling Rumble increase.
Cormier withstood Rumble’s early onslaught in the first fight, and he’ll be less likely to invite a stand-up war in the rematch. His strategy will involve striking, of course, but it’ll only be in an attempt to set up his level changes and takedowns. If he can catch Rumble off guard, then he’s more likely to be successful in planting Rumble on the canvas. Once there, the tide swiftly turns in Cormier’s favor. Rumble’s not great off his back, and Cormier’s top game is a tremendous challenge for anyone to overcome.
Odds are, Rumble’s going to come out firing and try to stop Cormier early. It won’t be a shocker if it works, but the higher likelihood is that Rumble eventually falters and Cormier’s wrestling takes front stage again. The round and the finishing method might change, but not much else will be different from the pair’s first encounter.
Bigger things were expected out of Chris Weidman and Gegard Mousasi. Weidman defeated the legendary Anderson Silva and was expected to be a dominant champ, but he wasn’t. Mousasi entered the UFC with a 33-3-2 record and a ton of expectations as a light heavyweight, but he still hasn’t found his way to the top, even with a move down to the middleweight division. Can either of these men recover and rise to the top?
Henderson: These guys are the Nos. 4 and 5 among middleweights in the UFC right now, so of course they can recover. It should only take the act of stringing a couple of victories together to do the job, and a fight against each other is a great launching point.
Mousasi is already well on his way down this path, actually. The Iranian-born, Dutch-based fighter has rattled off four wins in a row as a middleweight. He decisioned Thales Leites before scoring technical knockouts of Thiago Santos, Vitor Belfort and Uriah Hall. His resume, which also includes middleweight victories over Mark Muñoz, Dan Henderson and Costas Philippou, is awfully solid. His only losses since dropping to 185 pounds came against Lyoto Machida, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and the aforementioned Hall, who scored a stunner that Mousasi eventually avenged. This is the record of a fighter who just needs to beat Weidman and maybe one more guy — avenging the loss to Jacare or scoring a win over Luke Rockhold or Yoel Romero would do the trick — before he can throw his hat in the ring for a title shot.
Weidman’s turnaround effort isn’t quite as clean and quick. The 32-year-old’s chin has failed him in two straight outings, first against Rockhold for the title and then against Romero in what seemed like a contender’s bout before the UFC pulled back the curtain and revealed Georges St-Pierre lurking in the shadows. The good news for Weidman is that everyone perceived his last fight as a contest to determine Michael Bisping’s next opponent. The bad news is, he lost. Still, the former champ has his two landmark victories over Anderson Silva, plus title defenses against Machida and Belfort. It’s the type of resume that should keep Weidman in the hunt as long as he starts winning, beginning with his upcoming bout against Mousasi.
Momentum seems to be on Mousasi’s side. This is perhaps his best run since he first brought his name into the global spotlight as a member of the Dream roster. He even defeated Jacare during that run, let’s remember. Mousasi has a deadly striking arsenal whenever he opts to unleash it. He appears to be letting go of his past hesitancies and returning to the form he showed in Japan. Weidman’s chin is there for the taking, and it might just be the factor that leads Mousasi to a title bid.
Aittama: Mousasi had one of the better resumes in the sport when he signed, but I don’t know if that much was expected of him. He was thrown to the wolves early in his UFC career, which really hurt his stock initially. What the move did do, however, was give the well-rounded veteran a chance to recollect and reset his path to the title.
Mousasi made another major change to his career that might be just as good as his four-fight winning streak. The “Dreamcatcher” has suddenly become one of the best personalities in the middleweight division. Not only is the streaking fighter working his way through every challenger, but he is calling his shots every step of the way. He may have the look of a 15th century stone statue, but underneath his nonchalant demeanor is a hungry fighter looking to take his game to the next level. He made it known he was a fighter to fear not only with his fists and feet, but with his clever and surprisingly outgoing post-fight interviews.
Mousasi has flipped the switch, and he is letting everyone know it. A victory over Weidman is just the type of win that could take him to the next level. We’re talking about a fighter who has never backed down from a challenge. He’s a warrior who has defeated fighters across three different weight divisions, including UFC veterans Hector Lombard, Ovince St. Preux, Gary Goodridge and massive heavyweight Mark Hunt. Mousasi was willing to step up on short notice to fight Anthony “Rumble” Johnson in order to save the UFC 206 main event after Cormier was pulled from the fight card with an injury. That wasn’t the first time the brash Dutchman was ready to take on the toughest challenges in the sport, regardless of weight class. Mousasi has been waiting for his star-making performance to break into the title mix at middleweight, which makes this match so compelling for both men inside that cage on Saturday night.
Weidman is in desperate need of a win, but even more so in need of finding his confidence. He burst onto the scene after just four wins before getting signed to the top promotion in the world. There are very few men who have made their way to the UFC after just a handful of fights, and even less who made it all the way to the top of their respective division in the process. Weidman rattled off three straight wins before he got his best win at the time against future welterweight contender Demian Maia. He continued his roll to the top with a breakout win, via elbow knockout, over the aforementioned Muñoz that sent the world ablaze. Weidman came into his first bout with Silva still as a relative unknown, but there were a few experts calling for the downfall of the greatest middleweight of all time. That’s exactly what Weidman delivered when he connected with a beautiful left hook that sent the legend crashing to the mat. The moment still remains as one of the greatest in UFC championship history.
Now here we are. Weidman is six fights removed from the biggest win of his career, a win he will probably never be able to top in the eyes of the fans. It puts Weidman in a tough position should he face setbacks like he did against Rockhold and Romero. Any little push back from his opponents will be made greater because of the successes he earned against one of the sport’s living legends. As time goes on, every story eventually fades, but those lofty expectations for the former champion may never go away. It’s unfortunate to think that Weidman may never get the credit he deserves if he can’t fight his way back to the title, but this is the sport we live and breath.
There is a winner and a loser, and nothing in between. Unfortunately for the loser of this fight, they will likely be pushed to the bottom of a crowded middleweight title picture. For the winner, a potential fight with Rockhold or Jacare could be in store to determine the next contender for the middleweight belt.
Pearl Gonzalez, Des Green and Magomed Bibulatov — do we need to know these names?
Aittama: Gonzalez, 30, has won her last six fights since dropping her professional debut. Her best win in this stretch came against UFC fighter Cortney Casey at XFC 26 in 2013. Gonzalez pulled out the win, but she struggled mightily throughout the scheduled five-round title affair. Casey locked in multiple tight submission attempts and knocked Gonzalez’s mouthpiece clean out of her mouth. Gonzalez showed her grit and ability to fight through tough moments and picked up the victory with a slick triangle-to-armbar transition. These are the types of moments that define whether a fighter has what it takes to outlast their opponent when the game plan doesn’t work. Gonzalez may be up against similar problems when she faces the undefeated Cynthia Calvillo following her successful debut over The Ultimate Fighter 23 finalist Amanda Bobby Cooper. Gonzalez should hang around the UFC strawweight division for years to come, but she may have to do so after taking the second loss in her professional career.
Green, 27, has the most experience of the fighters making their debut. The Tristar Gym product has 19 wins and five losses in his career. The former Bellator tournament finalist has found success since moving to Titan FC, where he has spent much of the past two and a half years. Green has seven wins in his past nine outings, including victories over UFC veterans Miguel Torres and Steven Siler. His only losses in this period came in title fights against the unbeaten Andre Harrison and UFC vet Kurt Holobaugh. Green takes on undefeated Team Alpha Male product Josh Emmett. Green is a solid addition to the organization’s lightweight division, but Emmett has the tools to hand Green a loss in his promotional debut. Green could fight his way up the rankings, but he has his work cut out for him in a very deep division.
Bibulatov, 28, was considered one of the best flyweights outside of the UFC for years. In fact, his well-rounded skill set and dominant winning streak have many believing he will make a major impact upon his debut. Bibulatov meets Filipino flyweight Jenel Lausa in his first fight under the UFC banner. The fight is a perfect match-up to bring out the best in the undefeated Chechen prospect. Lausa is a skilled boxer with a knack for throwing everything into his punches. He will bring the fight to Bibulatov on the feet. Bibulatov will have a clear advantage if this fight hits the mat, but he’s not the fighter to back down from a challenge. The flyweight division lost marquee names at the top, including Kyoji Horiguchi, Zack Makovsky and Ali Bagautinov. The reshuffling of the division will ultimately help fighters like Bibulatov find their way to the top. The question of whether or not Bibulatov’s work outside of the UFC will count toward his ranking if he is victorious is yet to be seen. However, there is an opportunity to make a major impression on the rankings with a dominant victory in his debut.
Henderson: Bibulatov might not crack the top 10 with a victory, but he’ll certainly flirt with a spot in the top 15 at the very least. The current poll has Ryan Benoit at No. 15, and Benoit hasn’t won back-to-back fights since 2012 (!). If the media members who vote on these rankings opt to keep Benoit in and Bibulatov out, then they really aren’t paying attention. The Chechen flyweight has had an impressive run outside of the promotion that includes a World Series of Fighting championship and victories over the likes of Irmeson Oliveira and Giovanni da Silva during his stint in the Akhmat Fight Show organization. Bibulatov is a UFC-ready fighter who should immediately jump into a flyweight title fray that is starving for new contenders.
I’m not quite so fond of the chances for Green and Gonzalez to succeed inside the Octagon.
Gonzalez doesn’t have a lengthy track record. She’s performed well when she’s been in action, but the action is far too infrequent. The 30-year-old did top Casey, but she also lost to Munah Holland and has otherwise faced very inexperienced and inferior competition. The UFC’s women’s strawweight division is going to be a huge leap for Gonzalez. She might stick around for a few fights, but she’s going to struggle to find a win.
Green, meanwhile, has always been a good-but-not-great fighter. His stint in Bellator resulted in just a 3-2 mark, despite a tournament finals appearance. He suffered losses to veterans Fabricio Guerreiro and Daniel Weichel while with the organization. His first Titan run led to a 3-2 record as well, with the aforementioned losses to Harrison and Holobaugh. In his recent return to Titan, Green has gone 2-0, but his opponents were largely unheralded fighters, and Green only eked out a majority decision over his most recent rival, Martin Brown. Before his time in Bellator, Green even lost to a sub-.500 fighter. This seems to be the makeup of a main-card regular for the WSOF, Titan FC or even Bellator, but not a UFC mainstay. Green’s looking like a possible one-and-done candidate if he can’t — and he won’t — get past Emmett.
Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 210?
Henderson: Cynthia Calvillo.
The main card of a UFC pay-per-view is typically reserved for the promotion’s stars and biggest prospects. Maybe the promotion already views Calvillo as a major up-and-comer, or perhaps she — and, really, her opponent, Pearl Gonzalez — got a lucky break in their placement here. Either way, a lot of eyeballs are going to be focused on Calvillo as she seeks to follow up her submission of Amanda Bobby Cooper with another finish of an arguably more established fighter.
Gonzalez, too, has plenty to gain if she can edge Calvillo. She’s a UFC rookie, but she’s going to enjoy the spotlight at UFC 210. Gonzalez has flashed some potential — she beat Cortney Casey early in Casey’s career — but she’s also been frustratingly absent from the cage for long stretches. The 30-year-old has the skills to push Calvillo, but she might not be quite good enough to get the job done.
During her amateur campaign, Calvillo beat Aspen Ladd. As a pro, she’s topped mediocre fighters like the aforementioned Cooper and Montana Stewart. While the Ladd win now seems like the biggest feather in her cap, Calvillo is still quite unproven. If she can finish Gonzalez in front of a pay-per-view audience, then her stock as an undefeated strawweight goes through the roof.
Aittama: There are a few fighters on this card who could make some waves with a victory. The obvious one is Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, if he were to get past Daniel Cormier in the evening’s main event. Gegard Mousasi would be an excellent candidate for the biggest winner should he get past former middleweight champion Chris Weidman. And the same could be said for Weidman if he can end his losing skid.
However, the fighter with the most to gain with a victory on Saturday night is Magomed Bibulatov. The skilled Chechen is making his UFC debut against a talented but beatable opponent. He could enter the UFC flyweight rankings after just one win. If Bibulatov impresses in the opening bout of the evening, he will surely make waves in a flyweight division sorely in need of new blood.
A big win for Bibulatov will likely slot him in the lower end of the rankings. Once in the rankings, Bibulatov matches up well against much of the bottom of the division. A potential fight with a top-15 fighter in his next outing could put Bibulatov inside the top 10 after just two fights. It is extremely difficult to become ranked so quickly upon debuting in the promotion, but the flyweight division is wide open outside of the top five or six fighters. Bibulatov has a bright future ahead of him as long as he can avoid the hands of Jenel Lausa on Saturday night.
Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 210?
Aittama: It’s never a good feeling to predict who is going to do the worst or fall the furthest, but there are a few fighters who desperately need a victory to stay afloat in their division’s title picture, and a few more who need a win to remain under UFC contract. Chris Weidman is in desperate need of a win.
The former middleweight champion, and the only man to defeat the great Anderson Silva twice, has lost two fights in a row. Weidman made an ill-advised attempt at a spinning wheel kick against Luke Rockhold, fell down, and the rest is history. Rockhold moved to mount and rained down a relentless barrage of ground-and-pound. Many fans questioned the non-stoppage by referee Herb Dean, but Weidman eventually succumbed to the onslaught in the next round. Weidman again tasted defeat in his next outing against Yoel Romero at UFC 205. He was in control of the fight after the first two rounds, but one massive flying knee put Weidman away in the final frame.
Weidman has another difficult fight ahead of him when he faces Mousasi on Saturday. If Weidman loses, he will fall to the bottom of the long list of potential middleweight contenders, a list that includes the two men who have defeated him. It’s a difficult fight with high stakes, because Mousasi is a dangerous finisher in every aspect of the sport. Mousasi will be one of the best strikers Weidman has ever faced, and he is just as deadly on the mat.
Not only is this a chance for Weidman to pull himself out of a losing streak, but it’s a fight that could immediately catapult him into title contention. Ultimately, Weidman is the fighter with the most to lose if he can’t find his way back to the win column on Saturday night.
Henderson: Weidman is a strong pick, no argument there. He’s not the only one with a lot at stake here, though. Anthony “Rumble” Johnson is in a rather precarious position as well.
Rumble has made huge strides as a UFC superstar since his days of failed weigh-in attempts as a welterweight. How he ever managed to get anywhere close to 170 pounds is a mystery, but his move up to the more appropriate light heavyweight division has given Rumble the chance to turn into an intimidating force. The problem for the title challenger is that he’s reached what seems to be the ceiling. When he goes up against Daniel Cormier in a rematch of their UFC 187 bout, which Cormier won rather convincingly with a third-round submission finish, he only has one weapon that can get him the win: his power. If he lands something early, he can definitely destroy Cormier. He almost did it in their first meeting. However, the window closes rather quickly and, as Cormier demonstrated in their 2015 affair, the champ’s wrestling comes to the forefront.
Cormier can, and will, ragdoll Rumble for as long as it takes to get the win, even if that means 25 minutes of a wrestling clinic inside the Octagon. Rumble tends to fade in these types of grueling battles, which will only open up another hole that Cormier can exploit for the finish.
Once Rumble loses again, what’s left for him at light heavyweight? He’ll have suffered two losses to the current champion, but he’s decimated the likes of fellow top contenders Alexander Gustafsson, Glover Teixeira and Jimi Manuwa (not to mention, Bellator’s top light heavies, Phil Davis and Ryan Bader). Does he face a set of rematches to prove himself yet again as the No. 3 light heavyweight in the world behind Jon Jones and the aforementioned Cormier? Fans probably wouldn’t mind, but it won’t be the most thrilling ride for Rumble himself.
And, yes, even a loss wouldn’t take too much shine off a match-up between Rumble and Jones, but there’s no timetable for that one, and who knows how many more run-ins Jones will have with the law or the USADA between now and then.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Henderson: This card is ridiculous when it comes to potential sleeper fights. There are some outstanding pairings that could scream out in terms of entertainment value, whereas others deserve the sleeper tag more for the sneaky impact they could have on the rankings. How can anyone choose between fights featuring a former World Series of Fighting flyweight champion, a one-time Invicta FC bantamweight title challenger, an undefeated former Ring of Combat titleholder, a rising Team Alpha Male prospect, and a fight that could shed some light on a new welterweight contender? It’s tough.
In such a crowded field, I’m going to lean toward the last of these listed fights: the welterweight scrap between Kamaru Usman and Sean Strickland. The fight has the potential to provide some excitement, but it can also turn into the contest that finally establishes one of these men as a top-10 welterweight by the UFC’s standards.
Usman is the frontrunner in this regard. The 29-year-old emerged as one of the better fighters from the 21st season of The Ultimate Fighter, where he topped Mike Graves and Steve Carl while representing the Blackzilians camp. Usman, whose lone loss came in only his second pro fight, kept rolling once he joined the UFC in official action at the TUF 21 Finale. He finished Hayder Hassan and went on to score decision wins over Leon Edwards, Alexander Yakovlev and Warlley Alves. Usman’s streak, which also includes pre-UFC wins over Lenny Lovato and Marcus Hicks, has carried him to the No. 11 spot in the UFC’s rankings. A victory over Strickland should be just enough to push him past Tarec Saffiedine and into the top 10.
Strickland has a slightly tougher road. The 26-year-old entered the UFC as a 13-0 stud prospect in 2014 and won his first two Octagon outings, including a split decision over Luke Barnatt. He faced a setback, however, when he clashed with Santiago Ponzinibbio. Strickland has rebounded with three straight victories, but he still sits outside the top 15 and won’t rise all the way into the top 10 if he beats Usman.
Strickland is a fighter who has scored plenty of stoppages, both with his fists and via submission. Usman, too, can be a finisher with his strikes. With such high stakes as one of the top fights of the preliminary card, these guys will be even more determined than usual to impress.
Aittama: I’m with my colleague on this one. There are so many excellent match-ups on this card and it is hard to pick just one, but the fight that sticks out is the lightweight clash between Will Brooks and Charles Oliveira.
The former Bellator lightweight champion Brooks was victorious in his Octagon debut over Ross Pearson, but he fell short in his next outing against a larger Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira after the Brazilian missed weight by a large margin. Brooks gets a chance for redemption against another Oliveira (no relation) in “Do Bronx.” Brooks signed with the UFC with a fair amount of hype surrounding him. However, the 30-year-old has plenty of pressure on him to prove his worth. Outside of the UFC, Brooks picked up 17 wins and faced only one career setback. His list of victims includes Marcin Held, Dave Jansen, Alexander Sarnavskiy, Satoru Kitaoka and current Bellator champ Michael Chandler (twice). The American Top Team product has yet to crack the top 15 in the UFC, but his next opponent could provide him with the win he needs to pass the likes of Al Iaquinta and Francisco Trinaldo in the rankings.
Brooks welcomes Oliveira back to the lightweight division after the top-10 featherweight missed weight by nearly 10 pounds in his last outing against former title challenger Ricardo Lamas. Oliveira’s fighting style perfectly defines where the Brazilian’s career has gone. He is a pressure fighter with a do-or-die style of fighting. “Do Bronx” goes all out on the feet, while hunting for submissions and doing everything in between. This style has earned Oliveira much acclaim as an exciting fighter. It has also opened him up to get caught with strikes and submissions in quite the roller-coaster ride of a career. Oliveira is one of the more exciting fighters in the UFC, and I expect nothing to change when he takes on “Ill” Will at UFC 210. The odds someone gets a finish in this contest are very good, which makes this bout the perfect fight to open the pay-per-view.
Pair this card with…
Aittama: Your reading glasses. This fight card is filled with talented prospects, big names and potential fire fights. This is an excellent card to break out the old notepad and a pencil to take note of the big movers and shakers. Fighters like Magomed Bibulatov, Gregor Gillespie, Shane Burgos, Sean Strickland, Kamaru Usman and Cynthia Calvillo will get an opportunity to make the most of this big stage to further their careers. Some of these fighters will be the future of the UFC. During the current mass exodus of older veterans looking for top dollar and new career opportunities, the new UFC ownership is seeking fighters the brand can build going forward. This is the type of fight card that can create the promotion’s next star. So take note, put those shades on, and get ready for the next big breakout performance.
Henderson: Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. Yes, the UFC is in Buffalo, N.Y., for this event, but there’s no better comparison for this card than a beer brewed in Kentucky that features strong hints of whiskey. This card doesn’t get the credit it deserves for a deep lineup filled with everything from veteran stars to budding prospects. UFC 210 is going to pack quite the punch, just like this offering from Alltech’s Lexington Brewing.
|Fight||Aittama’s Pick||Henderson’s Pick|
|Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)|
|LHW Championship: Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony “Rumble” Johnson||Johnson||Cormier|
|MW: Chris Weidman vs. Gegard Mousasi||Mousasi||Mousasi|
|Women’s StrawW: Cynthia Calvillo vs. Pearl Gonzalez||Calvillo||Calvillo|
|WW: Patrick Cote vs. Thiago Alves||Cote||Alves|
|LW: Will Brooks vs. Charles Oliveira||Brooks||Brooks|
|Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)|
|FW: Myles Jury vs. Mike De La Torre||Jury||Jury|
|WW: Sean Strickland vs. Kamaru Usman||Usman||Usman|
|FW: Shane Burgos vs. Charles Rosa||Rosa||Burgos|
|LHW: Jan Błachowicz vs. Patrick Cummins||Błachowicz||Błachowicz|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:15 p.m. ET)|
|LW: Gregor Gillespie vs. Andrew Holbrook||Gillespie||Gillespie|
|LW: Des Green vs. Josh Emmett||Emmett||Emmett|
|Women’s BW: Irene Aldana vs. Katlyn Chookagian||Chookagian||Aldana|
|FlyW: Magomed Bibulatov vs. Jenel Lausa||Bibulatov||Bibulatov|