In case you weren’t aware, the undisputed welterweight champion is set to defend his UFC belt this weekend for the fourth time. Of course, that’s not the main story heading into the UFC’s September pay-per-view.
No. Instead, the main focus has been shifted to a pair of items that don’t involve the UFC’s top 170-pounder, Tyron Woodley.
The most immediate focus has been on Woodley’s UFC 228 opponent, Darren Till. The brash and undefeated Englishman burst onto the radar of UFC fans after dispatching fan-favorite Donald Cerrone in October 2017. Till has earned a pair of “Performance of the Night” awards — one is technically a “Fight of the Night” honor — and has 10 knockout wins in 17 total victories. With such an impressive array of striking prowess combined with natural charisma, it’s no surprise Till has become one of the UFC’s most promising stars.
Yet, for all that Till has accomplished in his brief MMA career, it’s not his battles in the cage that have become the talk of the town. Rather, it’s the talk of Till’s battle with the scale. Nearly all talk of UFC 228 has somehow managed to turn the focus of the main event to Till’s weigh-in rather than his chances against the UFC champion. Till himself has fueled these talks by admitting his time at 170 pounds is nearing an end. With the biggest fight of his life only days away, Till’s words don’t seem like a good omen for the title challenger.
Moving beyond this weekend’s action, it’s hard for MMA fans to not turn their attention to Oct. 6, the date when Conor McGregor makes his return to the Octagon to face UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. It’s positioned to be the biggest fight in UFC history, a notion that comes up seemingly every time McGregor competes. This fight figures to be different in a number of ways, though. This is a fight that fans have been clamoring for quite some time to see. It’s a battle between two of the UFC’s lightweight elite. When you consider the backstory to this fight, it’s easy to see why the UFC would forego heavy promotion of UFC 228 in favor of focusing all of its marketing behind UFC 229.
Yet, rather than sleeping on UFC 228, fight fans should tune in for a great night of action that features a number of interesting bouts and storylines.
Chief among these is the return of Woodley. The UFC welterweight champion has been on the shelf since last summer after he defended the welterweight crown at UFC 214. After going through major shoulder surgery, there are huge question marks surrounding Woodley’s ability to return to form. He’s one of the most explosive athletes to compete in the UFC, but will that same explosion be there in Woodley’s punches? A partially torn labrum is no small injury. Woodley has been criticized in the past for playing a timid game. With Till’s knockout power, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Woodley look to minimize risks and avoid any injury setbacks. Will Woodley be able to put the shoulder surgery behind him and take out the dangerous striker Till?
The evening’s co-headliner also features a champion returning from injury and health concerns. Nicco Montaño defends her UFC women’s flyweight title against Valentina Shevchenko.
Montaño went from an unheralded selection on The Ultimate Fighter to become the first UFC women’s flyweight champion in December. While Montaño was on the sidelines, Shevchenko made a successful UFC flyweight debut against Priscila Cachoeira. Shevchenko ran through the overmatched Cachoeira in scary fashion, leading many MMA fans to crown her as the unofficial champ. Can Montaño prove she’s the true champ, or will Shevchenko prove rise to the top of the mountain of the women’s flyweight division?
The UFC 228 main card also features the promising Zabit Magomedsharipov and a pivotal strawweight showdown between Jessica Andrade and Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
Magomedsharipov is one of the top rising contenders in the featherweight division. He possesses an impressive array of striking and grappling techniques. Meanwhile, Andrade and Kowalkiewicz are two fighters that always put on action-packed fights. It wouldn’t be shocking to see this bout earn a “Performance of the Night” bonus.
There’s also another women’s strawweight contest to headline the preliminary card action. Former champion Carla Esparza faces The Ultimate Fighter winner Tatiana Suarez.
The UFC’s bantamweight division will also be featured when the charismatic Aljamain Sterling looks to climb his way back to title contention against the surging Cody Stamann. Meanwhile, Jimmie Rivera aims to bounce back from a lightning-fast knockout loss to Marlon Moraes by taking out perennial contender John Dodson.
Two UFC fan-favorites will be featured on the UFC Fight Pass portion of the card. Diego Sanchez and Jim Miller aim to add to their extensive UFC resumes in separate bouts. They may not be at the same level they once were, but Sanchez and Miller will likely be fighting for their UFC — and possibly MMA — careers now that the losses are mounting up. As the old saying goes, a cornered animal is the most dangerous of all.
While it’s easy to look past the UFC 228 event, it’s often the cards we don’t expect much from that end up surpassing all expectations. One thing that is not up for debate is the idea that any fight fan should pass on UFC 228.