On Saturday, Nov. 10, the UFC is back in Denver, where the promotion’s inaugural event took place 25 years ago. In November 1993, Gerard Gordeau kicked Teila Tuli’s tooth into the audience just 26 seconds into the first round of the first-ever fight in the UFC, marking the beginning of an up-and-down journey that has led to the UFC becoming the biggest and most successful MMA promotion in the world.
The UFC Fight Night 139 main event is a match-up between ranked fighters in the featherweight division. Neither Chan Sung Jung nor Yair Rodriguez has stepped foot inside the cage in over a year. Jung has been sidelined with a knee injury, and Rodriguez has dealt with a combination of injuries and an odd standoff with the promotion which saw him released and re-signed to the UFC roster in a three-week period in May. “El Pantera” should be back in the good graces of the UFC brass after he stepped up to take this fight on just two weeks’ notice when Jung’s original opponent, Frankie Edgar, was forced to withdraw from the bout with an injury. Jung and Rodriguez both have exciting styles, and their high-profile showdown is just what both men need to remind fans that they are two of the most talented and entertaining fighters in the featherweight division.
In the night’s co-headliner, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone makes his third UFC appearance in his hometown when he squares off against “Platinum” Mike Perry. Cerrone is 1-1 in his two previous UFC bouts in Denver. He scored a knockout win over Melvin Guillard in 2012 and suffered a TKO loss at the hands of Jorge Masvidal in 2017. The major story behind this fight is the drama surrounding Perry’s new relationship with Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA, the longtime training camp of Cerrone. After losing two consecutive fights, Perry made the move to Albuquerque, N.M., to train with one of the most famous and successful fight camps in MMA history. Ultimately, JacksonWink decided to train the younger fighter, Perry, rather than Cerrone, similar to the way they chose to align themselves with Jon Jones over Rashad Evans, one of Greg Jackson’s longest-tenured students. Loyalties were called into question in a public back-and-forth between the two sides, turning this from an exciting contest between two talented guys who would probably have a beer together after the fight into a bitter, petty and personal showdown.
The main card also includes the return of Germaine de Randamie, who moves back to bantamweight after winning and subsequently being stripped of the women’s featherweight title. She squares off against Raquel Pennington, who is looking to rebound after her failed attempt at dethroning Amanda Nunes as the queen of the 135-pound division. Two former title challengers square off when Joseph Benavidez takes on Ray Borg in the flyweight division, which was turned on its head over the past week with former champion and all-time great Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson leaving to sign with ONE Championship and rumors of current champ Henry Cejudo moving up in weight to face T.J. Dillashaw. When the dust settles, the winner of this fight could be at the top of the list for another crack at flyweight gold.
The event, which takes place at the Pepsi Center, kicks off with the early prelims airing live on UFC Fight Pass at 6:30 p.m. ET. The action moves to Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET for the televised portions of the prelims and remains on the network at 10 p.m. ET for the main card. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Matt Petela preview the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
The headlining featherweights are seeking to regain some lost momentum. “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung has only fought once in the last five years. Yair Rodriguez was tearing it up until he suffered a loss to Frankie Edgar, and the Mexican star hasn’t fought in approximately a year and a half. Which man adds another win on Saturday night?
Kuhl: Honestly, anybody that thinks they know what is going to happen in this one is operating under pure speculation and potential delusion. Jung and Rodriguez are two of the top featherweights in the world, but we haven’t seen much from either of them in the last few years for a variety of reasons, ranging from military service to injuries to the aforementioned standoff with the promotion.
The Korean Zombie has finished all of his UFC opponents, except for the one that finished him, and all of his UFC wins have come with a bonus. His only loss was in a title bid against José Aldo when the Brazilian was in the prime of his career. After a three and a half year layoff for military service and injuries, Jung came back in prime form to take out Dennis Bermudez by first-round knockout in early 2017. With 12 finishes in 18 pro fights, the 31-year-old featherweight is in position to make a run at another title shot if he can get past Rodriguez.
After winning The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America, Rodriguez was on a six-fight winning streak before his last fight against Edgar in May 2017, when the former lightweight champ handed Rodriguez his first UFC loss. Rodriguez, like Jung, has won a bonus in almost all of his UFC fights, and this one should be no different.
Both Jung and Rodriguez are tough, durable featherweights who can stop a fight at any time. The Mexican fighter is definitely the less experienced of the two, and while he has a sizable height and reach advantage, he is not nearly as well rounded as his Korean counterpart. Jung will use a combination of his experience and precision striking to pick apart Rodriguez and take this one by knockout.
Petela: The only thing I am confident about in this main event is that one, if not both, of these fighters will add to their impressive, though somewhat outdated, highlight reel.
The last outing for Rodriguez was a classic “too much, too soon” for a young fighter. He was unable to deal with the wrestling and pace of Edgar, and he never got a chance to display his high-level taekwondo and boxing skills. This won’t be the case against Jung, who is not afraid to use his own kickboxing and taekwondo abilities rather than relying solely on his judo and jiu-jitsu skills.
We have seen the Korean Zombie’s ability to perform after a long layoff when he returned against Bermudez and looked like the same fighter we had seen before his time away. He was not afraid to stand and trade. He was also happy to take a punch or two in order to return with one of his own.
The biggest of all the unknowns is whether ring rust will be a factor for Rodriguez. However, these two should each land big shots. In a battle of durability, it is hard to pick against Jung. He dislocated his shoulder in the fourth round against Aldo, but rather than bow out of the contest or enter a fully defensive shell, he tried to pop it back into place while Aldo kicked at the damaged appendage. The Korean Zombie is one tough fighter, and he will leave Denver with a stoppage victory after a few rounds of back-and-forth action.
Co-headlining welterweights Donald Cerrone and Mike Perry are in a different type of funk than their headlining counterparts. They’ve been far more active, but that doesn’t mean they’re winning. Cerrone has lost four of his last five fights, and Perry’s recent win ended a two-fight skid. Can Cerrone pick up his second win of 2018, or will he continue his downward slide against Perry?
Petela: The lead-up to this fight has been one for the ages. After his loss to Leon Edwards in Singapore, Cerrone parted ways amicably with his striking coach, Brandon “Six Gun” Gibson. Gibson is undoubtedly a great coach, but Cerrone’s decision is understandable. Then, there was the falling out with JacksonWink MMA, and specifically Mike Winkeljohn. While the public feud certainly makes this fight much more personal for Cowboy, this has had a negative effect on his performance in the past.
Cerrone likes to be friendly with his opponents, and when there is no animosity, Cerrone delivers memorably impressive performances. The first-round TKO over Yancy Medeiros illustrates how good Cerrone is when he is loose. His loss to Nate Diaz was quite the opposite. Diaz rejected Cerrone’s attempts at being friendly and knocked his hat off his head during a staredown. Cerrone lost that fight on the scorecards. The tensions leading up to this fight have largely centered around the JacksonWink fight camp and not Perry, but by continuing to do his training with the team in Albuquerque, Perry could become the embodiment of the feud and get into Cowboy’s head throughout the fight.
In place of Gibson and the training at JacksonWink, Cowboy has been relying heavily on the tutelage and support of his friend, kickboxing legend Joe Schilling. The two have worked together for a few years, and Schilling has been a secondary cornerman for Cowboy in previous fights, but seemingly not to the same extent as they have been working together during recent months. Schilling is a world-class striker, as well as a good coach. He was the primary striking coach for Nick Diaz when Diaz took on Anderson Silva. Despite a loss in that affair, Diaz impressed with improved striking prowess against one of the greatest MMA fighters ever.
Schilling has also recently announced that he is going to be switching over to MMA full-time, instead of his previous attempts where he struggled to balance kickboxing with MMA. This could benefit Cerrone, who, along with Mickey Gall and Yves Edwards, has been working to improve Schilling’s grappling skills. Cowboy is a black belt in jiu-jitsu under Eliot Marshall, and he is especially well versed in working off his back. Drilling techniques and advising Schilling in the company of fellow grappling ace Gall and thugjitsu master Edwards should ensure that Cerrone’s grappling is as polished as ever, and that could be the deciding factor against Perry, who likely will look to avoid spending much of this fight on the ground.
The change in scenery and the new training environment should outweigh the animosity that Cerrone has with the opposition and allow him to get his hand raised for the 21st time in the UFC. This would break his tie with Georges St-Pierre and Michael Bisping, moving Cowboy into sole position as the winningest fighter in UFC history.
Kuhl: At the end of the day, this is a serious mismatch in terms of both skill and experience.
Cerrone is, by far, the better fighter. All of his recent losses came against guys who are currently near the top of the welterweight rankings. Perry, on the other hand, fought Santiago Ponzinibbio, and he lost the fight. All of his other outings came against unranked guys, except his latest win over Paul Felder, who is the No. 15 lightweight and came in on short notice less than two weeks out. Cerrone is a veteran and former champion. Perry is struggling to prove he belongs.
The recent feud between Cerrone and his former gym may be a fire under Cerrone’s ass, but this is nothing new with that particular camp. We’ve seen it with Jon Jones and Rashad Evans, and we even saw it with aging heavyweights Frank Mir and Andrei Arlovski. At JacksonWink, the hot hand gets the rock, and they obviously feel Perry has the hot hand. If I were Cerrone, that alone would piss me off after nearly a decade of loyalty. The coaches know Cerrone probably better than he knows himself, but Perry still has to execute against one of the best of all time, and I don’t see that happening.
The other X-factor here is that Cerrone is a Denver native, and this will be his first fight in front of his hometown crowd since his loss to Masvidal. Perry is a different kind of opponent, though. Cerrone will come in pissed off and ready to make a statement. He likely will never see a title shot again, but he is in prime position to brush some dirt off his shoulder with a knockout of Perry.
Bobby Moffett, Thiago Moises, Maycee Barber and Hannah Cifers — do we need to know these names?
Kuhl: Moffett, Barber and Moises are all prospects from the Legacy Fight Alliance circuit and its predecessors. Out of these three combatants, Barber is the hottest prospect by far. She has been absolutely crushing opponents in her less than 18 months as a pro. She’s tough and mean, and she can win anywhere. Keep an eye on her for sure. She faces fellow newcomer Cifers, who has more experience.
Moises and Moffett are ones to watch as well. Moises is the former Resurrection Fighting Alliance lightweight champ, and he notched a dominant first-round knockout of Gleidson Cutis on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series in August. He steps in against UFC veteran Beneil Dariush, who is currently on a skid.
Moffett is an LFA vet as well. He was on a two-fight winning streak before appearing on the Contender Series, where he secured a second-round choke finish of Jacob Kilburn. He also draws a UFC veteran for his Octagon debut when he meets Chas Skelly, who has been on the bench for a year and a half after losing to Jason Knight in May 2017.
The LFA has produced a ton of great talent, and these three fighters are definitely names to know entering Saturday’s event.
Petela: While my colleague focuses on the incoming trio of LFA talent, I’m most intrigued to see Cifers make her UFC debut.
Cifers has been a standout fighter in the Southeast region who has knockout or TKO finishes in five of her eight victories. The only two women to defeat Cifers are Heather Clark and Gillian Robertson, both of whom made their way to the UFC.
Cifers took this fight on short notice after Maia Stevenson got injured just three weeks ago. She is a former amateur K1 national champion. Cifers has become the top strawweight in the Southeast, and with 10 professional fights at age 26, she is someone who could make moves in the UFC’s criminally underrated women’s strawweight division.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Ashley Yoder and Amanda Bobby Cooper.
This is a fight people aren’t talking about nearly enough. Both women are out to bounce back from losses to highly touted up-and-comer Mackenzie Dern. Yoder lost a closely contested bout against Dern in March. Cooper was submitted by Dern halfway through the first round, after an overhand right from Dern caused Cooper to wobble and allowed the grappler to take the fight to the ground, where her lifetime of jiu-jitsu training under fifth-degree black belt Megaton Dias allowed her to secure the rear-naked choke and end the fight early.
Yoder had a 5-1 record when she entered the UFC, but she has struggled since joining the promotion. Yoder is yet to record a victory inside the Octagon. She comes into this fight winless through three fights inside the UFC. All her Octagon outings have gone to the judges’ scorecards. She was competitive in every fight, showing both striking and grappling improvements, but she faced stiff competition in her UFC debut on short notice against Justine Kish, her sophomore affair against former World Kickboxing Association and Invicta FC champion Angela Hill and her third UFC fight against Dern.
Cooper is a talented fighter whose 3-4 professional mark is not indicative of her overall abilities. She has shown vulnerabilities on the ground, where she was submitted in each of her losses. Cooper, like Yoder, has faced off against some of the most talented strawweight fighters in the world, including undefeated phenom Tatiana Suarez and Team Alpha Male standout Cynthia Calvillo. Cooper has shown high-level boxing skills, particularly in her TKO victory over Angela Magana.
This fight should be a highly entertaining and closely contested bout that will show how deeply talented the UFC’s 115-pound division has become since Carla Esparza became its first champion less than four years ago. This will likely be the final UFC fight for the fighter on the losing end of this match-up. The winner won’t end up breaking into the official rankings, but both of these ladies will show that they are highly talented and fun to watch.
Kuhl: Maycee Barber and Hannah Cifers.
It has climbed to the main card, so it might not fall as far under the radar as a preliminary-card bout. However, this showdown could be a very exciting fight. Both promotional newcomers have been very dominant on the regional scene. Neither has put on a boring fight yet. These ladies will come in and wow the crowd with a knock-down, drag-out brawl.
Pair this card with…
Kuhl: A disposable poncho. I’ve talked to people who look at this card and feel it is fairly lackluster. To me, however, this is a blood-soaked card in the making. Just on the main card alone, every fight has the potential to get nasty. This is one of those events that will likely have a very messy canvas by the end of the night.
Petela: Nothing goes better with a Donald Cerrone fight than Budweiser. Even though this fight is in Colorado, home to Coors, I’ll be showing my support to Cowboy early and often with a case of Bud.
|Fight||Kuhl’s Pick||Petela’s Pick|
|Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET)|
|FW: Chan Sung Jung vs. Yair Rodriguez||Jung||Jung|
|WW: Donald Cerrone vs. Mike Perry||Cerrone||Cerrone|
|Women’s BW: Raquel Pennington vs. Germaine de Randamie||de Randamie||Pennington|
|FlyW: Joseph Benavidez vs. Ray Borg||Benavidez||Benavidez|
|Women’s StrawW: Maycee Barber vs. Hannah Cifers||Barber||Cifers|
|LW: Luis Pena vs. Mike Trizano||Pena||Pena|
|Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)|
|Women’s StrawW: Amanda Bobby Cooper vs. Ashley Yoder||Cooper||Yoder|
|FW: Chas Skelly vs. Bobby Moffett||Moffett||Skelly|
|LW: Beneil Dariush vs. Thiago Moises||Dariush||Moises|
|LW: Julian Erosa vs. Devonte Smith||Smith||Erosa|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)|
|LW: Davi Ramos vs. John Gunther||Ramos||Ramos|
|FlyW: Eric Shelton vs. Joseph Morales||Morales||Shelton|
|FlyW: Mark De La Rosa vs. Joby Sanchez||De La Rosa||De La Rosa|