The UFC heads to Tampa, Fla., this weekend with a mix of veterans and top prospects on show for fight fans at UFC on Fox 19.
Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov were set to headline the show. The bout marked the much-anticipated return of “The Eagle,” and it was widely considered a No. 1 contender match-up for the lightweight division. Unfortunately, as is often the case, injury has caused the old switcheroo. Now, light heavyweights Rashad Evans and Glover Teixeira get the honor of headlining the event following Ferguson’s late withdrawal.
Meanwhile, Nurmagomedov now faces UFC newcomer Darrell Horcher, who receives the biggest opportunity of his career on the biggest MMA platform in the world. No pressure!
The lineup also includes a match-up between top-ranked strawweights Tecia Torres and Rose Namajunas that will have major title implications, a rematch between veterans Lyoto Machida and Dan Henderson, and what will no doubt be a display of grappling prowess when lightweights Mike Chiesa and Beneil Dariush hit the mats.
Five early preliminary bouts will air live on UFC Fight Pass at 4 p.m. ET. From there, it’s off to Fox for four preliminary contests at 6 p.m. ET and the four-fight main card at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers John Franklin and Emma Challands preview the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
The headliner for this card was supposed to be a lightweight scrap featuring Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov, but Ferguson was forced out with an injury. The result is that Rashad Evans and Glover Teixeira have been promoted to the main event, while Nurmagomedov remains on the main card in a contest against Darrell Horcher. Is this a severe downgrade or a lateral move for the card? Regardless of the outcome of his fight, is Horcher the biggest winner in all of this?
Franklin: I don’t think that I would call the downgrade severe. Sometimes in the MMA world, we can be a little too close to the forest to see the trees.
The MMA world is certainly excited for the return of Nurmagomedov. What better way to hit the ground running than a fight with Ferguson? That was what was enticing about this card initially, but the highly sought after “casual crowd” isn’t likely to care that Ferguson is out. They were probably tuning in for Evans or Henderson anyway.
So, really, all that’s happening is the division focus changes from lightweight to light heavyweight. The irony here is that either main event would have probably resulted in a title shot. The fight between Evans and Teixeira most definitely carries championship stakes, but most likely only if Daniel Cormier remains champion. Evans is one of the most interesting fighters in UFC history and a surefire Hall of Famer at his best, but he’s slipped up here and there — the Ryan Bader and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira fights both let us know that he can be had. That’s not a knock on those fighters, but it’s just that we have always thought Evans was an all-timer. This is why the door remains open for Teixeira.
Now, let’s talk about the original main event. Horcher, the replacement for Ferguson, is certainly not a household name. The resume isn’t too bad, though. He fought three times in Bellator, where he was 2-1. The one lose — the lone loss of his career — came against UFC castoff Phillipe Nover. He then went to Cage Fury and never lost. So, he’s a legit guy, but it’s not enough. Nurmagomedov is just too much for him.
Now, with that being said, if a fighter is ever gonna fight Nurmagomedov, then now is the time. After his long layoff, the hope here is that the Dagestani fighter is rusty and that Horcher can get to him early. It’s probably not gonna happen, but this is a big spot for Horcher. An impressive victory here could lead to bigger and better things. It is certainly a huge opportunity for Horcher personally, but we may be overblowing what these opportunities mean in the long run. Liz Carmouche, Patrick Cummins and Joe Soto have all had “opportunities” that seemed like a big deal at the time. While those opportunities may have helped their bank accounts, fighters still need to win fights impressively to really make the biggest leaps in this game.
Challands: Ferguson being out is a huge blow to this card. His match-up with Nurmagomedov was without a doubt a No. 1 contender fight in the lightweight division. Nurmagomedov fighting a newcomer does little for him in terms of the bigger picture and for his chances of securing a title fight, but we have to respect his decision to continue on with the fight regardless, if only to iron out some kinks.
Horcher, on the other hand, has everything to gain and nothing to lose as the late call-up opponent. No one is expecting him to win, and an upset will certainly put his name on the map.
The replacement main event, featuring Evans and Teixeira, might have title implications, but that really only goes to prove how shallow the 205-pound division is right now. Evans has barely fought in three years. His last fight was a loss against Bader, for goodness sake. And Teixeira has been in title contention before. He was hardly competitive. Yes, he was up against Jon Jones, but I’d hedge a bet that his fate would be the same against Cormier. Teixeira is on the comeback trail, though, and another win under the belt could help his cause. Time will tell.
There are still plenty of fun fights on this card, particularly those featuring the ladies, so not all is lost.
Will Dan Henderson’s co-headlining bout against Lyoto Machida be the last of his career? Can Hendo emerge with another improbable victory?
Challands: I sure hope so. Hendo has been an amazing champion of the sport, but I have no desire to see fighters well past their prime — Henderson is 45 — try to continue to compete with guys much younger, faster and hungrier.
In Hendo’s last few fights, he’s come up against some credible opponents, but overall he has lacked any level of consistency that would him a formidable opponent himself again, let alone a contender that anyone would want to fight to further their standing in the division.
If I’m being brutally honest, this fight for Machida seems almost pointless. It serves no purpose. Machida. 37, already beat Hendo three years ago, and if “The Dragon” wants to make one last run at the title, then this fight is not going to be the one that makes people stand up and take notice.
No, Hendo will not win. We will see a finish for Machida and, in turn, the end of Hendo’s career.
Franklin: Henderson possesses one thing that will always make him a relevant, interesting watch as a fighter. That one thing is the dynamite in his right hand. It is a game changer that has been dropping stud fighters for going on two decades. However, even that sentence indicates the issues that exist with Henderson’s ability to win and keep the fans interested moving forward.
Hendo loads his right hand up in the dressing room and keeps it cocked and ready to go throughout the fight. At this point, it’s the gift and the curse. If it lands, Hendo gets his hand raised. The curse is that it allows his opponent to work around this one weapon and find a lot of openings in Henderson’s game. While this may not be the exit off of the freeway of Hendo’s career, it’s got be one of the last two or three.
Machida is too accurate and too good of a counter striker to allow Henderson’s diminished striking to find his chin. Machida is no pup either, but I don’t think his skills have diminished as far Hendo’s skills. The case can still be made that Machida loses to and beats who he is “supposed to.”
Machida will get the nod, but it won’t spell the end of Hendo’s career.
Rose Namajunas and Tecia Torres are clearly the top contenders in the strawweight division. Does a win this weekend catapult the victor to a title shot with the winner of the upcoming title fight between champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk and challenger Claudia Gadelha?
Franklin: This is as exciting of a match-up as we have in women’s MMA right now. There has clearly been a push for Namajunas on a lot of fronts, most notably by the promotion itself. She has a lot of skills and is a personable, marketable fighter. However, let’s not forget that this is a rematch of a fight that was won by Torres under the Invicta FC banner.
The thing that seems to be forgotten lately in women’s MMA is how skilled Torres is. Going into The Ultimate Fighter’s 20th season, she was looked at as one of the favorites based on her past success over several of the other hopefuls, Namajunas included. Despite her disappointing TUF losses, Torres is still professionally undefeated and could be a threat to the belt. She’s not on the same level as Jędrzejczyk or Gadelha, but she’s right on the next tier. Torres has good movement and good hands, and she truly lives up to her “Tiny Tornado” nickname. She reminds me of Frankie Edgar a little.
Namajunas is good everywhere. She has great jiu-jitsu, and she’s evolving on the feet and with her takedowns. She has only fought twice since her loss in the finale of TUF, but the fights have been absolute decimations of her opponents. Angela Hill was her opponent in the bounce-back fight, while Paige VanZant was her opponent in the fight that truly put Namajunas on the map. Namajunas stopped a hype train like she was a superhero and rewrote the narrative of the strawweight division.
From a booking standpoint, this fight is about Namajunas more than Torres. I liked Carla Esparza a little better in this spot, because that would have been a clear path to a title shot, but this fight will let us and the UFC know how much “Thug” Rose has really progressed. Styles make fights, and we know that Torres had a troublesome style for Namajunas. All fights ultimately come down to the questions they answer, and the question in booking this fight is whether Namajunas has matured enough as a fighter to clean up a loss from her past.
The rushing style that Torres employs is best utilized on fighters who are more easily rattled. Namajunas is no longer in those ranks. VanZant has a little of that same style in her game, and Namajunas shut that down with relative ease. I like Namajunas here, but I wonder if her performance will be impressive enough to cause the MMA world to scream for her to get the next title shot.
Challands: The winner of this fight gets a title shot. No question.
Namajunas, because she is super marketable, shaved head and all, and more importantly because she is an exciting fighter who always finishes the job. Torres, because the UFC simply cannot deny a fighter who is undefeated and ranked No. 3 in the division — it would make no sense.
So, who takes away the ‘W’? Namajunas, no doubt.
Torres got the better of her in their first outing, nearly three years ago, but Namajunas is not the same fighter she once was. Namajunas has blossomed into a mature, patient young fighter who is brilliantly unorthodox, yet technical. She is so good on the feet. Her length and range will help her pick apart Torres from a distance. Her slick grappling will be way too much for Torres as well. If she gets her to the ground early, it’ll be all over.
Torres does have pretty good takedown defense, though, so this fight may stay on the feet. The “Tiny Tornado” is explosive and loves to set a fast pace, but this won’t overwhelm the stoic Namajunas.
Who does the most for their career on this card between Bethe Correia, Cub Swanson and John Dodson? Side question: Is the way these three were booked an indication that the UFC is unsure what to do with them moving forward?
Challands: Great question.
Correia had been in title contention, but she was beaten so convincingly by Ronda Rousey that she won’t get another look at a belt anytime soon. She will be hard pressed to beat Raquel Pennington to boot.
Swanson has been around the traps for a long time now and has been beaten by the top guys in the featherweight division. He should get the first win on the board since 2014 when he faces Hacran Dias, but it won’t be enough for people to sit up and take notice of him. He needs an impressive win against a top-five guy to do that.
That leaves Dodson. “The Magician” got owned in his flyweight title fight against Demetrious Johnson. The loss forced Dodson to move back up to 135 pounds. While he has a win over former bantamweight champ T.J. Dillashaw, that victory was in 2011 and it probably doesn’t count for much except perhaps a self-confidence boost that in Dodson’s mind he can hang with the best at bantamweight. A dominant performance over Manny Gamburyan will signal Dodson’s arrival in the division and will be a much-needed step in the right direction for the Jackson-Winkeljohn fighter.
Franklin: The best fights of these three aren’t necessarily behind them, but their best opportunities may be. Correia and Dodson have fought for the title and Swanson has been right there. One of the things that may be working against them is that no one is really looking for them to hold the championship belt. That leads to an avoidance, particularly in Swanson’s case, of being booked for fights to lead to the title. Swanson had his shot in the Frankie Edgar fight and got worked.
The fighter with the most upside coming out of this card is indeed Dodson. He’s fighting at 135 pounds and holds that aforementioned win over Dillashaw. This is why he is most likely being groomed for the top of the bantamweight division. If he looks good against Gamburyan, then it will most likely lead to a rematch with Dillashaw or a fight with Renan Barão. The bantamweight division is more interesting than the flyweight division, and Dodson is a welcome addition to its ranks.
As far as the other two fighters go, let’s see what kind of juice they can create with good performances. You have to feel for Swanson. He has had a lot of good rounds undone by a poor performance in the Edgar fight. These are compelling fighters, all three, but what’s next could be determined by how well they do in this spot.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Franklin: Bethe Correia and Raquel Pennington. Correia’s record looks good, but there isn’t anything on it that impresses me more than Pennington choking out both Jessica Andrade and Ashlee Evans-Smith. This is a fight that many may assume Correia will take, but she may not. This is an opportunity for Pennington to make a statement before we realize Correia may have been fool’s gold and just gassed up a little to give Ronda Rousey a fight.
Challands: Without a doubt, it has got to be Mike Chiesa and Beneil Dariush. This was the hardest winner to pick on the whole card, because both of these guys are on the up and up in the lightweight division. Dariush is on a five-fight winning streak and has looked incredibly good lately. He has an exceptional ground game and his striking is improving all the time. However, he has not faced anyone who can match him on the mat like Chiesa can. With the elite level of grappling that will be on display, here’s hoping this fight doesn’t stay standing up.
Pair this card with…
Challands: A smile. Not only are we seeing some of the best UFC veterans on display, but we’re getting to see the next generation put on a show too. It’s the perfect mix for a fun and entertaining night of fights.
Franklin: A drink with an umbrella would be nice. This card is in Tampa, so maybe something your aunt from Brooklyn who moved down south when she retired would drink. Maybe a piña colada. Have fun with this card. There are going to be some fun fights, including a few involving fighters who may not be doing it too much longer, so enjoy while you can.
Main Card (Fox, 8 p.m. ET)
LHW: Rashad Evans vs. Glover Teixeira
MW: Lyoto Machida vs. Dan Henderson
160 pounds: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Darrell Horcher
Women’s StrawW: Tecia Torres vs. Rose Namajunas
Preliminary Card (Fox, 6 p.m. ET)
LW: Mike Chiesa vs. Beneil Dariush
Women’s BW: Bethe Correia vs. Raquel Pennington
WW: Court McGee vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio
FW: Cub Swanson vs. Hacran Dias
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 4 p.m. ET)
BW: John Dodson vs. Manny Gamburyan
WW: Randy Brown vs. Mike Graves
LW: Drew Dober vs. Islam Makhachev
MW: Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira vs. Oluwale Bamgbose
WW: Omari Akhmedov vs. Elizeu Zaleski
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