Jon Jones (L) and Daniel Cormier (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC 200 Preview and Predictions

It’s here. It’s finally here. UFC 200 is only days away. The hotly anticipated event is set to be the biggest in UFC history. Whereas the UFC does a great job of making every event feel special, UFC 200 is in a class all on its own.

The headliner is an outstanding fight between two light heavyweights who are among the best fighters in the world, Jon “Bones” Jones and Daniel “DC” Cormier. The two have an intense rivalry and it’s clear that nothing was settled following their epic UFC 182 clash.

The evening’s co-main event is a spectacle in itself. Mark Hunt is and always has been among the most exciting fighters in combat sports. Opposing “The Super Samoan” is a man known as “The Beast Incarnate,” Brock Lesnar. The WWE star will be making his return to the UFC after initially retiring in 2011. Lesnar is one of the few megastars of our time and regardless of how the fight plays out, it’s clear that his fight with Hunt is going to be a memorable one.


Rounding out the featured bouts are a pair of title matches that could easily headline any pay-per-view.

Fan-favorite Miesha Tate will look to defend her newly won UFC women’s bantamweight belt against the ferocious Amanda Nunes, and Frankie Edgar takes on José Aldo for the interim UFC featherweight belt.

A heavyweight contender’s bout, featuring Cain Velasquez and Travis Browne, will open the main card.

An event such as UFC 200 will be an amazing spectacle, something MMA fans have not and likely never will see duplicated. Even the preliminary card is loaded with fights that could be main events on any other card. Cat Zingano takes on Julianna Peña in a pivotal bout in the UFC women’s bantamweight division. T.J. Dillashaw looks to get back into the win column against a familiar foe, Raphael Assunção. Johny Hendricks will attempt to keep his name in the 170-pound title picture, while Kelvin Gastelum looks to cement his place among the welterweight elite. And the final bout of the televised prelims features rising star Sage Northcutt against Enrique Marin.

The action kicks off on UFC Fight Pass with three preliminary bouts at 6:30 p.m. ET. From there, the festivities move to Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET for the remaining prelim fights. Then, it’s off to pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET for the featured attractions. Combat Press writers Vince Carey and Kyle Symes preview the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Jon Jones is back, probably to the great dismay of Daniel Cormier. Cormier finally claimed UFC gold while Jones was away, but can he hold on to the crown with “Bones” back in the Octagon?

Carey: I don’t know that I’d say that Jones coming back is to the “dismay” of Cormier. In fact, I think it’s probably quite the opposite. Are we forgetting Cormier calling out Jones to “get his shit together” as soon as he won the belt that “Bones” vacated? Cormier doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would try to duck an opponent, especially when the guy in question is the one that handed him the only loss of his career thus far. As much as this fight is about the redemption of Jones’ career, a Cormier win would finally erase all of the doubters that have called him a paper champion. That’s about as good as things could get for “DC.”

Of course, while I have no doubts about Cormier wanting to fight Jones, I’m a little more than skeptical about his ability to get the job done when it comes time to beat the former champion. If the same Jones that put on a five-round clinic against Cormier the last time they went toe-to-toe shows up, it’s hard to envision the fight going any differently for Cormier. Jones controlled their first bout from the onset in the same way he’s controlled basically every single fight he’s been in while competing inside the Octagon. If the elbow-slinging, teep-kicking version of Jones ends up in the cage, then it’s more than likely going to end the same way — with the UFC light heavyweight title wrapped around Jones’ waist.

That being said, when Jones came back this past April and went five rounds against Ovince Saint Preux, he didn’t quite look like the champion that had been dominating the 205-pound division since the moment he stepped foot in it. Most people attributed his lackluster performance to ring rust after spending well over a year outside of the cage prior to the fight, but it’s hard to ignore that “Bones” went through a good handful of seriously life-altering events during his time off.

I’m not saying we’re never going to see the old Jon Jones again, but I’m not sure he’s going to be able to walk into the cage in just his second fight back and return to form. Jones will win a decision, but I’m not convinced he’s going to be at his best. And if he’s not at his best, it won’t be as easy as the last time.

Symes: Although Cormier received a lot of “ducking” comments following his knee injury, he strikes me as the type of person who wants nothing more than to compete against the best. If there’s any dismay on the part of Cormier, it’s probably due to the fact that he gets the daunting task of defeating the consensus top pound-for-pound fighter.

I, too, am not entirely sold on Cormier’s chances. He attempted to break Jones in their first meeting, setting an incredible pace through the first half of the fight. However, Jones never wilted, never wavered and, most important of all, never stopped firing back. Cormier might be able to employ a smarter strategy of how he negates Jones’ reach with better entry angles, but Jones has proven to be the better fighter in every area of MMA. For as good as Jones is at keeping the fight at distance, he’s probably even better at clinch fighting. His fights against Glover Teixeira and Cormier are two of the greatest examples of how to be an effective clinch fighter.

So, for Jones, it’s more of the same in the rematch. It’s likely that he’ll add some new wrinkles, but for the most part we’ll see a similar game plan employed by the interim champion. He’ll look to keep Cormier at bay with his lanky legs and seek to tie up Cormier’s arms once the two come close. We saw in their first encounter that Jones liked to hold onto Cormier’s wrist while working knees and elbows inside. The only thing that might change is that perhaps Jones will look for a finish rather than taking a decision. He seems very determined to build his legacy and create special moments in his career. What better way to add to that legacy than to not only defeat his biggest rival, but to take that rival out in dramatic fashion?

There are two avenues to victory for Cormier. The first is his wrestling. In their first meeting, Jones did an excellent job of negating Cormier’s Olympic-level wrestling skills. Even when Cormier was able to get Jones off his feet, he wasn’t able to do very much. If Cormier can get Jones to the ground, then he won’t have to contend with Jones’ insane reach and deadly striking arsenal. The other way “DC” can pull this out is if he manages to clip Jones early in the fight. We’ve seen Jones start off slow as he looks to analyze his opponent like a supercomputer. “DC” could take advantage of the slow start and catch Jones while he’s off guard or circling away from Cormier’s forward pressure.

Brock Lesnar’s return is upon us. He’ll face Mark Hunt in the co-headliner. Two questions: 1) Does Lesnar’s return spell record-breaking numbers for this pay-per-view, or was that a guarantee even without his presence on the card?; and 2) Is Lesnar doomed to be Hunt’s latest walk-off knockout victim?

Symes: UFC 200 would’ve done great numbers, but I’m not sure it would’ve broken the UFC 100 record mark without a superstar on the card. Jones and DC II is a huge fight, but neither man has the kind of drawing power that Conor McGregor, Brock Lesnar or Ronda Rousey have. Without any of these big three on the card, UFC 200 would’ve done great, but to say it would’ve beaten UFC 100’s buyrate was out of the question. After all, there had been legitimate discussion — this was before Lesnar’s addition to the lineup — that McGregor’s comeback fight against Nate Diaz would out-sell UFC 200 just by itself.

This fight is your classic grappler-vs.-striker match-up. It really comes down to whether or not Lesnar can get Hunt to the floor. I think we can all agree that Lesnar doesn’t stand much of a chance on the feet, and the same can be said of Hunt’s chances should Lesnar get on top of him.

On the feet, the fight is Hunt’s to lose. He’s proven to be one of the most durable fighters in MMA history and has made a career of walk-off knockouts. Lesnar’s durability is often overlooked because so many people want to say he can’t take a punch. Lesnar has proven he can take a punch, it’s just that he’d rather avoid it at all costs. And who could blame him? No sane person wants a 240- to 280-pound man punching them in the head, let alone one with the knockout power of Hunt.

Hunt’s takedown defense is serviceable, but perhaps his best defense in this fight is his lack of height. Lesnar’s trademark blast double leg is his go-to takedown and he’s going to have to get very low to land it on the “Super Samoan.” Hunt also has some damn good uppercuts that, even if they don’t knock Lesnar senseless on a takedown attempt, allow him to easily get an underhook.

The fight has the makings to be a disaster for whichever fighter loses. It’s safe to assume either Lesnar is getting KTFO or he’s going to maul Hunt on the ground. Lesnar will have some early success when he’s fresh, which is going to lead to a world of problems for Hunt on the ground. Hunt will survive the initial onslaught. However, having a guy with the top game of Lesnar on him will be no walk in the park.

Carey: It’s almost a little depressing that this card needed to bring in someone who’s basically an outsider in order to try to top UFC 100. This is, after all, one of the best UFC cards of all time on paper, if not the very best. However, my colleague is absolutely right. This card wasn’t going to break any records without one of the UFC’s big-three draws. It would have been nice for the UFC to be able to smash UFC 100 by using strictly homemade stars, especially after Lesnar was the major selling point for that previous event as well, but once McGregor refused to play ball and was taken off the card, it became pretty apparent that this just wasn’t an option.

I’m not going to sit here and act like I’m upset that Lesnar is stepping back into the Octagon, though. As a lifelong pro-wrestling fan, I still have a bit of the 12-year-old kid in me that watched Lesnar destroy people in the ring. I get goosebumps when I see the “Beast Incarnate” start to make that walk. The fact that he’s fighting someone as likable and as dangerous as Hunt makes this even more fun. This is indeed a straight up striker-vs.-grappler showdown, and with as much as MMA has evolved over the last decade or so, it may end up being one of the last big fights of that nature that we end up getting the pleasure of watching.

When it comes down to the actual fight, the first thing I want to do is thank my colleague for pointing out that Lesnar can in fact take a punch. No, he doesn’t like to get hit, but that shouldn’t be a surprising characteristic for a lifelong wrestler who had practically no striking training when he first entered the Octagon. But to say the man can’t take a punch is ridiculous, especially if you look back and remember that Shane Carwin basically threw cinder blocks at Lesnar’s head for damn near five minutes when they fought and Lesnar somehow survived and went on to win the fight in the second. Up to that point, no one had even survived a round in the cage with Carwin, let alone a round where they were eating the punches of the 265-pound monster. You can say what you want about Lesnar’s striking skills, but you can’t deny that he’s a tough dude and can take more punishment than he usually gets credit for.

When it comes down to actually picking a winner in this one, I’ve gone back and forth a hundred times and still don’t feel confident either way. Hunt has knockout power that even other heavyweights can only dream of, and when you see him do crazy things like hit the granite-chinned Roy Nelson and walk away before “Big Country” even hits the mat, it shows you that “The Super Samoan” is, in his own way, just as scary as Lesnar. However, staying off of your back is incredibly difficult with a behemoth like Lesnar shooting at your legs. Getting back up is even more frustrating. This one feels like a coin flip, and I honestly don’t have clue what’s going to happen.

Cat Zingano is coming back after a long layoff and has seemingly been forgotten in the women’s 135-pound title picture. Johny Hendricks is out to rebound from an awful performance against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. Which fighter has the most to lose?

Carey: Man, this is a really tough question. On one hand, with Miesha Tate, Holly Holm, Ronda Rousey and Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino all dominating the headlines in the women’s 135-pound division, this almost feels like as much of a must-win scenario as any fight Zingano has had in her career. On the other hand, Hendricks has had an awful 12 months. First, there was the weight-cutting issue that forced him off of the UFC 192 card and then there was his lopsided loss to Thompson. Another setback might push Hendricks into Anthony Pettis territory and force him to revamp his entire career.

If I have to choose one, though, I’m going to go with Hendricks for the sole reason that the top of the welterweight division is so crowded at the moment that another loss might push him out of the title scene for a very long time. Robbie Lawler has been an amazing champion and his two fights with Hendricks were extremely close affairs, but it’s going to take more than just this win for fans to even consider throwing “Bigg Rigg” into the title picture again. Tyron Woodley is next in line, the aforementioned Thompson is waiting in the wings and there’s a crucial match-up between Carlos Condit and Demian Maia coming up in a few months that will put the winner at the front of the line as well.

A second straight loss for Hendricks is likely going to cause him to tumble down the welterweight ladder to the point where his spot in the top 10 may even be in jeopardy. This is a huge fight for Hendricks if he wants to get back on track and make another push for gold. While Zingano also has a pretty solid group of women in front of her in the rankings, she’d be able to rebound from a loss and end up back in the mix much easier than Hendricks would. There’s just less of a logjam at the top of the women’s bantamweight division. While a loss would hurt “Alpha” Cat, it wouldn’t completely cripple her title aspirations in the same way as a loss would hurt the former welterweight champ.

Symes: I’m inclined to agree. That’s a pretty good argument for why Hendricks has more to lose, but I’ll bring up an additional reason: fan support. Zingano has plenty to go around, whereas Hendricks has mostly squandered any support he’s built up throughout the years.

The former welterweight champion’s weight issues, combined with some lackluster performances, have left a sour taste in the mouth for many fans. And although the reasoning behind why he lost to Lawler at UFC 181 was likely valid, it came off as complaining and excuse-making to a lot of people. Woodley really put Hendricks on blast for being a complainer prior to their planned UFC 192 encounter and it seemed to gain traction among the MMA community.

Zingano could go out and get knocked out in under a minute and still have the fan support to push her back into a high-profile bout. The women’s 135-pound division is getting crowded at the top and Zingano certainly needs a good showing at UFC 200, but she can at least fall back on the fans to support her. Hendricks, meanwhile, has very little room for error. As much as fighters would like to think they control their own destiny, it’s often times the voice of the masses that makes the final decision.

José Aldo and Frankie Edgar last fought at UFC 156 over three years ago. Aldo won a decision that was actually much closer than the scorecards suggested. Does the former featherweight champion make it two for two against “The Answer,” or can Edgar become just the third man in UFC history to win titles in two different weight classes? And does any of it even matter since Conor McGregor is holding the division hostage anyway?

Symes: Given what we’ve seen from McGregor, I think we can close the door on him moving back down to featherweight. There’s simply nothing more he can do in that division. He took out one of the best pound-for-pound fighters of all time in just 13 seconds. How do you top that? Factor in the weight cut, and I just don’t see “The Notorious One” giving up the kind of money bouts that he has waiting for him at other weights. This means that despite the UFC’s “interim title” tagline, this fight should be for the real featherweight strap.

Aldo has said we’ll be seeing the WEC version of the Brazilian, but I’m not buying it. I don’t believe Aldo is going to come out in aggressive fashion and throw double flying knees after getting starched in 13 seconds. Aldo is one of the best technical fighters around. Despite the dent in reputation the McGregor fight might’ve caused, he remains one of the best fighters in the history of the sport.

Standing opposite Aldo will be Edgar, but not the same Edgar that Aldo fought at UFC 156. Since the loss to Aldo, Edgar has rattled off five victories, two of which earned him “Performance of the Night” honors. As good as Edgar looked during his run at 155 pounds, he’s arguably looked even more dominant at featherweight. His recent knockout of Chad Mendes and submission of a game Cub Swanson are particularly telling of Edgar’s progress in not only winning scorecards, but in finishing his opponents.

This fight comes down to two things: Edgar’s movement and Aldo’s leg kicks. Edgar is going to dart in and out, looking to land combinations while avoiding prolonged striking exchanges with the former featherweight champ. To stop this, Aldo is going to have to utilize his vaunted kicking game. By using the sweeping leg and body kicks, Aldo can corral Edgar to stand in front of him, where Aldo has the best chance of landing strikes.

Their first fight was very close on the scorecards. Since that fight, we’ve seen Edgar become better and better, while Aldo has remained around the same level of fighter (which is still 10 levels above most fighters). If Aldo is truly reenergized following the loss to McGregor, then we could be in for a special performance from the Brazilian. However, I think Edgar will be too much for him to handle.

Carey: As much as I agree with my colleague’s assessment that “Notorious” has done everything he can at featherweight and should keep taking the big-money fights he’s found for himself north of 145 pounds, I feel like this would already be a fight for the actual featherweight crown if McGregor wasn’t planning on making the trip back down to defend his title. The Irishman just doesn’t feel like the type of competitor that’s going to just give away his belt for free, and something in my gut tells me the UFC likely tried to convince him to do just that before the organization officially made this an interim title bout. I may be wrong — maybe McGregor’s just trying to get a win at a higher weight class before vacating his title — but I think the winner of this will end up fighting McGregor by the end of the year.

Who ends up opposite McGregor in a fight for the undisputed title is a tough thing to predict, but I, too, am leaning toward Edgar being that man. The loss he suffered against Aldo was during the worst stretch of his career, which admittedly isn’t saying much. Edgar was coming off of back-to-back extremely close decision losses to Benson Henderson, and outside of a TKO victory to retain his lightweight title over Gray Maynard prior to those fights, he had been fighting and winning on points in close bouts for the last few years. Dropping three straight close decisions seemed to change that mindset, and since then Edgar’s been more aggressive and shown a hell of a killer instinct to make him one of the more terrifying fighters in the division.

I’m not necessarily saying “The Answer” is going to go out and finish one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, but that newfound aggressiveness is going to help him earn a huge victory. Edgar’s main problem in the first bout against Aldo was that, while he worked a solid game plan and wore Aldo down early in order to win the last few rounds, he didn’t do enough in the opening stanzas other than kill Aldo’s cardio. This lack of early offense on Edgar’s part allowed the Brazilian to skate to a decision after winning the first three rounds. While it’s definitely dangerous to go right after a fresh Aldo, no one can take a shot quite like Edgar and his footwork is some of the best in the business. I’m pretty confident he can survive an early onslaught and do some damage of his own.

If the WEC Aldo does show up, then Edgar might be in for a long night. However, it’s been years since we’ve seen Aldo look his absolute best. Meanwhile, Edgar seems to get better every time out. I’m taking “The Answer” for the win.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Carey: I don’t know if I can really call any fight a sleeper bout on this card. The lineup is so stacked from top to bottom that I feel like I’m overlooking all of it and none of it at the same time. If I had to choose one fight on this card that’s been forgotten pretty much since the moment it was announced and really shouldn’t have been, then it’s the bantamweight scrap between former champ T.J. Dillashaw and Raphael Assunção.

We haven’t seen Dillashaw since he lost his belt to Dominick Cruz in January. In his first fight back, he gets a chance at redemption against the last man to beat him before he won the title. Meanwhile, Assunção is on a seven-fight winning streak with victories over top-five bantamweight Bryan Caraway and the aforementioned Dillashaw. This is a bout with major title implications. The first fight between the two came down to an extremely close split decision, and there’s a good chance it will come down to a solid back-and-forth contest again.

Symes: That’s a great option. Assunção gave Dillashaw everything he could handle in their first meeting and edged him via split decision.

I’ll echo the sentiment that it’s tough to call any fight on this card a sleeper, given the importance and name value each fight holds. I’ll stick to the prelims for my sleeper pick.

The fight between Diego Sanchez and Joe Lauzon has “Fight of the Night” written all over it. The fight isn’t getting much attention because of how low both men sit in the rankings and the fact that it’s airing on UFC Fight Pass. However, the promise of pure violence is too intriguing.

Pair this card with…

Symes: An energy drink. With three title fights on the card, there’s the possibility that this card could go well beyond the scheduled end time. I’ll point back to the Strikeforce: Nashville event on CBS, which featured three title bouts. It sounded like a good idea in theory, showcasing the best of the organization, but the event seemed to drag along. It’s pretty telling that the post-fight scuffle between the Diaz brothers and Jason “Mayhem” Miller took all of the headlines. All three title fights at UFC 200 could conceivably go the distance. Given the amount of fanfare and fluff the UFC is going to put in for this mega-event, fight fans are in for a long evening in front of the TV.

Carey: Anything you want. Usually I tend to recommend grabbing some friends and some drinks and making a night out of things when a major card like this pops up, but this one is so stacked that I honestly don’t care if you end up having to watch it alone in your bedroom with some Top Ramen or at a bar with a hundred other fight fans. No matter what happens, just make sure you get in front of a TV set before the first prelim and don’t move for the rest of the night. This is going to be a fantastic night of fights, and every single one of them has something to make sure you get invested. My colleague is right that this is more than likely going to be a long night of fights, but the quality of the card is so high that it’s one you should be looking forward to.

Fight Picks

Fight Carey’s Pick Symes’ Pick
Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
LHW Championship: Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier Jones Jones
HW: Brock Lesnar vs. Mark Hunt Lesnar Lesnar
Women’s BW Championship: Miesha Tate vs. Amanda Nunes Tate Tate
Interim FW Championship: José Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar Edgar Edgar
HW: Cain Velasquez vs. Travis Browne Velasquez Velasquez
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
Women’s BW: Cat Zingano vs. Julianna Peña Zingano Zingano
WW: Johny Hendricks vs. Kelvin Gastelum Hendricks Hendricks
BW: T.J. Dillashaw vs. Raphael Assunção Dillashaw Dillashaw
LW: Sage Northcutt vs. Enrique Marin Northcutt Northcutt
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)
LW: Joe Lauzon vs. Diego Sanchez Sanchez Lauzon
MW: Gegard Mousasi vs. Thiago Santos Mousasi Mousasi
LW: Takanori Gomi vs. Jim Miller Miller Miller