Valentina Shevchenko (Rob Tatum/Combat Press)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC 213 Preview and Predictions

The UFC’s International Fight Week will be capped off by one of the most stacked cards in recent memory. UFC 213, which takes place on July 8, is headlined by Amanda “The Lioness” Nunes as she looks to make her second title defense in a rematch with Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko.

The two ladies squared off last year, and Nunes took the unanimous decision victory. The Brazilian controlled the action early, but Shevchenko made a late rally, leaving many fans eager to see the two athletes fight in a five-round affair. Nunes will aim to build on her newfound popularity from beating the two most recognizable names in women’s bantamweight history, while Shevchenko will attempt to dethrone the seemingly unstoppable “Lioness.”

In the evening’s co-headliner, two of the most exciting middleweights face off. Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker vie for the interim UFC middleweight strap. Romero has only tasted defeat once in his MMA career, against former Strikeforce champ Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante. Since joining the UFC’s middleweight roster, Romero has looked like a member of the Avengers with his spectacular athletic feats inside the Octagon. The Olympic medalist wrestler will have his hands full with the surging Whittaker. The winner of his last seven fights, Whittaker has quickly become a fan-favorite with his exciting style. Originally a welterweight, Whittaker decided the cons of cutting to 170 pounds outweighed the pros, and it’s hard to argue with the results. Whittaker is coming off the biggest win of his career against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.


The main card also features a rubber match between Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem. The two have fought each other in Pride and Strikeforce. Both men will be looking for not only closure in their rivalry, but another shot at UFC heavyweight kingpin Stipe Miocic.

The heavyweight division will be featured twice on the UFC 213 main card, where Daniel Omielanczuk looks to avoid his third straight loss when he goes up against talented prospect Curtis Blaydes. A lightweight battle between former champ Anthony Pettis and veteran competitor Jim Miller rounds out the main card. The two popular fighters are the consensus pick for “Fight of the Night” if either of the top-billed fights fail to deliver.

The UFC 213 festivities kick off on UFC Fight Pass with a trio of prelim bouts at 6:30 p.m. ET. It’s off to Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET for the remaining four prelims. At 10 p.m. ET, the pay-per-view gets underway. Combat Press writers Sal DeRose and Kyle Symes break down the entire card in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

After beating Miesha Tate for the women’s bantamweight title and defending the belt against Ronda Rousey, Amanda Nunes now draws Valentina Shevchenko, whom she previously defeated by unanimous decision to earn a title shot. Is this her toughest title fight yet?

DeRose: Undoubtedly. So far, at least. Keep in mind, their first fight took place over three rounds in a non-title affair. This fight is a five-round scrap for the belt. There is added pressure and an extra 10 minutes of total cage time if this yet again goes to a decision.

The pair’s first fight should be a good blueprint for what to expect here. Nunes took advantage of the early going, but she faded over the last round. Shevchenko took complete control in that third round. If it had gone five rounds, Shevchenko, riding that momentum, probably would have taken the fight. The gas tank of Nunes could be the big difference in this fight. None of the Brazilian’s previous outings have gone past the third round. Both of her title fights combined have lasted just over four minutes. If this fight doesn’t end in the first two rounds, the edge slowly shifts to Shevchenko’s corner.

Nunes has the advantage of beating both of the best bantamweights women’s MMA has seen. She was expected to beat Rousey, but the victory over Tate was a slight surprise. Nunes came in, flashed her hands, and ultimately submitted Tate. Nunes needs to create the same kind of pressure against Shevchenko as she did against Rousey and Tate. If the champ can pressure Shevchenko early and put her on her back foot, then she could perhaps even out any cardio edge Shevchenko may have.

Shevchenko was able to beat Holly Holm over five rounds and then ended up beating Julianna Peña at her own game with a late second-round submission. Both fighters have been nothing short of remarkable since their last fight, but the added rounds favor Shevchenko over Nunes.

Symes: Looks like my colleague and I agree on a number of things here.

Shevchenko will prove to be the toughest test for Nunes thus far. Tate has always been a fighter who relied too much on her toughness, which is a terrible idea given the striking power and accuracy of Nunes. And, of course, we saw Rousey’s mental game completely crumble after the Holm loss. Shevchenko is mentally strong and won’t rely on Nunes to tire out from hitting her too much.

It’s the mental game where Shevchenko will excel in this fight. Nunes isn’t mentally weak, but Shevchenko knows she can take the Brazilian’s punches. They’ve fought before, and Shevchenko weathered the early storm to close the gap as the fight wore on. It appeared as though Shevchenko was coming close to taking over in their three-round affair, so one would think the extra two rounds will provide an advantage to her in this fight.

As long as Shevchenko doesn’t convincingly lose the first three rounds or drop a 10-8 in the early going, she should walk out of UFC 213 as the new women’s bantamweight champion.

Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker duke it out over the interim middleweight crown. Who wins, and do either of these men stack up favorably against reigning champ Michael Bisping?

Symes: Regardless of the circumstances surrounding this fight, I think we can all agree that it’s still pretty damn awesome we’re getting to see these two go at it. Both guys are riding big winning streaks and have looked like unstoppable conquerors en route to their UFC 213 clash.

It feels like Romero’s cardio gets called into question in every pre-fight breakdown, but he’s proven to be just as dangerous in the final minutes as he is in the first round. All of his finishes in the UFC, except his 2013 knockout of Ronny Markes, have come in the third round, proving that although Romero may slow down, he’s still very dangerous.

Whittaker has been on a tear since bumping up to middleweight. His best performance came in his last fight, where he scored a TKO win over Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. The victory over Souza effectively silenced Whittaker’s critics who said he wasn’t capable of beating upper-tier talent. Whittaker himself has finished opponents after the first round, proving that he can end the fight in the later rounds if need be.

It’s hard to see this fight going a full five rounds. Both guys are extremely aggressive on the feet and neither look to simply score points. I look for there to be an adjustment period early on. Romero is one of the most freakish athletes on the UFC’s roster. It’s unreal what the 40-year-old can do despite his hulking size! Romero has been caught before, though, and Whittaker certainly has the power to shut the lights off if Romero gets too aggressive in the early going.

That’s where this fight could be won or lost by Romero. If he wants to stand and trade with Whittaker, it’s a toss-up as to which guy lands first in their short burst of strikes. Romero’s wrestling will be the best Whittaker has faced, and it could help Romero steal some rounds. It’ll also keep the Aussie off-balance on the feet, keeping those punches at bay in an effort to defend potential takedowns from Romero.

I can see both guys rocking each other and forcing a change of plans in both fighters. With that in mind, I’ll take Romero. If he wants, he can win this fight by using his grappling game.

As far as a potential bout with Bisping goes, both guys have a great chance at dethroning the champ. Bisping’s style allows his opponents to stay in the fight for the duration. We’ve seen him get caught by slower versions of Anderson Silva and Dan Henderson, too. With the knockout power of both Romero and Whittaker, there will be plenty of money being placed on them in a showdown with Bisping. Of course, the UFC champ could get dropped multiple times, have his eyes swollen shut, and still manage to out-work either man in a title-unification bout.

DeRose: Romero is easily the best middleweight in the division. You can say what you want about any alleged cheating — which, granted, his fights seem to always feature some controversy — but the fact remains he has won each fight.

Romero is on an eight-fight winning streak. His last four fights have been against a group of the best 185-pounders in the division: Tim Kennedy, Lyoto Machida, the aforementioned Jacare and Chris Weidman. They all fell to Romero. It is indeed incredible that Romero, at his advanced age, remains the killer he is at middleweight. Typically this sort of dominance this late in someone’s career is reserved for the heavyweight division, where the older fighters are somehow some of the best in the division.

Romero has two “Fight of the Night” bonuses on top of three “Performance of the Night” bonuses. The 40-year-old has been an unstoppable force in his UFC tenure. Whether you believe that to be legal or illegal is another story.

Whittaker is a good fighter. You can’t take anything away from a man who has won seven straight fights. While it isn’t the resume of Romero, it is still extremely impressive to rattle off that many wins in a row in the UFC. The start of that winning streak came on the heels of two straight losses for Whittaker. The Aussie has improved significantly over the course of his streak, but Romero’s size advantage, coupled with his power and wrestling ability, give the Cuban fighter the victory.

It’ll be these same attributes that work in Romero’s favor against Bisping. Bisping survived Henderson’s power and wrestling, but Henderson wasn’t at Romero’s current level. There are just too many avenues to victory for Romero. If Bisping tries to pick him apart on the feet, Romero can put the Brit on his back and rain down some nasty ground-and-pound. If Romero can’t get it there, he can still pressure Bisping with some heavy shots. Over five rounds, it may be a different story — Bisping does have some of the most tremendous heart in the UFC — but Romero eventually wears everyone down. When Romero accomplishes this, it gets brutal and ends quickly.

Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 213?

DeRose: Valentina Shevchenko.

With a win over Amanda Nunes, Shevchenko will take home the women’s bantamweight belt. Championship status comes with huge perks, and to do it in front of the Las Vegas crowd is another big win. It’s a lot in terms of exposure. For Shevchenko to claim the belt in the main event on a pay-per-view is a crucial turning point in her career.

Yoel Romero could fit here as well, but who knows if he even gets the next title shot with the interim belt. It’s no guarantee.

Symes: The UFC’s women’s bantamweight division.

For years, the division was run by the trio of Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Holly Holm. With Rousey and Tate stepping away from the sport and Holm jumping between weight classes, the winner of Nunes/Shevchenko could finally step out of the shadow cast by those three. It’s another important step in the evolution of the biggest division in women’s MMA.

Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 213?

Symes: Michael Bisping.

The man who walks out of UFC 213 with the interim title is going to be considered the true 185-pound champ by a large contingent of the MMA fan base. Bisping’s title run has been heavily criticized since he shocked the world at UFC 199. A natural heel, Bisping stood his ground on making his first title defense against Dan Henderson. He’s also looking to land super fights with Tyron Woodley and Georges St-Pierre. The haters of Bisping as champ will only grow more vocal if Romero and Whittaker put on a show.

DeRose: Undisputed champions.

We have yet another interim title on the line to help piece together another card and another division. It wasn’t long ago that the interim title was a rare thing to behold. It was only given out in specific and difficult circumstances.

While it’s hard to complain about the middleweight fight itself, as it’s a spectacular fight, its ramifications of crowning another interim titleholder does weaken all the true belts held by undisputed champions.

The sport is moving toward boxing, with so many belts it’s hard to keep track of just who owns a title. We allow these super fights to take place that put entire divisions on hold. Here, it’s due to injury, which is understandable, but it isn’t like Bisping will be out forever. The belt is purely for better marketing of a “champion-vs.-champion” encounter down the line.

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

DeRose: Anthony Pettis and Jim Miller.

We haven’t touched on it so far, because of how stacked the main card truly is. These are two guys who will bring a fight. Miller is an always game opponent, and Pettis has a flashy striking style.

If Pettis regains his former confidence, we should be in for a great treat. Neither fighter is in any form to really mount a run to challenge for the title, but this should be a great fight nonetheless.

Symes: Pettis and Miller do make for a good pick, but let’s add Belal Muhammad’s fight with Jordan Mein as another potential show-stealer.

Mein recently returned from an extended break, but he was once considered one of the best up-and-coming fighters in the welterweight division. Now, he’s out to avoid going 0-3 in his last three fights. Muhammad has been a very exciting fighter to watch since joining the UFC’s ranks last year. These two could combine for a very exciting fight.

Pair this card with…

Symes: Caffeine. Not because you’ll have to struggle to stay awake through boring fights, but because you’ll want to stay up for the entire card. The main card is full of must-watch bouts, and even the undercard should prove to be wildly entertaining. Jordan Mein’s fight with Belal Muhammad is a dark horse for “Fight of the Night,” Chad Laprise and Brian Camozzi could provide fireworks and Travis Browne’s clash with Aleksei Oleinik is almost guaranteed to end in spectacular fashion.

DeRose: An extra shift at work to help pay for this pay-per-view. I’m definitely on board with this main card, which holds a lot of great fights, but the next pay-per-view, UFC 214, is even more stacked. That makes for two pay-per-views to buy this month, and it gets even more expensive when you take into account that, maybe, you want the HD version of the card. So, suck it up, work a little overtime to get some extra money and treat yourself this month to two cards.

Fight Picks

Fight DeRose’s Pick Symes’s Pick
Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
Women’s BW Championship: Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko Shevchenko Shevchenko
Interim MW Championship: Yoel Romero vs. Robert Whittaker Romero Romero
HW: Curtis Blaydes vs. Daniel Omielańczuk Blaydes Blaydes
HW: Fabricio Werdum vs. Alistair Overeem Overeem Werdum
LW: Anthony Pettis vs. Jim Miller Pettis Miller
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
HW: Travis Browne vs. Aleksei Oleinik Oleinik Browne
WW: Chad Laprise vs. Brian Camozzi Laprise Camozzi
MW: Thiago Santos vs. Gerald Meerschaert Santos Santos
WW: Jordan Mein vs. Belal Muhammad Mein Muhammad
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)
BW: Rob Font vs. Douglas Silva de Andrade Font Font
FW: Cody Stamann vs. Terrion Ware Stamann Stamann
LHW: James Bochnovic vs. Trevin Giles Bochnovic Bochnovic