Stipe Miocic (Gleidson Venga/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC 220 Preview and Predictions

The first pay-per-view event for the UFC in 2018 features quite possibly the biggest title fight in UFC heavyweight history. When the UFC heads to Boston on Saturday, Jan. 20, Stipe Miocic aims to become the first man to defend the UFC heavyweight crown three times. His opponent, the surging contender Francis Ngannou, is out to validate the massive amount of hype behind him. Both men are capable of ending the fight at a moment’s notice, meaning fight fans may want to see how long they can keep their eyes open without blinking.

Not content to feature a single title fight on the UFC’s opening pay-per-view event for the year, the card also features Daniel “DC” Cormier against Volkan Oezdemir. “DC” will attempt to validate his place atop the UFC’s light heavyweight rankings and remove the spectre of Jon Jones from the title picture. Oezdemir, in an attempt to capitalize on a breakout performance in 2017, comes from the same camp as former title challenger Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and possesses terrifying knockout power. Will Cormier reassert himself as the leader of the pack at light heavyweight, or will Oezdemir shock the world?

The main card also features a featherweight contest between Calvin Kattar and Shane Burgos, along with a clash of light heavyweights Gian Villante and Francimar Barroso. Leading off the pay-per-view action, bantamweight Thomas Almeida takes on hometown favorite Rob Font.


It all begins with the UFC Fight Pass prelims at 6:30 p.m. ET. Then, it’s off to Fox Sports 1 for the remainder of the preliminary card at 8 p.m. ET. Finally, the action moves to pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET for the five-fight main card. Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Kyle Symes break down the entire event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Does Stipe Miocic end the night as the heavyweight champion after his headlining bout against Francis Ngannou? Does Miocic even end up conscious by the end of this fight?

Huntemann: I have flip-flopped on this fight so many times, I’ve lost count. I pegged Miocic as a future champion as early as before his knockout win over Andrei Arlovski, and he hasn’t done anything since capturing the title to make me doubt the notion that he might remain the heavyweight champion for the foreseeable future.

But man, Ngannou is just a scary individual. If your knockout of your opponent becomes a meme, as Ngannou’s knockout of Alistair Overeem has, then yeah, you’re a frightening dude.
Miocic can end a fight with one punch. Ngannou can end a fight with one punch. It would be legitimately, truly shocking if this fight went all five rounds.

A possible deciding factor for this contest is the quality of competition each fighter has faced leading up to this bout. Miocic can boast of having more experience in the Octagon, and he’s fought and defeated Mark Hunt, Junior dos Santos and Fabricio Werdum, as well as the aforementioned Arlovski and Overeem. Miocic has faced some of the best heavyweights in the world. While Ngannou also has victories over Arlovski and Overeem, Miocic knows what it means to share the cage with elite talent.

But you’re really splitting hairs with this fight, ultimately. The only certainty is that there will be a finish in this fight. If there isn’t? Then, welp, you could probably knock me over with a feather. This is about as evenly matched of a fight as there has been in recent memory, in any weight class.

Symes: Agreed. This is as close to a 50-50 fight as you can get. Miocic has indeed competed against the best of the best in the division for years now. He knows what it takes to succeed at the highest level of the sport. If headlining a title bout in his hometown didn’t rock his nerves, then not even a bout with Ngannou will bother him.

However, Miocic may not leave with a clear mind if Ngannou lands one of those vicious strikes. We’ve seen Ngannou walk through just about everyone in his way. He has proven to be one of the scariest individuals once the cage door closes. Arlovski and Overeem are vulnerable to the knockout at this point in their respective careers, but the viciousness of Ngannou’s punching prowess in those bouts is still insanely impressive.

Miocic has to prolong this fight as much as possible. The champ must avoid getting into any dangerous fire fights (ha!) early on. Ngannou is a powerful striker who has the unique blend of a mammoth athlete with quickness. If Miocic can force Ngannou to engage in some grappling exchanges, it’ll force the challenger to think about more than just trading leather.

The key for Ngannou is how he will deal with the champ’s speed. He may not look like it, but Miocic is deceptively fast with his hands. His knockout, while moving backward, of Werdum shows that the champ can truly land a knockout blow at any point. Up until now, Ngannou has been facing guys that are no match when it comes to speed and quickness. How will the challenger handle it if Miocic is able to make him miss early?

It’s truly a special fight in the heavyweight division. I’ll probably still flip back and forth on my prediction leading up to the event. For now I’ll say Ngannou clips Miocic early, but the champ will recover and take home the win.

Volkan Oezdemir has made a quick ascension up the UFC’s light heavyweight ladder, but now he’s tasked with a title challenge against Daniel Cormier. With Jon Jones out of the picture and Cormier easily standing as the best light heavyweight in the world, is Oezdemir just one more victim for the champ Cormier? Will Oezdemir snag the light heavyweight crown?

Symes: Oezdemir’s rise to the top is a product of the state of the UFC’s light heavyweight division. He’s looked like a force during his UFC run, defeating Ovince Saint Preux in his UFC debut and then smashing Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa in a combined 70 seconds. But just look at the 205-pound rankings. The ghost of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua sits at No. 6. Cirkunov and Corey Anderson are coming off back-to-back knockout losses and yet are still ranked inside the top 10. So while Oezdemir has looked great so far, it’s not as if the UFC has a lot of viable options outside of Oezdemir and Alexander Gustafsson. This is a decision that became clear after “The Mauler” went under the knife for shoulder surgery.

This brings us to UFC 220, where Oezdemir has the golden opportunity of fighting for a title in just his fourth UFC bout. Is he ready for someone at the level of Cormier? The Cirkunov and Manuwa knockouts were exciting, but what happens when he doesn’t land the knockout punch early? What happens when he’s forced to grapple on the ground or against the fence for an extended period of time? Can he sustain his punching power for all five rounds? There are so many questions surrounding Oezdemir heading into this contest.

We know “DC” is one of the toughest men in MMA. Fighters know they need to pack a lunch when heading into a fight with Cormier. He’s taken punches from arguably the heaviest hitter in the division’s history and was still able to recover to take home the victory. If someone with the speed and power of Anthony “Rumble” Johnson can’t seal the deal on the feet against Cormier, then it’s hard to believe Oezdemir can.

This doesn’t even take into account the ongoing court case for Oezdemir. He might say it’s not something he’s focusing on or that it won’t affect his training camp, but there are some serious penalties to be faced if the court case doesn’t go his way. Fighters need to remain focused on the task at hand heading into a title fight, much less one against someone like “DC.”

The avenues to victory for Oezdemir involve landing one punch, which makes it easy to roll with Cormier in this one. “DC” has the striking acumen to provide problems on the feet and the grappling skills to negate Oezdemir’s striking power.

Huntemann: Oezdemir is the chic pick of many to take the title from Cormier. The notion seems to be that since Cormier was awarded the title after yet another screw-up by Jon Jones, then Cormier is somehow an unworthy champion or a pretender. This is laughably absurd. When Cormier isn’t facing Jones, he’s one of the more dominant fighters over the last few years. He won a Strikeforce Grand Prix while competing outside of his natural weight class. He survived a brutal five-round contest with Gustafsson. He ragdolled Dan Henderson. He choked out Rumble twice. If we remove the two fights against Jones, we would be talking about Cormier as maybe the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet.

Oezdemir is a scary dude, but he hasn’t faced the quality of competition that Cormier has seen in his career. Oezdemir’s toughest fight to date was probably his UFC debut against Saint Preux, who is a fine fighter but one who Oezdemir had to eke out a split decision against. Oezdemir definitely has a puncher’s chance, though. If he lands one solid shot on Cormier, then Oezdemir could walk out of Boston with the title. However, even if he only has a couple fights left in him, Cormier will end his career on a high note and bring some stability back to the light heavyweight division and its crown.

Brandon Davis, Dan Ige, Julio Arce and Matt Bessette — do we need to know these names?

Huntemann: This is the problem with fight cards that are as top-heavy as this one. The UFC seemed to focus so much on making the two title fights a reality that the rest of the card is filled with fighters that are relatively unknown, except to the most hardcore of fight fans.

That said, let’s give Julio Arce some publicity. Take note of his performance against Dan Ige. Arce is yet another one of the participants from the inaugural season of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. He had a rather violent knockout of Peter Petties. Arce also boasts an overall record of 13-2 and two Ring of Combat title reigns, so he has some experience under his belt. It’s certainly possible that Arce follows up his DWTNCS performance with a memorable Octagon appearance.

Symes: My partner in crime gave Arce some props, but let’s look at Arce’s opponent, the aforementioned Ige, as well as Brandon Davis.

Ige has beaten some good regional fighters and, at age 26, he still has room to grow as a fighter.

The same goes for Davis, who is 27 and just entering the prime of his career.

Bessette is probably the more well-known guy from this group, but he’s been in the game for a decade and you have to wonder just how much he can still improve.

Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 220?

Symes: The UFC. The company has done a wonderful job hyping up the fight between Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou. The end to this fight is likely to be violent and shocking, and the company will have a bona fide star as a result. Both men have incredible backstories and provide exciting styles. When you consider the love fans have of great heavyweight fighters and bouts, it’s easy to envision either Miocic or Ngannou taking the next step and becoming one of the company’s top draws.

Huntemann: Ngannou. I just can’t get his knockout of Alistair Overeem out of my mind. We’ve seen in the past that Miocic is susceptible to power punches. Ngannou probably has more power in his punches than anyone in the UFC, and he could manage to land the one big shot needed to win the title and complete his remarkable rise to the top of the sport.

Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 220?

Huntemann: The six fighters competing on the pay-per-view main card before the title fights. There’s no doubt that the co-main event and the headlining attraction are the biggest draws on this otherwise uninspiring card. I don’t envy the participants in the other three main-card bouts for trying to keep the interest of the rowdy (and most likely very drunk) Boston fans.

Symes: The loser of the light heavyweight showdown between Gian Villante and Francimar Barroso. Both men have struggled mightily lately, and a poor showing could lead to a pink slip for the loser, even despite the lack of depth in the division. Losing your place on the UFC roster is never a good way to start off a new year.

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

Symes: Thomas Almeida and Rob Font. The shine has worn off a bit on Almeida as the next big thing, but he remains one of the most exciting fighters in the bantamweight division. His knack for violence, combined with Font’s style, makes this an easy contender for one of these guys earning a “Performance of the Night” award.

Huntemann: The preliminary flyweight bout between Dustin Ortiz and Alexandre Pantoja. Ortiz is right on the edge of the top 10 and is probably seeking some consistency to his career. Pantoja has won his first two UFC fights and would like to leapfrog Ortiz into the top 10. In a division that continues to be lorded over by Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson with no end in sight, flyweight fighters are hungrier than ever to make a name for themselves. These two guys will bring everything they have to the Octagon in Boston.

Pair this card with…

Huntemann: Your favorite 30-pack of cheap, watered-down beer. I’ve always been a Bud Light guy, myself. You’ll need something to occupy your time while you sit through all of these other fights and wait for the two title fights. You might as well consume the swill of your choice, so you don’t get too drunk too quickly.

Symes: As a more liver-friendly option, how about a nap? On paper, most of the fights look like ones MMA fans could take a pass on. They can wake up just in time for the top two bouts. However, since everyone feels the card is terrible outside of those two fights, it inevitably means we’ll have some “Fight of the Year” contenders mixed with an insane knockout or two among these supposedly uninteresting offerings.

Fight Picks

Fight Huntemann’s Pick Symes’s Pick
Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
HW Championship: Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou Ngannou Miocic
LHW Championship: Daniel Cormier vs. Volkan Oezdemir Cormier Cormier
FW: Shane Burgos vs. Calvin Kattar Burgos Burgos
LHW: Gian Villante vs. Francimar Barroso Villante Barroso
BW: Thomas Almeida vs. Rob Font Almeida Almeida
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
FW: Kyle Bochniak vs. Brandon Davis Bochniak Bochniak
WW: Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. Sabah Homasi Alhassan Alhassan
FlyW: Dustin Ortiz vs. Alexandre Pantoja Pantoja Ortiz
FW: Dan Ige vs. Julio Arce Arce Ige
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)
FW: Matt Bessette vs. Enrique Barzola Bessette Bessette
Women’s StrawW: Jamie Moyle vs. Maryna Moroz Moroz Moroz
LW: Gleison Tibau vs. Islam Makhachev Tibau Makhachev