Even if the UFC’s fight cards have been fairly underwhelming up to this point in the year, there is a small glimmer of hope with the latest Fight Night card offering on Sunday, Feb. 18. Emanating from the always-fun town of Austin, Texas, UFC Fight Night 126 features a main event that should deliver the type of action that seems to have been missing from the majority of the UFC’s offerings so far in 2018.
Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, who is looking to rebound from a surprising first-round knockout loss to Darren Till last year, faces Yancy Medeiros, who is coming off a “Fight of the Year”-worthy performance against Alex Oliveira at UFC 218 in December. Cerrone is in dire need of a win after three straight losses. Medeiros has won three in a row since moving up to the welterweight division.
The co-headliner is another story of fighters looking to get back on the right track. Derrick Lewis’s ascension up the heavyweight ladder was halted rather emphatically by Mark Hunt. Marcin Tybura went the distance with former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum in his last fight, but the Polish fighter came up short. A victory by either of these heavyweights could put them back on track for a possible heavyweight title fight.
This card highlights other fighters looking to find their way on an increasingly crowded UFC roster, including James Vick, Francisco Trinaldo, Thiago Alves, Jessica Aguilar and Sage Northcutt.
The action begins at 5:30 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass with three preliminary-card bouts. The Fox Sports 1 prelims start at 7 p.m. ET, and the main card begins at 9 p.m. ET, also on FS1. Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Bryan Henderson are here to get you ready for the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Donald Cerrone has gone on a major slump through his last three fights, and now he fights Yancy Medeiros, a formerly inconsistent lightweight who has been perfect since moving up a division. Does Cerrone stop his fall? Does Medeiros prove himself as a rising contender in his new(ish) weight class? If Cerrone loses, is he done in the UFC?
Henderson: It’s difficult to ever count someone like Cerrone out. When the “Cowboy” gets fired up, he can beat all but the very best in the division. The real question might be whether he still has that fire left in him. Jorge Masvidal dropped him, Robbie Lawler decisioned him, and Darren Till destroyed him. Cerrone had a great streak of finishes before that skid, but his wins over Eddie Alvarez and Benson Henderson in 2014 and 2015, respectively, count as his last victories over true top-tier fighters (Matt Brown was already fading fast when Cerrone put him away in late 2016).
The thing is, Medeiros hasn’t quite cemented his status as a top-tier fighter yet. Frankly, he was a middling fighter at 155 pounds, where he went 3-4 with one no-contest. At welterweight, he’s been perfect, so the jury is still out. He submitted Sean Spencer, knocked out Erick Silva, and made a spectacular comeback against Alex Oliveira — so, not too shabby.
Cerrone easily submitted Oliveira in the first round. That’s far less of a struggle than what Medeiros endured, and it might give us some insight to Cerrone’s best route to victory. Medeiros has been submitted before, and Cerrone does have an underrated ground game. If he can test the Hawaiian on the mat, there’s a chance Cerrone could win this fight.
The “Cowboy” has been in the habit of standing with his opponents lately, though, and Medeiros is coming off a slugfest of epic proportions. Medeiros, a former middleweight and light heavyweight, carries come serious power and plenty of heart. Never count out Cerrone, but Medeiros is capable of adding another impressive victory to his current welterweight run with a knockout finish here.
Huntemann: I said after Cerrone’s last loss to Till that it seems the punishment he’s taken over the years, after all the many entertaining battles he had in the Octagon, was starting to catch up with him. Many people blamed Cerrone’s loss on having to travel to Europe to fight, and while that may have played a role, I still stand by my original hypothesis. You just don’t have the type of fights that Cerrone has had, and suffer the amount of damage he has sustained in his career, and not have to pay the bill sometime.
Cerrone is only 34 years old, but he might as well have the physical makeup of a 44-year-old. I also see a guy who still loves to fight, but I truly question if he has the desire to be a great fighter again. He seems to just enjoy collecting his paycheck, win or lose, and go back to fishing, hunting, wakeboarding or whatever it is he likes to do in his spare time. If that is Cerrone’s M.O., then hey, more power to the guy. Whatever makes you happy, right?
Will the UFC cut Cerrone if he loses to Medeiros? No. Cerrone is still an extremely popular fighter, and it would take no time at all for Bellator to snatch him up. Even if he loses his fourth straight fight — which I think he will — Cerrone is still a name UFC President Dana White can put on the marquee. Cerrone’s job should be safe after this fight, win or lose. His body? Well, that’s another story.
Medeiros seems to have found his permanent home at 170 pounds. His last fight with Oliveira stole the show on a card where Francis Ngannou nearly took Alistair Overeem’s head off and Max Holloway brutalized José Aldo. Medeiros appears to be peaking at age 30, and Cerrone fare much better against him than the “Cowboy” did against Till. Cerrone is firmly in gatekeeper territory at this point in his career.
Heavyweight Derrick Lewis appeared to be the next big thing for the heavyweight division after six straight wins, but he was no match for Mark Hunt in his most recent affair. Is Lewis capable of slamming the door on the rising Marcin Tybura, or do all top fighters now have the blueprint down to defeat Lewis?
Huntemann: I don’t really know if Hunt delivered a “blueprint” to beat Lewis. Hunt just did what he does best — what we all knew he would do — and hit his opponent until his opponent was knocked out. It ain’t rocket science. Lewis is a good striker, but Hunt is a better striker.
Tybura deserves credit for going the distance with Fabricio Werdum, another dangerous striker. Tybura mostly matched Werdum strike-for-strike to show that he can hang with the elite of the UFC heavyweights. The Polish fighter is also capable of going to the mat, which is a place where Lewis struggles.
Tybura will mix up his striking and ground game to keep Lewis off balance. I believe the Polish fighter scores another decision victory and puts a definitive end to Lewis’s push for a heavyweight title fight.
Henderson: Couldn’t have put it much better myself.
The biggest problems with Lewis lie in his gas tank and his ability on the mat, especially when he’s put on his back. Furthermore, the big man can be rather reckless at times when he’s looks for the big knockout. As long as Tybura’s chin holds up in the opening moments of this fight, the Polish fighter’s odds of wearing down Lewis seem good.
This one starts out with Lewis looking for the knockout, but it ends in a decision following three grinding rounds of positional control by Tybura.
Curtis Millender, Geoffrey Neal, Tim Williams and Steven Peterson — do we need to know these names?
Henderson: This was possibly one of the best freshman classes in recent memory for the UFC, before Livia Renata Souza was forced to withdraw with a broken hand. At a bare minimum, one of the remaining fighters should find a solid foothold in the organization.
Millender has been putting on a show lately with his walloping knockouts via kicks. Over the course of his two Legacy Fighting Alliance outings, the welterweight disposed of Matthew Frincu and Nick Barnes. He also stopped Johnny Cisneros under the Bellator banner. While Millender’s overall Bellator mark is just 2-2 with losses to Fernando Gonzalez and Brennan Ward, it seems like the 30-year-old has made adjustments since then and is now capable of lighting up opponents. He has to get past Thiago Alves, but Alves doesn’t have the best chin ever.
Neal, Williams and Peterson all have chances to impress as well, but Neal stands out as the other potential future UFC mainstay. He’s had a knack for finishing fights early, and that’s the type of entertainment value the UFC loves. The company might be willing to invest in him if he gets past Brian Camozzi in a decisive manner.
Huntemann: Based on my recent conversation with Peterson, he sounds like a guy who is truly going to relish his first opportunity on the UFC roster. He mixes up his fighting style and has won by both knockout and submission. He has already faced some of the toughest guys around and stood with them. Peterson is tough, scrappy and fun to watch.
The featherweight division in the UFC is still among the deepest around, so it may be awhile before Peterson can make his mark. But that doesn’t mean Peterson won’t be exciting to watch. He’s one to keep your eye on during this card.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Huntemann: Anytime there’s a bout with fighters with the same name, I say that’s a fight worthy of attention. Of course, I’m referring to the preliminary card bout between Roberto Sanchez and Joby Sanchez. I mean, come on. How often does that happen?
Joby won two straight fights on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series to get another shot on the big stage. Another win for him could begin to put him on the radar in the UFC’s flyweight division.
Henderson: The lightweight affair between Jared Gordon and Carlos Diego Ferreira.
Just a few years ago, Ferreira was causing plenty of chatter as an up-and-coming lightweight who had topped Colton Smith and Ramsey Nijem upon his entrance into the UFC. The Brazilian then stumbled to losses against Beneil Dariush and Dustin Poirier, both of whom now enjoy spots within the UFC’s lightweight top-15 poll. He bounced back with a win over Olivier Aubin-Mercier, but he got tagged for testing positive for a banned substance before his next fight and landed a suspension instead. Now, he’s back for his first fight in over two years.
Ferreira gets to test out Gordon, a current-day up-and-comer with quite a bit of buzz. The 29-year-old has won his first two UFC outings, including a fight against Hacran Dias. This fight should provide Gordon with another chance to prove that he’s the real deal, but it also gives Ferreira a chance to make a significant comeback and steal Gordon’s momentum. Both fighters are hungry, which sets the table for a great fight.
Pair this card with…
Henderson: A friendly bet on whether Josh Burkman can save his UFC career. Yeah, maybe this doesn’t sum up the whole card, but it definitely deserves a quick mention. Given the UFC veteran’s recent track record, he must really be viewed as a company man to be back in action yet again with the promotion. Burkman has lost four straight and six of his last seven — and had it not been for a failed drug test by Hector Lombard, seven of his last eight. Burkman squares off with Alex Morono. If the veteran falters again, he’s likely gone. So, make this one interesting by proposing a small wager with whomever is joining you to watch the fights on whether Burkman will prevail.
Huntemann: This card takes place in Austin, right? Isn’t the city’s official slogan “Keep Austin Weird”? I feel like I’ve heard that before. So do something weird before you begin watching these fights. Stand on your head for 10 seconds. Run through your neighborhood in your underwear. Watch every season of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Well, OK. Let’s not get too crazy. But you know what I mean.
Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 9 p.m. ET)
WW: Donald Cerrone vs. Yancy Medeiros
HW: Derrick Lewis vs. Marcin Tybura
LW: James Vick vs. Francisco Trinaldo
WW: Thiago Alves vs. Curtis Millender
LW: Sage Northcutt vs. Thibault Gouti
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 7 p.m. ET)
LW: Carlos Diego Ferreira vs. Jared Gordon
WW: Geoffrey Neal vs. Brian Camozzi
FlyW: Joby Sanchez vs. Roberto Sanchez
Women’s BW: Sarah Moras vs. Lucie Pudilová
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 5:30 p.m. ET)
FW: Brandon Davis vs. Steven Peterson
MW: Tim Williams vs. Oskar Piechota
WW: Alex Morono vs. Josh Burkman
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