On June 6, the UFC returns to its headquarters of Las Vegas for the second pay-per-view card to take place since the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak wreaked havoc on the sport’s schedule.
The card is headlined by a women’s featherweight showdown between current champion Amanda Nunes and the ultra-tough Felicia Spencer. Nunes, a two-division champion, spent her 2019 campaign defending her bantamweight crown with wins over Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie, but this will be her first defense of the featherweight strap that she snatched away from Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino in late 2018. Canada’s Spencer has gone 2-1 in her UFC tenure, with her only loss coming at the hands of the aforementioned Cyborg.
The main card also features a number of important bouts in the bantamweight division that will likely set up an entirely new landscape since the retirement of former champion Henry Cejudo on May 9. These bouts feature the return of two of the most popular UFC fighters on the roster today in Cody Garbrandt and Sean O’Malley. Garbrandt is looking to put himself back into title contention after suffering three knockout victories in a row, but he’ll have to get through perennial contender Raphael Assunção on Saturday night. Meanwhile, O’Malley looks to continue his impressive climb up the bantamweight rankings when he goes up against UFC veteran Eddie Wineland.
The lineup also includes a No. 1 contender bout between Aljamain Sterling and Cory Sandhagen with the winner likely to challenge the winner of the vacant bantamweight title bout between Petr Yan and José Aldo. Both Sterling and Sandhagen are on fire and boast two of the more impressive winning streaks active in the UFC today.
A welterweight contest between two of the most entertaining fighters in the UFC today rounds out the main-card offerings. Neil Magny and Anthony Rocco Martin square off, with the winner sure to position himself for a top-15 opponent later in 2020.
The preliminary card features a number of notable fighters, including Alex Caceres, Cody Stamman, Brian Kelleher, Alex Perez, Jussier “Formiga” da Silva and Devin Clark. The prelim action also features a middleweight clash between Ian Heinisch and Gerald Meerschaert.
UFC 250 takes place at the UFC Apex on June 6. The action begins at 6:30 p.m. ET with the early prelims on UFC Fight Pass. The remainder of the preliminary card can be seen on either ESPN or ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET. The pay-per-view card gets underway at 10 p.m. ET exclusively on the ESPN+ streaming service. Combat Press writers Matt Petela and Andrew Sumian preview the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
How big of a threat is Felicia Spencer to ending the featherweight title reign of two-division champ Amanda Nunes?
Petela: Spencer is a very good fighter, which she proved to the world when she held her own against Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino in the co-main event of UFC 240 last July. That was a 15-minute slugfest where, despite coming out on the wrong end of a decision, her stock rose in the eyes of anyone who saw the contest. However, Spencer finds herself up against the consensus greatest female fighter of all time in a five-round title showdown. So, while there is no doubt that Spencer is a worthy adversary, she won’t end up posing much of a threat to Nunes.
As Nunes was making her march toward the bantamweight title in the UFC, the one prevailing criticism was her inability to manage her energy throughout an entire fight. “The Lioness” had a tendency to push the accelerator to the floor from the opening bell, and not many opponents could withstand her power, leading to early knockouts or, in the cases of Sara McMann and Miesha Tate, submissions that were set up by damaging strikes. Like many of the sport’s most fearsome finishers — most notably Vitor Belfort and Conor McGregor — Nunes was vulnerable to over-committing and going all in for the early stoppage at the risk of draining herself for the later rounds. Nunes squeaked away with a decision win in her first fight with Valentina Shevchenko, where by the beginning of round three it was evident to everyone watching the fight that Nunes had emptied the gas tank and was running on fumes. She wasn’t as fortunate against Cat ZIngano, where, despite dominating the first round, Nunes fell prey to the “Alpha Cat” in the third round via TKO.
Unfortunately for Spencer, the one potential path to victory largely no longer exists. Nunes has worked on managing her endurance without sacrificing her quick finishing ability. Those improvements were on full display in her fifth-round TKO over Raquel Pennington at UFC 224. That fight marked the first time Nunes had finished a UFC opponent past the opening round. In her most recent outing, the two-division champ notched a lopsided victory over Germaine de Randamie. In that contest, her energy waned only slightly as the fight dragged into the fourth and fifth rounds.
It will be uncharted waters for Spencer if this fight makes it into the championship rounds. She has never seen a fifth round in her career and a fourth frame only once, when she submitted Pam Sorenson to win the Invicta FC featherweight strap. There simply isn’t an area of the fight game where she has an advantage. Despite both women having black belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the champion will have a clear advantage if this becomes a grappling match. Although Spencer is also a highly credentialed black belt in taekwondo, the boxing and karate background of Nunes will be too much for her to handle. Spencer will once again show off her durability, but this one is going to be a lopsided win for Nunes.
Sumian: If you know the type of fighter and human being Spencer is, it is truly impossible to dislike her. What is cooler than a sixth-grade algebra teacher who helps kids during her day job and then chokes out people in her other job? In all seriousness, Spencer is one of the best additions to the UFC women’s roster in recent memory and continues to win fans with her competitive nature and extreme toughness.
While it is very easy to just pick Nunes to dismantle Spencer and defend her belt like it’s a walk in the park, this will not be the case. Spencer is an incredibly talented and powerful mixed martial artist. She is 8-1 in her MMA career with her only loss coming at the hands of the second-best women’s mixed martial artist of all time in Cris Cyborg. Spencer is 2-1 in the UFC and easily dominated both Megan Anderson and Zarah Fairn Dos Santos. Although she dropped a 30-27 unanimous decision to Cyborg, she was able to keep the fight competitive and proved she’s here to stay.
There is not much to say about Nunes except that she is utterly dominant. This will be her first defense of the featherweight belt, but she has already cemented her legacy with a number of incredible performances since 2016. She averages 4.62 significant strikes per minute, 1.76 takedowns per 15 minutes, and an average fight time of just under eight minutes. Nunes is the definition of a complete fighter who truly has the skill set to win everywhere in a bout.
It will be a remarkable night for both women. Nunes will defend her belt in a close affair that will go to the scorecards and result in a 48-47 decision win for the champ. While Spencer will not become the champion, she will gain a whole new level of respect and admiration from the MMA community for proving just how good she really is, thus cementing herself as the clear-cut second-best featherweight behind Nunes.
The other top-billed fights on this card feature bantamweights. In the co-headliner, it’s Raphael Assunção and Cody Garbrandt. In the next fight down the lineup, it’s Aljamain Sterling and Cory Sandhagen. Which of these four men will post the most impressive performance of the evening?
Sumian: The bout between Sterling and Sandhagen is exponentially more important than the clash between Assunção and Garbrandt. The only reason the latter is the co-main event is due to Garbrandt’s popularity and ability to sell, which is completely understandable.
Garbrandt is going to knock out Assunção in the first round and announce his return to bantamweight contention. Don’t forget that Garbrandt is still fairly young in his career and was on an impressive 11-0 streak prior to suffering three knockout losses in a row at the hands of T.J. Dillashaw (twice) and Pedro Munhoz. Although his chin has certainly taken some wear after those losses, Garbrandt is far from done. The Team Alpha Male standout will come out relaxed and composed. He’ll stun fans with a first-round knockout and send Assunção tumbling down the rankings.
From a pure MMA outlook, Sterling and Sandhagen combine for the true co-headliner, with the winner likely to challenge for the UFC bantamweight championship once Petr Yan and José Aldo do their dance. This is going to be one of the most high-level bouts of the evening and might even start off somewhat boring.
Both these men will practice some form of caution as they feel each other out and plan their attack. Sandhagen is a huge bantamweight who stands at 5-foot-11 and has used his length to average an impressive 8.89 significant strikers per minute in his UFC career. He is also averaging 1.64 takedowns per 15 minutes, along with a 1.64 knockdown ratio. Sandhagen has been impressive thus far in his UFC career and has quickly established himself as a top contender.
After suffering a brutal first-round knockout courtesy of Marlon Moraes in December 2017, Sterling has rebounded with a four-fight winning streak at the expense of Brett Johns, Cody Stamman, Jimmie Rivera and Pedro Munhoz. Sterling, who now sits No. 2 in the UFC bantamweight rankings, can certainly make an argument that he should be the man to challenge Yan for the vacant bantamweight championship. Instead, he will have to prove it one more time against Sandhagen. Sterling averages 4.18 significant strikes per minute and a powerful 2.10 takedowns per 15 minutes. However, the most impressive stat is his 1.45 significant-strike absorption rate, which can be credited to his excellent movement and crafty striking.
This is a truly difficult one to pick, but that pick is Sterling. The improved striking, experience and athleticism will allow him to impose his game plan more effectively en route to a unanimous decision and eventual title shot at a later time in 2020.
Petela: Has there ever been a co-main event on a pay-per-view card in the UFC where the recent outings for both fighters have been so abysmal? Assunção has dropped back-to-back contests, and Garbrandt is on a three-fight skid dating back to his title-winning performance over Dominick Cruz. Yuck.
I have to disagree with my colleague here in his thinking that Garbrandt will come out relaxed and composed. Outside of the incredible performance against Cruz, I don’t remember the last time “No Love” was able to stop himself from getting drawn into a proverbial gun fight. It worked remarkably well in the beginning of his career, but when he gets into drawn-out exchanges at the elite level, he ends up getting finished emphatically. Perhaps the time he has spent in New Jersey with Mark Henry will correct this issue, but don’t bet on it.
Despite Assunção not being known as a power puncher, if the same Garbrandt shows up that fought Dillashaw and Munhoz, then it will be a fourth straight knockout loss. Before he turns 30, Garbrand’s time as a title threat in the UFC will be over. Even if Assunção comes away with a highlight-reel victory, it will immediately be tarnished by the idea that Garbrandt’s chin was gone.
Ultimately, it will still be Assunção who makes the biggest splash out of all the bantamweights. The aforementioned Moraes is really the only fighter to look great against Sterling. Both Assunção and Bryan Caraway were able to defeat the Massapequa, N.Y., fighter, but his style is tough to beat while also putting on an aesthetically impressive fight. SImilarly, if Sterling is going to beat Sandhagen, he is going to have to make it ugly. Sandhagen’s length will be difficult for Aljo to overcome. Sterling is an NCAA Division III All-American wrestler and a black belt in BJJ under Matt Serra, so his most likely path to victory will be on the canvas. Unless he is able to pull off another Suloev stretch like he did against Stamann, which is doubtful, this one will turn into a positional battle in the grappling department, with “FunkMaster” eking out a decision that, despite being highly technical, will lack a ton of excitement.
Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 250?
Petela: José Aldo. The former long-reigning featherweight king is skipping the line and being given a chance to fight for the bantamweight belt that became vacant upon the unexpected retirement of Henry Cejudo. Originally, Aldo was slated to take on Cejudo after “Triple C” called out the King of Rio. It was a strange call-out, with Aldo dropping his debut contest at 135 pounds in a controversial split decision against Marlon Moraes.
With Cejudo retiring after his first title defense and vacating the belt, the door was opened for one of the top-ranked contenders to finally get their shot at the strap, but UFC President Dana White opted to still give Aldo the opportunity. At least with “The Messenger” in the picture, there was a quasi-relevant storyline with Cejudo and Aldo going back and forth on social media. Now that Cejudo is gone and the surging Petr Yan is in the catbird seat, it’s logical that Aldo would be forced to the middle of the pack while one of the contenders log-jammed at the top of the weight class would stand across the cage from Yan. Rather than giving Sterling, Sandhagen or even Assunção the shot, the UFC paired Sterling with Sandhagen and matched Assunção with Cody Garbrandt.
It will be a daunting task for the Brazilian standout when he squares off with Yan, but if he is able to sneak out with a win in their upcoming bout, then he can rest a little easier knowing that the top of the division has cannibalized itself. Whichever fighter comes out on top between Sterling and Sandhagen will likely need some time off to recover before they are able to challenge for the crown.
Sumian: Sean O’Malley. The Sugar Show returns to the Octagon after an impressive performance at UFC 248. The show will continue with a second-round finish of Eddie Wineland. Wineland is a respected name in the UFC and a fine match-up for any contender looking to take the next step. O’Malley will control the distance of the bout using his length to fire off flashy kicks and powerful straight punches on his way to eventually earning a TKO and a match-up with a top-15 opponent in his next bout.
Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 250?
Sumian: Raphael Assunção. The former top-three UFC bantamweight will suffer his third consecutive loss at UFC 250. This will send him down to the bottom half of the bantamweight rankings. Assunção was on an impressive four-fight winning streak between 2017 and 2018, but he has not been able to keep up with the upper tier of the division lately.
Petela: Cody Garbrandt. I expect him to suffer a fourth consecutive knockout loss, which will be absolutely disastrous for the Ohio native’s career. His win over Dominick Cruz will be the only thing that separates him from fighters like Uriah Hall and Brandon Vera, guys with all the talent in the world who never fulfilled their potential in the UFC.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Outside of Cody Garbrandt, I would imagine the suits at the UFC have a close eye on Eddie Wineland. He is coming off a win over Grigory Popov, but the former interim title challenger has found himself buried on the prelims and being used almost as cannon fodder for burgeoning prospects. If Wineland isn’t able to stop Sean O’Malley from using him as a launching pad into contendership, then it might be time to start seeing what other options he has on the table. Don’t get me wrong, I will always tune in for a Wineland fight, but I might have to double check that my UFC Fight Pass subscription is up to date, because he could find himself in a promotion that uses the streaming platform as its exclusive broadcast home.
Sumian: There are quite a few fighters on this card who are on two-fight skids and desperately in need of a win. That includes Ian Heinisch. Heinisch has not followed up on his impressive elbow knockout of Justin Sumter on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series and has now dropped consecutive fights in the UFC. His two Octagon wins were uneventful unanimous decisions over Antonio Carlos Junior and Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira. On June 6, his losing streak will increase to three when he suffers another loss, this time to Gerald Meerschaert. While likely not in danger of being cut, he will have lost any relevance in the UFC middleweight division.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: Neil Magny and Anthony Rocco Martin are going to steal the show. Both men are coming off a nice win and sit right outside the top 15 of the UFC welterweight rankings. They have combined for 20 total finishes and will no doubt be looking to go to war on Saturday.
Petela: Alex Caceres and Chase Hooper. Somehow, Caceres finds himself in the position of fighting the wrong guy on the wrong night. His split-decision loss to Yair Rodriguez in 2016 saw the two men’s trajectory go in opposite directions. More recently, he had the brutal task of welcoming Kron Gracie to the Octagon in the debut affair for Rickson’s son. Hooper is one of those guys that the UFC signed at a very young age in hopes of developing him into the superstar of the future. A fight with Caceres is a tough position to put the youngster in before he is even legally old enough to drink, but if Ben Askren’s mini-me ends up with the W, you can strap a rocket ship to his back.
Pair this card with…
Petela: These fights are taking place on the anniversary of D-Day, so you can’t go wrong by pregaming the event with a showing of Saving Private Ryan. It will be a nice commemoration of the pivotal amphibious landings on the shores of Normandy and will put MMA in perspective. As many times as fans and analysts say that fighters are going into battle, it pales in comparison to what those brave young men did 76 years ago and what military personnel have been called to do so often since then. Hell, if that invasion played out differently, it’s possible the UFC wouldn’t even exist.
Sumian: Appreciation. Yes, UFC 250 is nowhere near the action-packed lineup that we saw a month ago at UFC 249. However, after a two-month hiatus from fights, fans should just be happy that fights are back. Grab a few close friends, find a way to put the TV outside and enjoy some food, drinks and fights on the first weekend of June.
Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
Women’s FW Championship: Amanda Nunes vs. Felicia Spencer
BW: Raphael Assunção vs. Cody Garbrandt
BW: Aljamain Sterling vs. Cory Sandhagen
WW: Neil Magny vs. Anthony Rocco Martin
BW: Eddie Wineland vs. Sean O’Malley
Preliminary Card (ESPN and ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET)
FW: Alex Caceres vs. Chase Hooper
MW: Ian Heinisch vs. Gerald Meerschaert
FW: Cody Stamann vs. Brian Kelleher
MW: Charles Byrd vs. Maki Pitolo
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)
FlyW: Jussier “Formiga” da Silva vs. Alex Perez
LHW: Alonzo Menifield vs. Devin Clark
Catchweight (150 pounds): Evan Dunham vs. Herbert Burns
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