Tyron Woodley (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC on ESPN+ 36 Preview and Predictions

At long last, the heated personal feud between Tyron Woodley and Colby Covington comes to a head when the two men meet in the main event of this weekend’s UFC on ESPN+ 36 card.

This fight is as much a fight for relevance as it is a blood feud, with each man very much in need of a win to keep their place near the top of the welterweight rankings. Woodley has suffered back-to-back losses in which his performances left much to be desired. Meanwhile, Covington engaged in a back-and-forth slugfest with champion Kamaru Usman before falling via a fifth-round TKO.

The evening’s co-headliner features a pair of fan-favorites, with the legendary Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone taking on a man with the same mentality of wanting to fight as often as possible in Niko Price. Price came up short against Vicente Luque in their rematch when the doctor called a halt to the contest due to damage to Price’s eye in an absolute war. Cerrone, meanwhile, is on a gnarly four-fight skid, though many fans and pundits thought he deserved the nod in his most recent bout against Anthony Pettis. A win over “Cowboy” would be huge for the career of Price, who has alternated wins and losses over his last several outings. Cerrone needs a victory in order to keep fans excited about each and every fight of his instead of feeling nervous that he could be hanging on too long and in danger of taking too much damage in the latter years of his career.


Also featured on the card is a showdown at light heavyweight between the surging Ryan “Superman” Spann and the UFC’s version of the human highlight reel, Johnny Walker.

Additionally, Mackenzie Dern looks to notch consecutive wins after her first career loss when she meets Randa Markos. A win over Dern would be a major feather in the cap of Markos, who, like so many fighters on this card, has struggled to gain real momentum inside the organization with a win-some-lose-some pattern on her record.

UFC on ESPN+ 36 takes place inside the UFC Apex in the fight capital of the world, Las Vegas. The event airs live on the ESPN+ streaming platform. Preliminary action begins at 5 p.m. ET, followed at 8 p.m. ET by the main card. Combat Press writers Matt Quiggins and Matt Petela preview the action this week as they go Toe-to-Toe.

Colby Covington’s only recent loss came against current welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. Now, he’s set to meet former champ Tyron Woodley, who has lost two in a row. How likely is Covington to score a rebound win here?

Quiggins Pretty likely. It just seems like the Woodley of old is no longer in there. He has spent the last 50 minutes in the cage being beaten from bell to bell. He’s 0-3 in his takedown attempts over two fights, and that doesn’t bode well for him against another wrestler who can strike.

Covington, on the other hand, needs this win to stay relevant in the title picture. He had a pretty entertaining back-and-forth with Usman before succumbing in the fifth round. If Usman gets past Gilbert Burns and Covington has a strong showing against Woodley, then Covington could conceivably earn another shot at the title. The UFC loves controversial fighters, and Covington is near the top of that list.

This ends in a decision win for Covington and possibly the dreaded “R” word for Woodley.

Petela: Yes, this fight is tailor-made for Covington at this point in both men’s careers. He is able to push an incredible pace for 25 minutes that the most recent version of Woodley hasn’t been able to withstand. In both of Woodley’s recent defeats, he didn’t look like he emptied the gas tank with big bursts of energy, but rather that he simply came to the cage already empty. He got bullied by both Usman and Burns in a way he had never been before. Against someone like Covington, whose best asset is his cardio, there is little hope for a Woodley victory.

Covington certainly is controversial. Honestly, it’s somewhat surprising that the UFC put this fight together during these unsettling times. Whether a shtick or not, Covington is a very big supporter of President Donald Trump and the MAGA movement, which, rightfully or not, is often seen in direct opposition to proponents of social injustices, particularly police brutality in the African-American community. Woodley makes it very clear that he is proud of where he is from in St. Louis. Nearby Ferguson, Mo., is one of the cities where the movement began.

Luckily, there will be no fans in attendance, which prevents any animosity in the outcome from spilling out into a crowd. However, this fight could mistakenly be seen as much more than a feud between two men and representative of something much broader. At the end of the day, it is important to remember that as beautiful a sport as MMA is, that is all it is — two men in competition with each other and nothing more, regardless of any ill will they may possess.

Light heavyweights Johnny Walker and Ryan Spann have been an injection of new blood into the division, but they are trending in opposite directions. Walker is on a two-fight skid, whereas Spann is still perfect through four UFC outings. Where will these two men reside once the dust settles on this one?

Petela: This will be the end of the Walker hype train for quite some time. He burst onto the scene in about as spectacular a way as possible with three consecutive first-round knockouts, but the momentum stopped on a dime once he made his way toward the top of the division. His knockout loss to Corey Anderson could have been written off as a fluke had he rebounded strongly from there, but another stumble, this time to NIkita Krylov by unanimous decision, opened fans’ eyes to the fact that there is a ton of work to be done before Walker can be considered a legitimate contender.

Spann will come away with a lopsided victory in a fight he dominates from opening bell to closing bell. The only downside in this fight for him is that he won’t get the credit he deserves as a result of Walker’s struggles. “Superman” will remain a dark horse at light heavyweight and need another breakout fight or two before he gets the respect he’s due. Eventually, he will get noticed for his well-rounded ability and take step after step toward the very top of the division.

Quiggins: Agreed.

I had such high hopes for Walker, and he has seemed to fizzle at the worst possible time, especially given the exit of Jon Jones from his championship throne. Spann will need to dominate this fight and get a finish inside two rounds in order to be taken seriously. If it’s a decision, it better be a 30-25 across all scorecards.

Sarah Alpar and T.J. Laramie — do we need to know these names?

Quiggins: Alpar, who has been competing since 2011, has been waiting a long time to get inside the Octagon. After starting her career with a 4-3 mark, Alpar’s training and dedication finally started to pay off. She rattled off five wins through her next six bouts, with her lone loss coming to Carina Damm, a well-traveled veteran of nearly 40 fights. Alpar is a scrapper with decent wrestling and relentless submission attempts when the fight hits the mat. She will make a nice addition to the women’s bantamweight division, or perhaps drop to flyweight in the future.

Laramie picked a heck of a time to jump into the UFC’s featherweight mix. He is a finisher who has only been to the judges’ scorecards three times in 15 bouts. He’s going to have his hands full with Darrick Minner, whose experience may be difficult to overcome. The future could look bright for Laramie if he’s able to have a solid showing in his UFC debut.

Petela: Alpar’s fight on Dana White’s Contender Series was a marvelous submission over Shanna Young. She should definitely have a nice run inside the Octagon before all is said and done. Don’t be surprised if she stumbles out of the gate against the always-competitive Jessica-Rose Clark, but she’s still certainly a name fans should know.

The same can be said for Laramie. He indeed gets no easy task in his debut against Minner, but the 22-year-old featherweight from Canada will have a long career with the UFC and mature into a mainstay atop high-profile cards as he grows into a title contender.

What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?

Petela: Mara Romero Borella. If she falls to Mayra Bueno Silva, it would be her fourth consecutive loss. That is a gnarly losing streak. Her overall record in the UFC stands at just 2-4, including a win in her debut appearance. Bueno Silva is coming off her first professional loss and sits at 5-1 overall with a 1-1 UFC record. Bueno Silva will be able to turn this into a grappling match and control the action for the first two rounds before locking up a late submission to send Borella packing.

Quiggins: I can’t believe I’m about to say it, but Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. While he is one of the most active fighters on the UFC roster, he’s now lost four in a row, including three by way of stoppage. Cerrone is someone I will watch no matter where he fights, but his body can only take him so far after so much punishment. He’s a 52-fight veteran and really has nothing left to prove except for being one of the greatest fighters never to win a UFC title. If Cowboy loses this one, he may ride off into the sunset.

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

Quiggins: Jordan Espinosa and David Dvořák. Espinosa was able to get back in the win column in June after dropping two in a row to Matt Schnell and Alex Perez. He will need this momentum to try to halt the rise of Dvořák, who comes in riding a 14-fight winning streak. Dvořák is only 28 years old and has already been fighting for a decade. That’s crazy. This one will be a great fight in which the Czech Republic’s “Undertaker” gets the upset.

Petela: Andre Ewell and Irwin Rivera. Ewell is yet another fighter on this card who has alternated wins and losses recently. Rivera is 1-1 so far inside the UFC. Both men have faltered when they have been paired against fighters nearing the top of the division, but they excel when squaring off against those in the middle tier at bantamweight. The winner of this fight will show that he has a high ceiling and could turn the losses against top fighters into wins with continued improvements, whereas the man who comes out on the losing end might have to come to terms with a career as a journeyman without the ability to climb toward the title.

Pair this card with…

Petela: Gin and tonic. It is one of the most bitter drinks imaginable. What better pairing for this card with the bitter ongoing feud between the evening’s headliners? The worst part about a gin and tonic is that that bitter taste doesn’t go away when the drink is gone. No matter the outcome of the main event, there will still be hard feelings between these two competitors.

Quiggins: I will never recommend gin to any human being. Ever. Instead, let’s go with an apple-tini. It’s what I imagine Covington drinks. In all seriousness, this main event will not be pretty. It will be a tough loss to swallow for either competitor. Let’s go with a Macallan 12 Year, neat.

Fight Picks

Fight Quiggins’s Pick Petela’s Pick
Main Card (ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET)
WW: Colby Covington vs. Tyron Woodley Covington Covington
WW: Donald Cerrone vs. Niko Price Cerrone Price
MW: Khamzat Chimaev vs. Gerald Meerschaert Chimaev Chimaev
LHW: Johnny Walker vs. Ryan Spann Spann Spann
Women’s StrawW: Mackenzie Dern vs. Randa Markos Dern Dern
MW: Kevin Holland vs. Darren Stewart Stewart Holland
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET)
FW: Mirsad Bektić vs. Eduardo Garagorri Bektić Bektić
Women’s FlyW: Mayra Bueno Silva vs. Mara Romero Borella Silva Silva
FlyW: Jordan Espinosa vs. David Dvořák Dvořák Espinosa
Women’s BW: Sarah Alpar vs. Jessica-Rose Clark Alpar Clark
BW: Randy Costa vs. Journey Newson Costa Newson
BW: Andre Ewell vs. Irwin Rivera Ewell Ewell
FW: Darrick Minner vs. T.J. Laramie Laramie Minner
FlyW: Tyson Nam vs. Jerome Rivera Nam Nam