To complete the UFC 209 breakdown, we take a look at the stacked main card action to give insight as to how these fights could play out:
Tyron Woodley vs Stephen Thompson
The main event of the evening provides us with an eagerly awaited rematch between two of the UFC’s premier welterweights. Although their previous bout at UFC 205 provided much in the way of excitement, many left the fight with more questions than answers, as no definitive winner was crowned. Although Tyron Woodley left the Empire State that night just as he had entered, with the belt in hand, it was a majority draw that allowed him to do so. Hardly the most definitive of statements to kick-off his reign as champion. Despite dominating the most memorable portions of the bout and almost earning a finish in round 4, which saw him pick up a 10-8 round on the judges’ scorecards. It was Thompson who got the nod in rounds 2,3, & 5, making the fight a draw and ultimately earning the right to challenge “The Chosen One” for his title once again at a later date.
Strikers of the caliber of Stephen Thompson are few and far between in mixed martial arts. With a plethora of high-level kickboxing experience under his belt, the man they call “Wonderboy” poses a unique threat, the likes of which has seldom been seen in the UFC. Many fighters seem perplexed when tasked with fighting the dynamic striker, which was obvious during his ascension to the number one contender spot at welterweight.
Although not the fastest, Wonderboy is a very accurate and diverse striker, he looks to employ a dangerous kicking game from the southpaw stance. With his main weapons from southpaw being his quick lead leg hook kick, which wobbled Jake Ellenberger. And his lead leg side kick which stung Johny Hendricks, as he mixed things up intelligently, punishing both body and head of the former welterweight champion. Looking to adopt a more punch oriented strategy, the orthodox stance is where Wonderboy will look to land punches, particularly the right straight as a counter. Thompson will keep his hands low and dip his head slightly forward in an attempt to bait his opponent into thinking they are in striking range. This strategy is a high-risk one against a powerful puncher like Tyron Woodley, as it relies heavily on head movement and Wonderboy has been hurt in previous fights where he has been caught circling out with his hands low.
Tyron Woodley’s right hand is the key weapon in his arsenal, a fact which Stephen Thompson knows all too well as he was on the receiving end of two in the 4th round of their previous bout, both of which left him on the canvas. Should Thompson look to blitz forward with punches against Woodley like he has in the past, a right-hand counter may well be awaiting him. “The Chosen One” is one of the most naturally powerful athletes in the sport today, with four first round knockouts in just nine bouts since joining the promotion back in 2013.
The offensive threat Tyron Woodley poses has never been in question, it is his defensive choices inside the cage that sometimes land him in trouble. Most notably his habit of backing himself on to the cage, which invites forward pressure from the opponent but leaves little opportunity in the way of backward movement for him. And although he has shown good lateral movement, Rory Macdonald exploited this by mixing things up with jabs to the body and head which caused Tyron to be hesitant while in defensive mode on the cage. This was also key in his first meeting with Thompson, despite never being in danger, it allowed Wonderboy to control the center and win rounds. Should Woodley neglect this hole in his game, it could well cost him.
If the fight should hit the ground, it would undoubtedly be Tyron Woodley who holds the advantage, as we seen in their previous outing where he was able to inflict damage from top control in round one after catching a kick. It would be wise of Woodley to make more of an effort this time to get the fight to the ground, perhaps by attacking the lead leg of Thompson with kicks to slow him, and then working for a takedown. Wonderboy has shown good improvements on the ground, but Woodley is clearly the superior wrestler both technically and physically.
If their first bout is anything to go by, this will be a hotly contested fight. Should Tyron Woodley choose to make some strategical changes and employ a wrestling oriented game-plan, I believe he will have great success. While Wonderboy is always a threat, I believe Woodley will emerge victorious this time. The over 2.5 rounds would also be an intelligent play in this position as both men are very durable.
Pick: Woodley via Decision
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson
In what many are calling one of the most intriguing match-ups in the history of the sport, unbeaten Khabib Nurmagomedov will look to extend his winning streak to 25 as he meets “El Cucuy” Tony Ferguson, a fighter who is 15-1 in the UFC and currently enjoying a 9 fight win streak of his own. Few have had careers as dominant as The Eagle, going 8-0 in the UFC in a seemingly effortless showcase of his grappling prowess, with dominant victories over Abel Trujillo, Rafael Dos Anjos, and Michael Johnson. Since his 2012 defeat at the hands of Michael Johnson, Tony Ferguson has shown marked improvements in all facets of his game, blossoming into an offensively creative striker with a clinical repertoire of chokes at his disposal should the fight hit the ground.
A much more diverse striker with power in both hands, it is on the feet where Tony Ferguson will look to pressure the Russian with constant forward movement and unorthodox set-ups, a style almost synonymous with “El Cucuy” in recent years. Well, the striking of Khabib is serviceable, it serves mostly as a means of creating an opportunity for a takedown, often waiting until his opponent has their back to the cage before unloading with wild strikes in an effort to create an opening and grab a leg. It might be wise of Ferguson to utilize his powerful long jab & straight which we saw him use at times against Rafael Dos Anjos, this is a key weapon against the smaller man, over who he will enjoy a 6” reach advantage, as it will keep him out of range for a takedown whilst also scoring points.
Should “El Cucuy” choose to get wild, as he has been known to do in the past, it could well be his downfall. His Tendency to spin could afford Nurmagomedov the opportunity to take him down, and should the Russian end up on top, it would be no easy task shaking him off, even for a grappler of Ferguson’s caliber. Tony’s tendency to square up while striking could also prove key in this fight, as it would provide the Russian with a clear opening to shoot on his legs. Should “El Cucuy” hope to keep this on the feet, this is something he must avoid at all costs, choosing to adopt a conventional stance would benefit him a great deal more as he has been effective in the past with a boxing oriented strategy.
If his career in the UFC to date has taught us anything, it is that Khabib Nurmagomedov will look take the fight to the canvas at any opportunity. The constant forward momentum of Ferguson could actually benefit “The Eagle” here as he will undoubtedly be given multiple opportunities at a takedown, which could see Tony put on his back for large portions of the fight. Should Ferguson sprawl and avoid the takedown initially, we have seen how relentless Khabib is in the past as he will grab a single leg, push his opponent against the cage, and work for a takedown from there. Although there is an ever present danger of the D’Arce choke from “El Cucuy” as a counter to the takedown, it is unlikely that a grappler of Khabib’s experience will put himself in such a dangerous position.
Should the Russian get top control, it could spell major trouble for Tony. We have seen the smothering nature of Khabib’s top control in recent fights with Michael Johnson and Darrell Horcher, where neither man offered much in the way of resistance. While Ferguson is undoubtedly a handier grappler than the aforementioned duo, it would be unwise to afford top position to one of the game’s most devastating grapplers. When on top, Nurmagomedov is very active with strikes from half-guard where he will control the far wrist of his opponent, and will often look to pass to the mounted crucifix, a position from which he is utterly dominant. We have seen “EL Cucuy” put on his back in the past, and although he is clearly comfortable there, striking from unorthodox angles and threatening a tricky guard game, it would be in his best interest to keep this fight on the feet.
For Tony Ferguson to win this fight, he must offer up some form of resistance to the grappling of Khabib by sprawling and not allowing “The Eagle” to lock his hands when threatening a takedown, and if taken down, show the ability to get straight back to his feet. When on the feet, he would likely see great success should he choose to employ a boxing oriented style centered around the use of his long jab and straight, while choosing his spinning attacks sparingly. For Khabib it would seem the strategy is as it has always been, get the fight to the ground, and impose his will.
In what is one of the most intriguing match-ups in recent memory, it is impossibly difficult to be confident when picking a winner, although I am leaning towards Khabib, as I believe Tony will put himself in dangerous positions as he chooses to get wild and give “The Eagle” the openings he needs to capitalize and get the job done via grinding decision. Much like the main event, it would be wise to play the over 2.5 rounds as this fight could go the distance.
Pick: Khabib Nurmagomedov via Decision
Rashad Evans vs Daniel Kelly
I believe Rashad is the far superior athlete and this is a fight which will likely restore some much-needed confidence, as he looks to put on a dominant display in his middleweight debut. Although Daniel Kelly has played spoiler before and could score the upset, it is hard to see a path to victory for him here as “Suga” is seemingly superior in all facets of the game, coupled with his championship experience against many of the sports greats, and this may well be a long night for the Australian.
Pick: Rashad Evans by KO/TKO
Lando Vannata vs David Teymur
Lando Vannata garnered a great deal of hype as a result of his impressive performance as a late replacement against Tony Ferguson in his UFC debut. Since then he has scored a spectacular wheel kick knockout over John Makdessi which served only to heighten his ever growing reputation amongst fans. Looking to rise up the ranks in what is arguably the UFC’s most talent-rich division is no easy task, and standing in his way will be Swedish striker David Teymur.
With both fighters primarily known for their prowess as strikers, it is highly likely that the majority of this fight will be contested standing up. Although both are similarly notorious for knockouts, they are quite different when it comes to their method of operation on the feet.
Lando Vannata is a very creative striker with a variety of spinning moves in his arsenal, but can also leave himself exposed defensively when on the attack. David Teymur, though still young in his MMA career, holds a wealth of experience in kickboxing which shows in his fighting style as he throws powerful kicks and has a quick left hand which he looks to counter with. Defensively, “Groovy” Lando Vannata relies heavily on head movement to avoid strikes and leaves his hands very low, which can become a problem, especially as he tires. Tony Ferguson capitalized on this as he was able to land quite a few jabs as Vannata faded and became very hittable. Teymur is much more conventional defensively as he keeps his hands high and despite being hit in previous fights with counters to his kicks, appears more defensively sound then Vannata.
Offensively, Teymur has a powerful arsenal of kicks which punish the head, body, and legs of his opponents. The counter left of the Swede is always a danger as he shown in his last outing against Jason Novelli, and should Vannata get lazy defensively this could prove important as Teymur settles well into the fight if given the chance. “Groovy” is a terrifically creative striker, his mobility and speed allow him to hit and get out of the way effectively. His use of the oblique kick to the leg acted as a good set up against Ferguson, as he used it numerous times to land the back fist. With power in both his hands and feet, Vannata is an offensive threat from almost any position on as was clear in his fight with John Makdessi as he landed a spectacular wheel kick KO. In a game of inches on the feet, this is an evenly matched contest which could go either way.
Should this fight hit the ground, it would appear that Vannata is the superior grappler. Although Teymur has shown the ability to escape from the bottom during his stint on the Ultimate Fighter, he still appears rather green on the ground, using strength to escape positions as opposed to technique. With four victories by way of submission “Groovy” is undoubtedly the more dangerous fighter on the canvas and should he decide to take the fight there it could well provide him with a path to victory.
Despite being very creative offensively, Vannata’s defense leaves a lot to be desired, which Teymur could exploit. In a fight as close as this, with odds this enticing, it would be wise to bet small on the underdog.
Pick: David Teymur via Decision
Alistair Overeem vs Mark Hunt:
Few heavyweights have more top level experience than Alistair Overeem, as he enters the octagon for what will be his 57th bout as a professional mixed martial artist since his career began back in 1999. His opponent, Mark Hunt also has a wealth of top-level experience as he returns to the UFC octagon for the first time since his controversial bout with Brock Lesnar at UFC 200. Both men will be eager to return to winning ways, as they look to climb the ladder once again in their quest for UFC heavyweight gold.
Since making the move to Jackson-Winkeljohn in 2014, “The Reem” seems completely reinvented as a fighter. Much more patient and calculated in the attack, Overeem poses a completely different threat nowadays, as opposed to the reckless juggernaut he once was. With defense and movement now clearly a priority for the Dutchman, he seems to have remedied many of the defensive shortcomings which cost him so dearly in the past.
Eagerly awaiting any opportunity to exploit a chink in the defensive armor of Alistair Overeem, “Super Samoan” Mark Hunt needs only one opening to finish the fight, as he will look to land the left hook or right hand which so many of his previous opponents have crumbled beneath.
With an 8” reach advantage, Overeem will no doubt look to employ a strategy heavily reliant on movement, which will allow him to fight at a range safe from danger. Look for him to make use of powerful low kicks, much like he did in fights with Junior Dos Santos and Roy Nelson, both opponents who lean very heavily on their lead leg. While Hunt himself has powerful low kicks, it is unlikely he will make use of them too much, for fear of being taken down.
Although “Super Samoan” has shown the ability to get out of range well with good footwork, he tends to slow in the later rounds and become quite hittable. Hunt’s habit of ducking his head very low could also prove a key factor, as Overeem is renowned for the power of his knees and closes distance frighteningly quick with them.
For “Super Samoan” to be victorious, he must stifle the momentum of Overeem early on and prevent him from fighting at a range and pace where he is comfortable. To effectively do this he must pressure the Dutchman by cutting off the cage and forcing him backward, much like Stipe Miocic did. When pressured against the cage, Overeem has a tendency to shell up, and against a striker as powerful as Mark Hunt that would be an unwise strategy. The left hook of Hunt is always a threat and should “The Reem” choose to get reckless as he has done in the past, it could see him in major trouble.
Should this fight hit the canvas, it is clearly the Dutchman who will hold the advantage. Although Hunt has shown great improvements on the ground and good ability to get up from the bottom, Overeem would certainly appear the far more polished grappler and would likely enjoy great success should he decide to take the fight there, particularly in the later rounds.
The power of Mark Hunt is always a danger, but the diverse attack and ground game of Overeem may prove too much for him.
Pick: Alistair Overeem by decision