Previewing UFC 200
This weekend finally brings us the much hyped milestone UFC event, UFC 200. Dana White had long promised that this would be the biggest card that they’ve ever put together and I actually think it lives up to that hype but it took a long twisty road to get us there. Six months ago if you had told me to predict what would be on UFC 200 I would’ve told you Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey had to be on there to make it the biggest UFC pay-per-view of all time. Or at least one of the two biggest superstars in the sport along with George St. Pierre’s return to the sport against someone like Anderson Silva. The fact that none of those things happened and its still as big as it is would’ve had me in disbelief.
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For a few weeks it sure seemed like we were going to get Conor McGregor, in a rematch with Nate Diaz who handed him his first UFC loss in March at UFC 196 after he moved up in weight rom Featherweight to Welterweight. At first this news was met with a fairly tepid response as there seemed to be bigger and better fights for McGregor to take to build his stock back up. That all changed on April 19th when Conor announced his retirement on Twitter which led to a firestorm of drama over the next couple weeks and ultimately had his fight pulled from the card. All the drama from that made that rematch one of the most anticipated fights I can remember. We’ll get to experience it on August 20th at UFC 202 since they were able to patch things up. Instead they announced another rematch would headline the card instead, Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier 2. And about a month ago they added the return of Brock Lesnar to the event against knock out artist Mark Hunt. Overall, its filled with ‘name’ fighters and great fights from top to bottom. Here’s what we’ve got.
Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier 2 (Light Heavyweight Championship – Title Unification Bout) – Jones might not be the superstar that Conor McGregor or Ronda Rousey are when it comes to the mainstream but he is quite possibly the greatest fighter this sport has ever seen. The 28 year old is essentially undefeated as his only loss came on a disqualification for downward elbows in a fight he was dominating and about to win. The man he is fighting only has one loss himself, to Jon Jones. Cormier was an elite talent at heavyweight but decided to drop down to 205 because his friend and training partner (and fellow UFC 200 participant) Cain Velasquez was the reigning champion at the time. He could also be seen as one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world and proved it the first time they fought giving Jones a tough, fairly close fight. It was after that fight that Jones was stripped of his belt after testing positive for cocaine and separately getting arrested for a hit and run involving a pregnant woman. Cormier went on to win the vacant title and then defend it against Anthony Johnson and Alexander Gustaffson respectively. Jones returned in April of this year and was supposed to fight Cormier then but he had to pull out with an injury so instead he fought Ovince St. Preux for the ‘interim’ belt. At long last we’ll get to see this grudge match after thousands of words of trash talk between them. After Saturday night only one man will hold the real belt.
Brock Lesnar vs. Mark Hunt – Amid the trio of championship fights on July 9th is this little oddity that nobody saw coming before it was announced (unless your name is Ariel Helwani I suppose). Brock Lesnar will be making his return to the UFC and fighting for the first time in almost five years. Lesnar left the UFC after getting knocked out by Alistair Overeem in December 2011 and headed back to the WWE. There were numerous rumors that popped occasionally over the few years following his departure about a potential return but they never materialized. It wasn’t until all hope seemed lost that it actually came to be. Brock returns as the UFC’s biggest ever draw and star of the landmark UFC 100 event and enters into a new era of MMA where he actually has equals in Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey, fighters that didn’t need the extra exposure from other outlets. It will be interesting to see how he looks after years away from the sport and if he still has that massive drawing power. The man he’ll be facing off against is certainly no joke. Mark Hunt is an extremely hard hitter and has every chance in the world to knock out a man who has appeared to be scared of getting hit in the past. To me this fight is a coin flip. If Lesnar can get the fight to the ground he should make quick work of Hunt but if ‘The Super Somoan’ is able to keep it standing Brock is in a lot of trouble. Another aspect to look out for is after the fight. What is next for Lesnar? Is this just a one off thing for a big paycheck? Or if he wins does he want to angle for another shot at the title? Perhaps a super fight against Fedor Emelianenko who is rumored to be signing with the UFC soon? Should be interesting.
Miesha Tate vs. Amanda Nunes (Women’s Bantamweight Championship) – A women’s bantamweight championship fight on UFC 200 and Ronda Rousey and/or Holly Holm are not involved. That would’ve been hard to fathom prior to subsequent upsets of the two biggest stars in the division. Instead Tate gets a chance to catapult herself into that category on a big stage against a tough fighter but one she should have a decent chance of beating. After ‘Cupcake’ submitted Holm in the 5th round of her epic comeback it looked like she was lined up for a rematch either against her newest foe or her oldest in Rousey, who has beaten her twice with arm bars but who she had given her toughest fight before ‘The Preacher’s Daughter’ knocked her out. Those high profile fights will have to wait as Tate fights Nunes who beat Valentina Shevchenko on that same monumental UFC 196 card earlier in the night. ‘Lioness’ is 5-1 in the UFC with her only loss coming against Cat Zingano who fights earlier in the night. Nunes is a fast starter and is she gets to Miesha early she could walk away with an upset win of her own. The only problem for her will be as the fight drags on she tends to get tired and much less effective. The best part of this fight is that it helps prove that the success of women’s MMA does not hinge on Ronda Rousey’s existence in the sport.
Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar 2 (Interim Featherweight Championship) – For all intents and purposes this is not the interim championship. At least as far as I’m concerned Conor McGregor will never return to the weight class that he made his name in and won, first, the interim title by knocking out Chad Mendes and then, second, the actual belt in an unbelievable 13 seconds against Jose Aldo. It was already an intense and draining weight cut for him to get to that weight and that was before he bulked up, bypassed Lightweight, all the way to Welterweight. I see him staying in the 155 to 170 range and if either of these guys want their chance against him it’ll have to be them moving up rather than him moving back down. But all that aside this is still an awesome fight and the winner would be a deserving champion for the 145 pound division. Obviously Aldo had reigned over the weight class in dominant fashion ever since the UFC brought the division over from the WEC in 2011, including a win over Frankie Edgar in February 2013. It was probably the closest fight ‘Scarface’ has had before getting KO’d by McGregor but one he still deserved to win. For his part ‘The Answer’ has since reeled off five straight wins over high level competition, looking better and better each time out. Most recently he knocked out former title challenger Chad Mendes in the first round this past December. There are so many ways this fight could play out and great fights that could be made following it. This is my most anticipated fight of the night.
Cain Velasquez vs. Travis Browne – A little over a year ago this could’ve been seen as a heavyweight championship pay-per-view headliner and here it is opening up the five fight PPV. That was before Velasquez showed up in Mexico and lost his belt to Fabricio Werdum (who has since lost it to Stipe Miocic in May). The oft injured former champion showed up in that fight looking out of shape and go exhausted early when he’s typically known as a guy with a nonstop gas tank. Maybe he was hiding an injury or maybe it was the high altitude but either way he hasn’t fought in over a year and needs to win this fight to get back on track. The good thing is that in the heavyweight division it doesn’t take much time to build yourself up to a title fight. Winning streaks are short in the division where anyone can be knocked out at any time. Browne is a good example of that himself as he has alternated wins and losses over his last five fights, most recently knocking out Matt Mitrione in January. He’s been a guy that has seemed like an up and comer for a long time but just hasn’t been able to live up to the potential that his large frame and athleticism provides. If he can beat Velasquez he wouldn’t be far away from a title shot of his own, and vice versa if Cain beats him in his old dominant ways.
Cat Zingano vs. Julianna Pena – The main event of the Fox Sports 1 prelims gives us another great fight in the women’s bantamweight division. Zingano returns after a 17 month layoff following the quick dismantling she received at the hands of Ronda Rousey in February 2015. That is the only loss on her resume and she even has a victory over current champion Miesha Tate. Here she faces TUF winner and former team Tate member Pena who has looked great in her three UFC fights but those have been spread out over three years due to injury and out of the cage issues. They also weren’t against the greatest of competition. This will be a true step up for Pena and a big statement if she could beat Zingano. Meanwhile if Cat can get back on the winning track she puts herself in line to face a top five opponent and perhaps one step away from a title shot depending on what else is going on at the top of the division.
Johny Hendricks vs. Kelvin Gastelum – Here’s another guy in Hendricks that is kind of a fallen angel. Two years ago he held the Welterweight belt and looked like a guy that could replace GSP at the top of the weight class. Part of that was due to the loss he suffered against the former champion which I and many other people thought he had won in a close decision. That decision didn’t go his way and either has much else in the time since he beat Robbie Lawler the first time to finally become champ. He immediately re-matched Lawler and lost another close decision to lose the belt, badly missed weight and had to be pulled from a fight against current challenger Tyron Woodley, and most recently got destroyed by top contender Stephen Thompson. When he’s on the top of his game hes a tough match-up for anyone with a solid wrestling base and serious power in his punches. Unfortunately him and his opponent here, Gastelum, have similar issues when it comes to cutting weight and the resulting gas tank that comes from that. Kelvin only has two losses in his young career, both split decisions to top 10 welterweights Neil Magny and Tyron Woodley. A victory here would advance his career and hopefully show signs of maturity for the talented fighter. If Hendricks wins it would at least get him back on track and set up to be a few wins away from getting back into the thick of it at 170.
T.J. Dillashaw vs. Raphael Assuncao – Here is another fight that could have a higher spot in the lineup on any other card but instead fans get treated to it on free TV at 8:30 pm eastern. Dillashaw just lost his championship to the resurgent Dominick Cruz in January in a very close decision. I agreed with the judges that night but it seems like half of the people watching thought T.J. was robbed, or at least should’ve won. Here he gets a chance to redeem one of his few losses and the most recent one before losing to Cruz. Assuncao is on a seven fight win streak and could make a case for a title shot with another victory over Dillashaw, who he narrowly beat via split decision in October 2013. Raphael hasn’t fought in almost two years due to injury and its hard to say how he’ll look after that long layoff considering T.J. has revolutionized his game over that time to become one of the best fighters in the lower weight classes. If Dillashaw wins I would expect him to get another crack at Cruz in what should be another great fight.
Sage Northcutt vs. Enrique Marin – ‘Super’ Sage Northcutt is coming off the first loss of his career which came in embarrassing fashion via side arm choke to Bryan Barbarena. This after the UFC had hyped him up to a level that he couldn’t possibly live up to. Promoted in Dana White’s ‘Looking for A Fight’ web series he was fed some bottom of the barrel fighters in his first couple matches to capitalize on his freak athleticism as a then 19 year old. Unfortunately for him when the gritty veteran Barbarena filled in as a late injury replacement he was able to take advantage of Northcutt’s lack of experience. So as a rebound Sage gets to take a step back again against the only guy on this card that has no name recognition. Marin was the runner-up to Erick Montano on TUF: Latin America season two. He has a decent record but on the regional circuit which doesn’t give much indication of talent. Unfortunately I didn’t watch that season of The Ultimate Fighter but I have to assume if they’re matching him up with Sage then they feel Northcutt can style on him to regain some of that lost momentum.
Diego Sanchez vs. Joe Lauzon – The featured Fight Pass prelim is a bout between two veterans who have been around the UFC for a very long time. They both are prone to putting on entertaining fights at the risk of their own health and are both well past their expiration date when it comes to being competitive fighters at the highest level. But that doesn’t mean that this fight won’t be entertaining as hell. I fully expect both guys to go all out in every aspect of the sport to try and steal a fight of the night bonus away from the higher profile match-ups. If you’re going to keep these guys under contract and give them fights despite their steeply declining skills, to quote Montell Jordan, this is how you do it.
Gegard Mousasi vs. Thiago Santos – This is the only fight that has had any changes due to injury (knock on wood) which is a rarity in this day and age of combat sports. Mousasi was originally lined up to fight Derek Brunson on Saturday which would’ve had much more of an impact on the middleweight rankings but instead he gets Santos who is no slouch of his own. Mousasi is 5-3 since entering the UFC and gets knocked for his tendency to have boring fights that end in decision which is exactly what happened his last time out when he beat Thales Leites. He has a ton of skill and experience and is still only 30 years old but a lack of aggression seems to be holding him back. Santos is a physical specimen and is on a four fight win streak but I don’t see him employing a game plan that would give Gegard much trouble. Perhaps if the criticism has gotten under Mousasi’s skin and he tries to over-correct that perceived weakness he could make a mistake that Santos could take advantage of. But that doesn’t seem likely.
Jim Miller vs. Takanori Gomi – The opening fight of the night is another one along the lines of Diego Sanchez versus Joe Lauzon where it’s two guys who have been names in the game for a long time giving the fans a fun, if not sloppy fight. Also like Sanchez/Lauzon both of these guys are well past their peak. Miller has lost four out of his last five, including a decision to Diego Sanchez in March. That is a Diego who had previously lost four of his last six and the two wins were both undeserving split decisions. Gomi has lost three out of his last four including a loss to… you guessed it, Diego Sanchez. Oh and his last fight was a first round knockout loss to Joe Lauzon about a year ago. See how connected these two fights are! So we’ve established that it has no stakes and might not have most of the skills that these once great fighters used to possess but yet still I’m excited to see them throw down.
Enjoy the fights! Which ones are you most looking forward to?
An auxiliary member of the MMAJA, Bob used to run the baseball blog 'The Oriole Report' before transitioning to podcasting about movies, TV, Video Games, and MMA. 'The Redbox Report' movie podcast was started in 2013 followed by 'The Redbelt Report' MMA podcast in 2016. In 2018 they were merged into 'Phelan to Communicate', a podcast that can be found on iTunes and a blog that can be found at http://PhelanToCommunicate.wordpress.com. Bob has also written for Konsume.com and BaltimoreSportsReport.com and delivers mail for a living in Baltimore County. Follow him on Twitter @PhelanToTweet.