Hooooo boy, it feels good to be back.
The UFC’s return to the big stage after quarantine will be nearly two months following UFC Brasilia after what has seemed like hundreds of failed attempts that Dana has tried so hard to make work, but ultimately falling through.
Here’s hoping it’s different with this one!
What we do have here is a terrific matchup between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje, along with some true knockout artists and the Bantamweight title on the line between two people who have a singular combined win at 135 pounds since 2016!
Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje (LW)
Who isn’t excited to see El Cucuy back in the cage? Tony Ferguson (25-3, 15-1 UFC) has an 12-fight winning streak inside the Octagon and had to take a mental health break from the sport after his Fight of the Year bout with Anthony Pettis, but returned successfully against Cowboy Cerrone last June. Tony Ferguson is just insane. He has the best cardio in the sport and there are tales of him training for 8 hours on end. “El Cucuy” or The Boogeyman is as well-rounded as they come with amazing striking where he will switch stances, fire kicks, body shots, and wild elbows on top of those usual, boring punches that everybody uses. He also has amazing submissions and can wing crafty submissions from seemingly anywhere.
Justin Gaethje (21-2, 4-2 UFC) cannot be described as anything except a brawler. Gaethje’s record has an astounding EIGHTEEN knockouts on it. Gaethje has a CHIN on him and is well-known for going into brawls with the intent to stand and trade, as his moniker “The Highlight” suggests. Gaethje’s gameplan normally is to kick his opponent’s legs then finish them off with a flurry of punches, but he has demonstrated knockout power against James Vick, Edson Barboza, and Cowboy Cerrone with first round KOs in his last three bouts
The more I look at this match, the less confident I feel in making a sure pick. It’s such a close fight and that’s the very reason so many gambling pros and UFC fighters are calling this a 50/50. Gaethje seems to have the edge in power and aggression, but will seriously struggle if the fight goes past the second round and he’s dealing with Tony’s cardio and six-inch reach advantage. I imagine the low kicks of Gaethje will be a factor, but I don’t see Gaethje able to take Tony out quickly enough, before Tony’s cardio and pacing end his night.
Take the Shot: Tony Ferguson via Round 4 Knockout
Henry Cejudo vs. Dominick Cruz (BW)
After recently vacating his Flyweight belt, Henry Cejudo (15-2, 9-2 UFC) is looking to defend his Bantamweight title for the first time. Cejudo moved into MMA after winning the gold medal at the Olympics for wrestling. Evidently, that transfer has gone well and Cejudo used his fantastic wrestling base as a method to build up his karate-style striking, which was demonstrated in that powerful knockout of TJ. For the most part, Cejudo works towards the decision and volume strikes and wrestles his way there, but has shown some more pop at 135.
To many, Dominick Cruz (22-2, 5-1 UFC) is the GOAT of the Bantamweight division. With this being his first bout since December 2016, Cruz has mainly been sidelined due to injury, rather than a willingness to compete. Still 34, Cruz is looking to retake his belt and reestablish himself as a pound for pound great. Cruz has a fantastic wrestling base, but is truly known for his unorthodox style and footwork. His movement is one of a kind, making it so difficult to land power shots against him.
While I personally don’t believe that Dom is the fighter most in need of a title shot right now, he’s the man on the marquee. People are counting him out after Cody Garbrandt’s dominant performance over him, but Cejudo doesn’t have the speed or range to take advantage of Cruz and anticipate his movement in the way that Garbrandt did. Even if Cejudo has success controlling Cruz on the mat, the veteran is too wily in the scrambles to be held down for long.
Take the Shot: Dominick Cruz via Unanimous Decision
Francis N’gannou vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (HW)
Francis Ngannou (14-3, 9-2 UFC) is a scary, scary man. Apart from having the hardest recorded punch in human history, Ngannou has an underrated submission game with 4 submissions on his record. While he doesn’t like to take it to the ground, he is surprisingly capable there. However, the main forte of “The Predator” is his violent power and ability to stop a fight at any second. In fact, each of his Octagon fights has been getting shorter and shorter. Ngannou is a finishing machine and his only losses are when a fight goes the distance. A five rounder with two heavy hitters makes me find it highly unlikely this goes there.
Jairzinho Rozenstruik got out the gate quick in 2019, with four devastating KOs, two inside the first thirty seconds. He is a talented kickboxer who prefers to keep the fight standing and likely won’t have any argument from Ngannou on that account. Rozenstruik’s advantages to me are in his speed and technical footwork, but he did show a lapse in defense against Overeem. As much of a hot prospect as I think Bigi Boy is, Ngannou’s power and size will be able to replicate the Reem’s efforts, but finding the closing shot.
Take the Shot: Francis Ngannou via Round 1 Knockout
Donald Cerrone vs. Anthony Pettis (WW)
It seems like Cowboy Cerrone (36-13, 23-10 UFC) is absolutely insane to be fighting so much. With that match against Iaquinta, he showcased his striking. While I did not have serious doubts, it was an expert showcase. As I said in Cerrone’s fight against Al, he has seriously underrated jiu-jitsu and it has come through for him many times over.
A new weight class shot Anthony Pettis (22-9, 9-8 UFC) to the top ranks with a brutal Superman punch knockout of Wonderboy Thompson, making the former Lightweight champ an immediate contender. Pettis is dangerous from every territory with his flashy and creative striking making him an constant KO threat, especially with his newfound Welterweight power. He also has impressive jiu-jitsu and having an underrated submission game, but rarely taking it to the ground of his own accord.
This is a really great matchup for two veterans who look to unfortunately be on their way out. Cowboy has been knocked out in his past 3 fights, yet here he is against another power puncher. While Pettis has holes that have been more than exposed in his matches of late, I’m not convinced about Donald’s ability to corral him and limit those high-amplitude strikes.
Take the Shot: Anthony Pettis via Round 2 Knockout
Ryan Spann vs. Sam Alvey (LHW)
Ryan Spann (17-5, 3-0 UFC) is massive for the division. He carries brutal power and a dangerous submission game. He has an amazing top game and his right-hand drops more people than his mere 3 knockouts would lead you to believe. Spann’s greatest issue throughout his career has been his gas tank, but his move up to Light Heavyweight has drastically increased his ability to extend himself.
Veteran Middleweight Sam Alvey (33-13, 10-8 UFC) stepped up to LHW in 2017 to put on a 3-3 record but is now coming off two straight knockouts. The striker has serious power, winning an astonishing 19 fights by KO. Alvey has amazing takedown defense and furious striking power, but has struggled to find those big shots when being pressured. The way to win for Alvey is to keep the fight standing and use his volume and power to punch his win in. Unfortunately, Alvey’s defense has shown severe holes and a faltering chin.
For optimal government stimulus-doubling bets, I’d recommend parlaying Ngannou, Pettis and Spann with an El Cucuy-Cruz tag team to follow.
Until next time, Freaks!