Oh Danny Boy … the fists, the fists are calling …
It’s kind of weird (and a little refreshing) to see newly-christened heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier competing without the specter of Jon Jones haunting him and lo and behold, this marks the third straight fight that he — and we — are “Bones” free.
That allows for some pretty interesting match ups in both divisions and tomorrow night we get Derrick Lewis standing in as short-notice heir to the 265-pound throne. Not that anyone thinks he can weather the “DC” storm but hey, this sport would not exist without the oft-vaunted “puncher’s chance.”
And so, “Cormier vs. Lewis” is the headlining attraction for the UFC 230 pay-per-view (PPV), which lost Dustin Poirier, Nate Diaz, and Luke Rockhold along the way, but still has enough quality pairings to make the Nov. 3 extravaganza inside New York City’s Madison Square Garden worth buying.
That includes the Chris Weidman vs. Jacare Souza co-headliner, which rids the division of one middleweight title contender and gives the other something for Rockhold to bitch about, kind of in the same way Patrick Stumberg was bitching about the UFC 230 “Prelims” in his detailed previews here and here.
As for the five-fight main card? We’ll predict, preview, and analyze those offerings below.
265 lbs.: UFC Heavyweight Champion Daniel “DC” Cormier (21-1, 1 NC) vs. Derrick “Black Beast” Lewis (21-5, 1 NC)
Daniel Cormier is a short, stubby-armed wrestler who looks more like a New York City cabbie than the UFC heavyweight champion of the world. I know that irks some fight fans, because they want a champion who looks the part, which may be why “DC” can be the model of excellence and still get booed out of the building. That aside, I think we’re all in agreement that Cormier is pretty fucking talented and what he’s done in spite of his physical limitations is remarkable.
For those of you “stat” guys out there, here is something to chew on: Cormier has never had a reach advantage in his entire mixed martial arts (MMA) career and in 23 professional fights, the only opponent shorter than him was the equally tiny Jeff Monson. And yet it never stopped him from running through every fighter in his way across two different weight classes — with the exception of Jon Jones. That should give you an idea of just how special “Bones” is.
For his first title defense, Cormier draws Derrick Lewis, who is more circus act than prize fighter, distracting fans with his sense of humor and well-timed mic drops. The “Black Beast” is not the tallest fighter “DC” has ever fought, nor will he be the heaviest. And considering some of the devastating right hands he’s faced in his career, like “Rumble” Johnson, Dan Henderson, and Roy Nelson, just to name a few, Lewis may not be the most powerful, either. He’s certainly not the fastest.
I think you know where I’m going with this.
Lewis has a gas tank to rival the four-stroke trolling motor on the back of my 12-foot Sun Dolphin and if we’re going with the “puncher’s chance” argument, and I think we don’t have much choice, then the new face of Popeye’s has one round to get it done. Forget about those past Hail Marys because Cormier does not make those kinds of mistakes and doesn’t get sucked into a firefight when he gets tagged. Instead, “DC” frustrates his foes by shooting when they think he will strike and striking when they think he will shoot.
The best thing you can say about Lewis is that he’s an entertaining fighter who’s earned this title shot by laying waste to most of the division. But a lot of his wins are the result of his opponents’ flaws, and not his own talent, which is why they call them “come-from-behind” victories. Did he really win the Francis Ngannou fight? Or did he just suck less?
Cormier is a former Olympic wrestler fighting a combatant who does not train wrestling or jiu-jitsu. Or cardio, Or anything else. I’m sure he shows up at the gym and goes through the motions but c’mon, let’s not pretend he’s putting himself through the meat grinder. And can we blame him? If you can beat most heavyweights just by showing up and swinging for the fences, why waste all that time training?
The gameplan could not be better suited for Cormier. And it won’t even take much work. All “DC” has to do is shoot, take Lewis to the ground, and beat the shit out of him until he’s too tired to fight back. Considering how winded “Black Beast” was against Volkov, I’m not expecting it to take very long, especially because Lewis thinks a flying right fist qualifies as takedown defense.
Final prediction: Cormier def. Lewis by technical knockout
185 lbs.: Chris “All American” Weidman (14-3) vs. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (25-6, 1 NC)
It’s kind of sad to see what happened to Chris Weidman over the last couple of years. Once considered an unstoppable middleweight champion and one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, the fading “All American” coughed up his crown as part of a dreadful 1-3 losing streak with three finishes. That’s doesn’t include his longstanding battle with injuries and at age 34, this may be the fight that tells us where he’s at in terms of the 185-pound title picture. Right now, the only thing we know for certain, is that he’s the punchline for all of Luke Rockhold’s middleweight jokes.
That’s too bad, because a healthy Weidman is still championship material. He’s scored a takedown in ever single one of his UFC fights — a total of 36 — and has outstruck every opponent he’s ever beaten under the Endeavor banner. Even if you think he’s a putz, that’s a pretty impressive stat. Aside from his background as a two-time Division-1 All-American out of Hofstra, Weidman won a pair of titles at Grapplers Quest by submitting all 13 of his opponents. He can strike, grapple, and go five rounds without breaking a sweat. If that particular “All American” shows up tomorrow night in “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” then his opponent is in big, big trouble.
Ronaldo Souza turns 39 in December and he looked every year of it against Kelvin Gastelum last May. Starching Derek Brunson prior to that proves “Jacare” is still a force to be reckoned with, but his resume is a bit deceiving. The Brazilian’s biggest win to date is a toss up between a shot Vitor Belfort and a 2014 Gegard Mousasi. Sorry, but submission wins over Tim Boetsch and Chris Cammozzi (twice) are nothing to write home about and I’m not breaking out the party hats for a decision victory over Francis Carmont. Souza is campaigning for a division title shot but it should be noted that his three UFC losses have come against the aforementioned Gastelum, Yoel Romero, and Robert Whittaker — two middleweight title contenders and one current champion.
Souza has really come a long way in the stand-up department and when you consider his reign of terror on the jiu-jitsu circuit, he could probably go the rest of his career without training a single day of grappling and still be better than everyone else in the division. A major concern for this fight, if he chooses to stay upright, is Weidman’s six-inch reach advantage. If this contest was taking place in 2014 instead of 2018, I might have given “Jacare” a better chance, but he’s looked older, slower, and a little less durable in his last couple of fights and that’s going to be the difference maker against a fighter with the kind of pressure that Weidman puts on. “All American” says he’s injury free and he looked pretty spry at the UFC 230 open workouts, so prepare yourselves for the second coming of STLL MY BOY!
Final prediction: Weidman def. Souza by unanimous decision
185 lbs.: David Branch (22-4) vs. Jared “Killa Gorilla” Cannonier (10-4)
David Branch got burned by the promotion, as did a lot of people, when the UFC 230 fight card started to fall apart. Originally paired off against Ronaldo Souza, “Jacare” was promoted to the Chris Weidman co-main event when Luke Rockhold withdrew due to injury. Branch has always been an exceptional grappler but his striking has come a long way since his first run under the UFC banner from 2010-11. In the years that followed, the Renzo Gracie pupil has compiled a 14-2 record with his only two defeats coming against Anthony Johnson and the aforementioned Rockhold. The former was a light heavyweight title contender while the latter was a one-time middleweight champion.
That’s a pretty solid run, any way you slice it.
I can’t say the same for Jared Cannonier, who seems to be undergoing something of an identity crisis. Starting out at heavyweight, the “Killa Gorilla” made a pit stop at 205 pounds, and is now cutting all the way down to middleweight. I suppose a 3-4 record with two knockout losses will have a fighter reevaluating things and let’s face it, at age 34, Cannonier doesn’t have time to be dicking around in a weight class that will bear no fruit. I know it’s hard to say this without sounding like a jerk, but there is really nothing special about Cannonier or what he brings to the cage. Decent at everything, exceptional at nothing. In addition, he still holds a job with the FAA outside of UFC (and I don’t blame him, it’s a good one), so that should tell you where his head is at in terms of his combat sports career.
Branch will likely take a page from Glover Teixeira’s book and get this fight to the floor, something he should be able to accomplish with little resistance. Despite his putrid takedown defense, giving up four to Jan Blachowicz and six to Ion Cutelaba, Cannonier has yet to be submitted in 14 professional fights and I don’t expect that to change tomorrow night in “The Empire State.” I just wish he had more to offer Branch from the bottom because this is New York and the boo birds don’t need much incentive to start singing.
Final prediction: Branch def. Cannonier by unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Jack “The Hammer” Marshman (22-7) vs. Karl “Baby K” Roberson (6-1)
I was kinda shocked to learn that Jack Marshman is only 28. It feels like 100 years ago when he was headlining BAMMA events opposite Tom Watson. Anyway, here we are and after a pretty solid run on the European circuit, “The Hammer” finds himself merely average, splitting his four Octagon fights at 2-2 after making his UFC debut in late 2016. For this contest, he’ll be entering off a defeat to Antonio Carlos Jr. at UFC Fight Night 119 in Brazil, marking the fourth straight loss in which he’s been finished. The good news is, those losses are — for the most part — pretty spaced out, so I’m not raising any red flags just yet.
For the purposes of this discussion, I’ll point out that Karl Roberson is also 28 and only has seven total fights to his name, not including his brief run in the ammys. “Baby K” fought his way into UFC by way of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, a blistering, 15-second destruction of Ryan Spann in summer 2017. Like Marshman, he’s coming off a submission loss, courtesy of Cezar Ferreira at UFC 224, also in Brazil. A one-inch advantage in both height and reach is not enough to make a difference in a fight like this, even though I expect all three rounds to play out on the feet.
Marshman was an amateur boxing champion and Roberson comes from a kickboxing background, so we can go ahead and forget about the ground game, unless one of them gets rocked and shoots out of desperation. I don’t think “The Hammer” is going to nail down a title shot anytime soon, but that’s okay, because he’s rarely in a boring fight. I do think “Baby K” has more weapons at his disposal and is probably the more fluid striker, I just can’t see him dealing with the Welshman’s never-ending onslaught, which means his quick burst offense is going to slow the occasional blitzkrieg, but not stop it completely. And judges tend to swing toward the busier fighter.
Final prediction: Marshman def. Roberson by split decision
185 lbs.: Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya (14-0) vs. Derek Brunson (18-6)
The best part of this fight, at least for my tiny brain, was the pre-fight trash talk when Derek Brunson called Israel Adesanya “The Last Gender Bender” and for some reason, I’m still laughing. Anyway, Brunson has been carrying on like this is going to be a blowout and I’m not sure what instrument he’s using for that predictive analysis. That’s not to say this is a “gimme” fight for Adesanya, either, because I’m not a part of the mob mentality that has him pegged as the hero of the middleweight division.
Based on what?
I understand that Adesanya is an accomplished kickboxer with a stellar record inside the ring, but welterweight striking sensation Stephen Thompson also joined UFC on the strength of his kickboxing and got shut down once he faced a crafty wrestler in the form of Matt Brown. Remember, Adesanya left kickboxing on the heels of back-to-back losses, including a devastating knockout to Alex Peireira in March of 2017. Not exactly ancient history and I’m not breaking out the bubbly because he outstruck Brad Tavares for 25 minutes back in July, particularly after his uninspired split-decision win over Marvin Vettori.
Brunson can win this fight if he decides to fight for the victory and not his ego. While he’s surprised his share of strikers in the past, most notably Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida, he lives and dies by the proverbial sword, going down in flames opposite Robert Whittaker and Ronaldo Souza, largely because of his porous defense. Far be it from me to advocate for a boring wrestling match, but this is a three-round fight and Brunson — a three-time Division II All American — only needs to capture two of them to bring home the win. Whether or not he remains disciplined enough to implement that gameplan, remains to be seen.
Final prediction: Brunson def. Adesanya by wet blanket
There you have it.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 230 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card at 10 p.m. ET.
For much more on this weekend’s UFC 230 fight card click here.
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