With UFC 200 just around the corner, MMA mania is reaching fever pitch and even the most casual fans will be tuning into what looks to be the biggest event in UFC history. Despite the fact that Conor McGregor’s recent histrionics have ruled him out and Jon Jones has once again shot himself in the foot, the main card is still rammed with intriguing bouts to look forward to.
The prelims aren’t looking too shabby either, with the likes of Cat Zingano, Johny Hendricks, TJ Dillashaw and “Super” Sage Northcutt all in action. Still though, the main card is where most eyes will be this weekend and below are my predictions for the winners and losers. (*No opponent for Cormier at the time of writing, so he hasn’t been included below)
Brock Lesnar vs Mark Hunt
The new main event of UFC 200 is a perfect example of the old adage “styles make fights”. On one hand, you’ve got an immensely talented wrestler in Brock Lesnar and on the other, you’ve got probably the heaviest hitter in the game, Mark Hunt.
Lesnar hasn’t fought in roughly five years and is stepping back into the octagon because he feels he has unfinished business, having been robbed of his best years by a very serious bout of diverticulitis. Now 38 years old, Lesnar is still a relatively young heavyweight and remains a ferocious competitor with superhuman strength and athleticism. Should he manage to get the “Super Samoan” to the ground, you’d bet your house on him finishing the fight pretty quickly.
Therein lies the problem – Mark Hunt is a fairly predictable fighter in that he wants to stand and trade, but is renowned for his staunch takedown defence and durability. Coupled with Lesnar’s perceived distaste for getting punched in the face, this could be a long night for the WWE superstar if he doesn’t shake the ring rust off in double quick time.
However, Lesnar is unlike anything Hunt has ever faced before. He will be the most athletically gifted heavyweight Hunt has come head to head with and if Lesnar survives the inevitable early onslaught of punches, he could very well take what some would see as a surprise win. People easily forget that Lesnar himself is a very durable fighter, coming through a torrid time against Shane Carwin to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. If he has indeed fully healed from his illness, then I expect him to have both the brains and brawn to steal a win from the highly-fancied Hunt.
Verdict: Lesnar via TKO
Miesha Tate vs Amanda Nunes
It was a long road for Miesha Tate to claim the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship, until she finally did it via a fifth round submission of striker supreme, Holly Holm. With no Ronda Rousey return on the horizon, the UFC didn’t have too many attractive matchups for Tate outside of a rematch with Holm. However, it does seem that the UFC are trying to buck the trend of immediate rematches these days and ultimately looked past Holm.
Tate’s opponent, Amanda Nunes, is currently on a three-fight tear and will be no pushover. Nunes took a unanimous decision victory over a very capable Valentina Shevchenko back in March and has an impressive twelve career victories to her name, with nine coming via knockout. Tate would be wise to take the challenge of Nunes seriously and assuming she does, her superior all round skills should allow her to walk away with the title in tow. Nunes showed a propensity to gas in the third round versus Shevchenko and this is where Tate comes into her own and can grind out a win like she did against Holm. It won’t be easy, but Tate has to be favourite to retain the title.
Verdict: Tate via submission
Jose Aldo vs Frankie Edgar
With all the furore surrounding the return of Lesnar and the beef between Cormier and Jones, this is one of the biggest fights in recent memory to have flown so far under the radar. Two of the finest MMA exports of all time square off for the Interim UFC Featherweight Championship in what is possibly the most difficult fight on the card to call. Former kingpin Jose Aldo is just returning off the back of a devastating thirteen-second loss to Conor McGregor, having gone unbeaten for almost a decade. Until that loss, Aldo was the only featherweight champion the UFC had ever known and is still widely regarded as the greatest featherweight of all time.
Standing in his way is Frankie Edgar, who’s in the midst of a five-fight win streak against top opposition, including a hugely significant knockout of Chad Mendes. They last met in 2013, with Aldo taking a decision victory after being reasonably comfortable for the first three rounds and tiring in the final two. Since then, Edgar has defied his age and gone on to improve his skill set to no end, with Aldo seemingly regressing during that time.
People have been very quick to write Aldo off for this rematch, but this is a man who has frequently been mentioned in conversations regarding the greatest of all time. At only 29 years old, there’s no doubt that Aldo has plenty of fight left yet. I expect him to learn from his loss to McGregor and show his true class against Edgar once again to take the interim belt.
Verdict: Aldo via decision
Cain Velasquez vs Travis Browne
This looks to be the easiest call of the night, with the prodigiously talented Cain Velasquez coming back after a somewhat surprising loss to Fabricio Werdum just over a year ago. Prior to that loss, it was expected that Velasquez would go on to reign at the top of the heavyweight division for quite some time. Be it the altitude or the almost two-year layoff, Velasquez just didn’t perform to the level that we’ve come to expect from him. An on-song Cain Velasquez is a frightening proposition for anyone, but with the added impetus of proving his worth all over again, this should be the most motivated and vicious version we’ve seen to date.
His opponent, Travis Browne, has only had three career losses so far, but they have all come when he’s been faced with the next step of taking out a top ranked contender. Yes, he does hold a victory over the current number one contender Alistair Overeem, but this was a pre-renaissance Overeem and he has since gone through a radical change in physique and taken out former heavyweight champion, Junior dos Santos. In his last four fights, Browne has gone an uninspiring 2-2, with his last victory shrouded in controversy after some unsavoury eye pokes on Matt Mitrione. However, standing at a towering 6’7, “Hapa” still has the sheer physicality to trouble anyone in the division, but a focused Velasquez will easily pick him apart.
Verdict: Velasquez via TKO
Whatever happens this weekend and even without the fireworks of the Cormier/Jones rivalry, UFC 200 will be an absolutely cracking event even and I, for one, will definitely be tuning in.
Anthony Hayde, Pundit Arena