The UFC has had a fascinating year. On the business end the company has been sold, resulting in employee layoffs. Inside the octagon titles have changed hands at an alarming rate. Other setbacks include when UFC 200 flopped, Mark Hunt lost his mind briefly and Ronda Rousey went missing. Calls for a fighters union, anger at Reebok, embarrassing drug test results and feigned ignorance of the ranking system are ever present complaints, almost familiar friends at this point. Nearing the end of this year the UFC is in desperate need of a win. UFC 205 could be just that.
The first MMA event in New York since the ban in 1997 is a momentous occasion for everyone involved in the sport. On November 12th Madison Square Garden, an ever willing host, will be the scene of one of the most outrageous cards in UFC history.
The presence of Conor McGregor guarantees that people will watch in their droves but that is just one of three title fights to enjoy, along with a smorgasbord of top quality fights throughout the preliminaries and main card.
Lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez will attempt to derail McGregor’s shot for UFC immortality while Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson will try to capture the welterweight belt from Tyron Woodley as “The Chosen One” defends the title for the first time.
The strawweight title fight sees two undefeated Polish fighters lock horns as Karolina Kowalkiewicz tries to avoid becoming the next punching bag for the champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Before we preview these ridiculously good bouts we must tick off the rest of the main card. If you’re not excited by the rest of the card well then you must be blinded by the very real condition of McGregoritis or might have so little interest in MMA that you really shouldn’t bother staying up all night to watch it. Maybe just check the update on your phone the next day and play along. You’ll be fine.
Miesha “Cupcake” Tate vs Raquel “Rocky” Pennington
Spare a though for Miesha Tate (18-6-0). The former Strikeforce champion got her hands on UFC gold by strangling Holly Holm at UFC 196. She’d suffered two title defeats, courtesy of Ronda Rousey armbars, and continued scrapping her way through the roster until her shot came again. She’d reached the top of the mountain and it must have felt sweet. Then Amanda Nunes came along. The Lioness submitted Tate in the first round of her first title defence, and you could have forgiven Tate if she decided to pack it in, as she has threatened to do in the past. Instead she returns to fight Raquel Pennington (8-5-0).
“Rocky” is riding a three fight winning streak going into this fight and it will be her third fight this year. Being an active fighter that’s winning is key to making a push for a title shot, especially in the crowded woman’s bantamweight division. That three fight streak could have easily been five, if not for a close spilt decision to Holly Holm. “Rocky” is picking up momentum and at 28 she’s got plenty of time to make a push to the top but Miesha Tate should prove too much for her.
Both of these fighters are gritty. It’s almost a dirty word and can be synonymous with people tuning out. Hopefully that won’t be the case here as both have decent hands and submissions. That said half of Pennington’s wins have come by decision while Tate’s last five wins have included four decisions. Pennington has faced top contenders before, the aforementioned Holm and Cat Zingano. She lost both times and it took two attempts to get a win over strawweight Jessica Andrade.
Tate has faced top level competition and won. She’s got championship experience and excellent cardio, which will be vital once this fight turns into a grind. She should rightly be ranked in the top three all time great female fighters, behind Rousey and Cyborg. You shouldn’t expect anything flashy, from either fighter, but it’ll be entertaining. Tate’s experience and cardio should bear fruit in the third round and a rear naked choke isn’t out of the question.
Verdict: Tate via submission, round three.
Kelvin Gastelum v Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone
Donald Cerrone (31-7-0) is undoubtedly a fan favourite, and the bookmakers’ favourite. How could he not be? Over the last two years or so he has fought eleven times and lost once. Jumping between weight classes at short notice, fighting in an entertaining way, leading to bonus after bonus, with a new eight fight contract and a wild lifestyle. What more could you ask for?
Previously a lightweight standout, Cerrone seems to have found a new, much more dangerous home at welterweight. His previous two fights resulted in TKO wins against two men who had never before been stopped, Patrick Cote and Rick Story. Dangerous indeed.
Kevin Gastelum came into the UFC via The Ultimate Fighter. An underdog going into the show, he went on to beat Uriah Hall via split decision in the finale. He then dropped to welterweight, won three fights before losing his undefeated streak to current champ Tyron Woodley. A brief enforced return to middleweight beckoned before he dropped again to welterweight. A fight of the night defeat to Neil Magney was followed by a UFC 200 win against Johny Hendricks and this has brought him to “Cowboy” Cerrone’s attention. In fairness, it does seem that Cerrone will fight just about anyone lurking between 155lbs and 170lbs.
Gastelum’s weight problems haven’t stopped him being ranked at #5 in the welterweight division. Cerrone is coming in right behind him at #6. Gastelum has a wrestling background and he’s tough. He’s never been stopped and a win over former champion Hendricks should give him the confidence to exchange with Cerrone. He’s got talent, youth and confidence on his side. Shame it won’t do him much good.
Cerrone is more skilled technically with fantastic Muay Thai skills and, as Joe Rogan will repeatedly remind us, an underrated jiu-jitsu game. We get it Joe, you tell us every time! Gastelum is capable of beating former champions disguised as overly inflated blimps but it’s doubtful he’ll match the pace Cerrone sets. Even if does take Cerrone down he doesn’t have the chops to stay with him there. Gastelum is in danger everywhere. Look for Cerrone to finish early, mainly so he can get to his next fight as quickly as possible.
Verdict: Cerrone via TKO, round one.
Chris “All-American” Weidman v Yoel “Solider of God” Romero
Chris Weidman (13-1-0) has complained about not having enough support from American crowds in the past. If he doesn’t have the crowd behind him against Romero he never will. Either that or the audience will have had a collective stroke from ‘Merica fever. The New York native and former champion seeks to rebound from losing his title to Luke Rockhold nearly a year ago. He’d been busy annihilating Brazilian legends of the sport up until that night, his first professional loss.
Yoel Romero (11-1-0) will be 39 going into this fight. In the 2000 Olympic games he won a silver medal in freestyle wrestling. Once the Cuban converted to MMA he decided wrestling wasn’t entertaining enough and simply started knocking people out cold instead. Nine of his 11 wins have come by knockout. The saga of Romero v Ronald Souza finally ended the same night Weidman lost his title. Romero left with a close split decision and a seven fight win streak.
A two time NCAA Division One wrestler with knockout power versus an Olympic medal winning wrestler with knock out power. Sounds close. Closer still when you consider this fight is over three rounds. But not that close.
Romero has decent cardio and the power in his hands could put down a walrus. Before fading badly against Rockhold, Weidman’s cardio wasn’t really questioned. If he pressures Romero early the Cuban should tire. Once Romero tires he’ll start swinging for the fences. If he hits Weidman he could take his head off but it’s more likely Weidman takes him down and batters him with heavy punches. All of this while the American crowd loses complete control of themselves and metaphorical eagles fly overhead.
Verdict: Weidman via TKO, second round.
You can read a full betting preview of UFC 205 here.