Don’t let the middleweight title fight announcement distract you. Michael Bisping defending his title against the greatest welterweight of all time, George St. Pierre, is for another glorious night. UFC 209 lost one of the most anticipated match ups in recent memory when Khabib Nurmagomedov was carted off to hospital and Tony Ferguson was left without a dance partner.
Weight cutting is a cruel mistress and the loss of this fight is a true shame. So instead we have Rashad Evans (19-5-1), treading new waters against his fellow former Ultimate Fighter contestant, Daniel Kelly (12-1-0) before the new co-main event, Lando Vannata against another Ultimate Fighter alumni, David Teymur.
Once you come down from all that we rewind the clock for the welterweight title fight, Tyron Woodley (16-3-1) vs Stephen Thompson (13-1-1) II. If we get anything as good as the original, we’re in for a great one. If it helps you nerds understand, we want the Two Towers, not Matrix Reloaded. Here we go!
Rashad Evans vs Daniel Kelly (185lbs)
After missing out on fighting Tim Kennedy at both UFC 205 and UFC 206, Rashad ‘Suga’ Evans returns to the big time for his middleweight debut. A faulty scan scuppered Evans’ plans on both occasions but the former light heavyweight champion looks to get his career back on track after two straight losses. Those losses came on the back of two years out with dodgy knees and Evans looks to be in the best shape of his life coming into this bout against Australian, Daniel Kelly.
Kelly came to the mixed martial arts game late. After his 2006 debut, he didn’t step back into a cage until 2012. He was busy at the time, representing Australia in four Olympic Games in judo. He’s used that top ground game to submit five opponents and his only loss was at the hands of Sam Alvey in 2015. He’s riding a three-fight win streak and faces the biggest challenge of his career against ‘Suga’.
Evans was looking at an incredibly tough fight against Kennedy. The 37-year-old faces a much easier out with the 39-year-old Kelly. Despite his advancing age and only winning two from his last six, Evans is still a very good fighter. Those losses came against some of the top names in the division, including a decision loss to Jon Jones. Kelly has never faced anyone of the calibre of Evans and may never have dreamed of a pay per view card appearance in the UFC.
Evans can out-box Kelly. While Kelly’s judo is unquestioned, Evans is skilled enough to out-work him on the ground. If the weight cut doesn’t gas Evans out too early, he should be in for a triumphant return to fighting. Kelly is over-achieving as it is and it looks like it’s as good as it gets for him. He may start the grappling game but Evans has the experience to turn it around and pound Kelly into the canvas.
Prediction: Evans via TKO, second round.
Lando Vannata vs David Teymur (155lbs)
Lightweight Lando “Groovy” Vannata (9-1-0) had the toughest of UFC debuts against tonight’s original interim title contender, Tony Ferguson. The Jackson-Wink trained wrestler gave Ferguson all kinds of trouble as a late replacement before succumbing to a D’Arce choke in the second. The scrap earned fight of the night honours and Vannata collected his second UFC bonus cheque in December with an outrageous wheel kick knockout of veteran John Makdessi. The 24 year-old prospect will look to further establish himself against Ultimate Fighter alumni, David Teymur (5-1-0).
A Swedish kick-boxer, Teymur represented Team McGregor during TUF 22. He went out of the reality show in the quarter-final despite a competitive display and he’s got a great range of striking techniques. He has impressed with two stoppage wins in the UFC proper. Martin Svensson and Jason Novelli played into Teymur’s plan on the feet while he demonstrated an improving counter wrestling game to keep the fight vertical.
Both these men are coming off the back of highlight reel knockout victories. They’re also young, exciting prospects in a grossly over talented lightweight division. A win for either man pushes them toward top fifteen competition. Leaning toward “Groovy” here. Teymur landed a thunderous uppercut to drop Novelli before finishing him but Novelli was wild and if you give a kick boxer of Teymur’s talent openings that often you’ll wake up thinking the lights are real pretty. Vannata won’t give him those openings.
Vannata has the edge in experience and, more crucially, on the mat. Should he avoid the crisp knees of Teymur, Vannata will shoot early and shoot often. Getting the Swede down may be tricky but “Groovy” can use his boxing to faint before pushing Teymur against the fence and dragging him into murky waters. Despite the improvements to his defensive wrestling it’s hard to see Teymur keeping this fight up. Vannata may spend the greater part of this bout looking for a choke or battering Teymur on the ground for a clear decision win.
Prediction: Vannata via unanimous decision.
Tyron Woodley vs Stephen Thompson (170lbs)
Woodley’s first title defence was the hairline close majority draw against Thompson at UFC 205. Woodley knocked out Robbie Lawlor in the first round to take the welterweight crown and claimed his second consecutive fight bonus with “Wonderboy” Thompson. “The Chosen One” Woodley is a two-time NCAA Division I wrestler and he’s knocked out four of his last seven foes. Despite everything he said after the last fight he’ll run it back for a rematch the UFC had to make.
Sorry, not sorry to Demian Maia.
Before the fight against Woodley, Thompson had won seven fights in the lethal welterweight division. The ref stepped in to save former champion and now middleweight, Johny Hendricks before Thompson dominated against Canada’s Rory MacDonald. An undefeated kickboxing record and highlight reel finishes of Robert Whittaker and Jake Ellenberger made “Wonderboy” a lethal proposition for a new champion.
The first fight showed us everything we already knew about these combatants. Both fighters were patient with Thompson keeping Woodley on the outside. He kicked, Woodley took him down and hurt him late from the top in the first round. Thompson defended well on his back but if Woodley had stayed on that game plan he’d have finished Thompson eventually. But “The Chosen One” didn’t stay on that plan. Credit to “Wonderboy” who didn’t kick as much and sprawled well. He landed combinations but fear of the takedown kept him from the spectacular kicking game he’s known for. If he can hide those kicks behind the solid combinations he’ll have a better chance of hurting, or at least outscoring Woodley.
Tyron Woodley is so pedestrian at times it’s infuriating. He can explode but he has to measure his pace so closely least he collapsed from exhaustion. He’s happy to stay outside and use to footwork to escape anything serious. That doesn’t usually work well with the point karate game of Thompson and it barely worked last time. If Woodley remembered he could wrestle that would help a massive amount too.
I went with “Wonderboy” last time out and I’m sticking to him here. He’s fitter and survived some of Woodley’s best the last time out, including a deep fourth round guillotine attempt. If he sets the pace, hides body kicks behind his previously effective combinations he’ll tire “The Chosen One” out and we’ll have a new champion. And the merry go round of the welterweight division post newly returned GSP turns again.
Prediction: Thompson via TKO, third round.