While there were a number of disgruntled fans who felt that 2017 got off to a slow start for the UFC, the same can certainly not be said for 2018. The UFC returns to Boston on Saturday night as two titles are on the line.
The co-main event features the light-heavyweight champion, Daniel ‘DC’ Cormier taking on Volkan ‘No Time’ Oezdemir.
Understandably, DC goes into this match-up as favourite given his wealth of experience. He previously had a career in wrestling, in which he represented his country at the Olympic Games, before turning to MMA.
He commenced his MMA career in 2009 and has amassed 21 professional fights with his only official loss coming at the hands of Jon Jones. He is instinctively a grappler and a wrestler but has developed a powerful stand-up game and possesses a steel jaw.
In contrast to the UFC veteran, Oezdemir’s career with the promotion is only getting started. The 28-year-old joined the UFC last year and fought three times in 2017 with a 100 per cent success rate. He finished his last two bouts by first round knockout, demonstrating a freakish strength for both of these finishes, landing short shots in the clinch which appeared unremarkable but yet were enough to stop both Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa.
In No Time’s maiden UFC fight, however, he was brought the distance by established light heavyweight Ovince Saint Preux, and scraped a split decision. Despite starting very strongly, he began to tire out as the fight progressed and finished the third round against the cage, taking damage.
Oezdemir is a technical striker with a wide array of weapons at his disposal. He will be aiming to stand and exchange on Saturday night. The kicks of the Swiss man could play an important role, likely to be utilised to attack the legs of his opponent and slow him down. And slowing down Cormier will be crucial given Oezdemir struggled when he last went three rounds and has no experience in the championship rounds.
DC is not afraid to stand and exchange either, having gone five rounds with some of the best strikers in the game such as Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson. He will strike with Oezdemir but will also look to test the takedown defence of the challenger. Notably, Volkan has a 100 per cent UFC takedown defence success rate, with the caveat being that he has spent just over 16 minutes in the octagon.
One thing Cormier will have to be very wary of, however, is the ability of Oezdemir to inflict damage inside the clinch as we have seen in his last two outings.
Oezdemir will come out of the blocks fast and may even rock Cormier early. Cormier will ride it out and take control, landing some solid shots before dominating Oezdemir on the mat.
Cormier KO/TKO in rounds three or four.
In the main event, Stipe Miocic will defend his title as ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet’ against up-and-coming challenger Francis ‘The Predator’ Ngannou.
This match-up is absolutely fascinating. Miocic is on a five-fight winning streak and has finished his last three fights via first round knockout. He is also on the verge of making heavyweight history as he looks to set the record for most successful title defences. Yet, he goes into this fight as the betting underdog.
However, watching the Predator in action, it’s easy to understand why he is the favourite here. The 31-year-old has an undefeated record of seven and zero in the UFC with all victories coming inside the distance. Amazingly, Ngannou has been training in MMA for less than six years. He moved to Paris back in 2013 to become a professional fighter and initially began boxing before training in MMA under Fernand Lopez at the MMA Factory.
In his last outing, he demolished heavyweight legend Alistair Overeem in devastating fashion landing a huge uppercut which many have recognised as Knockout of the Year.
Given the number of knockouts he has to his name, Ngannou is surprisingly patient in the octagon. He often allows his opponent to take the initiative in the striking department, happy to use his speed to counter. He is particularly fond of the counter-uppercut. Alternatively, he may use the jab to set up a straight or overhand and will switch from an orthodox to a southpaw stance throughout to unsettle his opponent.
Likewise, Miocic is also a potent striker. The part-time firefighter has fast, powerful hands. He likes to control the ring and stand with his opponent displaying his technical boxing ability. Stipe is also a former NCAA Division 1 wrestler and may look to expose some holes in the ground game of the challenger.
The big question mark over Ngannou is how he might deal with going into the championship rounds. Ngannou has perhaps been a victim of his own success in the sense that he has never gone past two rounds due to his tendency to finish fights early. So the cardio, conditioning and mental fortitude of the African has not been tested in a competitive fight past the ten-minute mark. Although it is not in Miocic’s nature to back down, he will throw plenty of feints and utilise lateral movement to attempt to take Ngannou into unchartered territory.
The styles match up extremely well for Saturday as both men possess great striking skills and generally like to stand and trade. It is no surprise that the bookmakers have it odds on that this contest finishes in the first round.
The fight will start off slower than expected with both men feeling out the other and finding their range. Towards the end of the first or second, Miocic will over-commit and Ngannou will finish with a huge counter.
Francis Ngannou KO/TKO in rounds one or two.
Cathal Geeney, Pundit Arena
Read More About: Alexander Gustafsson, alistair overeem, baddest man on the planet, daniel cormier, DC, fernand lopez, francis ngannou, Jimi Manuwa, micha cirkunov, mma factory, no time, Stipe Miocic, the predator, volkan oezdemir