Now that UFC 208 is behind us, we can focus on the much (more) anticipated UFC 209 card set for March 4th at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Back at UFC 205, fans were treated to one of the best fights of 2016 when Tyron Woodley (16-3-1) narrowly retained his UFC welterweight championship belt via majority draw against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson (13-1-1). The fight instantly screamed for a sequel and now both warriors get another shot to prove they are the king of the 170-pound division.
Also on the card in the co-main event spot is a lightweight battle between Khabib Nurmagomedov (24-0) and Tony Ferguson (23-3-0). The winner will strap on the interim lightweight belt. But really, it’s a title eliminator bout as the winner should get a shot at Conor McGregor’s actual lightweight crown.
McGregor is currently taking a much-needed break and appears to have his eyes on a money making pay-per-view scheme with retired boxer Floyd Mayweather. Distractions aside, McGregor better pay attention to this fight because both Nurmagomedov and Ferguson are focused on one thing and that’s knocking off the brash talking Irishman.
The rest of the 209 card is full of great matchups and heavy hitters. Former K1 kickboxing champs Alistair Overeem (41-15-0) and Mark Hunt (12-11-1) are going to throw down in a “don’t-look-away-not-even-t0-grab-a-beer-from-the-kitchen” fight. Finally seeing these two talented strikers compete against one another is going to be a treat.
But obviously the stakes are highest in the main and co-main event of the evening. So let’s focus on those two bouts and predict whose hands will be raised at the end.
Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley (C) (-135) vs. Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson (+105)
Can we just say this fight is too close to call?
Like their previous bout at UFC 205, this one will probably go back and forth with someone winning via split decision. Last time out, Woodley took his time in the opening two rounds to figure out the karate style of “Wonderboy.”
Many people watching were curious why the champ didn’t work his world-class wrestling to avoid Thompson’s crazy kicks and unorthodox striking. Instead, Woodley wanted to show that he too had powerful strikes to be respected. Mission accomplished as Thompson dropped Woodley with a right hand in the first.
As the fight wore on, Thompson started to find his groove and, although Woodley had his moments, there were some that felt “Wonderboy” did enough to squeak out the win.
This time around, expect Woodley to use his wrestling game to set up the knock-out. The champ will look to close the distance, grind Thompson up against the cage, and look for opportunities to finish instead of letting it get to the late rounds again.
Thompson has cardio for days. The longer the fight goes, the better his chances of piling up the strikes and eeking out a win on points. The South Carolina native now knows what to expect from Woodley. “The Chosen One” likes to wait on the counter punch and, if Thompson can keep his distance and mix up the striking with a healthy dose of leg kicks, he could rock the champ with a well-timed head kick and finish the fight.
This has the makings of another classic. What concerns me the most is Woodley’s mental preparedness. He has spent the last few weeks talking smack about other fighters and complaining that he is treated poorly by the UFC. He has even thrown around the race card. Whether that is all just bravado for entertainment purposes, he better be ready for “Wonderboy” Thompson’s new game plan, because there really is only a small margin of error separating a win from a loss in this matchup.
Pick: Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson (+105) – new welterweight champion!
Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov (-205) vs. Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson (+165)
Everyone wants a fight with Conor McGregor, no matter the weight class. For lightweights, not only would a bout with McGregor be a title shot, it would also be the most lucrative fight they could garner. Cue Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov. The pair have made no bones about it; they want to punch the Irishman in the face and steal his pot of gold.
But first, they need to face one another.
Ferguson comes in with the power to knock out anyone, yet also has sound technical skills no matter where the fight goes. He hasn’t lost since 2012 and is currently riding a nine-fight winning streak. His latest win, a five-round beating of former lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos back in November, was one of his most impressive. If that wasn’t a statement to the rest of the division, I don’t what is.
Oh wait, I know what is: the beating Nurmagomedov (can I just call him Khabib?) laid down on Michael Johnson at UFC 205, keeping his undefeated record intact. He dominated the fight while simultaneously trash talking Johnson and McGregor, and having a match-making conversation with UFC President Dana White between rounds. He went on to win that fight by slapping on a Kimura that made Johnson tap in round three.
Khabib is a Russian machine, similar to Drago in Rocky 4 except for his small stature. His gas tank never hits empty and he can keep a fast pace going for five rounds by mixing up strikes and takedowns. Ferguson comes in with so much technical prowess, but he has never faced anyone like the man who will be standing across from him on March 4th.
What Ferguson has going for him is a great chin and fantastic submission defense, which could nullify a lot of Khabib’s offense. But look for “The Eagle” to take the fight into deep waters and not take his foot off the gas pedal.
Ferguson is going to have to make quick decisions or he is going to get outworked and outpaced. If “El Cucuy” can be patient, he should look to counter-strike and catch Khabib on the chin. Putting Khabib down is easier said than done, of course. The man wrestled bears when he was a kid. He was literally raised to be a savage.
This should be a barn burner of a fight and one of the best of the year. But I can’t bet against the undefeated Russian, partly because I would love to see get his shot against McGregor.
Pick: Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov (-205) – setting up a date with a certain Irishman.
Feature Photo Credit: Damdin Sodnomov (YouTube)
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