Heading into the month of February, it was completely fair to say...
UFC 206 Holloway vs Pettis (Preview & Predictions)
UFC 206 is the weakest Pay-Per-View card I have seen in a long time. Whether you judge a thin card in terms of big names, interesting match-ups, or importance to UFC divisions, this card fails on all of those fronts. I love MMA and the UFC, but I cannot pretend this is a product worth charging fans $69.99 in high-definition for to watch live. This card should have moved to a regular UFC on FOX free card but with new investors to placate the business side of the company, the show must go on. I realize some of this was outside of the UFC’s control with their intended Light heavyweight main event being scrapped due to injury, and Rashad Evans not getting medical clearance to fight forcing the company to find replacement fights. However, the UFC does deserve some criticism for the weak card; as their constant flirtation with George St. Pierre fighting on this card prevented them from pursuing other more interesting fights to sell the event because it appeared they’d just rely on GSP’s return to the octagon to sell the card. When St. Pierre was not signed to fight, the UFC scrambled to add the Light heavyweight championship fight between Anthony ‘Rumble Johnson and Daniel Cormier which would fall apart due to Cormier’s camp injury, and so here we are. There are a few fights that fans will surely enjoy, and the idea of the bantamweight division finally moving on from the McGregor era will be a fun storyline, so despite my critiques I’ll tune in Saturday night. I will breakdown the few fights on this card that are worth analyzing, and I will also give some fight predictions to hopefully help your bank accounts. Let’s get to the fights:
Notable PPV Main Card Fights:
Tim Kennedy (10th) vs Kelvin Gastelum (Middleweight 185lbs)
Preview: Hey look everyone; it’s Kelvin Gastelum in his proper weight division of 185lbs after ruining his 170lbs UFC 205 fight with Donald Cerrone by not making weight at weigh-ins. In my original UFC 205 aftermath column, I thought the UFC should have cut Gastelum for his continued missing of weight throughout his UFC career. By all accounts Gastelum is a nice enough guy, but he’s an extremely boring fighter coupled with his inability to make weight; typically this results in a fighter no longer staying in the UFC. However, I do not think it’s out of the realm of possibility the UFC’s intention is to teach Gastelum a lesson by giving him an absolute nightmare matchup vs Tim Kennedy, before they boot him to the curb. A bad loss to Kennedy will lower Gastelum’s limited profile, making the UFC’s choice to cut him even easier. Even if he goes on to sign with rival (Bellator) his name recognition will be next to nil, and fight fans last impression of him will be a possible drubbing to Kennedy. Now if Gastelum pulls the upset, that could come back to bite the UFC as they’ll be forced to resign him or risk losing a decent Middleweight coming off a victory vs a top 10 opponent to a rival company. However, Tim Kennedy presents a mirror image of Gastelum’s fighting style with the main exception of he does everything Gastelum does, just clearly better. Kennedy is a bigger, stronger, faster version of Gastelum with a better gas tank and a significant height & reach advantage. The one major question coming in for Tim Kennedy heading into this fight, is how will he look coming off of two years outside of the octagon. Will he have significant ring rust, and will he have any residual effects from his rough TKO loss to Yoel Romero in his last fight in 2014. Gastelum is going to have to test Kennedy’s chin early, and likely try to secure a stoppage in the 1st round if he hopes to pull off the upset. Kennedy’s cardio and mauling style could really suffocate Gastelum in the 2nd and 3rd rounds if Gastelum is unable to hurt Kennedy in any kind of meaningful way early in the fight.
Odds: Kennedy (-139) vs Gastelum (+120)
Prediction: This fight is getting decided on the mat most likely. Both guys like to mix it up and drag their opponents to the ground as they grind and over power them. The problem for Gastelum is that Kennedy is just a better version of Gastelum which should make for a long night for Kelvin. Unless, Tim Kennedy gets tagged or just cannot shake off the ring rust, I think he wins a clean unanimous decision over Gastelum and potentially ends Gastelum’s time with the UFC.
(Kennedy (-139) via Unanimous Decision) / Over 2.5 rounds (-200)
Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (5th) vs Matt “The Immortal” Brown (14th) (Welterweight 170lbs)
Preview: This fight got made to save a fairly weak card, and the UFC hopes it becomes a brutal slugfest between two talented tough as nails fan fighters looking to get back into title contention. There is certainly no love lost between these two brief former training partners, and fans are excited to see if that real animosity transfers over into the octagon. Cowboy enters this fight looking for another statement win; that would give the UFC brass all the ammunition they’d need to justify giving him a title shot at 170lbs. Cerrone is 11-1 in his last twelve fights and is in top form since moving back to welterweight after his title fight loss to Rafael Dos Anos a year ago. His opponent Matt Brown’s career is headed in the opposite direction as he’s 1-4 in his last five fights. The years of brutal wars and comebacks appear to finally have taken a toll on Brown. He will still be a an absolute monster for Cerrone, but if he suffers another brutal knockout like he did against Jake Ellenberger back in July, it may be time to start thinking about retirement. Brown will have a two-inch reach advantage against Cerrone despite being the slightly smaller of the two men. The reach advantage may allow Brown’s nasty striking to keep Cerrone honest, which is what he’ll have to do if he expects to pull off an upset. While I have no doubts about Cowboy’s abilities on his feet as a world-class striker, he may choose to take Matt Brown down to the mat, where he’s been susceptible to submissions over his career having lost five times via submission. Cerrone’s jujitsu skills often get overlooked due to his world-class kicks, but he is just as much of a nightmare for Brown on the mat as he will be standing up to exchange. It’s only a three round contest so niether fighter should have trouble keeping a frenetic pace, as both men have had notoriously strong cardio throughout their careers. This fight will likely be decided by whether or not Matt Brown can summon one more heroic effort, and hurt Cerrone with one of his strikes. If he can’t, it could be a very long and painful night for Brown, as Cerrone comes into the fight in absolute peak form. This fight has the potential for the ‘fight of the night’ bonus, and maybe be in contention for fight of the year if it becomes a back and forth effort.
Odds: Cerrone (-270) vs Brown (+230)
Prediction: I love Matt Brown’s heart, he never disappoints win or lose when it comes time to put on an entertaining fight. The guy is never out of a fight, and has done ‘more with less’ than many other more naturally gifted fighters in the UFC. However, I just cannot see him giving Cerrone any problems, unless Cerrone just gets caught with a wild shot during an exchange. Cowboy looks like a new fighter at 170lbs, and will take extra joy battering a former training partner whom he appears to not have fond memories of. Brown really struggles with his submission defense, and Cerrone is a masterful technician on the ground. I expect Cowboy to test Brown on his feet early just to see if he has a significant advantage standing, but I think Cerrone and his camp know the only way Brown wins is if they keep it standing. So I expect Cowboy to break Brown down over the first two rounds with a mixture of strikes, and ground work. I see Cerrone sinking a late bloody submission setting him up for a potential welterweight title shot.
(Cerrone -270) via Submission) / Bonus Play: (Under 2.5 rounds -120)
Main Event (Lightweight Championship Fight)
Max “Blessed” Holloway (2nd) vs Anthony “Showtime” Pettis (5th) (Interim-Bantamweight Championship Fight 145lbs)
Preview: Max Holloway has absolutely earned his shot at the Bantamweight title, even if it’s only the “Interim” version of that belt. What I do not understand is how anyone making this fight honestly believes Anthony Pettis has earned his “shot”. I say this as someone who really appreciates and enjoys Anthony Pettis’s style and willingness to try dangerous game plans vs dangerous opponents. However, as much as I like Pettis, he is still 1-3 in his last 4 fights. He should not have gotten a title shot, but because the UFC is looking for stars at 145lbs now that former champion McGregor has moved on to the Lightweight divis. Pettis did not earn this shot Saturday night, he’s a big name and the UFC wanted to sell this card so he got the call. In a bitter irony Pettis effectively gave his shot away by coming in overweight at 148lbs, unable to make 145lbs at weigh-ins, thus disqualifying him from winning the belt. So now we have an interim title fight that can only be won by one of the participants as the main event of a Pay-Per-View card. If you have not been able to sense my frustrations with this card; I do not know what to tell you. Holloway will suffer a 3 inch reach disadvantage against the larger and lankier Pettis. This is likely going to dictate how Holloway will choose to attack Pettis, and not bother staying outside attempting to exchange with a dangerous striker with a reach advantage. Pettis’s recent losses provide an easy blueprint for Holloway to follow: use relentless pressure on Pettis, get in tight against him, and pound him on the mat if you can get him there. Pettis missing weight may adversely affect his cardio, especially in the championship rounds of a 5 round fight. Holloway may have to willing to eat a jab or leg kick to get into Pettis’s body and bully him around the Octagon. Pettis’s strategy is simple, employ the kicks and long distance strikes that McGregor used during his win against Holloway to keep him off of him, and prevent getting drug to the mat. The biggest question for Pettis is does he have enough cardio for 5 rounds to employ a game plan it will require to beat Holloway. If he knows he does not have the cardio, than expect an early avalanche from Pettis in the first two rounds as he tries to go for broke by either stopping Holloway or essentially giving up his chance to win a decision by giving everything he has in those opening two rounds.
Odds: Holloway (-195) vs Pettis (+170)
Prediction: I can’t pick against Max Holloway, the man is on a mission after his loss to Conor McGregor 3 ½ years ago. Pettis is no walk over, he’s extremely dangerous no matter what version of him shows up for this fight. However, I do not think this is the world beater super confident “Showtime” Pettis who was on the cover of Wheaties boxes only a few years ago. He’s been beat up in the octagon over these last two years, something that seemed unimaginable after he matrix kicked Benson Henderson to win his belt back in 2013. He’s going to have to stop Max Holloway to beat him, and if Conor McGregor could not stop Max Holloway, I do not see this version of Anthony Pettis stopping him either. This could be a really fun fight if Pettis is able to tag Holloway early, and Holloway overpowers Pettis late or I just see Holloway running through a gassed out Pettis who couldn’t make weight on his weight; either way I see Holloway hoisting the interim-belt by the ned of the night.
(Max Holloway (-195) via TKO)
Prediction Record Year to Date (20-19-0) (-$371)
-Record & predictions based on Win vs Loss predictions only. Unless specified otherwise I use increments of $100 (for + odds predictions) & $110 (for – odds bets) as hypothetical wagers for each prediction.
-Predictions & Records are for entertainment value only
*Stats via www.UFC.com