It's always a special moment with the No. 1 and No. 2 contenders in any division face off. and this weekend in Ottawa, two of the best welterweights in the world will fight as Rory MacDonald takes on Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson in a main event attraction that could determine the next title contender at 170 pounds.
MacDonald last fought in July 2015, when he fell to welterweight champ Robbie Lawler in a fight for the ages, and now he'll look to secure another shot at the belt when he fights possibly the most dangerous striker in the division.
Thompson has looked better than ever on his recent win streak, and his dismantling of former champion Johny Hendricks was his most impressive showing to date. Now the former karate superstar will look to finally earn his first crack at UFC gold as he takes on MacDonald in a five-round main event from Canada.
Also on the card, ultra popular fighter Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone returns to action against Canadian heavy-hitter Patrick Cote, while Steve Bosse faces Sean O'Connell in a fight that will be high on action with a knockout looming at any time.
In today's fantasy preview, we're going to examine some of these key matchups to see who has the advantage going into Saturday night, and if there's an upset or two brewing on a packed card headed to Canada for UFC Fight Night: MacDonald vs. Thompson.
These are the fights that are just too close to call, but a few minor differences between favorite and underdog could lead one fighter to victory and the other to defeat.
Rory MacDonald (-110 even) vs. Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson (-110 even)
The main event on Saturday night could be one of the best fights to take place in the welterweight division as Rory MacDonald faces Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson with the winner taking over the top spot on the contender's list at 170 pounds.
MacDonald returns from a year off after a truly grueling battle with welterweight champion Robbie Lawler, but the Canadian standout has every incentive to go out and get a big win to climb back into the title hunt. MacDonald is an extremely well rounded fighter who averages over two takedowns per 15 minutes while also displaying an incredible 88 percent takedown defense rate. On the feet, MacDonald is a punishing force, with 42 percent accuracy and nearly four significant strikes landed per minute.
Now as impressive as those statistics might be, "Wonderboy" might be one of the few welterweights who can top him on the feet.
Thompson lands just a shade under five significant strikes per minute with over 50 percent accuracy. His kicks are absolutely deadly from the outside, and Thompson's ability to use his side kick like a jab that he sticks to the body or head is an amazing attribute. Thompson has 80 percent takedown defense to cap on to his already impressive resume of skills.
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So who has the edge in this main event fight?
Well, MacDonald has more big fight experience, which can go a long way in a five-round main event. MacDonald has a win over current No. 3 contender Tyron Woodley, as well as a win over Demian Maia, and he's gone more than seven rounds with the welterweight champion while winning large chunks of both fights. The one "X" factor with MacDonald is how he returns from such a brutal outing like he had in his last fight with Lawler. MacDonald endured a ton of punishment, including a severely broken nose. How will he react once Thompson pops him in the mush a few times?
Thompson seems comfortable in this position as one of the best welterweights in the division, and if he is able to sit on the outside and ply his striking game, MacDonald could be in trouble in a hurry. If MacDonald plays it smart, he'll pressure Thompson, work from the clinch and look for takedowns. Lately, MacDonald has preferred a striking attack from the outside, however, and that kind of strategy could play directly into Thompson's hand. If this turns into a kickboxing match, Thompson has the edge and could get another huge win to finally secure a shot at the welterweight title.
Prediction: Stephen Thompson by TKO, Round 4
Steve Bosse vs. Sean O'Connell
Make no mistake about it, this matchup between Steve Bosse and Sean O'Connell is a fight that will last as long as it takes one of them to land a bomb. Bosse and O'Connell are both known for having extremely heavy hands, and there's not much of a chance this fight makes it out of the first round, much less sees the judges' scorecards.
If there's one glaring weakness between these two sluggers, it's O'Connell's defense, where he's sitting just south of 48 percent on the feet. That's a full 10 points below the UFC average, which is a bad sign against someone like Bosse, who hits with power from everywhere. Bosse's accuracy isn't great at just under 39 percent, but he only needs one big shot to slip through and that could do all the damage he needs.
O'Connell's defense may be a huge liability but that doesn't mean he can't catch Bosse sleeping during an exchange. O'Connell is more than capable of landing a counter shot that could crack Bosse on the jaw and send him careening towards the canvas. Still, Bosse fighting at home with a chip on his shoulder to get a win in front of the Canadian crowd should be just enough for him to come out aggressively and put it on O'Connell until he lands the knockout shot.
Prediction: Steve Bosse by KO, Round 1
Valerie Letourneau vs. Joanne Calderwood
Two top strawweights will move up to 125 pounds for this showdown on Saturday night, as former title challenger Valerie Letourneau takes on Ultimate Fighter alum Joanne Calderwood.
Letourneau is coming off a tough loss to strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk last November, but she showed a ton of grit and determination in that fight over five rounds. Prior to that loss, Letourneau had looked fantastic in her UFC performances, including a win over Maryna Moroz, who defeated Calderwood in her Octagon debut. Letourneau has solid accuracy and output, although Calderwood actually trumps her in both areas. Calderwood is a very offensive fighter with an aggressive style who looks to outwork her opponents round after round. Calderwood has a classic Muay Thai style, with technical punches and dangerous kicks, and she'll even mix in some elbows and knees for good measure.
One big key for Letourneau could be her three-inch reach advantage, as well as fighting at 125 pounds. Letourneau cuts a tremendous amount of weight to get down to 115 pounds and the fact that she'll have an extra 10 pounds to play with in this fight will make her healthier and likely to perform even better. Calderwood is a handful on the feet, but if Letourneau can stave off her opponent's potent offense and fire back with strong counters, she should be able to land enough to get the win.
Prediction: Valerie Letourneau by unanimous decision
Elias Theodorou vs. Sam Alvey
The featured bout on the UFC FIGHT PASS prelims features a showdown between former Ultimate Fighter winner Elias Theodorou and knockout puncher Sam Alvey in a very intriguing fight at 185 pounds.
Theodorou is coming off his first loss last December in a battle against Thiago Santos, but with a new team behind him after training at Tristar in Montreal under the guidance of head coach Firas Zahabi, the Canadian prospect looks to come back strong on Saturday. Alvey is also coming off a tough loss in his last fight to Derek Brunson as well as suffering a broken jaw in training, but now he'll try to spoil Theodorou's homecoming in front of the Canadian crowd.
When it comes to the matchup, Alvey is a striker first and he'll look to land big, power punches from the very start of the fight until it's over. Alvey is unorthodox with his attacks, but when he lands, he lands with a lot of pop behind his punches. Alvey doesn't have a great kicking game and that will probably serve him well against Theodorou, who might look to take him to the ground early and often in this one.
Theodorou averages just under three takedowns per 15 minutes and he's a stifling fighter on top. Look for Theodorou to press the action and force Alvey to defend takedowns and work against the cage to fight out of the clinch. Unlike his last opponent in Santos, Alvey doesn't pose as much of a threat from the outside and that should allow Theodorou to slip inside again and again until he's either grinding out the fight on the mat or keeping his opponent frustrated against the cage. Either way, the decision likely leans in favor of the Canadian.
Prediction: Elias Theodorou by unanimous decision
These are the fights that appear to be a little more one-sided, but remember that this is MMA, where anything can - and usually does - happen.
Misha Cirkunov vs. Ion Cutelaba
This matchup pits a striker against a grappler, as top-rated prospect Misha Cirkunov looks for another impressive win as he takes on UFC newcomer Ion Cutelaba.
Cutelaba is stepping into the lion's den for his UFC debut, but there are areas where he will hold a slight advantage over Cirkunov on fight night. For one, Cutelaba is a solid boxer with good hands from the outside, and he has a background in sambo, so he's not completely out of his depth on the ground either. That being said, Cutelaba needs to keep this fight standing because the longer he spends on the ground, the less chance he has to win against an accomplished grappler like Cirkunov.
Cirkunov is an accomplished judoka with a punishing style on the ground. His striking is still rather elementary, but it's good enough to keep him out of trouble until he can find an opening to take this one to the ground. Once Cirkunov gets Cutelaba down, the UFC rookie may not get up again. Cirkunov is a highly touted prospect to watch over the next year, and while his real test will happen once he jumps into the deep end of the light heavyweight division, he should get an impressive win this weekend.
Prediction: Misha Cirkunov by TKO, Round 2
Colby Covington vs. Jonathan Meunier
Jonathan Meunier comes to the UFC on short notice to fill a slot vacated after an injury forced Colby Covington to get a new opponent. Meunier is a promising prospect out of Quebec, who also trains at the Tristar gym alongside Rory MacDonald, Georges St-Pierre and other UFC notables. Meunier prides himself on being a well-rounded striker, but more typically he enjoys a heavy top game where he punishes his opponents on the ground. That attack has worked well for Meunier throughout the early part of his career, but it probably doesn't bode well against a wrestler like Covington.
Covington is still very green in his MMA career, but the one thing he has on his side is an incredibly suffocating wrestling game that has been virtually unstoppable. Covington is still evolving as a striker and submission fighter, but his wrestling is top notch, and chances are he's going to plant Meunier on the mat early and often in this fight.
Covington is still developing his finishing skills, so there's a good chance Meunier survives all three rounds, but then again, after taking the fight on short notice, it's hard to know if his conditioning will hold up for 15 minutes. Either way, Covington has a huge advantage with his grappling, and as long as he decides to wrestle Meunier to the mat, he should walk away victorious.
Prediction: Colby Covington by unanimous decision
Patrick Cote (+145 underdog) vs. Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone (-165 favorite)
Maybe the toughest fight on the entire card to choose from is the co-main event between Patrick Cote and Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone. Cerrone is coming of a successful debut at welterweight in his last fight, but he's taking a decided step up in competition against a former title challenger at 185 pounds in Cote.
Cote has really started to put his entire MMA game together since dropping down to welterweight and his only stutter step came against Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson, who he lost a decision to four fights ago. Cote is a knockout striker with an extremely underrated ground game that he showed off against a long, lanky submission specialist in Ben Saunders in his last fight. That matchup could be a key for Cote in his fight against Cerrone, who is also a tall, lanky fighter with long legs and great submissions off his back.
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The book on Cerrone is well known - he's a gritty, tough as nails striker with vicious kicks and real punching power on the feet. Cerrone is also traditionally a bit of a slow starter, who has struggled when past opponents have really put the pressure on him early. Lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos did that in their fight last December and even Nate Diaz did that to some extent when he came after Cerrone with both barrels when they faced off in 2011.
If Cote is smart, he'll go after Cerrone with constant pressure from the time the fight starts until the final horn sounds. Cote didn't have any problems dealing with Saunders' long reach and he should use that same approach to go after Cerrone on Saturday. Make no mistake, Cerrone has more than enough pop behind his punches and kicks to hurt Cote over three rounds. The problem is Cote can absorb punishment like a sponge and then just keep coming until his opponent succumbs to strikes.
Given Cote's power and Cerrone's tendency to trot out of the gate, this could be a recipe for disaster for "Cowboy" in a three-round fight.
Prediction: Patrick Cote by TKO, Round 2