The Ultimate Fighter
The biggest UFC card of all-time goes down this Saturday night at the new T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, featuring a huge list of champions, former champions and top 10 competitors who line the event from top to bottom.
In the main event, light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier seeks revenge for the only loss of his professional career when he faces interim titleholder Jon Jones, who looks to regain the title he never lost in the Octagon. In the co-main event, former heavyweight champion and WWE superstar Brock Lesnar returns to the Octagon for the first time in nearly five years as he faces knockout artist Mark Hunt in what promises to be a brawl for the ages.
Two more title fights decorate the main card as Frankie Edgar and Jose Aldo battle for an interim featherweight belt while Miesha Tate puts her women's bantamweight championship on the line against top-ranked contender Amanda Nunes.
This card is absolutely stacked, and in today's fantasy preview, we'll examine some of the key matchups on this monstrous card to see who has the edge and who might be primed to score an upset at UFC 200: Cormier vs. Jones 2.
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.
Jon Jones (-290 favorite) vs. Daniel Cormier (+245 underdog)
The main event at UFC 200 truly is the immovable object against the unstoppable force.
Jon Jones is arguably the greatest fighter to ever step inside the Octagon, with a skill set that's virtually unmatched by anyone in UFC history. Jones has been unstoppable during his career with the UFC and he only seems to get better with each fight. He's a punishing bruiser on the feet with great elbows and knees, while also possessing one of the most brutal ground-and-pound attacks the sport has ever seen. Jones is also nearly impossible to hit and/or takedown thanks to his impenetrable defense on the feet and on the ground. If a scientist was trying to create the perfect fighter, the mold would start and stop with Jon Jones.
As phenomenal as Jones has been throughout his career, the only person who has been near his equal is Daniel Cormier. The former two-time Olympian has blasted through the best fighters at both heavyweight and light heavyweight while increasing his arsenal with each bout. Cormier was already a world class wrestler the day he stepped foot in the UFC, but he's managed to add on a strong striking game with a very dangerous clinch and fight-changing uppercuts.
The last time these two icons met, Jones eventually got the better of Cormier over the course of five rounds, particularly taking over in rounds four and five. Cormier's emotion got the better of him and instead of going out and attacking Jones with tactical precision, he threw caution to the wind and simply tried to beat him up. Jones took advantage and weathered an early storm and then mauled Cormier in the championship rounds. For Cormier to have a shot in the rematch, he has to stay calm and composed and make sure his gas tank is ready to go for 25 minutes.
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What sits in Cormier's favor this time around is the experience he gained while Jones was out of the sport. Cormier took on arguably the most dangerous striker in the division in Anthony Johnson and then had to go through an absolute war with Alexander Gustafsson to get back to Jones again. Cormier showed grit and determination in both fights and if he can use those same weapons against Jones without letting his seething hatred for the interim champion get the better of him, he's got a great shot of pulling off the upset.
Jones didn't look his best in his last fight against Ovince Saint Preux and if he comes out of the gate slow this time around, he could easily drop a couple of rounds to Cormier while trying to find his footing.
That being said, Jones is still hard to pick against considering what he did in the first fight, not to mention what he's done throughout his whole career. Jones is a punishing force of nature who pours on the offense over 25 minutes. He rarely lands with fight-finishing power with one or two shots, but what Jones does better than almost anyone is beat up his opponents so badly that by the time the fourth and fifth rounds have started, the person he's facing is already defeated.
Cormier will give Jones everything he can handle over five rounds, but it's still nearly impossible to pick against the interim champion coming out and getting another win over his most heated rival and leaving UFC 200 with the real light heavyweight title around his waist.
Prediction: Jon Jones by unanimous decision
Frankie Edgar (-120 favorite) vs. Jose Aldo (+140 underdog)
Frankie Edgar and Jose Aldo will meet again after a five-round battle in their first fight in 2013. Aldo got the better of Edgar back then, but the loss also served as the last time the New Jersey native tasted defeat before reeling off five straight wins in the featherweight division. Meanwhile, Aldo looks to bounce back from a devastating 13-second knockout loss to current champion Conor McGregor.
Edgar has looked like the best version of himself over his past few fights as he's developed staggering power in his hands while improving upon his already formidable wrestling game. Edgar has barely been touched over his last five fights and his confidence is at an all-time high going into the rematch with Aldo. The last time these two met, Edgar was fresh off two very close, controversial decisions to former lightweight champion Benson Henderson and his confidence was admittedly rattled. This time around, Edgar believes he's the best in the world at 145 pounds and he wants to prove it against Aldo.
On the flipside, Aldo is still the greatest featherweight to ever step foot in the Octagon, with a striking game that's virtually unmatched, including his patented leg kicks, which have done damage to more than a few opponents in the past. Aldo is a brutal kickboxer who hits with speed and power and he's a massive fighter for the 145-pound division.
But maybe for the first time since he joined the UFC, there are questions about Aldo heading into a championship fight.
Aldo got put to sleep by McGregor with one punch when they met last December and that kind of knockout can stick with a fighter. A loss like that is tough to get over, no matter when it happens, but it's particularly tough when it's the first defeat a fighter has faced in a decade. How does Aldo come back from that? Has his chin recovered from that knockout? Has his confidence been shattered?
Those are all questions Edgar will look to answer, and with the roll he's on right now, it's tough to pick against him testing Aldo's chin early and often. If Edgar catches the Brazilian early, this one might be done in a hurry.
Prediction: Frankie Edgar by TKO, Round 2
Mark Hunt (-165 favorite) vs. Brock Lesnar (+145 underdog)
There's no better example of complete opposites matching up at UFC 200 than this co-main event fight between former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar and former title contender Mark Hunt.
Lesnar is a former NCAA heavyweight champion wrestler who averaged nearly four takedowns per fight during his previous stint with the UFC while putting his opponents on the mat with over 57 percent accuracy. Lesnar has heavy hands, but in this matchup against a former K-1 kickboxing champion like Hunt, he'll likely avoid the striking game altogether and look to plant his 42-year-old opponent on the mat immediately.
As for Hunt, he's arguably the hardest hitting heavyweight on the roster, with one punch knockout power that's incredibly accurate and extremely deadly. Hunt has faced a laundry list of top heavyweights since Lesnar last fought and he's beaten a lot of them. Hunt has developed very good takedown defense, blocking nearly 70 percent of the attempts against him, but he's also never faced a wrestler with as much power as Lesnar.
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The key to this fight really comes down to two components: Lesnar's ability to get the fight to the ground and Hunt timing an uppercut during one of those takedown attempts.
Hunt has developed a stunning uppercut that slices through his opponents like a knife through butter and there's little chance Lesnar could survive one of those shots if it lands flush. The counter argument is Hunt’s ability to survive a barrage on the ground if Lesnar plants him on the mat and starts unloading with a brutal series of punches. Lesnar wasn't always the most technical fighter in the world, but he was so powerful that hardly anyone could stop him even if they tried.
While it's tough to pick a winner in this matchup, the edge has to go to Hunt simply because he's been far more active over the past few years and he's been fighting the best of the best while Lesnar has been taking his WWE opponents to Suplex City. Lesnar was one of the top heavyweights in the sport five years ago, but a lot has changed since then. In this fight, Hunt might be able to survive on the ground with Lesnar, but there's hardly any chance Lesnar survives a hard punch from Hunt.
Prediction: Mark Hunt by knockout, Round 1
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.
TJ Dillashaw (-440 favorite) vs. Raphael Assuncao (+350 underdog)
The first fight between these two top bantamweights saw Raphael Assuncao eke out a very close decision over future champion TJ Dillashaw. It was a razor close fight, and many people thought Dillashaw should have gotten the edge, but he'll get his shot at redemption this weekend at UFC 200.
Since they last met, Dillashaw has transformed into one of the best bantamweight fighters in the sport, with a phenomenal striking game that combines speed and power like few have ever done in this division. Dillashaw moves with incredible fluidity and he not only hits with volume, but he also lands with power. Dillashaw has continued working with head coach Duane "Bang" Ludwig to become an even better striker, and he'll probably look like a completely different fighter than the person who faced Assuncao the last time.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of unknowns about Assuncao coming into this fight.
He's certainly still one of the best bantamweights in the world, but after nearly two years off due to injury, Assuncao will have to find a way to knock off the ring rust while taking on an elite fighter like Dillashaw. Maybe Assuncao can gain inspiration from current champion Dominick Cruz, who sat out for nearly four years before coming back to earn a close decision over Dillashaw in January, but it's hard to imagine anybody else pulling off that same feat.
Look for Dillashaw to come charging out of the gates in this fight and put on an offensive onslaught to find out if Assuncao is truly ready to come back. Dillashaw is a very aggressive striker, but he's not stupid, and he shows great defense as well. Assuncao is a veteran, so he'll stick around for all 15 minutes, but he's likely leaving UFC 200 as the victim of a lopsided loss courtesy of the former champion.
Prediction: TJ Dillashaw by unanimous decision
Cain Velasquez (-275 favorite) vs. Travis Browne (+235 underdog)
Former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez will look to bounce back from injury and a loss to Fabricio Werdum last year when he faces heavy-hitting striker Travis Browne.
Browne has one of the more dynamic striking games in the heavyweight division, while also displaying incredible heart and durability in all of his fights. Browne hits like a truck and he's got long range and a very underrated kicking game that he could attempt to unleash on Velasquez at a distance.
On the other hand, Velasquez remains one of the best heavyweight fighters to ever compete in the UFC and, if he's on his game, it's nearly impossible to pick against him in this fight. Velasquez averages over five takedowns per 15 minutes in the Octagon and his wrestling is virtually unmatched compared to Browne. Velasquez may be giving up a couple of inches in reach, but he won't allow Browne to stand on the outside for very long.
Velasquez loves to pressure his opponents against the cage and bully them from the clinch. Velasquez dishes out punishment in volume like almost no heavyweight in the sport outside of current champion Stipe Miocic. Velasquez only has to decide if he wants to hurt Browne on the feet or if he wants to take him to the ground and maul him there instead. Either way, it's nearly impossible to see a way where Velasquez doesn't get the job done before the final horn sounds. Browne is tough, but that will only allow him to survive for so long.
Prediction: Cain Velasquez by TKO, Round 2
Sage Northcutt (-345 favorite) vs. Enrique Marin (+285 underdog)
Top rated prospect Sage Northcutt looks to return to the win column after suffering a tough submission loss in his last outing, as he faces former Ultimate Fighter Latin America finalist Enrique Marin.
Marin is coming of a close, split decision loss to former housemate Erick Montano in a largely uninspired performance in his only UFC fight. Outside of that, Marin has shown good skills in his past fights, but he's also suffered through some real confidence issues over the course of his career. Marin nearly beat himself mentally while living in The Ultimate Fighter house and you have to wonder how his fragile psyche will react to a loss in his last fight and now returning on the biggest card of the year.
Northcutt is still a very raw product, but his power and athleticism should be more than enough to get him the win in this fight. Northcutt is still a long, long way from being an elite fighter in the lightweight division, but his offensive output on the feet should be plenty to put Marin in a bad position early before the 20-year-old prodigy puts him away.
Prediction: Sage Northcutt by TKO, Round 2
Diego Sanchez (-105 underdog) vs. Joe Lauzon (-115 favorite)
A sleeper for Fight of the Night on a card filled with show stealers is the UFC FIGHT PASS main event between veterans Diego Sanchez and Joe Lauzon. The odds are so close it's tough to call either one of these guys the favorite, but Lauzon maintains a slight edge over Sanchez heading into Saturday night.
So that being said, the edge sits with Sanchez based on his most recent performance, where he looked like a rejuvenated fighter back at 155 pounds, as he picked apart Jim Miller over three rounds. Sanchez has been a very uneven fighter over the last few years while looking unstoppable in some fights and then appearing out of his league in others. Still, Sanchez has a favorable matchup this time against Lauzon, who has struggled a bit lately with a questionable chin while seemingly slowing down a step or two in recent fights.
Lauzon is still a durable and tough customer for anybody at 155 pounds, but his submission-heavy offense might struggle against a fighter as dynamic as Sanchez.
Sanchez is constantly moving and he loves to aggressively pursue an opponent before opening up with a barrage of punches. As much as Sanchez is defined as a brawler these days, people seem to forget he's also a very solid grappler as well. Lauzon is probably the better overall ground specialist, but he has to drag Sanchez there to even have a chance at a submission and that's not likely to happen when these two finally engage.
Look for Sanchez to hit Lauzon a lot on the feet and then move away before the Boston native can return fire with any real accuracy. Lauzon will get his shots in eventually, but Sanchez is an offensive juggernaut, and that will pay off after three rounds when the judges finally tally the scores.
Prediction: Diego Sanchez by unanimous decision