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The UFC finally arrives in New York City this week with arguably the biggest and most stacked show of all-time, capped off by lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez facing off with Conor McGregor, who looks to become the first ever simultaneous two-division champion in the history of the promotion.
In addition to McGregor going for another record while facing Alvarez, welterweight champion Tyron Woodley faces arguably his toughest test to date against karate prodigy Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson.
Strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk will also be back in action against fellow Polish superstar Karolina Kowalkiewicz in the card’s third title fight. If that wasn't enough, there are slew of former champions and top 10 competitors decorating this card from top to bottom.
In today's fantasy preview, we're going to examine some of the key matchups at UFC 205 to see who has the edge, who looks like a lock to get a victory and if there's an upset brewing on this historic card from Madison Square Garden.
More on UFC 205: Fight card for Nov. 12 | Reasons to watch | Champions Alvarez, McGregor to headline historic card | Woodley-Wonderboy welterweight title clash set | Polish stars Jedrzejczyk, Kowalkiewicz perfect for NYC | Preview the main card, and the prelims | By the Numbers: UFC 205 has big non-title fights too | Limited seats available
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.
Conor McGregor (-155 favorite) vs. Eddie Alvarez (+135 underdog)
Conor McGregor has certainly proven himself as one of the best fighters on the entire UFC roster, but it's still a little surprising that he's walking into this main event as a favorite over lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. To this point in his UFC career, McGregor still hasn't fought at 155 pounds, but the oddsmakers believe he's still favored to walk out of New York with a second title wrapped around his waist.
McGregor certainly has some advantages he'll look to exploit against Alvarez. Despite holding a title at 145 pounds, McGregor will be the bigger man walking into the Octagon against Alvarez, with a significant five-inch reach advantage on the feet. That's a huge piece of the puzzle for McGregor, who likes to use his long jab and straight punches to set up the left hand that has finished more than a few of his past opponents. If McGregor can keep Alvarez at the end of his punches for the majority of this fight, it's going to be a bad night at the office for the current champ.
As for Alvarez, pressure is going to be his best friend against someone like McGregor. Alvarez is a powerhouse offensively but he doesn't land with the same accuracy or volume as McGregor, so he has to use a variety of strikes to get the job one. Alvarez works incredibly well in the clinch and if he can pin McGregor against the cage and unload with big, heavy combinations without letting the Irishman escape, that could be a key to his victory in the end. One other component in Alvarez's favor is his incredible toughness and durability. He's been finished by strikes previously but not without first engaging in an absolute war.
There are still questions about McGregor's durability, especially in the later rounds, as witnessed in his last fight with Nate Diaz, where he faded in the fifth and nearly got finished.
Still, the fact is if McGregor can use his pinpoint accuracy and volume to hurt Alvarez early and he doesn't get overzealous with his strikes assuming he hurts the lightweight champion, he could find the right combination to finish the fight and walk out with the featherweight title on one shoulder and the lightweight title on the other.
Prediction: Conor McGregor by TKO, Round 3
Stephen Thompson (-200 favorite) vs. Tyron Woodley (+170 underdog)
Tyron Woodley knows that he earned the welterweight title with a first round knockout over Robbie Lawler, but his toughest test might come this weekend when he faces off with Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson. If this matchup happened a few years ago, it would be fought in the classic "striker versus grappler" format with Thompson as a much better fighter on the feet while Woodley possesses some of the best takedowns in the entire sport.
These days, Woodley packs a serious punch - possibly some of the most devastating power on the entire UFC roster - while Thompson has vastly improved his ground game and takedown defense.
Woodley has to know that he needs a fast start to try and overwhelm Thompson while he still has a few butterflies bouncing around his stomach as part of his first title fight in the UFC. Woodley comes charging out of the gate in nearly all of his fights and if he can put the pressure on Thompson early, there's a chance this one doesn't make it out of the first round. With each minute ticking away, however, the odds start to shift more and more into Thompson's favor.
Of course, Thompson has to be aware that Woodley's wrestling is world class and he could look to ground the prolific striker right away and keep him buried on the mat for the first round or two just to prove a point. That being said, Thompson has defended over 81 percent of takedowns attempted against him and he's a marvel on the feet when it comes to movement and avoiding damage. Add to that, Thompson will have a slight height and reach advantage and he's a master of keeping his opponents away without ever letting them get close enough to land with any significant damage.
Look for Thompson to weather an early storm before picking Woodley apart with surgical precision as the second round fades into the third. Once Thompson has Woodley hurt, he will absolutely go for the kill and New York could be treated to a new welterweight champion being crowned.
Prediction: Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson by TKO, Round 3
Chris Weidman (-165 favorite) vs. Yoel Romero (+145 underdog)
Former middleweight champion Chris Weidman will look to make his hometown proud while also trying to earn another shot at the belt when he faces Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero at UFC 205.
Weidman has proven time and time again that he's an elite 185-pound fighter with incredible wrestling, powerful boxing and a ton of durability that will carry him late into the fight if necessary. Of course, Weidman is shifting to a three-round fight for the first time since 2012 due to his run as champion so there's no doubt he'll be ready for all 15 minutes in this one. Weidman will enjoy a height and reach advantage over Romero and he's definitely the more technically sound fighter, but that still doesn't mean he's guaranteed a victory.
Romero is one of the most explosive and powerful fighters in the middleweight division and he also just so happens to be a world-class wrestler to boot. It's not a guarantee that these two won't grapple, but it's more likely that with both coming from a wrestling background, Weidman and Romero will probably negate each other on the ground and instead turn this into a striking war.
More than anything, Weidman needs to be careful of Romero's creativity and incredible arsenal of strikes. Romero could be standing flat-footed one minute and then launching into a flying knee the next. Don't be surprised if Romero somehow manages to lose two rounds and still comes out to land a jaw dropping knockout in the final five minutes. That being said, Weidman knows how important this moment is to his career, especially after battling for so long to get MMA legalized in New York. He's left nothing to chance and with the addition of boxing coach Mark Henry to his team, Weidman has the skills to pepper and punish Romero for all three rounds until he earns the victory.
Prediction: Chris Weidman 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.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk (-370 favorite) vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (+310 underdog)
Years before they were in the UFC, Joanna Jedrzejczyk defeated Karolina Kowalkiewicz in an amateur fight in Poland, but now they meet again with much, much higher stakes. Since arriving in the UFC, Kowalkiewicz has proven to be a very tough competitor who only seems to get better as the fight wears on. She lands with great volume and accuracy and only gets stronger with each passing minute.
Unfortunately, all the things Kowalkiewicz seems to do well, Jedrzejczyk does better.
The current strawweight champion has been nothing short of unstoppable since arriving in the promotion and it's hard to imagine she loses her title at UFC 205 either. Jedrzejczyk is an incredibly accurate striker with 48 percent of her shots landing, and she throws with insane volume, hitting more than six significant strikes per minute. Add to that, Jedrzejczyk has 67 percent defense - a whopping 10 points higher than her opponent - so not only is she devastating with her offense, but the champion is nearly impossible to hit in return.
In the end, Jedrzejczyk is just the better overall fighter, and her ability to pour on the punishment round after round after round will eventually force Kowalkiewicz into making a mistake and that will ultimately lead to the end of the fight.
Prediction: Joanna Jedrzejczyk by TKO, Round 4
Frankie Edgar (-335 favorite) vs. Jeremy Stephens (+275 underdog)
Frankie Edgar will look to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Jose Aldo while facing off with arguably one of the hardest hitting fighters in the featherweight division, as Jeremy Stephens tries to get the biggest win of his career at 145 pounds.
Stephens has plenty of power to stop this fight on the feet, and with 16 career finishes by knockout or TKO, there's no doubt that he could find a shot that would put Frankie Edgar away.
Still, Edgar has the kind of technical prowess that could give Stephens fits in this matchup. Edgar is not only quick on his feet, with very sound boxing that includes a stiff jab and lightning quick combinations, he also possesses the ultimate equalizer that could give Stephens nightmares by the time the horn sounds for the end of the first round. Edgar has some of the best wrestling at 145 pounds and it probably won't take long for him to find an opening to get inside, grab on to Stephens' legs and plant him on the mat.
From there, it's all Edgar as he'll punish Stephens on the mat and there's a good chance he'll do this long enough to either get a TKO finish or just bludgeon him until 15 minutes have expired.
Prediction: Frankie Edgar by unanimous decision
Tim Kennedy (-240 favorite) vs. Rashad Evans (+200 underdog)
Tim Kennedy will return from a long layoff to face off with Rashad Evans, who will be making his debut at 185 pounds following a successful career as a light heavyweight in the UFC. Evans has fallen on tougher times lately, including his knockout loss to Glover Teixeira, which prompted the move down to middleweight for this fight.
Now there are certainly ways for Evans to win this fight. He still has extremely fast hands and an explosive double leg takedown that's nearly impossible to stop when he commits to getting his opponent to the ground. Of course, Evans has always held dynamite in his hands, as evidenced by his one-punch knockout over UFC legend Chuck Liddell.
Still, Evans is making the move to middleweight for the first time, coupled with a recent streak where he's gone just 2-4 while suffering through a long period of inactivity due to a pair of knee surgeries. Meanwhile, Kennedy has taken time off but it's been self chosen, and when he's on his game, this Army Ranger is still one of the best middleweights in the sport.
Kennedy is only one fight removed from a lopsided decision over current champion Michael Bisping and he then lost a very controversial fight to Yoel Romero after nearly finishing the former Olympian in the second round. Kennedy is well rounded on the feet and on the ground and, simply said, he just has more ways to win while consistently putting on better performances over the last few years. He just needs to knock off the rust in the early going and then Kennedy should be able to control the pace and use an aggressive offense to keep Evans on his heels until the fight is finished.
Prediction: Tim Kennedy by TKO, Round 3
Raquel Pennington (+160 underdog) vs. Miesha Tate (-185 favorite)
Make no mistake about this one - Miesha Tate can absolutely dominate this fight from start to finish because she's just that good. Tate has shown massive improvements in her striking, where she's not only landing with accuracy these days, but she has knockout power as well. Of course, Tate always had a world-class ground game that combines her wealth of wrestling knowledge with a nasty submission arsenal that's nearly unmatched in the women's bantamweight division.
Still, Raquel Pennington has proven time and time again that she can't be counted out of any fight. Pennington never seems to win pretty, but the ability to drag her opponents down into the mud and make things ugly is just the way she likes it. Don't forget, Pennington took former champion Holly Holm to a very close split decision in her UFC debut and she avenged her only other loss in the UFC when she choked out Jessica Andrade three fights ago.
Pennington is a durable, tough as nails competitor who doesn't excel in any one area, but instead harnesses the ability to hang with anybody on the feet or on the ground and rarely gets overwhelmed by anybody. All those factors add up to Pennington giving Tate an impossibly tough fight and, when it's over, the judges could opt for a decision in her favor. It would certainly be a huge upset, but Pennington has the ability to pull it off and that's why she's worth the risk for fantasy points in a card that features almost exclusively ultra close matchups.
Prediction: Raquel Pennington by split decision