The interim featherweight title will go up for grabs when the UFC returns to Toronto, Canada this Saturday night, with Max Holloway facing Anthony Pettis in the main event.
Holloway is riding an incredible nine-fight winning streak while racing up the rankings at 145 pounds, but he'll face his toughest test when he takes on the former lightweight champion who made an impressive debut in the division with a submission victory over Charles Oliveira.
Also on the card, Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone looks for another big win at welterweight when he takes on the always tough Matt "The Immortal" Brown, who will attempt to bounce back from the first TKO loss of his career when he last stepped into the Octagon.
An ultra exciting fight at 145 pounds is headed to Canada as well, as Cub Swanson takes on "The Korean Superboy," Dooho Choi in what should be a fast-paced, crowd-pleasing affair.
In today's fantasy preview, we're going to examine some of the key fights on this card to see who has the advantage and who might be headed for an upset at UFC 206: Holloway vs. Pettis.
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.
Max Holloway vs. Anthony Pettis
The interim featherweight title is on the line, with the winner in the main event moving on to face Jose Aldo in 2017. For Holloway, this was always the end goal after putting together an incredibly impressive nine-fight win streak while going through a slew of top featherweights, including Cub Swanson and Ricardo Lamas. Pettis doesn't have nearly as much experience at 145 pounds, but as a former lightweight champion, he's fought the best of the best throughout his UFC career.
As far as the matchup goes, Holloway will actually give up a slight reach advantage to Pettis in this fight, which is unusual for the Hawaiian, who is one of the taller fighters in the division. Still, it's impossible to discount the kind of incredible pressure Holloway puts on all of his opponents with volume striking and long, rangy punches from the outside. Holloway lands nearly six significant strikes per minute with good accuracy while also showcasing very good defense on the feet.
Of course, Pettis is best known for aflashy striking style that gained him a reputation as one of the deadliest kickboxers in the business. Pettis isn't typically the kind of fighter to snap off three and four hit combinations, but instead he'll mix things up and throw an unorthodox slew of strikes that do maximum damage from distance. Pettis has also proven time and time again that his ground game may be underrated, but it's extremely dangerous. He's often called a striker, but there's no way to ignore that Pettis has finished a ton of great fighters by submission.
The way this fight plays out depends on a couple of key factors.
First off, Pettis didn't have a great weight cut getting down to 145 pounds his last time out and that could be crucial in a five-round bout like this one. Pettis can't blow through his gas tank in the first or second round and expect to still get a win late in the fight. As for Holloway, he just needs to stick to what got him here in the first place. Holloway is a punishing striker who typically outworks his opponents round after round until he either lands the knockout strike or racks up more than enough damage to win a decision. Holloway has also only been finished once in his entire career and that came by submission in his UFC debut against Dustin Poirier.
Outside of that, Holloway is a very durable fighter and that does not bode well for Pettis if this fight goes deep into the third round and beyond. With each minute that ticks away, Holloway will get stronger and it's just too hard to predict that Pettis will have what it takes to survive deep into the fight after only his second weight cut to get down to the featherweight limit.
Prediction: Max Holloway by unanimous decision
Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone vs. Matt Brown
The co-main event in Toronto features two of the most exciting fighters to ever step foot in the Octagon. Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone has looked absolutely dominant since moving to 170 pounds, but he'll face a very tough test in Ohio native Matt Brown this weekend.
At welterweight, Cerrone has been the aggressor in all of his fights, choosing to take the center of the Octagon and then stalking his opposition around the cage. Cerrone has a tendency to leave his guard down at times, which could hurt him in a fight like this, but his ability to walk Brown down will be a key to victory for him on Saturday night.
As for Brown, he's suffered through a tough stretch recently while amassing just a 1-4 record over his last five fights. That being said, Brown has a style that could give Cerrone problems based on past matchups where he's come away with a loss.
Cerrone has struggled at times with fighters who are willing to get in his face and force him to back up. Two key examples are his losses to Nate Diaz and Rafael dos Anjos when both of them engaged in an offensive outpouring early and never allowed Cerrone to find his rhythm. Brown is best known for his hard charging offense, where he loves to batter opponents with punches and elbows, especially from the inside, and that's the last place Cerrone wants to get trapped in this fight.
If Brown can force Cerrone to fight him in the clinch while negating his strikes from the outside, he should eventually find an opening to pepper away at the former lightweight contender with punches and elbows. Brown isn't a one-punch knockout striker but he's able to deliver so much punishment over the course of three rounds that it's hard for anybody to hang with him once he finds an opening and starts pouring it on.
Prediction: Matt Brown by TKO, Round 2
Cub Swanson vs. Dooho Choi
If you're looking for an early pick for Fight of the Night, it's hard to imagine Cub Swanson and Dooho Choi being anything less than an action packed thrill ride, whether it lasts one round or 15 minutes.
Swanson has consistently been one of the nastiest strikers the featherweight division has ever seen, but Choi is making quite a name for himself since arriving in the UFC. Choi lands over seven significant strikes per minute with a ridiculous 66 percent accuracy rate. Choi is explosive, but also precise with his attacks. Rarely does he unleash a wild combination without actually landing with surgical strikes. Another great attribute for Choi is that despite his offensive minded output, he's also very adept at playing defense as well, and he rarely takes much damage in return.
Much of the same can be said about Swanson, who definitely has more experience in the Octagon against a much higher level of competition than his opponent. Swanson has faced the best of the best at 145 pounds and has remained a top 10 fighter for almost his entire career in both the UFC and WEC. Swanson may be able to match Choi on the feet, but he will definitely have an advantage on the mat, where he possesses some slick submission skills and very underrated wrestling.
For Swanson to win this fight, he has to be willing to mix things up and not fall in love with his kickboxing. Swanson could absolutely find an opening to knock Choi out, but simply sitting in the pocket and winging punches with "The Korean Super Boy" is like playing with dynamite. Choi hits like a truck and has hellish power in his hands and feet.
This matchup might be the toughest on the entire card to pick, but a very slight edge remains in Choi's favor given Swanson's tendency to play to his opponents' strengths more often than not. Swanson fights with a chip on his shoulder and if he's willing to play the kickboxing game with Choi, he's bound to find out just how hard this up and coming Korean superstar really hits.
Prediction: Dooho Choi by TKO, Round 2
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.
Tim Kennedy vs. Kelvin Gastelum
Following a two-year absence from the sport, Tim Kennedy will make his long awaited return when he faces former Ultimate Fighter winner Kelvin Gastelum.
When he exited the UFC in 2014, Kennedy was ranked as one of the best middleweights in the world and it's likely he hasn't skipped a step in his absence. Kennedy is a monster in the gym who was already prepared for a fight at UFC 205 against Rashad Evans until Evans was forced off the card just days before the show took place. Kennedy is an extremely well rounded fighter with powerful hands and a top notch wrestling game, as showcased in his lopsided decision win over current middleweight champion Michael Bisping.
Gastelum is certainly no slouch at 185 pounds, especially considering his wins over Uriah Hall and Nate Marquardt. That being said, Gastelum is moving to middleweight after a failed weight cut to get down to 170 pounds, so it's not like he's had a full training camp to adapt his body to packing on the extra size for this fight. Gastelum is certainly capable of putting together the kind of offense with his boxing and wrestling that could give Kennedy problems. It's just hard to anticipate that happening while Gastelum is going up against one of the best middleweights in the world.
Look for Kennedy to come out and put the pressure on Gastelum early and often. Whether he decides to out strike or out wrestle Gastelum in this one, it's hard to see any other outcome than Kennedy getting the win at UFC 205.
Prediction: Tim Kennedy by TKO, Round 3
Valerie Letourneau vs. Viviane Pereira
Following a pair of losses to Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Joanne Calderwood, Valerie Letourneau makes her return to action against newcomer Viviane Pereira.
Pereira comes to the UFC with a perfect 11-0 record while fighting out of Brazil. Throughout her career, Pereira has picked up a lot of impressive wins, with a mix of knockouts and submissions. While Pereira has managed to stay undefeated, she hasn't faced much competition except for a slew of local fighters while competing in Brazil.
She's taking a big step up by facing Letourneau in her debut.
Letourneau may have lost a couple fights in a row, but she still remains one of the best strawweight fighters on the roster. Letourneau is an extremely scrappy fighter with good power in her hands and a lot of size for 115 pounds. That size has hurt Letourneau a bit in the past considering how much weight she cuts to get down to the strawweight limit, but assuming she's got that under control for this fight, she can virtually pick her shots against Pereira.
If Letourneau can take advantage of Pereira's Octagon jitters early, the former title contender should find an opening for her punches and potentially get a finish. If the knockout doesn’t come early, expect Letourneau to out strike Pereira round after round until she gets the unanimous decision win.
Prediction: Valerie Letourneau by unanimous decision
Zach Makovsky vs. Dustin Ortiz
Since arriving in the UFC, Zach Makovsky has faced nothing but the best flyweights in the world, and while he's suffered a few losses, not a single of one of those bouts has ended without a serious battle. Makovsky is a difficult stylistic matchup for almost everyone at 135 pounds thanks to a powerful wrestling game and incredible top control.
Ortiz certainly has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his UFC career, but he still hasn't managed to figure out the rhythm or strategy that will allow him to truly dominate an opponent. Ortiz has fought to six decisions in the UFC, and while he's found a way to get wins in a few of them, that doesn't bode well for him against somebody like Makovsky.
Makovsky averages nearly four takedowns per fight, and his ability to control Ortiz on the ground should be the difference in this matchup. It's a frustrating style that Makovsky presents, and his ability to plant Ortiz on the ground and keep him there will rack up a lot of points on the judges' scorecards. Those takedowns can also serve as a debilitating form of offense that could absolutely bewilder Ortiz if he can't keep from being taken to the mat. Considering Makovsky has employed that strategy numerous times throughout his career, there's no reason to believe he won't do it again to get a win over Ortiz.
Prediction: Zach Makovsky by unanimous decision
Misha Cirkunov vs. Nikita Krylov
The light heavyweight division is in desperate need of a new contender, and the winner of this fight between Nikita Krylov and Misha Cirkunov might just provide a serious challenger to the top five fighters in the rankings.
Krylov has become a fan favorite with a blitzing style of offense where he lands nearly seven strikes per minute while also attempting more than two submissions per fight, which is double the average in the UFC. Krylov is a nasty finisher as well, with two knockouts and three submissions during his current five fight win streak.
Where Cirkunov can take advantage is by dragging Krylov to the ground and applying a technically sound strategy to negate his opponent's wild offense. Cirkunov is a highly accomplished judoka with a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu as well, so he's got plenty of ground skills to frustrate and potentially finish Krylov if he gets too sloppy on the mat. Krylov loves to take chances and that can pay off in a big way - but it could also hurt him against someone as dangerous as Cirkunov.
If Krylov can't find an opening to put this fight away in the opening round, look for Cirkunov to take him on the mat and pepper him with punches until he locks on some sort of submission to get his fourth win in the UFC Octagon.
Prediction: Misha Cirkunov by submission, Round 2