At UFC 208, a new division will be launched as the women's featherweight title is introduced with a main event pitting former bantamweight champion Holly Holm against Muay Thai striker Germaine De Randamie in the inaugural fight at 145 pounds.
Holm tasted UFC gold previously when she knocked out Ronda Rousey to win the 135-pound title, but now she's moving to a new division with the same goal to become champion. Meanwhile, de Randamie will look to solidify a spot atop the featherweight division while getting her first crack at a UFC title.
RELATED: Read - Holly Holm, on the brink of history, back home at 145
lso on the card, arguably the greatest fighter of all-time, Anderson Silva, is back in action against heavy-handed middleweight Derek Brunson. Silva returns for the first time since stepping up on two days’ notice to face light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier at UFC 200 and now he'll face Brunson, who has scored four knockouts in his last five wins.
In today's fantasy preview we will examine these fights as well as several more to see who has the edge going into this weekend's card as well as any potential upsets brewing at UFC 208: Holm vs. De Randamie.
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.
Germaine de Randamie (-120 favorite) vs. Holly Holm (+100 underdog)
Two of the best women's strikers in the world will face off to crown the first ever UFC champion at 145 pounds, but the ability to either go to the ground or stay off the mat could be key for Holm or de Randamie to walk away with the title on Saturday night.
Holm is best known as an elite boxer who has also developed world-class kicks through her years of training with head coach Mike Winkeljohn. Holm is a long, rangy striker with good fundamentals on the feet who will typically look to punish her opponents with volume before unleashing a fight-ending kick or punch late in the fight. Holm certainly has the ability to earn an early knockout like she did against Ronda Rousey, but that's not a typical performance from the New Mexico native. Instead, Holm will typically look to keep her opponents on the end of her punches while putting together combinations that will often end with a big kick.
Holm also possesses underrated wrestling skills which she could use to keep de Randamie off balance in this fight.
De Randamie is a vicious striker with huge fight finishing power, but she also likes to use a lot of kicks and knees that come from her traditional Muay Thai kickboxing background. If Holm can mix things up with a takedown, she could neutralize some of de Randamie's best weapons.
On the flipside, de Randamie has serious knockout power from anywhere she's standing on the feet, especially if she can get Holm trapped against the cage where she can unload a barrage of strikes in succession. De Randamie's biggest deficiency throughout her career has been a her ground game, but if she can avoid Holm's takedowns, she could light up the former champion on the feet.
De Randamie has also competed at featherweight previously, so the added weight shouldn't be a huge issue for her going into this bout. Fighting at 145 pounds shouldn't be a problem for Holm either, because she was always one of the bigger competitors competing in the bantamweight division.
This matchup will ultimately come down to de Randamie being able to handle the spotlight in her first UFC main event while applying her versatile striking game on the feet. De Randamie has the kind of power that could end Holm's night early in the first or second round if she connects with flush with a combination of punches and kicks. Meanwhile, Holm won't likely put de Randamie away early, but the longer this fight drags into the fourth and fifth round, the more it favors her chances to walk out with the title.
Prediction: Holly Holm by unanimous decision
Anderson Silva vs. Derek Brunson
It's hard to imagine that it's been over four years since Anderson Silva last won a fight inside the Octagon but that's exactly the odds he faces as he steps in to face Derek Brunson at UFC 208 in Brooklyn.
While he's suffered through some tough losses in recent years, Silva remains one of the most dangerous fighters to ever step foot in the Octagon. Silva is best known for his counterstriking, which has seen him absolutely demolish his opponents when they decide to get aggressive with him. That could bode well for Silva in this fight because Brunson has been a hard charging, offensive machine in his most recent matchups.
Of course, Brunson also possesses a potent wrestling game, which could be his easiest path to victory against Silva, who has struggled in the past when facing strong takedown artists. Silva has shown solid wrestling defense, but Brunson has more than enough ability to simply muscle him to the ground if he decides to go that route. Brunson is an animal when he's on top of his opponents, not only with control but also while unleashing hellish power with his hands.
While Brunson has insisted that he learned a valuable lesson from his last fight, where he came after Robert Whittaker like a bull seeing red, he might fall back into those old patterns in such a high-profile fight against a legend like Silva. Brunson absolutely has ways to win this fight, even if he does decide to stay standing while looking for a big bomb to land, but Silva's counterstriking is precise and deadly and that could be the difference for the former middleweight champion to get back into the win column.
Prediction: Anderson Silva by TKO, Round 1
An early pick for Fight of the Night is this lightweight battle between Dustin Poirier and Jim Miller.
Poirier returns from a tough loss suffered in his last fight to Michael Johnson, but prior to that setback, he had reeled off several impressive wins in a row, including a hard-fought victory against Irishman Joseph Duffy. Since moving to lightweight, Poirier has shown off some very impressive boxing and devastating power. While striking always seems to be his first weapon, Poirier also possesses a very slick submission game, with a nasty D'Arce choke that can catch even the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu artists in the UFC.
As for Miller, he's enjoyed a career resurgence of late with three straight victories, including a unanimous decision win over Poirier's teammate Thiago Alves at UFC 205 in New York. Miller has been known throughout his career as a tenacious wrestler with very good submissions, but he's worked tirelessly on his boxing over the years and has become very good on the feet as well.
In this matchup, Miller can certainly use his boxing to help set up takedowns because Poirier has shown some defensive holes in his game on the feet. That being said, Miller can't take too many chances with a ferocious power puncher and volume striker like Poirier because he could get overwhelmed in a hurry if he's not careful. The key for Poirier is to not get frustrated with Miller's movement and tight, technical boxing defense, which may not leave many openings for his combinations.
Poirier also seems to fight best when he's not competing on pure emotion like he was in his last bout against Johnson. Poirier won't be fueled by anger this time around, which should help him stay composed while picking his shots to stun and hurt Miller over the course of three rounds. Miller is tough as leather so he won't fade easily, but Poirier has the gas tank to pour on the punishment over all 15 minutes.
Prediction: Dustin Poirier 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.
Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza vs. Tim Boetsch
Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza will return to action for the first time since last year, when he finished former champion Vitor Belfort, while Tim Boetsch looks to build on his recent two-fight win streak where he ended both victories by way of knockout.
On paper, "Jacare" is definitely a heavy favorite in this fight for a number of reasons. While his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game is arguably amongst the best in the UFC, Souza has also developed serious fight-ending power on the feet. The combination of his heavy hands with a world-class grappling game make Souza a danger to anyone in the middleweight division from the champion on down.
Of course, Boetsch has the ultimate equalizer by carrying two sticks of dynamite in his hands. Boetsch has shown that he can knock out anyone at any time if an opening presents itself. Boetsch also enjoys the advantage that he has nothing to lose and everything to win in a fight such as this. Boetsch is a massive underdog who isn't favored to beat a top five middleweight but that also means he can somewhat throw caution to the wind and really gun for a big finish.
That being said, Souza is ranked as one of the best fighters in the world at 185 pounds for a reason. He's put together an incredibly impressive string of victories since joining the UFC and chances are he won't play around with Boetsch too much on the feet before dragging this one to the ground and applying his suffocating ground game. Once Souza gets this on the mat, Boetsch will basically be trying to survive.
Prediction: Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza by submission, Round 2
Jared Cannonier made quite the impression with his last performance in the UFC and it earned him a shot against a former title contender in Glover Teixeira. Cannonier is a durable and tough fighter in the light heavyweight division with big pop behind his punches and a lot of power from the clinch as well. As a former heavyweight, Cannonier knows what it's like to go up against bigger, stronger opponents, but now he'll enjoy that same advantage as a 205-pounder.
Of course it's a tall task to go up against a fighter like Teixeira, who has consistently been one of the best light heavyweights in the world over the past few years. Teixeira is coming off a devastating knockout loss to Anthony "Rumble" Johnson in his last fight, but the veteran Brazilian was looking better than ever prior to that defeat. As long as the knockout doesn't linger in Teixeira's mind, he's still one of the most lethal fighters on the roster, especially when he mixes up his striking and wrestling to really out duel his opponents.
Look for Teixeira to test Cannonier on the feet early to see if he's truly ready for this spotlight or if the massive step up in competition will make him wilt under the spotlight. From there, Teixeira simply has more ways to win, whether that means overwhelming Cannonier on the feet with his punching power or dragging this to the ground, where he can look for strikes or even a fight-ending submission.
Prediction: Glover Teixeira by TKO, Round 2
Wilson Reis will look for his third straight win when he returns to action at UFC 208 against Ulka Sasaki in Brooklyn. It wasn't long ago that Reis was matched up with flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, and while the fight never came together, the Brazilian submission specialist remains one of the top candidates to get a shot at the title in 2017. In his last fight, Reis looked better than ever in dishing out a first round submission loss to UFC newcomer Hector Sandoval, and he could do the exact same thing in this matchup on Saturday night.
Sasaki is an interesting addition to the flyweight division, where he looked very good in his debut win over Willie Gates last May. Sasaki will enjoy a massive six-inch reach and height advantage over Reis, but that still may not save him from the Brazilian submission specialist swooping in to get the takedown.
Reis averages a whopping 5.42 takedowns per 15 minutes in the Octagon while also possessing a relentless ground arsenal that includes a strong striking game coupled with world-class submissions. Sasaki is slick on the mat, but chances are that if this fight hits the ground, he'll be stuck playing defense as Reis unleashes an offensive onslaught until he either locks up a submission or just batters his opponent until the final horn sounds.
Prediction: Wilson Reis by submission, Round 3
Nik Lentz has been known throughout his UFC career as a grinder who can absolutely maul his opponents against the fence or on the ground if he's able to apply his wrestling game. Lentz is a master of control who frustrates his opposition by putting the pressure on early and often while not letting up on the gas pedal until the fight is over. Lentz isn't known as a prolific finisher, but with over four takedowns on average per fight with incredible control, he's more than capable of wearing out anybody over 15 minutes.
That being said, Islam Makhachev presents an interesting matchup for Lentz at UFC 208.
Makhachev is a former combat sambo champion from Russia who trains his wrestling with No. 1 ranked lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov. Makhachev is still developing his striking, which is what cost him a knockout loss to Adriano Martins two fights ago, but he likely won't have to worry about that kind of striking prowess from Lentz.
Instead, Makhachev has the kind of hip control that could give Lentz fits in the clinch if he can reverse position and toss the American Top Team fighter on the mat. Look at the fight between Valentina Shevchenko and Julianna Pena as a good example of how Makhachev could lull Lentz into a false sense of security against the cage, where he's most comfortable, and then reverse with a big throw or trip takedown of his own.
The key for Makhachev is not getting stuck under Lentz for three rounds just waiting for the referee to stand them up. If Makhachev can resist Lentz early, he can apply his own grappling game to give the veteran UFC lightweight a taste of his own medicine. Makhachev has plenty of weapons in his grappling arsenal to give Lentz fits over three rounds and that should be enough to get him the win.
Prediction: Islam Makhachev by unanimous decision