The first bout between welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and top contender Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson won Fight of the Night honors on arguably the most stacked card in history at UFC 205 this past November in New York City.
Now they will do it again.
Woodley and Thompson's first fight ended in a draw, so now the two welterweight rivals will meet again in the main event at UFC 209.
Meanwhile, an interim lightweight champion will be crowned when undefeated contender Khabib Nurmagomedov puts his perfect record on the line against Tony Ferguson, who enters the bout on a nine-fight win streak in arguably the deepest division in the sport.
Nurmagomedov and Ferguson have been trading barbs back and forth for weeks, but now they will finally step into the Octagon together to do battle.
In today's fantasy preview, we're going to examine these fights and several more as we look at who's got the edge, who's a lock to win and who might be primed for an upset at UFC 209: Woodley vs. Thompson 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.
Tyron Woodley (+110 underdog) vs. Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson (-130 favorite)
The first bout between Woodley and Thompson was really the story of two different fights.
When it came to damage done and near finishes, Woodley won that battle by a wide margin after battering Thompson in the opening round following an early takedown before opening up with a barrage of elbows and punches on the ground. Thompson survived but not without Woodley absolutely battering him on the mat. The fourth round saw Woodley blast Thompson with a thunderous right hand that sent him reeling towards the cage before locking on a guillotine choke that could have easily forced a submission.
The other three rounds saw Thompson use his pinpoint accuracy and diverse striking game to keep Woodley backing up as he racked up points on the scorecards with the three judges sitting cageside. For Thompson to win this rematch, he has to keep up the pace he had in those three rounds while somehow figuring out a way to do some damage to Woodley on the feet.
Thompson is arguably the most complete striker in the welterweight division, with a long history in karate and kickboxing that he put on display during his win streak to get to the title shot in the first place. Unfortunately, Thompson was off his game against Woodley the first time around, especially after he gave up the takedown in round one and then basically forgot about his kicking game for the rest of the fight. Thompson can't stop doing what got him to the title fight in the first place, even if that means giving up a takedown. Thompson is at his best when he's moving forward and keeping his opponents guessing with his quick combinations that typically end with a highlight reel kick at the end. Losing that ability likely cost him the first fight and will cost him again in the rematch if he doesn't figure out a way to use those weapons against Woodley.
As for the champion, Woodley doesn't have to change as much outside of not slowing down his attacks in the rounds that are a little bit closer on the scorecards. Woodley largely abandoned his takedowns after the first round despite bludgeoning Thompson on the ground early and perhaps that was out of concern that he wanted to preserve his conditioning for the later rounds. If Woodley can plant Thompson on the mat again in the early part of the rematch and then keep up that attack while mixing in his boxing game, which is powerful and very underrated, he can get a finish this time around.
The biggest hurdle for Woodley this time around may be getting over the disappointment of not getting the win in the first fight, but if his mind is right, he's got all the tools to walk out of UFC 209 with his belt intact. Look for Woodley to implement similar attacks as the first fight but really look for the finish during the first three rounds. If he starts his offensive onslaught with an early takedown to make Thompson question his kicking game, that could be a signal for what's about to happen until the fight is stopped.
Prediction: Tyron Woodley by TKO, Round 3
Khabib Nurmagomedov (-215 favorite) vs. Tony Ferguson (+180 underdog)
Arguably the toughest fight to pick at UFC 209 will be the interim lightweight title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson. This matchup is the definition of being stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to a prediction.
On one side stands Nurmagomedov, who has demolished virtually every fighter he's faced since joining the UFC roster with his relentless wrestling and devastating ground attacks. Nurmagomedov has shown some holes in his striking game, but while landing nearly 49 percent of his takedowns, no one seems to be able to stand with him anyway. Nurmagomedov is a monster on the mat. Not since former UFC heavyweight champion Mark Coleman has someone dominated on the ground the way that Nurmagomedov has done throughout his UFC career. He averages over six takedowns per 15 minutes in the Octagon and typically once he puts an opponent on the mat, they don’t get up again until the fight is over or the round is stopped.
As for Ferguson, he's arguably the most well rounded fighter in this division thanks to a dizzying array of strikes on the feet, submissions from out of nowhere and a wrestling game that was born and bred from his Midwest roots in Michigan. Ferguson is a workhorse who doesn't slow down from the first minute until the last. In fact, Ferguson's experience preparing for a five-round fight could give him a slight advantage in the later rounds. Ferguson will also enjoy a whopping six-inch reach advantage, which bodes well for him considering he's worked tirelessly on his boxing since arriving in the UFC.
So who has the advantage?
Well, this fight really comes down to who controls the center of the Octagon and whether or not Ferguson can stifle Nurmagomedov's wrestling game. Ferguson has more ways to win because he could outpoint Nurmagomedov to a decision, latch on to a submission or win by knockout. Nurmagomedov's path to victory will likely come from one of two ways: he will either bludgeon Ferguson on the ground or he'll find a way to lock up a submission on the mat like he did against Michael Johnson in his last fight.
Ferguson has gotten a little sloppy at times in a few of his past fights, most notably his bout against newcomer Lando Vannata last year where his win streak nearly came to an end in a massive upset. Nurmagomedov has been the picture of consistency, and while he has to be careful not to play around on the feet too much in an attempt to prove a point with his striking, he should be able to get this fight to the ground where he can begin to unload with punches. Nurmagomedov seems like a man on a mission to be the best lightweight in the world and this will undoubtedly be his biggest test to date, but it's one he should pass.
Prediction: Khabib Nurmagomedov by unanimous decision
Alistair Overeem (-140 favorite) vs. Mark Hunt (+120 underdog)
It's been nearly nine years since Alistair Overeem defeated Mark Hunt in their first fight in Japan with an Americana submission on the ground just 1:11 into the opening round. A lot has changed since that time, most notably Hunt's incredible body of work where he's not only become a viable threat on the feet and on the ground, but also proven to be a championship contender during his run with the UFC.
Hunt will look to erase the bad memory from that loss when he meets Overeem at UFC 209, but he still has to be careful not to become a victim to the same pitfalls.
Overeem may best be known for his vicious knockout power on the feet, but his ground game is vastly underrated and he's used it time and again when opponents start head hunting him while standing. Overeem actually lands takedowns with near 66 percent accuracy, and that grappling game will come in handy if he wants to avoid Hunt's powerful punching game on the feet.
Hunt packs a serious punch, finishing a whopping 75 percent of his opponents by knockout, so Overeem can't get cute while striking with this Australian powerhouse. Hunt lands with solid accuracy and volume, but he only needs to uncork one shot in an exchange to put anybody in the heavyweight division away.
To take away that power, Overeem needs to look at the strategy heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic used to beat Hunt when they met in 2015. Miocic has huge knockout power and a Golden Gloves boxing background, but he still knew that trading shots with Hunt on the feet would be a mistake. So Miocic started mixing in takedowns to wear Hunt out while battering the former title contender over and over during every round. Overeem has to know, based on his first win over Hunt, that taking this fight to the ground is his easiest path to victory and as long as he follows that same strategy, he should get the win at UFC 209.
Prediction: Alistair Overeem 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.
Rashad Evans vs. Dan Kelly
Rashad Evans will finally make his long awaited middleweight debut at UFC 209 against former Olympian Dan Kelly, who enters the night on a three-fight win streak. Kelly is undoubtedly one of the most underrated fighters on the roster, as he continues to battle underdog odds while seemingly always surprising his opposition.
Kelly comes from a judo background and he's used that skill set to catch several opponents off guard by putting them on the mat before unleashing a very slick ground attack. That being said, it's going to be awfully hard for Kelly to win that battle this time around against a skilled former Michigan State wrestler in Evans.
Evans has faced a lot of trial and tribulations to finally make his first appearance at 185 pounds, but if he's still got any shred left of the fighter who was once light heavyweight champion, he should be poised for a victory on Saturday night. Evans has faced the better competition by a wide margin over Kelly and he has the arsenal to win this fight on the feet or on the ground. Evans has shown devastating power in the standup game, and when you combine that with arguably one of the best double leg takedowns in the history of the sport, he should be able to pick his shots in this bout. Unlike his last couple of losses, where Evans has been outgunned on the feet, that's not likely going to be the case with Kelly, who will be the slower and less skilled fighter while striking with the former UFC champion.
Look for Evans to display his dominance early and often before finding an opening to put Kelly away to send a strong statement in his first fight as a middleweight.
Prediction: Rashad Evans by TKO, Round 2
Lando Vannata vs. David Teymur
Lando Vannata is quickly becoming appointment television because during both of his appearances inside the Octagon, he's put on spectacular performances. Vannata nearly upset Tony Ferguson in a debut that he took on less than two weeks’ notice before uncorking a wheel kick to knock out veteran John Makdessi in his second fight in the UFC.
This time around, Vannata will take on fellow knockout artist David Teymur, who has finished both of his first two opponents in the UFC by strikes. Teymur has devastating knockout power, but he also gets a little wild in his exchanges, and that tendency to get hit for the chance to return fire could be his undoing against Vannata.
Vannata lands with volume and speed, and the diversity of his striking game could give Teymur problems during exchanges. Of course, Teymur only needs to land one solid counter and he could dramatically change the course of this fight, but the odds are on Vannata to stay calm and composed in the face of fire before unleashing another jaw dropping combination to get the finish and his second win in the UFC.
Prediction: Lando Vannata by TKO, Round 2
This matchup between top 15 ranked featherweights might seem far from a lock, so it's tough to call this a “knockout pick” but, that being said, it's still safe to keep a closer eye on rising prospect Mirsad Bektic in this matchup with Darren Elkins.
Bektic has been called the future of the featherweight division and he's looked very impressive through his first few fights in the Octagon. Bektic is extremely well rounded, but he’s most dangerous when he takes his opponents to the ground before unleashing a hellish barrage of strikes and submission attempts on the mat. Bektic isn't afraid to throw hands, and he lands with good volume and accuracy, but he mostly uses his striking to set up his takedowns. Bektic averages over four takedowns per fight, and if he can use that wrestling against Elkins, it could be a long night for the veteran featherweight contender.
The reason why Elkins may struggle in this fight is because his best weapon is wrestling and grinding opponents out on the ground. Elkins could certainly surprise Bektic with his takedowns if the American Top Team fighter hasn't brushed up his defense as much as his offense, but it's going to be a tough task to accomplish that in this fight. Elkins loves to wear his opponents down with constant pressure and takedowns, but if he doesn't land those shots, he rarely has a backup plan to win him the fight.
Elkins has struggled against other wrestlers in the past, and if Bektic shows off the kind of powerful takedowns he's displayed throughout his UFC career, he should be able to out wrestle the wrestler en route to his fifth straight win inside the Octagon.
Prediction: Mirsad Bektic by unanimous decision
Newcomer Cynthia Calvillo makes her UFC debut this weekend against former Ultimate Fighter competitor Amanda Cooper in one of the toughest contests to pick on the entire card. Cooper looked impressive in her last trip to the Octagon while picking up her first UFC win and, with time, she could eventually develop into a solid contender at 115 pounds.
That being said, Calvillo could be poised for the upset this weekend, given her diverse skill set and the tremendous team backing her up.
Calvillo is 3-0 as a professional but she has a wealth of experience as an amateur as well. Calvillo also trains out of Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, so there's no doubt she's got a top flight bunch of coaches to get her ready for her UFC debut. Calvillo is a very solid striker with great takedown defense, but she'll need to mix up her attacks to keep Cooper off balance in this one. Cooper comes from a boxing background, so she's got plenty of pop in her punches, but if Calvillo can keep her off balance with a steady diet of kickboxing combinations as well as mixing in a takedown or two, this could swing the matchup in her favor.
Make no mistake, Cooper can absolutely win this fight based on her boxing and underrated ground game, but Calvillo is a very solid upset pick in her debut. Calvillo isn't well known yet, but she has a great chance to make a splash in her fight this weekend with a complete showing over three rounds against Cooper.
Prediction: Cynthia Calvillo by unanimous decision