A pair of title fights featuring some of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport will highlight UFC 227 from Los Angeles, as TJ Dillashaw puts the bantamweight belt up for grabs when he faces former champion Cody Garbrandt, while Demetrious Johnson looks to extend his historic title defense streak when he meets Henry Cejudo in the co-main event.
Dillashaw and Garbrandt obviously know each other very well and their first fight played out as the back and forth war that was expected. Ultimately, Dillashaw got the win, but now Garbrandt is hell bent on revenge as he earned the automatic rematch to fight for the bantamweight title.
Meanwhile, Cejudo will look to show off the improvements he's made since falling to Johnson a few years ago while he was still very young in his UFC career. Cejudo believes he's got what it takes to hand Johnson his first loss at flyweight and he'll get the opportunity to prove it on Saturday night.
Elsewhere on the card, Cub Swanson will take on highly touted Brazilian featherweight Renato Moicano, while knockout artist Thiago Santos returns against newcomer Kevin Holland in a middleweight bout on the main card.
In today's preview, we'll examine these fights and several more to see who has the edge going into Saturday night and if someone might be primed for the upset at UFC 227: Dillashaw vs. Garbrandt 2.
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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.
TJ Dillashaw vs. Cody Garbrandt
The first fight was a back and forth classic that saw TJ Dillashaw finish Cody Garbrandt via second-round knockout, but that's only after he battled back after being dropped to the canvas at the end of the opening round. Now the fierce bantamweight rivals will do it all over again at UFC 227.
This is just about as good as it gets in terms of stylistic matchups, because both Dillashaw and Garbrandt are true mixed martial artists with knockout power on the feet and equally dangerous wrestling backgrounds if this turns into a mat battle.
For Dillashaw, his ability to stick and move on the feet without allowing himself to be drawn into a firefight with Garbrandt is a huge key to victory. Dillashaw possesses incredible offensive output and rarely takes much damage in return. He has to execute that strategy again and again to avoid the kind of finishing power that Garbrandt will be throwing at him with every strike. Dillashaw lands with better volume and accuracy. and both of those will be needed to deal with Garbrandt if this fight goes all five rounds.
Meanwhile, Garbrandt has to display a tactical game plan rather than allowing his emotions to get the best of him. Garbrandt was a cerebral assassin when he took out former champion Dominick Cruz back in 2016 despite a ton of trash talk being shared between them before the fight. Garbrandt allowed the war of words with Dillashaw to seemingly get the better of him in their first showdown, when he stopped playing defense and just started swinging for the homerun shot.
If Garbrandt is able to mix things up this time and allow the knockout to come to him, he's got a great chance to get the title back around his waist. Garbrandt has the kind of speed and elusiveness to beat Dillashaw at his own game, but he can't allow his desire to earn a knockout over the reigning champion to overrule his strategy to just win the fight.
While this matchup is as close as any on paper in recent memory, a slight edge still remains with Dillashaw, who has shown real consistency and growth in all of his fights over the past few years. It could be argued that Dillashaw should have never lost the title in the first place if not for a razor close split decision to Cruz, and it's going to be awfully tough to pick against him here as well. Garbrandt could certainly pull off the highlight reel knockout, but the pick remains with Dillashaw as he looks to cement his spot as the best bantamweight in the world.
Prediction: TJ Dillashaw by unanimous decision
Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo
Throughout his reign as flyweight champion, Demetrious Johnson has rarely lost a round, much less come close to dropping the title, but Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo will take his second stab at doing so this weekend.
Cejudo fell to Johnson in their previous fight but, to his credit, the former wrestler turned fighter was still very green in his UFC career and that fight may have been too much, too soon. Now Cejudo returns with another opportunity to take out Johnson after earning wins in his last two fights.
At his best, Cejudo is a dominant grappler, which he showed off with his lopsided win over highly touted striker Sergio Pettis. While his wrestling is always top notch, Cejudo has supplemented his grappling with a much stronger boxing skill set that's really been developed over the past couple years. Cejudo is starting to throw his punches with more confidence and technique, which then allows him to transition back to his wrestling more naturally than before. Cejudo can definitely pack a serious punch, as evidenced by his knockout against Wilson Reis, so he'll look to show off all of those skills in this title fight.
As for Johnson, the story on him is very well known.
"Mighty Mouse" is the definition of a mixed martial artist, as he blends every style possible and then displays an arsenal that's virtually unmatched by any other fighter in the sport, regardless of weight class. Johnson can outstrike great strikers and he can outgrapple the best grapplers. Johnson is a video game character with every attribute turned up to the highest level and that's why he's been so tough to rattle during his title reign.
The question then becomes can Cejudo beat him?
The answer is yes, if Cejudo displays the perfect strategy over five rounds to make Johnson fight off his back foot and never allows the champion to get comfortable on his feet or on the ground. Cejudo has to push Johnson around the Octagon and bully him into bad positions. It's something Johnson hasn't really felt since he was fighting up a weight class at 135 pounds. If Cejudo can use that kind of game plan to throw off Johnson and make him work for every inch he gets in this fight, the former Olympian has a great chance to pull it off.
That said, every flyweight has tried to do that to Johnson and none have been successful.
It's nearly impossible to pick against Johnson as long as he's competing at flyweight, as he possesses world-class striking, grappling, wrestling and just about every other martial art form that will help him retain the title. This fight might end up a lot tougher than his most recent title defenses because Cejudo will absolutely push the pace and might even steal a round or two from the champion. In the end, however, Johnson should still walk out with the belt around his waist.
Prediction: Demetrious Johnson by unanimous decision
Munhoz seemed to be knocking on the door of top 10 contention when he suffered a loss to John Dodson in his last fight and now this will be his chance to get back on track. At his best, Munhoz is a very tough matchup with a ton of output on the feet, where he's averaging nearly five significant strikes landed per minute, combined with a devastating submission arsenal that rates among the best in the division.
As for Johns, he's a submission specialist in his own right that is more than willing to mix it up with anybody on the mat. Johns is still working on his overall striking game, although he's not a rookie when it comes to throwing hands. What Johns does best, however, is using his strikes to set up the takedown so he can drag his opponent down into his world on the ground.
That means Munhoz has to pick his poison in this fight because he might be able to out grapple Johns on the ground but should he even test those waters against somebody so dangerous with submissions that come out of nowhere?
The better bet would be for Munhoz to keep this fight standing and look to punish Johns on the inside with a dirty boxing game. Johnson has a significant seven-inch reach advantage, so it's probably going to be better for Munhoz to work from the inside rather than outside, but he's got the kind of striking and volume that will give the Welsh fighter some serious problems. As long as Munhoz doesn't decide to test his ground skills against Johns just to prove a point, he's got a lot of ways to hurt his opponent on the feet while using good defensive wrestling to keep this fight standing for all three rounds.
Prediction: Pedro Munhoz by unanimous decision
Going back to Cali
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.
Thiago Santos vs. Kevin Holland
Heavy-handed middleweight Thiago Santos will look to get back in action this weekend against former Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series competitor Kevin Holland.
Holland comes to the UFC with a wealth of experience under his belt against some very stiff competition on the regional fight circuit, and he is best known for his striking skills, where he's racked up six career victories, but because he's so prolific on the feet, he's actually pulled off more wins by submission. That just goes to show how well rounded Holland can be, whether he's on the feet or on the ground.
Stylistically, Holland seems to have a perfect dance partner in Santos, who is a punishing striker with devastating power in both hands and both feet. That means there will be opportunities for Holland to show off his Muay Thai kickboxing background. Unfortunately, Holland will be throwing hands with one of the nastiest knockout artists in the UFC.
Santos throws with incredible power and he's deadly at range or from the inside. Santos definitely has dynamite in his hands, but he typically doesn't get wild with his striking combinations. Instead, Santos loves to set up his creative array of power shots while sticking to the basics early before unleashing fire when there's an opening.
Make no mistake about it, Holland could pull off the surprise upset in his debut, but considering the kind of firepower he's facing in Santos, it's awfully tough to pick against the Brazilian in this matchup.
Prediction: Thiago Santos by knockout, Round 2
Ricardo Ramos vs. Kyung Ho Kang
Ricardo Ramos looks to be one of the best up and coming talents to join the UFC's bantamweight division in some time, and he'll look to display his skills once again while taking on tough South Korean grappler Kyung Ho Kang at UFC 227.
Kang is riding a three-fight win streak into this fight, so he's no slouch, and he's not just going to roll over for a top prospect like Ramos. Kang is an offensive-minded fighter who averages just under three takedowns per fight, so he'll definitely look to get Ramos to the ground, where he can apply his world-class submission game.
Still, Ramos seems to have all the weapons to counter Kang and show off the skill set that has made him one of the most talked about young fighters on the roster. Ramos is a very active fighter on the feet or on the ground, so he's definitely not afraid to challenge Kang no matter where this fight goes. Ramos is also very quick to adapt in the middle of a fight, so don't be surprised if he mixes in some creative striking attacks like the one he used to knock out Aiemann Zahabi in his last fight.
Plus, Ramos has started to train full-time at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, so he's working with a top-notch gym with a ton of fighters competing around his weight class, including former champion Cody Garbrandt.
Ramos is a name to watch in 2018 and beyond, and this should be another showcase performance for him at UFC 227.
Prediction: Ricardo Ramos by TKO, Round 3
Cub Swanson vs. Renato Moicano
Renato Moicano might just be the next featherweight who's ready to crack the top five rankings, considering his resume already includes a win over Jeremy Stephens as well as a Fight of the Night performance against No. 1-ranked contender Brian Ortega. Moicano is a dangerous Muay Thai stylist with a lot of power in his hands, and he combines that with a world-class grappling game thanks to his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. There's a considerable amount of hype surrounding Moicano following his 4-1 start in the UFC, which is why he's one of the biggest favorites on the entire card even as he goes up against a true veteran in Cub Swanson.
Now for all those accolades that were laid out for Moicano, it still seems a bit crazy that he's so favored to win over an extremely dangerous fighter like Swanson.
Of course, Swanson is trying to bounce back from two straight losses after falling to Ortega and Frankie Edgar in consecutive fights, but don't think for a second that he won't be gunning for the victory in this one to get right back on track.
Swanson is still one of the nastiest strikers in the sport, with a devastating array of combinations at his disposal. Swanson hits hard and he's not afraid to get drawn into a firefight, which is a scenario where he almost always comes out on top. Swanson likes to drag his opponents into deep waters to see if they can swim amongst the sharks, and that's exactly the kind of fight he wants against Moicano this weekend.
Moicano has done a good job avoiding those kinds of fights in the past, especially when you look at his split decision victory over Stephens from 2017. Still, Swanson knows how to force an opponent's hand by coming after them with the kind of aggression that's tough to deal with over three rounds. At his best, Swanson is still an elite featherweight who can trade punches with anybody in the division and he loves a good brawl.
If Swanson can force Moicano to engage in a true battle of wills, this fight can absolutely go in his favor. That's why Swanson is a perfect upset pick, because he's got the experience and the style that could make Moicano fight his fight.
Prediction: Cub Swanson by unanimous decision