DEMETRIOUS JOHNSON VS. WILSON REIS
UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson’s quest for history runs through Kansas City, and looking to keep him from tying Anderson Silva’s record for successful UFC title defenses is Wilson Reis. Reis told me that he’s confident that he can beat Johnson wherever the fight takes him, but it’s the ground game that’s the Brazilian’s key to pulling off the upset. If Reis can get the fight to the mat, it becomes a much different fight. On the feet, Johnson will hold the edge, and it’s likely that “Mighty Mouse” will use his speed and movement to give him his best chance of racking up successful title defense number ten.
ROSE NAMAJUNAS VS. MICHELLE WATERSON
A strawweight title shot may be on the line for the winner of this co-main event clash, but don’t expect the pressure to get to Rose Namajunas or Michelle Waterson. The interesting thing here is how will Waterson react to fighting her toughest opponent since coming to the UFC? Namajunas may not have a sparkling record, but she’s been fighting top level competition from the start of her career, she’s the naturally bigger fighter, and she’s battle tested at 115 pounds. If Waterson is to continue her rise to the top, this is her biggest test and one she must pass.
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RONALDO SOUZA VS. ROBERT WHITTAKER
Grappler vs. striker is the name of the game in the clash between top middleweight contenders Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Robert Whittaker, and it may be that simple in picking a winner. If Jacare gets any fight to the mat, it’s usually lights out for his opponents, and if Whittaker can keep Souza on the end of his punches and stay disciplined in exchanges, he’s going to have the edge. So what’s the wildcard? Souza has the striking power to hang with anyone standing. Does Whittaker have the ground game to survive and make it back to his feet?
JEREMY STEPHENS VS. RENATO MOICANO
It’s grappler vs. striker part two in the featherweight battle pitting Jeremy Stephens against Renato Moicano, but the gap is a bit wider when breaking down the advantages the fighters have over each other. Stephens (the striker), is a seasoned vet who has seen it all in the Octagon, and while three of his 13 losses have been by submission, will Moicano be able to get him to the ground? Unless he does it early, Stephens has the tools to punish and discourage his opponent, and then we’ll see if Moicano is down for a three-round dogfight.
ALEXANDER VOLKOV VS. ROY NELSON
People will look at the recent record of 40-year-old Roy Nelson and assume that at 2-4 in his last six bouts, he’s simply a gatekeeper for Russia’s Alexander Volkov. But it’s important to note that he’s 2-1 in his last three, with the one loss a controversial decision defeat to Derrick Lewis. I’m not saying “Big Country” is in his prime, but he isn’t someone to be overlooked. Of course, you might wonder how he deals with the 6-foot-7 frame of his opponent, but at 6 feet tall, Nelson has been fighting taller guys forever, so he’s probably looking at this as just another day in the office.
PATRICK WILLIAMS VS. TOM DUQUESNOY
France’s Tom Duquesnoy makes his long-awaited UFC debut this weekend, and unless we’re all seeing things, the hype is real when it comes to the “FireKid.” So does Patrick Williams have a shot here? Of course he does. He’s a former Arizona State University wrestler who trains with American Top Team and is coming off a 23-second submission win over Alejandro Perez. The bad news for “The Animal” is that the fight with Perez was in 2015, and for a 35-year-old fighter, staying busy and sharp in real fight situations is key.
BOBBY GREEN VS. RASHID MAGOMEDOV
One of the more overlooked bouts on this card pits lightweight up and comers Bobby Green and Rashid Magomedov against each other. Green was on the fast track to the top of the division thanks to an eight-fight winning streak that included four UFC wins. Then came losses to Edson Barboza and Dustin Poirier, and long layoffs followed both. Now he’s back for the first time since last June to face Magomedov, who saw a 12-fight winning streak snapped by Beneil Dariush in November. This is a rock-solid matchup and a tough one to call.
TIM ELLIOTT VS. LOUIS SMOLKA
Speaking of rock solid matchups, flyweight contenders Tim Elliott and Louis Smolka might just steal Fight of the Night honors in Kansas City. Hometown favorite Elliott made a welcome return to the UFC last December after winning TUF 24, and after giving Demetrious Johnson a scare, he begins the road back against Hawaii’s Smolka, an exciting fighter who is too talented to be bringing a two-fight losing streak into the Octagon this weekend. Both have something to prove here, and that makes for a fun fight to watch.
ALJAMAIN STERLING VS. AUGUSTO MENDES
Aljamain Sterling is another fighter who is too talented to be sporting a two-fight losing streak, but it goes to show how tough the competition is in the UFC. Needless to say, this is an important fight for the New Yorker, and he’s got a tough style matchup to deal with in Augusto Mendes. Known primarily for his ground game, “Tanquinho” eagerly stood and traded with Frankie Saenz in his recent Fight of the Night win, and when you add in his jiu-jitsu, he becomes dangerous everywhere. Not dangerous enough to stop someone like Sterling on the feet, but enough to make him think twice and perhaps sleep on the Brazilian’s ground game.
DEVIN CLARK VS. JAKE COLLIER
After his UFC debut loss to Alex Nicholson at middleweight, many wondered whether Devin Clark was ready for prime time in the UFC. A return to light heavyweight, a move to Albuquerque to train with the Jackson-Wink MMA team and a victory over Josh Stansbury silenced a lot of those critics, and he’s got a chance to silence some more when he faces Jake Collier. Collier is as tough as they come and an action fighter to the core, but will his move from 185 to 205 be as successful as Clark’s?
ANTHONY SMITH VS. ANDREW SANCHEZ
TUF 23 winner Andrew Sanchez has dominated his two UFC bouts thus far, and he’s showing the potential to make a mark at 185 pounds. Potential has always been a four-letter word for his opponent, Anthony Smith, but recent efforts and a switch of training teams appear to have him on the right track to fulfilling that potential, and if he beats Sanchez, that will be a major statement in a division that’s consistently in the news these days.
ZAK CUMMINGS VS. NATHAN COY
Seasoned vet Nathan Coy makes his first start since picking up his first UFC victory over Jonavin Webb last year, and he’s facing off with a fighter in Zak Cummings who has all the motivation in the world to win considering that he’s competing at home in Kansas City for the first time since 2010. Expect to hear a nice pop from the crowd for the local hero, and a competitive matchup between two skilled and experienced welterweights.
ASHLEE EVANS-SMITH VS. KETLEN VIEIRA
In the year and a half since Ronda Rousey lost her women’s bantamweight title, the division has been a wild one, with several title changes and new contenders emerging in a weight class it looked like “Rowdy Ronda” had cleaned out. Two of those emerging fighters are Ashlee Evans-Smith and Ketlen Vieira, and the winner of their opening bout this weekend will certainly put herself in a good place heading into the summer.