What could have been…
After 24 years, the UFC has finally touched down in Edmonton, bringing with it bevy of stars and young, hungry faces. Boasting a pair of high-profile title bouts and a superb heavyweight contes- … Wait, that’s not right at all.
Brace yourselves, Edmonton. Two titles are on the marquee and- … Nope, try again.
The dust has (hopefully) settled, and after a barrage of unexpected illnesses and failed drug tests, get ready to slam those wallets shut, Edmonton. What you’re left with is the shell of a once sneaky great card, decimated by missteps and cancellations, and it all goes down live on pay-per-view. How’s that for cutting a promo?
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still some fun to be had here, and great events are hardly made on paper. But positive outlook aside, gone is the opportunity to witness history. Robbed were we of a championship double header. No longer will a heavyweight contender emerge. Such is life in the world of mixed martial arts.
UFC 215 has been abruptly relegated to the back burner, but we’re going to preview it anyway. Ten fighters have weighed in. Which five will come out on top?
(C) Amanda Nunes (14-4) vs. Valentina Shevchenko (14-2)
Following a last minute withdrawal from a scheduled bout opposite Shevchenko in early July, UFC president Dana White was adamant Amanda Nunes would not be granted headliner status for her next fight. Naturally, Amanda Nunes is headlining.
When the pair are finished gift wrapping a thank you basket of mini muffins earmarked for planned headliner Ray Borg, who himself withdrew Thursday evening due to illness, Nunes and Shevchenko will once again lock horns. Fingers crossed, anyway.
Having squared off once previously, a unanimous decision victory in favor of the defending champion, the question to be asked here is which of these women has improved the most?
The answer? The one walking in with the shiny, gold belt around her waist. Suspect gas tank aside, Amanda Nunes will once again use her superior grappling to drag Valentina Shevchenko to the mat and make this one look ugly. It won’t be a repeat of her heavy-handed destruction of Ronda Rousey or Miesha Tate, but Nunes will exit the same way she arrived: the bantamweight champion of the world.
The Pick: Amanda Nunes via unanimous decision
Rafael dos Anjos (26-9) vs. Neil Magny (19-5)
This is the co-main event on pay-per-view. Why can’t we have nice things?
Kidding aside, this could very well end up being a fun little slobber-knocker. Former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos will be seeking his second straight win since moving to welterweight, but seeking to play spoiler will be crafty veteran Neil Magny.
A tough out for anyone, Magny will successfully do what Tarec Saffiedine failed to accomplish: convince Rafael dos Anjos he isn’t a welterweight. Magny will use his ten inch read advantage to keep a frustrated dos Anjos at bay, all while carefully picking his shots en route to a clean sweep of the judges scorecards. Magny will secure the biggest win of his professional career.
The Pick: Neil Magny via unanimous decision
Henry Cejudo (10-2) vs. Wilson Reis (22-7)
The halfway point of the night will play host to a pair of former flyweight title challengers in Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Wilson Reis. Two men itching to claw their way back to the division’s unblemished overlord, now absent from the evening’s main event.
While the stakes remain high for both men, the pressure will be firmly on Cejudo. He will be looking to avoid dropping three straight after a perfect 10-0 start to his professional career. Reis will also seek to bounce back following a submission loss at the hands of champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, his first defeat since May of 2015.
When all is said and done, it will be Cejudo who gets back in the win column. Reis’ tenacity will allow him to survive an early onslaught and drag “The Messenger” into hot waters, but Cejudo’s Olympic wrestling pedigree will be too much for the Brazilian to handle.
The Pick: Henry Cejudo via unanimous decision
Ilir Latifi (13-5-1) vs. Tyson Pedro (6-0)
If you’re in it for the knockouts, listen up. One of these men will fall.
Bumped from the undercard following the cancellation of an outstanding heavyweight tilt, two light heavyweights will get their chance to shine under the bright lights.
Seeking to rebound from a devastating knockout loss to now departed light heavyweight contender Ryan Bader, Swedish-Albanian bruiser Ilir Latifi’s gameplan will come as a mystery to no one. Land heavy, and land often. Opposite him will be undefeated Australian knockout artist Tyson Pedro. The 25 year old is riding high following a pair of first round stoppages in successive bouts under the promotion’s banner.
It’s anyone’s guess who’s fists will be tucking the other into bed tonight, but the smarter money is on Pedro. A five inch height disadvantage will prove simply too much for the vertically challenged Latifi to overcome. Pedro will press the action early and use his dirty boxing to overwhelm the Swede in the only stoppage of the night.
The long-stagnant light heavyweight division will be put on notice. New blood has finally arrived.
The Pick: Tyson Pedro via technical knockout
Jeremy Stephens (25-14) vs. Gilbert Melendez (22-6)
In the night’s opening bout, a pair of shopworn warhorses will clash inside the octagon.
Fighting out of Alliance MMA, 25-fight UFC veteran Jeremy Stephens will look to avoid dropping three straight since December of 2012. He goes toe-to-toe with former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez. The fight will serve as Melendez’s first bout since deciding to drop to featherweight.
It remains to be seen what kind of Melendez will show up come fight time, but should ring rust not be a factor for the 35-year old California native, expect to see “El Nino” get his hand raised. True, Stephens has shown the ability to be able to absorb shots with the best of them, and his trademark scrappiness will be on full display, but it will be Melendez’ relentless pressure that carries him to the final horn.
The ever-crowded featherweight division is about to gain a new player.
The Pick: Gilbert Melendez via unanimous decision