UFC 230: Analysis and Predictions

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Heavyweight

Daniel Cormier (21-1) (Champion) (-800) vs Derrick Lewis (21-5) (#2 Ranked) (+525)

The heavyweight clash between Cormier and Lewis will probably go down as the most unlikely and unexpected title fight of the last several years.  When you consider that 2018 started with Cormier not having fought at heavyweight in almost 5 years, and Lewis being ranked just outside the top 10 after getting knocked out by a now #10 ranked Mark Hunt, it becomes apparent just how improbable this fight was.

Daniel Cormier is unquestionably one of the best pound for pound fighters of all time.  In 9 years of fighting his only loss is to another pound of pound great, Jon Jones.  His fighting style is reminescent of Fedor Emelianenko, combining elite wrestling (sambo with Fedor) with incredible speed and power.  Like Emelianenko, Cormier is an undersized heavyweight at 5'11 (6'0 for Fedor) but more than makes up for this with athleticism and technique.  His last win was a first round knockout over, arguably, the best Heavyweight fighter in the history of the UFC, Stipe Miocic.  That dominating win over an elite opponent in a different weightclass cemented Cormier's legacy as a pound for pound great.

Derrick Lewis comes into this fight on a 3 fight win streak.  In his last fight against Alexander Volkov he was losing for the better part of 14 minutes before landing a devasting shot that led to the end of the fight.  His fight before that was a 15 minute snoozer against Francis Ngannou where neither fighter rightly deserved to win the fight.  Derrick is certainly a good fighter with tremendous power, but he comes with a lot of flaws.  His cardio has historically been suspect, his grappling hasn't been really tested, and his striking tends of overly depend on winging power shots.

The x-factor for this fight will be the condition that both fighters are in come opening bell.  Daniel Cormier stated in an early October interview that there was no chance he would fight before the end of the year due to a broken hand that he was barely able to clench.  Lewis is fighting for the 4th time in 2018, is fighting with only 3 weeks notice, and he has struggled with niggling back injuries over the last year.  It would seem that the opportunity and money associated with headlining MSG is too much for either fighter to pass up.

This fight heavily favors Cormier and the Vegas lines reflect that fact.  If Lewis is going to win this fight it will be on the feet, landing the heavy overhand that he frequently uses.  The problem is that Cormier is an extremely intelligent fighter and won't give Lewis many opportunities to land the right hand.  Cormier will circle away from the power of Lewis, while using clinch work and ground control to stay out of danger.  It wouldn't be surprising if 90% of this fight took place on the ground with Lewis desperately trying to maintain guard.  Lewis will likely survive the first round but will be gassed.  The end will come sometime in the second when Cormier secures another takedown and Lewis realizes it's hopeless.

Cormier by 2nd Round TKO

 

Middleweight

Chris Weidman (14-3) (#3 Ranked) (-175) vs Jacare Souza (25-6) (#5 Ranked) (+150)

Jacare comes in as a late substitute for an injured Luke Rockhold in a fight that will likely determine the next challenger for the middleweight title after Kelvin Gastelum.  I’m extremely excited for this fight, and I don’t think I’m alone in the thought that the substitute of Jacare makes this a much more exciting #1 challenger matchup.

For the last 5 years, since the day he entered the UFC, Jacare has year-in year-out been on the cusp of a title shot.  He is unquestionably a top middleweight, but the division is deep, and he has continually had is title hopes cut short by up and coming elite challengers.  His three losses inside the UFC are to now champion Robert Whitaker, #1 Ranked Yoel Romero, and current title challenger Kelvin Gastelum.  If Jacare can upset Weidman on Saturday he’ll likely get the title shot that has eluded him for the last 5 years.

Weidman is going to be a tough matchup though.  While Weidman had a rough 3 fight skid in the last few years, dropping fights to Rockhold, Romero, and Mousasi, he remains an elite talent at middleweight.  His recent win over title challenger Gastelum confirms that he is still cable of beating any fighter in the division on any given day.

There are so many interesting angles you can use to analyze this fight so I’ll have to narrow it down to just a few.  The first one is the age and mileage on these fighters.  Jacare is 38 and has been fighting for a long time.  While still dangerous, it can’t help but feel as though he’s slowed down a bit in recent years.  His chin certainly seems like it’s not the same, as he has been dropped in 3 of his last 6 fights.  Weidman has had some similar struggles in his recent fights.  His 3 recently losses were all by TKO, and many questioned what shape he would be in after Romero landed a knee on him that might have killed lesser humans.  That said, his chin looked solid against Gastelum who is an extremely heavy hitter so the edge seems like it must go Weidman here.  It’s clear that both fighters are capable of landing a KO shot at any time.

Another interesting angle to this fight is looking at shared opponents.  Trying to do “MMA Math” is notoriously inaccurate but there are just so many data points here that I can’t help myself.

Kelvin Gastelum

  • Weidman defeated Gastelum by 3rd round submission

  • Jacare lost to Gastelum by a close split decision that saw him gas bad in the later rounds.

Yoel Romero

  • Weidman lost to Romero by brutal 3rd round KO

  • Jacare lost to Yoel Romero by extremely close split decision

Gerard Mousasi

  • Weidman lost to Mousasi by controversial 2nd round KO

  • Jacare defeated Mousasi by 3rd round submission

Luke Rockhold

  • Weidman lost to Rockhold by 4th round TKO

  • Jacare lost to Rockhold by decision

Looking at this, it’s clear that both fighters have struggled with the absolute top of the division.  Weidman’s last win over a top ranked opponent was this year.  Jacare’s last win over a top ranked opponent was 4 years ago.

I believe this fight favors Weidman and the Vegas line accurately reflects that.  Weidman is a well rounded fighter who will likely use a speed advantage against Jacare standing up to land from the outside and wear down the older fighter.  Jacare has a lot of power and he always has a punchers chance, but I believe Weidman won’t succumb to this.  Jacare’s best chance to win this fight will be using his elite grappling, but he’s going to struggle to get this fight to the ground.  Weidman is an accomplished wrestler and will want to keep the fight standing.  This fight is going to be grinding bloody affair on the feet with both fighters landing big shots.

Weidman by Unanimous Decision

 

Middleweight

David Branch vs (21-4) (#7 Ranked) (-400) vs Jared Cannonier (10-4) (Unranked) (+310)

Jared Cannonier steps in as a late replacement to fight David Branch after his original opponent Jacare was moved up to fight Weidman in the co-main event.

This will be Cannonier’s first fight at middleweight after dropping consecutive fights to Dominick Reyes and Jan Blackowickz at 205 lbs.  Cannonier is a good fighter, but it feels as though we have seen  the limits of his capabilities.  Meanwhile, Branch is a journeyman who always seems close to breaking  into the top 5, but always falling just short.

Both of these fighters are pretty well known quantities at this stage, and this is really a battle between middleweight gatekeepers.  Cannonier is a late replacement in this fight, and is coming off a 2 fight skid, but I’m surprised the Vegas lines are so heavily favoring Branch in this fight.  To me this is a really a pick’em fight.  Both fighters have knockout power and Cannonier is an unknown quantity at middleweight.

That said, all things being equal, I think the more likely outcome of this fight is that Branch lands and is able to follow up for a TKO.  The adrenaline dump of fighting at MSG is going to keep these two fighters throwing with heat, so a decision outcome is unlikely.

 Branch by 2nd Round TKO


Middleweight

Derek Brunson (18-6) (#6 Ranked) (+260) vs Israel Adesanya (14-0) (#9 Ranked)(-340)

This is a really exciting fight between two great middleweight fighters.  The winner of this fight will likely move into the top #5 of the division and be well positioned for a #1 contender fight, so the stakes are pretty high.

Hardcore MMA fans have been really excited about Israel Adesanya for several years now, and with good reason.  Adesanya is an elite kick boxer who has been gradually transitioning to MMA over the last several year.  Through 15 fights of increasingly high level competition he remains undefeated, and has now fought 3 times in the UFC.  His striking is truly on another level, but that doesn’t always translate to victory.  Just ask Gohkan Saki

Derek Brunson is an extremely talented fighter who seems to continually fall just short of breaking into the elite of the division.  He’s 9-4 in the UFC with his losses coming against Jacare, Romero, Whitaker, and Silva, essentially the top fighters in the division.  His background is wrestling, but he’s a fighter that loves to brawl.

The Vegas line for this fight is more reflective of the hype surrounding Adesanya than it is the real probability of each fighter winning.  Adesanaya certainly has the advantage if this is strictly a kickboxing match, but if Brunson is smart he will mix in takedowns and clinch work to prevent Adesanaya from finding a rhythm.  I’d love to see Adesanaya pull off a speculator KO to slingshot him into elite contention, but I think the more likely outcome is that he is forced to take a step backwards after finally meeting some top level competition.

Brunson by Unanimous Decision

 

Middleweight

Karl Roberson (6-1) (Unranked) (-280) vs Jack Marshman (22-7) (Unranked) (+240)

Would would have thought that two unranked middleweights would find themselves on the main card of an event at Maddison Square Gardens?  Injuries, scheduling conflicts, and some poor planning by the UFC have left us with some unexpected fights to evaluate.

Karl Roberson is a relative newcomer to the UFC with only 3 fights.  He earned a spot in the organization through a win on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.  He’s coming off a 1st round submission loss and sports an overall record of 2-1 in the organization.  He’s primarily a kickboxer who notably made his professional kickboxing debut against K-1 legend Jerome Lebanner.

Jack Marshman is also a relative newcomer to the UFC with 4 fights in the organization.  He’s coming off a first round submission loss to Antonio Carlos Junior.  He’s a well rounded fighter, but lately has tended to favor the striking game, his last submission win coming before he ever fought in the UFC.

This is an odd fight to put on the main card and it’s hard to predict what will happen.  Roberson seems to be the better striker and as long as he can keep this fight on the feet he’s likely to score big.  It will be interesting to see how Marshman decides to approach this fight.  It would seem to be in his best interest to turn this in a slow grinding clinch and ground fight.  This might result in a pretty slow start to the night at MSG.  I think Roberson will be successful at keeping his distance though and will eventually land big.

Roberson by 1st Round TKO