Coming off of a weekend which should be considered a rousing success for the UFC, there’s only one event left in 2015. The result of the main event will not only determine the organization’s lightweight champion, but could also create one of the biggest fights of 2016. The main card also sees important bouts in the heavyweight, lightweight, and women’s strawweight division. After three unsuccessful cracks at the WEC lightweight title back in 2009 and 2010, Donald Cerrone has been a man on a mission, and has finally earned himself a UFC title shot after five years and a whopping 18 fights in the Octagon. No fighter has been more consistently active over that time than Cerrone, as his seven month break between his last fight and his title bout against champion Rafael dos Anjos mark his longest streak of inactivity since coming over from the blue cage. Dos Anjos also has 18 fights in the UFC, but for a long time it seemed as if he was destined to fill the same role as someone like Gleison Tibau. He started his UFC tenure going 4-4, but it was his win over Cerrone back in August 2013 that really opened eyes as to how good he could be. A setback against ‘Mr. Milk Carton’ Khabib Nurmagomedov was quickly brushed aside with three consecutive wins that earned dos Anjos a title shot, where he dominated Anthony Pettis over five rounds to capture the belt. So not only are these two of the best lightweights in the world who have taken long, winding roads to the title, but it’s also a rematch of highly competitive bout, and has the potential to set up the winner with a fight against new featherweight champion Conor McGregor (as silly as I feel McGregor moving up in weight without defending the 145lb title would be). Stakes are high. The same could be said for Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem. A win for either could very likely result in a title shot against the winner of Fabricio Werdum and ‘Sea-Level’ Cain Velasquez. Dos Santos has only lost to Velasquez since entering the UFC (twice), and a win for him coupled with a win for Werdum would set up a rematch of the bout that set him on the way to stardom and originally knocked Werdum from the UFC. Overeem holds a win over Werdum from their Strikeforce days as well, and if he can pull off a victory for dos Santos, that should vault him into the spotlight everyone expected to see him in when he came over from Strikeforce. His UFC run has been disappointing aside from a gut crushing debut against Brock Lesnar, but that can all be erased on Saturday night. The main card will also see lightweights Michael Johnson and Nate Diaz square off. Johnson suffered a “loss” to Beneil Dariush in his last outing, which snapped an impressive four-fight winning streak, but he has a high profile spot to begin a new one here against Nate Diaz, who has been equal parts inactive and uninspired of late. In a bit of head scratcher, women’s strawweights Randa Markos and Karolina Kowalkiewicz will open the main card ahead of a bout like Charles Oliveira vs. Myles Jury. The odds have already been released for the top three bouts, and the most up-to-date numbers can be found at Several Bookmakers. Today, MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas opened the betting lines for the remaining 10 fights at Several Bookmakers. Take a look. ——————– MAIN CARD (Fox, 8pm ET)
——————– PRELIMINARY CARD (Fox Sports 1, 5pm ET) Charles Oliveira +130 Myles Jury -170 Over 2.5 -130 Under 2.5 -110 — Nate Marquardt +250 C.B. Dollaway -350 Over 1.5 -180 Under 1.5 +140 — Valentina Shevchenko +170 Sarah Kaufman -230 Over 2.5 -230 Under 2.5 +170 — Tamdan McCrory +125 Josh Samman -165 Over 1.5 -140 Under 1.5 +100 — Danny Castillo -110 Nik Lentz -130 Over 2.5 -210 Under 2.5 +160 — Jim Alers -120 Cole Miller -120 Over 2.5 -170 Under 2.5 +130 ——————– PRELIMINARY CARD (UFC Fight Pass, 3:30pm ET) Leon Edwards +100 Kamaru Usman -140 Over 2.5 -165 Under 2.5 +125 — Vicente Luque -115 Hayder Hassan -125 Over 2.5 -130 Under 2.5 -110 — Francis Ngannou +110 Luis Henrique -150 Over 1.5 +130 Under 1.5 -170 — ——————– Brad’s Analysis: We’ve seen in the fledgling women’s divisions that the best fighters in the world aren’t always the ones given first shot. When creating these new divisions, the organization focused on marketability first with Ronda Rousey at bantamweight and a season of TUF featuring English-speaking fighters to crown the first strawweight champion. Since then, both belts have moved on. Karolina Kowalkiewicz could prove to be another example of that trend. She has a solid, well-rounded game, and I think she can take advantage of some of the openings Randa Markos leaves especially in the later rounds when Markos tends to tire. It will be a competitive fight, and it’s always tough to side with a newcomer against someone with solid UFC experience, but I think familiarity has pushed this line too far towards Markos. I wish Charles Oliveira had just average durability. He’s already on the borderline of the featherweight elite even with his body betraying him in all sorts of different manners, and still has a ton of room to grow at just 26. Myles Jury isn’t much longer in the tooth at just 27, and hasn’t taken as much damage due primarily to his style, but it’s exactly his style the I feel holds him back from becoming a top fighter. He seems uncomfortable when someone forces him into a fight, and Oliveira is excellent at doing exactly that. If I had faith that Oliveira wouldn’t contract some form of rare meningitis mid-fight, I’d take a shot at him at decent plus money, but I think I’ll just stay away entirely. Nate Marquardt is still fighting when, even during his fights, he hardly seems interested in fighting. He still has flashes of offense that make you remember his knockouts over Tyron Woodley and Wilson Gouveia, but they are fewer and further between. CB Dollaway is certainly susceptible if Marquardt does turn back the clock for a Tekken-esque flurry, but you have to think that more often than not, he’s able to wear Marquardt out in this one. This fight could be a sneaky one for entertainment value. Valentina Shevchenko is a very decorated striker, and has actually shown some submission chops early in her MMA career. I don’t put too much weight into those submissions considering the competition, but it’s good to know she at least knows what to do on the mat. On the feet, Kaufman is considered one of the better strikers at 135, but I think she needs to resort to her wrestling to win this one. If she doesn’t, and if the public doesn’t respect Shevchenko, I’m willing to take a shot. After more than a six-year hiatus Tamdan McCrory returns to the UFC, where he went 3-3 back in the late aughts. He stepped away from MMA for five years before returning to Bellator with a pair of first-round finishes over some quality fighters. McCrory’s length will give anyone issues, but he’s facing the best grappler who will actually be willing to grapple him in a long, long time. I think that McCrory will have an advantage standing, and his guard is tricky enough to prevent Samman from getting much offense going, but I think he’ll spend too much time on his back to win a decision here. That said, McCrory might catch something early and score another finish, although I think that’s a bit more unlikely. Nik Lentz dropped down from 155 because he was consistently being overpowered in fights. I’m not sure what he thinks has changed, but the size of fighters certainly hasn’t. I don’t think that will be too much of an issue here, but Danny Castillo’s ability to stuff Lentz’ takedowns and be the superior striker will be. It’s hard to trust Castillo at his age and with his chin, but he’s always been well-conditioned, and that’s Lentz’ biggest weapon. Give me Castillo as the dog. Jim Alers could come out and re-enact Cole Miller’s fight with Manny Gamburyan (minus the weird elbow fiasco), and I wouldn’t be shocked. However, Alers was just knocked out by Chas Skelly of all people, so Miller landing a shot to put him down, or rocking him and then jumping on a sub is equally as likely. This one is tough. Dog or pass, and I’ll most likely be passing. Leon Edwards is a better striker than Kamaru Usman. Unfortunately, Usman is a great wrestler, and Edwards is British. He better put that striking advantage to use real quick if he wants to find success here, because with his questionable cardio, Usman’s top game will suck the life out of him and probably result in a ground-and-pound stoppage, or mercy kill submission. This fight already happened once (on TUF, which still allegedly runs on TV), and Hassan won thanks in large part to Luque gassing. Looking at the skills between the two however, Luque is better. I worry about his fight IQ and willingness to hang out in bottom position, but those could be the type of things that a young fighter improves upon, while his full camp should have him coming into this fight more well-prepared than on the show. I’m not too keen on either side, but I think this fight ends fairly quickly either way, so I’m tempted by the under. Two untested, unproven heavyweights? If I don’t bet the over here on principal alone, I don’t even know who I am anymore. I favor Luiz Henrique, who is the better grappler and more well-rounded fighter, but there may not be a fight this year a have a worse read on than this one.