«UFC 200: Tate vs. Nunes ¦ Preview July 8th, Review July 10th»

Photo credit: Ultimate Fighting Championship©

UFC 200: Tate vs. Nunes takes place on Saturday, July 9th at the T-Mobile Arena Plaza in Las Vegas, Nevada (10PM/7PM ETPT). Below you will find: “Warmup” (now posted), in which I briefly introduce the event, highlight select fighters and fights, and discuss the significance of these bouts for their respective weight divisions; “Preview”, in which I react to the official weigh-ins (July 8th, 6PM/3PM ETPT) after they have concluded, offer select fight predictions (only for fights whose competitors I have watched compete, respectively, in the past), and discuss the dangers each fighter poses to their opponent, technically, athletically and otherwise; “Review”, in which I react next-day (July 10th) to the event, its outcomes, the post-fight press conference (July 9th, start time depending on duration of fight card) and—for fun—score the experience out of 50 (the same point total as a five round fight). Weigh-in and post-fight press conference can be streamed live directly from this page.

Please feel welcome to engage myself and other commenters in the comments section beneath this post before, during and after the event. Share your predictions, your reactions, and, if so inclined, your own score for the night—in whatever sum you wish. These write-ups are done for fun, and out of love and excitement for the sport; I look forward to interacting with you in that same spirit.

«Warmup»

UFC 200, as impressive a card as it remains even without its slated main event, will be forever blackened by the exclusion—all the moreso by the circumstances which led to the exclusion. Fight cancellations are an unfortunate familiarity to all of us by now, but this was the one event for which any major blow would be intolerable. Yet, here we are.

It is not only a “blow” but a bona fide worst case scenario; as much of one, anyway, as I hope the UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts will ever have to endure again. In March, when the Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz rematch was planned as 200‘s main event, it struck me as decidedly insufficient: there was no title contention involved and McGregor had a more pressing obligation to defend his featherweight belt, either in a rematch with José Aldo or against an equally deserving challenger in Frankie Edgar (these two now scheduled to compete for the Interim Featherweight Championship on Saturday in lieu of McGregor’s protracted absence from the division). Daniel Cormier’s injury and subsequent removal from his bout with Jon Jones at UFC 197, also in March, was brightened by the prospect of it potentially becoming 200‘s new headliner when McGregor vs. Diaz was, through contractual obligation disputes between McGregor and the UFC, cancelled (though later revived for this August’s UFC 202).

Cormier vs Jones 2 was not only a (light heavyweight) title fight, and a sequel within one of the most intense rivalries in the sport has ever seen, but featured both the pound-for-pound #1 fighter on the planet and (arguably) the pound-for-pound #2. It had everything one could possibly want in a fight to headline the biggest MMA event in history, and so the universe, in its better judgement, has ostensibly performed a fittingly watershed corrective measure.

The main event of UFC 200 will now be Miesha Tate defending her Women’s Bantamweight Championship against Amanda “Lioness” Nunes, and Daniel Cormier will face legend and former middleweight champion Anderson “The Spider” Silva in a three-round non-title fight. The card, even irrespective of recent changes, is an incredibly impressive one, and still (to my estimation) the biggest ever. The dark, heavy cloud of Jon Jones’s PED violations and the cancellation of a main event too good to be true will, yes, loom over the event now and always, but—for as long as each fight lasts—the octagon will be where that cloud parts. Once the cage door locks, nothing but sound and light reach the three behind it.

«Preview»

To be posted July 8th after weigh-ins (6PM/3PM ETPT)

2016 in MMA has tempted me to make predictions a banned substance in these previews. It seems almost every event this year, and often every main event therein, has included at least one psychological blunderbuss. The most recent of these being Rafael Dos Anjos’s first round TKO (technical knockout) loss to Eddie Alvarez; and last night, a single day later, the first two rounds of Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s strawweight title defense against Claudia Gadelha teased another (though the champion regained top form in the final three). In any case, predictions and betting odds gone awry make MMA the voltaic sport it is and each upset only galvanizes the ongoing spectacle. Emotionally investing in one fighter over the other reliably delivers devastation on that same plateau, moreso than any other sport combat or non, but ultimately even the sourest fruit cannot embitter the tree. Regardless fight cancellations or promotional transformations.

Predictions are inevitable whether or not they’re announced, and nothing in life has made me cherish expectations less. Hopes are another issue entirely, but for now I’ll leave them wayside. Here are my predictions, for select fights, by winner and method (to be marked post-show):

✖ Thiago Santos def. Gegard Mousasi via decision

Joe Lauzon def. Diego Sanchez via decision or submission (R3) ✖

✓ TJ Dillashaw def. Raphael Assunção via TKO (R3) or decision 

✓ Kevin Gastelum def. Johny Hendricks via TKO (R2) ✖

✓ Cain Velasquez def. Travis Browne via TKO (R2) .5 (R1 TKO)

Frankie Edgar def. José Aldo via decision or KO (R2)

✓ Daniel Cormier def. Anderson Silva via TKO (R1) ✖

Mark Hunt def. Brock Lesnar via TKO (R1)

Miesha Tate def. Amanda Nunes via decision

Believe me, I am stalwart in none of these. I flirted with TKO finishes for the first two, but both Mousasi and Sanchez are incredibly hard to finish (Sanchez, actually, has never been finished save for a doctor stoppage against former lightweight and welterweight champion B.J. Penn). Assunção is entering his bout with Dillashaw having not fought since October 2014 and we have no way of knowing what kind of shape or fighting form he’ll display. Hendricks, in his prior fight against Stephen Thompson, appeared negatively aged both physically and as a fighter—or perhaps merely unevolved—but this could be entirely owed to the fact that he wasn’t able to mount much or any offense at all in response to Wonderboy’s own; I see Hendricks and Gastelum both opting for a characteristic wrestling-heavy approach with intentions to finish the other via ground and pound against the cage, and I expect Gastelum to prove the more powerful and conditioned fighter of the two.

Velasquez is a question-mark in a similar way to Assunção, but I have a feeling that Cain’s extended layoff (due to repeated injuries) has only made him more hungry to re-climb the heavyweight division and possibly therefore as dangerous as during his title reign. Velasquez is also more diverse and well-rounded than Browne, in my opinion, though Browne’s elbows could negate these gaps if Velasquez chooses to pressure Browne against the cage in clinch warfare or persists for a double leg takedown (as pointed out by analyst Dan Hardy). Browne’s height and reach advantage, though, seem less advantageous when one considers Velasquez’s wins over giants Antonio Silva (twice) and Ben Rothwell.

As much as I hate to say it, José Aldo’s UFC 194 thirteen-second loss to featherweight champion Conor Mcgregor may well have been a fulcrum of his fighting career. It is doubtful Aldo has been able to shirk that event from his mind enough during this training camp to truly focus on his imminent opponent, Frankie Edgar. Aldo has also given little if any acknowledgement, to my memory, of Edgar’s marked, almost mechanized evolution since their first fight and the momentum Edgar is riding with five straight wins—all of them in one way or another incendiary victories. It’s perhaps both the most conservative and most wise to expect a decision victory here regardless whose it is, but Edgar has been pining for the featherweight belt with such focused tenacity (and as mentioned, major fight-by-fight improvement) that I’m leaning towards a first or second (probably second) round finish of the great José Aldo.

Brock Lesnar vs. Mark Hunt is arguably the most intriguing match-up on the card specifically because it appears to be such a uniquely uncomplicated equation. Wrestler versus striker, style versus style. In my opinion, Lesnar’s takedowns are less of an insurance for him than Hunt’s hands are for Hunt. Lesnar has to not only get Hunt to the canvas, but keep him there either for the full fifteen minute duration of the fight or do enough damage with ground and pound that the ref calls the contest off. I don’t see Lesnar finishing Hunt no matter what volume he outputs from ground control; and if Hunt can land a clean punch with characteristic speed and power—by which I mean knockout power or its immediate prelude—I do not see Lesnar surviving any legitimate series of connections. Hunt’s takedown defense has also noticeably improved since his loss to now-heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, a fight Miocic won primarily through takedowns and wrestling dominance coupled with ground and pound. All this in view, Brock is perhaps the least predictable heavyweight to ever grace the UFC; anything could happen.

If there is any fight for which I am confident placing bets, it is Cormier vs. Silva (who is, as mentioned, Jones’s replacement). Silva is entering this bout in a weight class above the one he normally competes in against the champion of said division, with only two or three days preparation, little to no training due to recent gallbladder surgery and a lack of activity after his UFC 198 fight with Uriah Hall fell through as a result of that surgery. Cormier, who has survived devastating shots from Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Johnson, is unlikely to be put away by any of Anderson’s strikes (however versatile and efficiently cloaked), and the power difference between the two men will become apparent the moment Cormier gets ahold of Silva. Silva is commonly and rightly regarded as the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, but time has not been on his side for several years now, and it certainly isn’t here. He deserves unending respect and admiration for taking this fight, but this will likely be a test for which he has neither answers nor an escape plan.

Lastly we have Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes. Many are predicting that the course of this fight will be decided within one round: specifically, whether Nunes—who has four first round finishes in her UFC career alone—will be able to finish Tate before the end of the second round, where Nunes’s conditioning usually dives in a manner that Tate’s does not. If Nunes weren’t a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I would say that a submission victory (as per her rear-naked choke win in round five against Holly Holm) might be in the cards for Tate, but it may be the case that Tate’s best chance is in simply outworking Nunes until the final bell five rounds and twenty five minutes gone.

That’s UFC 200 pre. I’m prepared to be humbled in dramatic ways, as is the norm—even if I’m not in any sense ready. Jones or not, this is arguably the most impressive mixed martial arts card in history, and I will be back to share my takeaways once it is history. Until then, I plan to enjoy every harrowing, agonizing moment.

∏«Review»∏

To be posted July 10th

UFC 200 was a fine pay-per-view with several brilliant moments, but it was also an exclamation point on the ways in which an MMA card in sum mirrors its parts. Like any individual fight, a card—that is, a string of fights—is a suggestion and not a promise. Even its constants pre are susceptible to immediate erasures; Diego Sanchez has never been finished with strikes, and then, a minute and a half later, he is. For all the constants fighters seem to possess, the word “never” has perhaps never before been attributed to them so often in the past tense. And UFC 200 claimed some landmark never’s indeed: Amanda Nunes, for example, who is now the first openly gay champion in the history of the UFC.

The yellow octagon canvas was our first cosmological hint that this bicentennial would belie expectations. Speaking for myself, the mat, like the event at large, made a strange impression but one which improved with time. Chromatic gold, rather than sunflower/mustard, would have been more anniversarial—but so would have been Jon Jones. Had Jones competed on this card as originally planned, and defeated rival Daniel Cormier, he would have been the third fighter Saturday—after Jim Miller and Brock lesnar—to have earned victories on the UFC’s bicentennial and centennial before it. Sunflower yellow almost felt like UFC 200‘s compromise with the event it wasn’t, and not only for Jones’s absence.

As was the case with Fight Night Ottawa‘s headliner between Rory MacDonald and Stephen Thompson, 200 in part and sum was only a disappointment if one dared to presume (which is why I’m glad my now-marked fight predictions were estimations and not presumptions). No, there is no guarantee Sanchez won’t be finished standing, or Cormier and Silva will together thrill and awe (if there was a guarantee there, much to the crowd’s ignorance, it was the opposite—and blamelessly so given the circumstances.) If you went into Lesnar vs. Hunt expecting a finish, be it on the feet via Hunt or on the ground via Lesnar, you might have been disappointed; however, if Lesnar’s unanimous decision victory strikes you somehow unimpressive, you’re measuring the fight—no longer a hypothetical object—against its hypothetical alternate. Lesnar returning after nearly five years’ absence from competition and securing a dominant victory over a top-ten ranked heavyweight (Lesnar appropriating Hunt’s rank as a result) is a stunning, even nonpareil achievement.

Aldo’s dominance of Frankie Edgar was another, given the context. For the reasons touched on in my preview, Edgar’s victory seemed—as he phrased it himself at Friday’s weigh-ins—”written already.” Aldo’s performance, though, was the kind which would have marked one fancifully-naive-to-the-point-of-Seussian to voice beforehand: not only was he more dominant by several gradations than he’d been against a demonstrably less threatening, less evolved Edgar in 2013, but his conditioning going into the championship rounds had never been so impressive. By any other measure but highlight reel, this might have been one of the best performances of Scarface’s career; a career long considered the greatest of any featherweight. It was a beautiful redemption and an ideal springboard for a title-unifying rematch against Conor McGregor.

First round title upsets in main events of numbered UFC’s are now three for three following Stipe Miocic’s knockout of Fabrício Werdum at 198 and Michael Bisping’s knockout of Luke Rockhold at 199. “The Lioness” might as well have been equipped with claws opposite women’s bantamweight champion Miesha Tate on Saturday; Nunes’s striking was intelligent, precise and utterly brutal, breaking Tate’s nose after only a few exchanges between them. After she had dropped Tate to the canvas for a third time, Nunes easily took Tate’s back and secured a rear naked choke, not even needing to slide her forearm completely under Tate’s chin before the champion submitted. Whereas previous bantamweight champion Holly Holm (whom Tate defeated using the same hold) required distance to effectively land significant strikes on Tate, much of Nunes’s striking offence is delivered in the same close range that Tate requires to generate her own—and because Nunes is a decidedly more skilled striker than Tate (as is Holm) and at her most dangerous in the first round (with nine first-round finishes entering this fight), this was the storm Tate needed to weather in order to take the fight to later rounds, where Nunes has historically slowed down and Tate the opposite. With four champions and three title changes in the division in well under a year, it’s difficult to say what its future holds, but it’s unpredictability is starting to give the heavyweight division a run for its money.

As did Jon Jones give the UFC without actually earning any. But this night wasn’t about him even if its legacy, in no small part, was him. He is the reason, after all, that Cormier fought “The Spider”, and he—if only by virtue of rearranging, in absentia, the universe’s proximate atoms—may be the reason for Aldo, Lesnar and Nunes’s victories. For them, it was undoubtedly worth it. The rest of us, meanwhile, are left to contemplate a card of an unusual colour.

«40/50»

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