2016 has been a hell of a year for the UFC, despite the spectacular failure that was UFC 200. Titles have changed hands, we've seen some incredible fights and we're still expecting more with the imminent return of Ronda Rousey in December. Here's a look at the main card fights for the first UFC event in New York City, and what we might expect.
Two weight champion - Eddie Alvarez (c) vs Conor McGregor
It's been known for quite some time that Conor McGregor wants to make history this weekend when he takes on Eddie Alvarez for the UFC lightweight title. Conor has come off the back of two mega fights with Nate Diaz, a decision win and a submission loss. Despite the loss, he still possesses an impressive 20-3 record, and a deadly left hand. He'll be looking to cap off a whirlwind 2016 with two UFC belts on his shoulders.
Eddie Alvarez, on the other hand, doesn't take Conor seriously. Nate exposed a few of Conor's flaws in their first clash, and no doubt Eddie is aiming to capitalise on these flaws and retain his newly found championship. Fans will be expecting Eddie to utilise his well rounded approach and cardio to his advantage and spoil Conor's attempt at history. Both fighters are arguably at their peak, I can't make a definite prediction, just a hopeful one.
Prediction: Conor McGregor, TKO round 3
New kids on the block - Tyron Woodley (c) vs Stephen Thompson
Back when Tyron Woodley got his first UFC title shot, a lot of people, myself included, naturally assumed that Robbie Lawler would retain his title. Stephen Thompson, the newest number 1 contender at welterweigh, had said he'd love to fight Lawler in New York, not giving a second thought to Tyron Woodley. We were dead wrong.
Tyron Woodley surprised us in one of the upsets of the year when he took out Lawler and won his first career championship. A lightening fast right hand stunned the former champ and came with such accuracy that even I was in shock. His power combined with his speed will be a major concern for Thompson. Woodley suggested that Wonderboy is a better points fighter, which is very typical of someone with a karate background.
Stephen "The Wonderboy" Thompson has wowed many critics and fans in his short UFC career, notching up a 7-1 record in the last 4 years. His fluidity and athleticism is definitely impressive, and his interchange between headkicks and punches is second to none.
Prediction: Tyron Woodley, KO round 2
Familiar foes face off - Joanna Jedrzejczyk (c) vs Karolina Kowalkiewicz
Joanna "Champion", as she now calls herself, has firmly cemented herself at the top of the growing strawweight division. Her kick boxing and muay thai are her biggest strengths, showing off her devastating striking again and again. Without a doubt she'll unleash her front kick to really stamp her authority, and quite frankly has to be one of my favourite kicks in MMA. The Polish striker has stated she wants to retire as an undefeated champion, and is already well on her way to becoming a UFC legend.
Her opponent Karolina Kowalkiewicz, while new to the UFC, is no stranger to the fight game. Since her pro career started in 2012, Karolina also boasts a perfect 10-0 professional record and wants to avenge her amateur loss to her compatriot back in 2012. While their styles are somewhat similar, Karolina's ferocity will be the deciding factor. If she can challenge the champ and maintain the same ferocity throughout the fight, should it go to 5 rounds, she may have a chance.
Still going for the champ on this one, though an upset would be fantastic to see.
Prediction: Joanna Jedrzejczyk, submission round 4
Vying for a title shot - Chris Weidman vs Yoel Romero
The middleweight division has to be one of the most closely contested weight classes of the UFC at the moment. The former champion Chris Weidman has been on the comeback trail since his loss to Luke Rockhold, and is determined to show the division he isn't done. No way Jose.
We all know what Weidman is capable of. His fitness is fantastic and wrestling ability he's shown off before. Weidman has dispatched some legendary fighters in his last few fight. This is his first fight since December of last year, and it will be good to see if he's able to keep up with the elite.
For Yoel Romero, this fight against Weidman should catapult him into title contention. In most of his UFC fights he has finished his opponents in predatory fashion. He bides his time, fights well in the stand up and on the ground, but has the power and size to knock someone's lights out. He's probably one of the most physically intimidating fighters that Weidman will have faced in his career. How does Weidman prepare for this freight train? No clue.
Prediction: Yoel Romero, KO round 3
Welterweight warriors - Donald Cerrone vs Kelvin Gastelum
UPDATE: Since the publishing of this article, Kelvin Gastelum came out the morning of the weigh in and announced that as a result of missing weight he would not be able to fight Donald Cerrone at UFC 205. Due to the unforeseen circumstance, the UFC ultimately had to pull the plug as this announcement came on the deadline of the weigh ins, making it impossible to find a late notice opponent for "Cowboy" Cerrone.
I will not be fighting @Cowboycerrone 2morrow on account that I couldn't make the wght limit. I apologize 2 cowboy ure a legend. God bless.— #OnAmission4Gold (@KelvinGastelum) November 11, 2016
Can't say I'm surprised at all, as he's been known to miss weight. It's apparent that he was unprepared and will miss weight by a considerable margin, making the fight redundant. Understandably, Donald Cerrone is pissed, and quite rightly so. Had Gastelum admitted he was unable to make the limit, Cerrone might still be fighting a last minute opponent this weekend.
Whatever the case, both Gastelum and the UFC will need to reevaluate the situation. Whether he will remain with the organisation is yet to be seen, but from a career perspective, some major changes are needed for Gastelum to continue to attempt being a welterweight fighter. He may have to move up to middleweight.
Whatever happens, you'll hear it here first.
ORIGINAL POST: I can't say I've been a Gastelum fan, but that doesn't mean he's unsuccessful. The Ultimate Fighter winner has jumped between two divisions since his UFC debut, building a 6-2 record. Despite missing weight on a few occasions, he's a tough dude. Currently ranked 5th in the division (I'll be honest, no idea how) he'll be testing himself again at welterweight. Making weight is key, but being able to perform consistently at welterweight will be what propels him forward.
Now on the other hand, Donald Cerrone is just having fun fighting. He is one of the most lax guys you'll ever see leading up to a fight. Does what he wants, trains when he wants, and will have a beer whenever he sees fit. He's probably one of my favourite fighters, given his killer 31-7 record and such well rounded ability. It's a shame he wasn't successful at his lightweight title shot last December, but he's quickly making his presence known among the welterweights. A win here should see him rise up into the top contenders of the division.
Prediction: Donald Cerrone, submission round 2
Bantamweight hopefuls - Miesha Tate vs Raquel Pennington
Well well well, this is a quick turn around for Miesha. Since losing the title to Amanda Nunes at UFC 200 she has jumped at the first chance to fight, marking her 3rd bout for the year. Miesha fights with heart, taking punches, getting knocked down, but refuses to back down. And it's a credit to her as an athlete and as a person. She's ferocious and wants to get back into title contention as soon as possible.
For the 8th ranked Pennington, this is a great opportunity to start making a climb towards the top. Currently riding a 3 fight win streak, Pennington will need a strong performance against Miesha to give her a chance at another highly ranked contender. While I think this might be a bit out of Pennington's league, this year has been one for upsets so I wouldn't be (too) surprised should she be able to get a good result.
Prediction: Miesha Tate, decision