Fight Night Picks: UFC 215 – Nunes vs Shevchenko
The UFC’s latest pay-per-view event sees the octagon land in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with a mouth-watering title fight and a card packed with entertaining matchups.
A change in the main event
Saturday night was supposed to be all about Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson and his quest for a UFC record 11th successive title defense. But last night UFC medical officials pulled his opponent Ray Borg from the contest due to a viral infection.
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We’d expressed concerns earlier this week on this very blog about Borg’s failure to make weight twice in his last four outings, and it seems illness has prevented him from improving on his record on the scale this week.
It means UFC 215 now has a new main event, and if we’re being honest it’s a more competitive, even more enticing clash than its predecessor.
“Bullet” to fire her way to the title
I think we might see a title change in the night’s new main event, as defending bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes takes on Valentina Shevchenko in a hotly-anticipated rematch.
Nunes is incredibly dangerous and powerful in the early rounds (just ask Ronda Rousey), but Shevchenko’s performance in the first contest suggested she has the striking smarts to hang with "The Lioness" and the gas tank to outlast her over a longer course.
I watched their first fight from octagonside at UFC 196 as Nunes took the unanimous decision win, but by the end of the second round, all the momentum was with Shevchenko. In a five-round contest, I think "Bullet" may have enough ammo to not just outpoint the champion, but potentially finish her in the championship rounds.
Nunes is the bigger, more powerful athlete, but Shevchenko is battle-tested from a decorated career in kickboxing, has already gone the distance with Nunes and is the better technical striker of the two. That, combined with a superior gas tank, should see her through to victory – and a world championship belt.
The Man from Down Under
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Light heavyweight prospect Tyson Pedro has an instantly memorable name, and he has a fighting style to match. The Australian is a relative newcomer to the sport, having only fought six times so far in his fledgling MMA career, but he’s running a perfect 6-0 record, with all six wins coming inside the distance.
He followed up a knockout in his debut with a run of four straight submission finishes, then scored his second career knockout when he finished Scotland’s Paul Craig at UFC 209 in July.
On Saturday he takes on Swedish man-mountain Ilir Latifi, who was on a great run of form himself until a huge knee from Ryan Bader saw his momentum hit the buffers in Hamburg last November.
Latifi may have the experience advantage, but Pedro looks like a potential star at 205lbs and he’s my pick to win it, most likely by stoppage.
Other selected picks
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Former UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos is looking to position himself for a shot at the 170lb title having moved up to welterweight this year, but I have a feeling Neil Magny‘s athleticism, wrestling and reach advantage might be enough to spring something of an upset in their main card bout.
And Olympic gold medallist Henry Cejudo should be a solid bet to win the battle of former flyweight title challengers against Brazilian Wilson Reis. Cejudo’s striking and wrestling should give him a noticeable advantage over the jiu jitsu ace and, provided he takes care not to expose his neck and give up a guillotine choke while shooting for a takedown, "The Messenger" should take the W.
UFC 215: Nunes v Shevchenko – Fight Card
Predicted winners highlighted in green
|Amanda Nunes||Valentina Shevchenko||UFC women’s bantamweight title|
|Neil Magny||Rafael dos Anjos||Welterweight bout|
|Henry Cejudo||Wilson Reis||Flyweight bout|
|Ilir Latifi||Tyson Pedro||Light-heavyweight bout|
|Jeremy Stephens||Gilbert Melendez||Featherweight bout|
|Sara McMann||Ketlen Vieira||Women’s bantamweight bout|
|Sara Moras||Ashlee Evans-Smith||Women’s bantamweight bout|
|Gavin Tucker||Rick Glenn||Featherweight bout|
|Mitch Clarke||Alex White||Lightweight bout|
UFC Fight Pass Prelims
|Luis Henrique||Arjan Bhullar||Heavyweight bout|
|Kajan Johnson||Adriano Martins||Lightweight bout|
[Photo Credit: © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports]