The big fight pub atmosphere was alive and well on Sunday with a buzz I haven’t experienced in some time.
Welcome to the first edition of what I hope will become a staple of the avid MMA fan’s content digest.
One one hand, 238 is a strange point in pay-per-view chronology to start with but, on the other, there’s no time like the present. Let’s dive in.
From my humble perspective, UFC 238 represents the ideal adrenaline injection to what has been a month of unmet expectations for the world’s largest distributor of mixed martial arts.
At UFC 237 in Brazil, we saw childhood heroes slain by the unimpeded march of Father Time rather than any sort of combination or grappling display, as well as the majority of hometown heroes be vanquished, which tempered the vivacious Rio crowd up until the main event.
If that wasn’t enough, last week we saw two longstanding light-heavyweight favourites abandon the ever-congesting mountain climb to Mt. Bones, in beloved Swede, Alexander Gustafsson and English KO artisan, Jimi Manuwa. Rest in power, you both will be missed.
Despite my pessimistic outlook of the past month or so, I share the broader community’s sentiments of palpable excitement for 238. This card is laden with numerous intriguing match-ups with vast implications across various divisions, I have chosen my favourites to be analysed with the pillars of structure that will become synonymous with this column moving forward.
The Fort Knox Fracas: Tatiana Suarez vs Nina Ansaroff
I’m sure you’re all aware of the reference and the associated meaning here. This card’s a sure thing, with TUF 23 winner Suarez facing off against perennial strawweight fixture, Ansaroff.
While some credit is due to the underdog, coming in with a four-fight win-streak, Suarez has looked destined for higher honours for quite some time now, with five finishes on her unblemished UFC record, including most recently a third-round TKO against former champ, Carla Esparza.
This bout slightly edged out Shevchenko vs Eye as my lock for Sunday, with Suarez’ finishing capabilities, prime fighting age, and aesthetically inviting undefeated record being too hard to overlook. I suspect that, after an initial arm wrestle in which Ansaroff’s experience will be on evident, Suarez’ well-rounded game will lead to a prompt finish inside two rounds.
Footnote: I can’t think of a worst possible start to this column than my supposed sure-thing serving up an egg, sunny-side up preferably, to the centre of my face, burying my fledgling credibility. That’s the price I’m willing to pay, I guess.
The Pandora’s Box Brawl: Aljamain Sterling vs Pedro Munhoz
This section is designed to typify the unpredictable and intriguing nature of mixed martial arts, as the chosen fight is not only nigh on impossible to confidently predict but will also have an illuminating effect on its division.
This could have been easily been occupied by Ferguson and Cowboy (don’t worry we aren’t done there), but I settled on this bantamweight clash given the haphazard state of that division.
What makes this fight so intriguing is the parallels between both its combatants, they enter with similar records, Sterling at 17-3-0 and Munhoz with the slight upper-hand at 18-3-0, identical form lines (W-L-W-W-W), and both are fresh off wins over dominant division figures, Jimmie Rivera for Sterling and Cody Garbrandt for Munhoz.
It can be expected that, given the respective rankings of each fighter (Sterling No.3 and Munhoz No.4), the winner will be strongly considered for a title shot against the freshly minted champion, bringing much needed structure to the division following the unceremonious exit of T.J Dillashaw.
My armchair expertise has the ever-improving striking and 15cm reach being the instigator in a win and potential title-shot for the Funkmaster.
The Popcorn Punch-Up: Tony Ferguson vs Donald Cerrone
This final section is dedicated to the fight to set alarms for, the eye-catching clash of styles set to bring the discussed card to life and into the annals of MMA history. In the case of 238, it was a relatively simple pick, as you’d be hard-pressed to find a more mouth-watering match-up this year, than these two lightweight phenoms.
After a mixed foray at welterweight, Cowboy has returned to his most commonly habituated division with two impressive victories, an authoritative head-kick TKO of prospect Alex Hernandez and near-flawless five round exhibition against Al Iaquinta, that validated his supposedly streamlined focus following the birth of his child.
Ferguson’s resume speaks for itself, with misfortune being his only obstacle in establishing himself as the standard-bearer of the lightweight division (that god-damn wire), constantly honing his entertaining and auspicious style to build an 11-fight win-streak. However, after gruelling injuries and well-documented personal issues, there is a justifiable amount of doubt hanging over this match-up in relation to Ferguson, that likely wouldn’t have been present a few years prior.
Despite many pundits preferring to side with the ever-consistent Cerrone – already in his third fight this year – over the long-absent Ferguson, unseen since his fight of the year with Anthony Pettis, you’d have to be a stunningly brave man to bet against El Cucuy.
Ferguson to bounce back with an emphatic, division-shifting statement. That being said, I’m expecting nothing less than a FOTY contender that will justify its status as the “People’s Main Event”.
The Parting Glass
My final thoughts and opinions to consider, not everyone can shine in the limelight.
Here’s hoping Aussie brawler Tai Tuivasa can return to form against Russian grappler Blagoy Ivanov. A tough skill match-up for him given his lack of ground game that was evident in his one and only loss to Junior Dos Santos. Shoey’s at the ready here.
I suspect that Petr Yan could be the most impressive prospect in the influx of high-quality Russian talent, at 26 with only one loss via split decision on his 12-1 record. His clash against Jimmie Rivera is positioned above Sterling/Munhoz on the card, illustrating the internal views on Yan, expect him to power forward with characteristic contempt for his opponent.
If Henry Cejudo loses to Marlon Moraes, as I believe he likely will, I pray for him to reconsider the public persona he is attempting to cultivate. My lord was that face-off hard to watch, leave the props at home Carrot Top.
Until next time…