UFC 201 main card preview and predictions

Robbie Lawler defending his title. Rose Namajunas. Matt Brown. A fun bantamweight tilt. A Flyweight bout that promises to be a barnburner.

On paper, the above names make this PPV one that would seem to be must-watch. Sadly, it still has the feel of a “throwaway” PPV sandwiched between the massive UFC 200 and 202 cards. I have faith that the main card will be a fun one, and hopefully, it is.

 

Main card (10/9c, PPV)

Ryan Benoit (8-4) vs. Fredy Serrano (3-0)

For the love of God, why is this fight on the PPV portion, and not Ed Herman vs. Nikita Krylov? The latter is guaranteed to be a barnburner, and features one of the most underrated and electrifying fighters in the UFC today. Meanwhile, this was initially a Fight Pass bout that got promoted after Justin Scoggins’ failed weight cut forced him out of a pivotal fight against Ian McCall.

This fight should be fun too, as has won seven of his eight victories via knockout, while Serrano is an unbeaten freestyle wrestler with every fight ending early. However, one of those was via injury. As for Benoit, he’s 1-2 inside the octagon, and might be fighting for his job here. Serrano is the better wrestler, but due to desperation from Benoit’s side, I expect Benoit to shock everybody and pull off another knockout. Prediction: Benoit via knockout, round 2. 

Francisco Rivera (11-6, 1NC) vs Erik Perez (15-6)

The second fight of a PPV tends to have the least ramifications of any of the fights on the PPV slate, but should still be a fun bout. Well, that’s the exact scenario here. Both men bring it, with Rivera prevailing eight times via knockout in eleven wins, while Perez has finished eleven of his fifteen victims. Perez, once thought to be the potential face of Mexican MMA, is 5-2 inside the octagon, and a win for him will possibly land him a top 10 opponent. As for Rivera, the Californian has lost four of five, and a loss will likely result in his release. I want to pick Rivera, but my head won’t let me do it. Prediction: Perez via decision. 

(9) Matt Brown (20-14) vs. Jake Ellenberger (30-11)

This fight is depressing. A few years ago, it would’ve been a barnburner. Now, these two personal and fan favorites have lost a combined eight of their last ten fights, with Ellenberger having lost five of six. A loss for the latter will surely result in his termination from the UFC, so if he wants to win, he’ll have to grind his way to a decision. I’d love if he won, but I don’t want to see him win that way. I just want him to win his old school way, which is via knockout. He does have six submission wins, and Brown has a whopping 10 submission losses, so maybe Ellenberger can win that way? Sadly, I don’t see it happening, and I foresee a predictable execution in the middle of the PPV tonight. Prediction: Brown via brutal knockout, round 1. 

(3) Rose Namajunas (5-2) vs. (5) Karolina Kowalkiewicz (9-0)

Initially booked as a mid-card bout on the PPV slate the women claimed the co-main slot after longtime UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrius Johnson sustained an injury, and therefore had to bow out of his championship defense against WIlson Reis. Oddly enough, this fight is much more anticipated than that one was, as it pits two of the top women in the Women’s Strawweight division. This fight may or may not be a title eliminator, and if the winner prevails in emphatic fashion, her next fight may just be a championship fight against Joanna Jedrczejczyk.

The bigger name on the matchup is obviously Namajunas. A black belt in Karate and Taekwondo, the 24 year-old TUF: 20 runner-up has won fights via rear-naked choke, standing rear-naked choke, as well as a timeless flying armbar over Kathina Catron in Invicta back in 2013, which every MMA fan should go check out. She’s won four fights via submission, is 3-0 since losing the TUF: 20 Finale against former Invicta Strawweight Champion Carla Esparza, and a win over a formidable foe in Kowalkiewicz will take her a long way towards another title shot.

Kowalkiewicz is much less known than Namajunas is, but is possibly better. She’s nowhere near the risk-taker that Thug Rose is, having won six of her nine fights via decision. But, she definitely has what it takes to contend in this fight, as well as this division. My head tells me that she can, and likely will win. But, my heart and gut disagree, and while I’m a big fan of both women, I hope that Namajunas wins a thriller tonight. Prediction: Namajunas via submission, late round 2. 

 

UFC Welterweight Championship: 

(c) Robbie Lawler (27-10, 1NC) vs. (4) Tyron Woodley (15-3)

In the main event of the evening, one of the most exciting fighters in MMA today will defend his title against a challenger who may win, but doesn’t deserve a championship shot yet.

That’s because Woodley’s best win since “beating” Carlos Condit when Condit succumbed to an injury, came against an overweight Kelvin Gastelim via split decision in January 2015. Since then, Woodley hasn’t fought. Stephen Thompson, Demian Maia, Carlos Condit, and even Rory MacDonald deserve the shot more than he does. He does have a chance though, with his wrestling ability, and a powerful jab to boot.

That said, a lot of people are worried Lawler might lose tonight. He’s won his last several fights due to late-fight heroics, but took a lot of damage in them. He’s fought 37 times already, and a loss for him won’t surprise me. But, he’s got excellent takedown defense, a good chin, and steely resolve. His only knockout loss came against Nick Diaz back in 2004, and has a terrific gas tank to counter Woodley. I understand people being worried that he might lose, but I’m not going to bet on him actually falling. Prediction: Lawler via tko, round 4. 

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