It’s been 16 days since the last UFC fight card. However tonight, from Phoenix, Arizona, the UFC will be kicking off its 2017 schedule with a Sunday night Fight Night card.
The idea was that just like last year, the UFC would hold a card on a Sunday night during the NFL postseason. That way, there would be two NFL Playoff games during the day, and fans could cap off an action-packed day with a set of UFC bouts. However, since the Pittsburgh/Kansas City game got moved to primetime due to safety precautions, the card will be going head-to-head with the game, thus likely ravaging the ratings for the card.
The prelim card isn’t much to write home about, but the main card should be solid at least. In the main event, rising Mexican prospect Yair Rodriguez will take on MMA legend BJ Penn, who’s returning after two and a half years away from the sport. The co-main pits entertaining grapplers Joe Lauzon and Marcin Held, which will be preceded with the return of always exciting Ben Saunders. Rhe four-fight main card slate should be fun, and here are my predictions for it.
Main Card (9/8c, FS1)
Sergio Pettis (14-2) vs. (8) John Moraga (16-5)
The main card opener is a Flyweight tilt that’d sure to be exciting. Both fighters are fast-paced, and both need the win. Moraga began his career 13-1, earning a surprising title shot against champion Demetrius Johnson in July 2013. Moraga got dominated and eventually was submitted in the final round, and has gone 3-3 since. That’s not bad by any means, but he’s lost two straight, and a loss tonight could result in a possible release.
As for Pettis, Anthony’s younger brother is 5-2 inside the octagon, with all five of his UFC wins coming via decision, and both losses coming via finish. He’s won eight fights total via decision, and also has three knockout and submission wins apiece. Even though he’s been submitted before, and is facing an opponent who has eight wins in that fashion, I see Pettis avoiding falling into traps and winning a fun fight via decision. Prediction: Pettis via decision.
Court McGee (18-5)vs. Ben Saunders (20-7-2)
The next fight pits the always entertaining Ben Saunders against former TUF winner Court McGee. McGee made his UFC debut back in June 2010 as a replacement for the TUF 11 Finale. He defeated Chris McCray via submission to become the TUF 11 winner, then won his next two bouts, and upped his professional record to 14-1. He has since gone 4-4, with each win, as well as three of the losses, coming via decision.
Meanwhile, Saunders is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with nine knockout and seven submission wins. The former TUF contestant and Bellator standout is 3-1 since returning to the UFC, and after a fight away from the octagon, in which he submitted former UFC fighter Jacob Volkmann in just 17 seconds, Saunders looks to continue full speed ahead with a win tonight.
Jonestly, McGee can win this fight. Hell have to make it uglee, but he can win. Sadly for him, Saunders has an insane rubber guard, submission skills and knockout power. Someway, Saunders will likely find a way to finish, and I’ll say it’ll come via second round submission. Prediction: Saunders via submission, round 2.
Joe Lauzon (26-12) vs. Marcin Held (22-5)
In the co-main event of the evening, a pair of entertaining grapplers will take the stage. Lauzon has been in the UFC since 2006, amassing a 13-9 record with the promotion and 13 postfight bonuses. He’s won 25 of his 26 victories via stoppage, including 18 submissions. He has split his last six bouts though, so if he loses tonight, it’ll be his second straight and third loss in four bouts.
As for Held, the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt has 12 submission wins, including six wins via kneebar, toe hold or heel hook. That said, the former Bellator star is basically a younger and less skilled Lauzon. Can he win? Yes. Will he win? I’m not sure, but I’m not picking him. Prediction: Lauzon via submission, round 3.
BJ Penn (16-10-2)vs. (10) Yair Rodriguez (9-1)
In the main event of the evening, former UFC Lightweight champion BJ Penn will return for the first time since an embarrassing July 2014 loss to Frankie Edgar at the TUF 19 Finale, in which he practically danced like a gazelle all fight long. He’s a legend, with unforgettable wins over Kenny Florian, Matt Hughes twice, Diego Sanchez, Sean Sherk and others, but his only win since 2009 was a 21-second knockout over aging legend Matt Hughes in late 2010. He’s 0-3-1 since then, and now 38 – years old. Sure, he’s being coached by the great Greg Jackson, but it’s hard to expect him to win here.
Rodriguez is unbeaten in the UFC, and while four of his five wins inside the octagon have come via decision, he does have a pair of knockout and submission wins apiece, including an epic flying headkick against Andre Fili last April. Whether he takes this fight the distance or ends it early, I see him winning. I hope it’s a good fight, but I’m predicting Rodriguez to win within three roubds. I hope I’m wrong, but I sadly doubt I will be. Prediction: Rodriguez via tko, round 3.