Later today, the UFC will return to New York, and host its first event in Long Island. Go figure, Long Island just so happens to be where former UFC Bantamweight champion Chris Weidman is from. As a result, despite having lost three straight bouts all via finish, he’s headlining the UFC’s first show there.
The main card has a very weird vibe to it. Even though all eight of the main card fighters are ranked, half them are guys that fans would not expect to be ranked. Weidman and Gastelum are a pair of guys that everyone knows are ranked, and same with Jimmie Rivera and Thomas Almeida. But Dennis Bermudez, Darren Elkins, Patrick Cummins and Gian Villante? Bermudez might not be a big surprise to too many, but the other three probably are.
Alas, as weird as this main card is, and despite the fact that only one of these guys has been on the main card of a FOX card before, it’s a slate that has potential to be quite fun and crazy. Each fight holds intrigue and matters, since every fighter on it is ranked.
It should be an insane slate, and here are my predictions for each of the four bouts on deck for tonight’s main card.
UFC on FOX 25 main card (8/7c, FOX)
(9) Thomas Almeida (22-1) vs. (4) Jimmie Rivera (20-1)
The main card opener is a pivotal bout in a Bantamweight division that’s got a lot going on within it. While champion Cody Garbrandt is out injured, the rest of the division is loaded with activity and fun bouts.
Rivera is a counter-striker and wrestler who’s 4-0 in the UFC, and believes he’s worthy of a title shot. He’s from New Jersey, so he’ll have the home field advantage here. Of his 20 wins, 14 are via decision. If he wins against Almeida, it will most likely be in a fight that goes the distance. If Almeida has his way though, this fight will end via knockout. After all, 17 of his wins, as well as his lone loss against Thomas Almeida last May, came via knockout. In all, 17 of his fights have ended within the opening round!
Sure, it may seem like all Rivera needs to do in order to win is escape the opening round. Yes, conventional wisdom points to him winning this fight. However, I can’t shake the feeling that Almeida will catch him. He’s very dangerous, and as skilled as Rivera is, I can’t avoid the gut feeling that Almeida will knock him out. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those “head pick vs. gut pick vs. heart pick” situations. I’m trusting my gut through and through here, and will pick Almeida to get the main card started off with a bang. Prediction: Almeida via tko, round 2.
(12) Patrick Cummins (9-4) vs. (13) Gian Villante (15-8)
The next bout is proof of how shallow the Light Heavyweight division has become outside of the top five, due to free agency amongst other things. The fact that Patrick Cummins, who’s lost three of his last five, and Gian Villante, who’s 5-5 in the UFC, are both ranked? Yuck!
As for the fight, both men are former collegiate wrestlers with knockout power. Cummins is the better wrestler, having been a two-time NCAA Division 1 All-American at Penn State while also making the US national team. He’s also one judge scoring his last fight against him from having lost three straight and likely being cut. Villante is much more experienced in MMA, having won more fights via knockout (10) than Cummins has total wins. He’s also very inconsistent, and while he has won three UFC Fight of the Night bonuses, he’s nearly impossible to trust.
So Cummins has the wrestling edge, Villante is fighting in his home state, Villante has more knockout power, but Cummins isn’t as untrustworthy. And neither should be ranked. Who knows, maybe this winds up being a fun and hopefully quick bout? If not, this could be a massive clunker. The best case scenario here, for the most parties, is Villante getting an emphatic knockout win. I’ll go with that pick, if for no other reason than it makes more sense and makes more people happy than all the other possible results. Prediction: Villante via tko, round 2.
(10) Dennis Bermudez (16-6) vs. (12) Darren Elkins (22-5)
Like the previous bout, this one also pits a pair of ranked wrestlers with finishing ability. Unlike Cummins and Villante, Bermudez and Elkins are in a much better division. Bermudez is from New York and trains out of Long Island MMA. The NCAA Division II and later Division I wrestler was the runner-up in TUF 14, but won seven straight bouts after losing the Finale bout against Diego Brandao. While Bermudez’s streak ended when he got submitted in the first round against Ricardo Lamas in November 2014, and he lost his next bout against Jeremy Stephens at UFC 189 via third round tko, Bermudez followed up with a pair of decision victories against Tetsuya Kawajiri and Rony Jason. After that, he got the task of welcoming Chan Sung Jung back to the UFC on Super Bowl eve 2017, and he got knocked out in the first round as a result. He’s still ranked and understandably so, but he needs a win here to have his ranking consist of any merit.
As for Elkins, the former collegiate wrestler has quietly racked up an impressive 12-4 record in the UFC. Perhaps that’s because nine of his previous ten wins had come via decision and most of the fights were on prelim cards, but everyone’s been focusing on him since his epic come from behind win over Mirsad Bektic at UFC 209 this past March. Even though nine of his 12 UFC wins have come via decision, Elkins actually has finished 11 of his 22 wins, including eight via knockout. If either man finishes this fight, it’s likely to be Elkins. In the end though, I believe Bermudez is better on the feet, and perhaps a bit better on the ground too. It really is a toss-up, but I’m going to have to go with Bermudez in this one, even if I don’t really want to. Prediction: Bermudez via decision.
(5) Chris Weidman (13-3) vs. (8) Kelvin Gastelum (13-2, 1 NC)
In the main event of the evening, Long Island’s own will headline the first UFC event in the borough’s history when he takes on former TUF winner Kelvin Gastelum. Weidman, a two-time NCAA All-American wrestler while at Hofstra University, comes home having lost three straight fights, all via finish. That said, all three losses came against elite opponents; Luke Rockhold, Yoel Romero and Gegard Mousasi. In other words, he lost to the three best Middleweights not named Robert Whitaker. So, while it’s important to note that he’s been finished three straight times, it’s also important to note that those fights were all against the very best, none of them were quick finishes, and Weidman wasn’t getting dominated in any of those fights. He was right in the thick of things each time, until he got finished.
The question is, is Kelvin Gastelum a top five Middleweight? He’s 8-2 with a no contest in the UFC, and he’s finished all three of his UFC Middleweight bouts. A lot of people seem to think he’ll dominate and finish Weidman. It makes sense to see why that’s the case. However, I don’t know why, but I don’t think he’ll win this one. It’s primarily a gut feeling. After all, Weidman was doing fine in all three of his losses, even though he did get knocked out in all three fights. Plus all three fights were against the best in the division! While I do believe Gastelum is worthy of his ranking, I don’t believe he’s as good as Weidman yet, nor do I believe Weidman is too chinny or over the hill. It’s just a gut feeling really, and maybe Gastelum really is top five material and will prove it tonight. I’m just not comfortable enough to pick Weidman to lose a fourth straight bout, this time at home, against someone who might not be a top five opponent just yet. Call me crazy, but I’m picking Weidman here. Prediction: Weidman via decision or late tko.