The UFC’s year-end event is already one of the most controversial fight cards of the year before a single punch has been thrown but, despite the furore surrounding the late change of venue, a night of terrific fights is expected.
Jon Jones vs Alexander Gustafsson
At Thursday’s UFC 232 press conference, former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones cemented his position as the sport’s most controversial figure. Jones, you will recall, has had a chequered history with the sport’s drug-testing authorities and the resulting bans handed down (as well as other outside-of-the-cage infractions) have restricted ‘Bones’ to just a handful of Octagon appearances in recent years.
On Saturday, though, the best light heavyweight fighter in history returns to his stomping ground to rematch the fighter who gave him the toughest test of his career. Alexander Gustafsson, the 6ft 5in Swede, is the only fighter in the division with measurables close to that of Jones – something which flummoxed Jones throughout their five-round classic back in 2013.
In their first meeting, Gustafsson became the first fighter to take Jones to the canvas in his professional career as well as landing several strikes from distance – usually an area of the fight owned by Jones due to his near 85in reach.
If Gustafsson was the fighter who had to prove he belonged in the upper reaches of the light heavyweight division, this time around Jones finds himself in the position as the fighter who has something to prove. A cloud hangs over the former champ, a result of an abnormality in his drug testing which forced the UFC to switch the venue from Las Vegas to California on a week’s notice.
If Jones is to reach the summit of the 205lb division once more, he will only do so by defeating an opponent who appears certain that he has the answer to any question that Jones poses. But to clear the cloud of suspicion that currently hangs over his head? Well, that may take a little longer to dissipate.
Cris Cyborg vs Amanda Nunes
Throughout her entire career, UFC women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg has appeared devoid of proper competition. The vicious Brazilian striker has scythed through every opponent placed in front of her dating back to her only loss in her debut fight, back in 2005.
Throughout her five-fight tenure so far, UFC matchmakers have scoured the world for opponents. Former bantamweight champ and Ronda Rousey conqueror Holly Holm was dispatched, as were an array of contenders imported from the all-female fight league Invicta but more recently one name has stood out above all others: current UFC bantamweight queen Amanda Nunes.
‘Lionheart’ has been in outstanding form lately, beating the likes of Holm, Ronda Rousey, Valentina Shevchenko (twice) and Miesha Tate in recent fights and will move up to the 145lb division to challenge Cyborg in an attempt to join the UFC’s exclusive ‘champ champ’ club, in a fight pitting the world’s two most outstanding female fighters against each other.
Both fighters favor a crowd-pleasing style of all-out attack and, should one fighter dominate the other, it will be hard to dismiss the notion that we are looking at the best female mixed martial artist of all time.
Carlos Condit vs Michael Chiesa
Condit, the former WEC and UFC (interim) welterweight champion, appears to be inching towards the tail-end of his career. Having suffered four losses on the trot, a fifth would almost certainly signify the end of his UFC career – and possibly his status as a professional mixed martial artist.
Michael Chiesa, meanwhile, enters the fight in the midst of a career crossroads too. His last two fights have ended in losses to Kevin Lee and Anthony Pettis, experiences which proved to be the impetus for Chiesa moving up a division to 170lbs after determining that the weight-cut he underwent to make 155lbs was having a negative impact on his performances.
It is an interesting stylistic match-up. Both fighters are excellent ground technicians, while neither often appears willing to cede any momentum on the feet. This is a recipe for an exciting contest in which neither fighter can afford to even contemplate losing.
Petr Yan vs Douglas Silva de Andrade
ACB veteran Yan is the latest fighter to emerge from the apparently unending conveyor belt of new talent to emerge from Russia in recent years. Incredibly well-rounded, Yan has won his first two UFC bouts with relative ease but will face a step up in competition when he faces the 25-2 (1) Brazilian knockout artist Douglas Silva de Andrade.
Yan’s fights are defined by his technical prowess in practically any situation that presents itself in a fight. Excellent on the feet, Yan’s defensive grappling also ensures that he has a big say in where the fight takes place. It is on the feet, though, where he really shines but, with de Andrade, this idea will be tested like it never has before.
While de Andrade has stumbled somewhat in the UFC so far, notably losing to Zubaira Tukhugov, his record 19 knockouts in his 25 wins will mean that Yan must be flawless on the feet to avoid being the 20th professional fighter to be rendered unconscious by the dangerous Brazilian.
B.J. Penn vs Ryan Hall
At one point in time, B.J. Penn was considered by many to be the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter. The former UFC lightweight champion looked practically unbeatable during his heyday a decade ago but since then he has appeared anything but.
Despite losing his last five fights Penn has so far resisted the idea of retirement but, at 40-years-old, it remains to be seen how long he can dodge father time. Recent losses to Yair Rodriguez and Frankie Edgar proved that Penn’s time as a top level fighter is over but, this time ’round, the Hawaiian draws an opponent much more compatible, on paper at least.
Ryan Hall, like Penn, is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu phenom but has never quite mastered the art of fighting on the feet, preferring instead to manufacture situations which will bring the fight to the ground. Penn is a far better boxer, though Hall is often unwilling to commit to his strikes instead spamming his opponent with a variety of high kicks from distance.
This is a good match-up for Penn, though a dangerous one in the sense that another poor performance will likely mean the end for one of the sport’s most beloved fighters.
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