Three titles and UFC history are on the line Saturday at UFC 205 from Madison Square Garden.
In the main event, UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor takes on lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, while in the co-main event, Tyron Woodley puts his belt up against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. The strawweight title is also up for grabs on Saturday night, as Polish strikers Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Karolina Kowalkiewicz dude it out. And former champions Miesha Tate and Chris Weidman try to get back into title contention to round out the main card.
Let’s take a closer look at how some of these matchups might play out.
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Eddie Alvarez vs. Conor McGregor
UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor has a tough road ahead of him Saturday night as he tries to become the UFC’s first simultaneous two-weight champion. McGregor faces well-round lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez, who, like McGregor, has taken out some of the UFC’s best in his trek to the title. Alvarez is an exceptional boxer, with great head movement and footwork, and he’ll need every bit of those skills against the hard-hitting McGregor.
Alvarez will likely need to employ a mix of intelligent striking and his suffocating wrestling if he wants to come away with a win while McGregor will be happy to stand and trade with his opponent for however long the fight lasts.
McGregor holds the striking edge and Alvarez is the better grappler, so the outcome is really based on which fighter can control the pace and fight to their strengths.
Prediction: Eddie Alvarez by decision
Tyron Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson
In an exciting matchup of power vs. speed, welterweight champion Tyron Woodley defends his belt against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. Woodley hits like a truck, as evidenced by his blistering KO of former champ Robbie Lawler, and does a really good job of using his athleticism and quickness to close the distance and unload on his opponent.
That fact, coupled with his significant wrestling advantage, are pretty good reasons for “Wonderboy” to approach this fight with caution. Thompson should throw diverse strikes to keep Woodley off balance and try his damnedest to keep the fight standing.
Woodley has no problem standing and exchanging with anyone, but he should note that the only UFC fighter to beat Thompson, Matt Brown, did so by taking him down five times and dominating the fight from there. Outside that fight, Thompson has never been taken down inside the Octagon in his eight UFC wins.
If Woodley can put “Wonderboy” on his butt a few times and keep him there, he should be able to grind his way to a win. If he chooses to strike with Thompson, it could be an early night.
Prediction: Stephen Thompson by third-round TKO
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz
Two immensely talented undefeated strikers square off when Joanna Jedrzejczyk faces fellow Polish fighter Karolina Kowalkiewicz for the strawweight title.
Jedrzejczyk and Kowalkiewicz compete at a blistering pace, both landing around six strikes per minute and absolutely crushing the UFC average of 2.5. Where Joanna separates herself, however, is with her accuracy and striking defense. So far in her UFC career, she’s manages to landed 48 percent of her strikes while effectively dodging 67 percent of the strikes thrown her way.
Kowalkiewicz hasn’t been in the UFC long but has looked impressive in all three fights, most notably a hard-fought split decision win over dynamic striker Rose Namajunas at UFC 201.
On fight night, however, she’ll need to defend herself much better than she has in the past since this fight has the makings of a five-round stand-up war.
Prediction: Jedrzejczyk by decision
Chris Weidman vs. Yoel Romero
Two of the best wrestlers the middleweight division has to offer meet in a No. 1 contenders fight at UFC 205.
Weidman is fighting for the first time since losing the belt, and he’s got a tough challenge in the powerful Romero. To go with that crazy power that’s helped him earn five UFC KO/TKOs in seven fights, Romero has deadly accuracy and has seen his boxing improve of the years.
Weidman enters the fight with a two-inch height advantage, a massive five-inch reach advantage and a much more diverse striking skillset. He should use his jab to keep Romero at distance and lull him to sleep before uncorking his heavy, looping left hook and look to land knees when Romero goes for takedowns.
Saturday night won’t be an easy bout for either fighter. This is a true toss-up.
Prediction: Romero by decision
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Donald Cerrone
Betting against Donald Cerrone hasn’t been the best move lately, as the lightweight turned welterweight has won 11 of his last 12 fights.
Cerrone is a ferocious striker that loves to come forward and dictate the pace. Although he somehow absorbs upwards of 5 strikes per minute — double the UFC average — he’s done a great job of avoiding getting hit since moving to welterweight. At 170-pounds, Cerrone has only absorbed 77 significant strikes over three fights, while exhibiting a clear speed advantage despite the added weight.
One thing he’s struggled with though, are hard-hitting southpaws and Gastelum will definitely try to gauge what adjustments Cerrone has made in that area. Gastelum’s coach at Kings MMA, Rafael Cordeiro has twice successfully game planned against Cerrone and clearly has a good feel for Cerrone’s weaknesses. Whether Gastelum can carry it out is the real question.
Prediction: Cerrone by decision
Miesha Tate vs. Raquel Pennington
Former women’s bantamweight champion Miesha Tate looks to get back into the win column Saturday night against Raquel Pennington.
Tate is the better, more experienced fighter, here, but “Rocky” does present some challenges for “Cupcake”. Pennington has a good ground to go with powerful striking and is a really tough fighter who will push forward regardless of circumstance.