Fight-day is finally upon us and with that in mind, here are a selection of my official predictions ahead of what should be one of the year’s finest mixed martial arts events.
Corey Anderson vs. Johnny Walker
Oh, how this fight would have fit perfectly on the main-card! A pair of budding contenders in a division that has been lacking in electricity in recent years, either Anderson and Walker will likely find themselves in pole position to challenge Jon Jones if they can get their hand raised.
It’s the experience and wrestling of Anderson against the ridiculous finishing ability of Walker in a matchup that is much harder to call than most realise.
I feel as though whoever can impose their game on the other first will have a field-day with this one and from looking at the Brazilian’s recent form and Corey’s somewhat questionable chin, I’m willing to bet that we have a young, exciting, new top contender on our hands when all is said and done.
Expect Walker’s unpredictability to serve as the perfect counter to Anderson’s more orthodox approach on the feet.
Likelihood: Anderson 45%, Walker 55%
Prediction: Walker by first-round KO
Kevin Lee vs. Gregor Gillespie
I’m honestly not thrilled with this fight for Kevin Lee. Although defeated by a formidable test in his welterweight debut, the problems that presented themselves in his loss to Rafael dos Anjos would in my eyes be better remedied by time spent growing into his new home.
The Motown Phenom’s cut to 155lbs is a huge one and given his phenomenal athleticism and gargantuan reach, a long-term trip to welterweight was the perfect move.
In lightweight contender Gregor Gillespie, we have one of the most underrated talents in the sport, a force of nature that has strayed outside of pure excellence in only the briefest of moments.
This guy is championship-level already and based on what I have seen of him so far, I reckon he has what it takes to either catch Lee on the feet or control the fight on the ground, eventually leading him to a choke on the diminished Kevin Lee in the second as a result of his blistering pace.
Likelihood: Lee 37%, Gillespie 63%
Prediction: Gillespie by second-round submission
Derrick Lewis vs. Blagoy Ivanov
I have mixed feelings about this fight. On one hand, I believe that the UFC are wasting an opportunity to draw attention to a future 205lb contender by leaving Anderson/Walker on the prelims.
On the other, I’m always excited by the possibility of seeing a dramatic Derrick Lewis knockout.
Whether you’re put off by his noticeable lack of finesse or not, there’s no denying that The Black Beast’s heart and ability to persevere is incredible.
In Blagoy Ivanov, though, he’s going to come up against a fighter who is sufficiently superior on a technical level to the point that I can see him shutting down Lewis with little difficulty.
Anything can happen, for sure, but I think time has not been kind to Derrick Lewis physically and I believe that this fight will stand as a major setback to his career aspirations.
Likelihood: Lewis 41%, Ivanov 59%
Prediction: Ivanov by unanimous decision
Stephen Thompson vs. Vicente Luque
People need to stop sleeping on Wonderboy. I’m not saying he is the perfect fighter by any stretch, but over the course of the last two or three years, he has been matched up for some of the oddest fights we’ve seen in recent memory.
A slow and calculated approach is for sure the best route towards defeating this famed kickboxer but in Vicente Luque, we have a guy whose penchant for a war, though impressive, will likely be his undoing.
I really do enjoy Luque as a fighter and by the time next year is out, I would not be surprised in the slightest to see him crack the divisional top-8.
However, Wonderboy is just too elusive, too fast, and by the time the fifteen minute duration is through, I believe that we will see the former two-time title-challenger back in the win column.
Likelihood: Thompson 57%, Luque 43%
Prediction: Thompson by unanimous decision
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Darren Till
I’m a fan of Darren Till in every sense of the word but the manner in which the UFC has managed his career up until this point has been reckless and to a point, even dangerous.
I’ve been quite vocal in the past about my take on tune-up fights and how they should hold a greater presence within this sport. We want to see the best fight the best when they are truly at their best and with this showdown between Till and hard-hitting middleweight Kelvin Gastelum, I fear that the timing is way off.
Gastelum is an absolute savage at 185lbs. Up until this point, he has managed to score a knockdown on every single one of his opponents since leaving the welterweight division.
His ability to close the distance with pace and power is phenomenal and given Till’s habit of leaving his chin right there for the taking, I can see this one ending very, very early in brutal fashion.
Likelihood: Gastelum 65%, Till 35%
Prediction: Gastelum by first-round KO
Jorge Masvidal vs. Nate Diaz
You can read my prediction for Masvidal vs. Diaz in full here.