If they can make it there, they’ll make it anywhere.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) hits Madison Square Garden in New York City for the first time this Saturday evening (Nov. 12, 2016) with what might be the most stacked fight card in its history. Eddie Alvarez takes on Conor McGregor in the main event, while Tyron Woodley and Joanna Jedrzejczyk defend their respective titles against Stephen Thompson and Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
Oh, and Chris Weidman vs. Yoel Romero and Donald Cerrone vs. Kelvin Gastelum are on the main card, as well.
No big deal!
Before all that, however, we’ve got four more preliminary fights to break down (click HERE for part one), which take place on FOX Sports 1 and boasts a line up that can rival most PPV cards. Unfortunately, we're down a contest after the Rashad Evans incident (details), but let's talk about it anyway!
No time to waste.
145 lbs.: Frankie Edgar (20-5-1) vs. Jeremy Stephens (25-12)
"The Answer" bounced back from his loss to Jose Aldo by scoring five consecutive wins, including a one-punch knockout of Chad Mendes. This set up an interim title bout with the aforementioned Aldo, who jabbed and countered his way to a unanimous decision at UFC 200. At 5’6", he is three inches shorter than Stephens.
A knockout loss to Yves Edwards, the first such defeat of Stephens’ career, sent him down to featherweight, where he’s gone 5-3. In his last fight, he upset former bantamweight champion Renan Barao in a Fight of the Night-winning performance at Fight Night 88. He has knocked out sixteen opponents overall.
Stephens is in an odd spot where he still clearly hits crazy hard, but hasn’t knocked anyone out with punches since starching Marcus Davis in 2011. The only two stoppages he’s picked up since came via head kick and flying knee, neither of which is likely to land on Edgar.
Without assurance that what few punches he lands on Edgar will be killshots, it’s hard to pick him.
Edgar is almost going to out-land and out-wrestle Stephens and his composure under fire precludes the sort of wild exchanges "Lil’ Heathen" used to pull ahead against Barao. Edgar picks him apart with his customary in-and-out stylings for the decision.
Prediction: Edgar by unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Khabib Nurmagomedov (23-0) vs. Michael Johnson (17-10)
Nurmagomedov opened his 2014 campaign with a career-best win over Rafael Dos Anjos, only to suffer repeated injuries that derailed his momentum. He returned two years later against late replacement Darrell Horcher, whom he destroyed en route to a second-round TKO. He’s 7-0 overall in the UFC, including three stoppages.
"The Menace" saw his unexpected rise through the lightweight ranks hampered by a questionable loss to Beneil Dariush, followed by a much-less-questionable loss to Nate Diaz afterwards. In September, he righted the ship with a brutal knockout of Dustin Poirier in the main event of UFC Fight Night 94. He’s knocked out eight opponents overall.
While his hands have drawn the most attention, Johnson’s takedown defense has been the key to his resurgence. He went from being manhandled by Myles Jury and Reza Madadi to turning aside the likes of Gleison Tibau and Beneil Dariush.
That said, it’s hard to forget that he was an absolute dead fish off of his back last we saw, getting hammered into the dirt every time someone put him there. Nurmagomedov is very, very good at putting people there.
I’m simply not convinced that Johnson can stay on his feet for any length of time. Khabib does the Khabib thing, tossing Johnson around before ultimately pounding him out late.
Prediction: Nurmagomedov by third-round TKO
185 lbs.: Rashad Evans (19-5-1) vs. Tim Kennedy (18-5)
It’s been a rough recent road for "Suga," who sat out for twenty-three months after drubbing Chael Sonnen at UFC 167. His efforts since have seen him lose a decision to Ryan Bader and get knocked out by Glover Teixeira. This will be his middleweight debut.
Things looked damn good for Tim Kennedy after the second round of his bout with Yoel Romero, who had been saved by the bell. Unfortunately, Romero roared back with a comeback knockout that snapped Kennedy’s four-fight winning streak and left him incensed at the stool-based shenanigans involved. He has not fought since that September 2014 fight at UFC 178.
It’s honestly hard to have any faith in Evans at this point; he’s 2-4 in his last six and only got by Dan Henderson by the skin of his teeth. A fellow wrestler who’s coming off a twenty-six-month layoff is probably the most favorable matchup he could get among the middleweight elite and I still don’t think he’ll come out on top.
Kennedy can match Evans on both the feet and the mat at this stage in "Suga’s" career and has the advantage of not having to deal with twenty more pounds of weight cutting. If Evans can somehow scrape together some semblance of his championship form, he has a real chance, but it’s just been too long since we’ve seen that. Kennedy takes a dull decision.
Prediction: Kennedy by unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Tim Boetsch (19-10) vs. Rafael Natal (21-7-1)
"The Barbarian" stepped into the cage against Josh Samman on the heels of three consecutive losses, all by stoppage and two by knockout. As he is wont to do, Boetsch delivered with his back against the wall and pounded Samman out late in the second round. He’s knocked out nine opponents overall.
"Sapo" came back from his decision loss to Ed Herman with four straight wins, including an upset of Uriah Hall at UFC 187. He then took on the rising Robert Whittaker at UFC 197 and dropped a decision to the Aussie striker. He’s submitted eight opponents and knocked out another four.
We all love Tim Boetsch, but before the Samman fight, he’d lost six of his previous eight and really didn’t deserve the win against C.B. Dollaway in that stretch. Natal, meanwhile, has chugged along with four wins in his last five and has the cardio and kicking prowess to stay away from Boetsch’s sledgehammers.
Boetsch can win with consistent takedowns and ground-and-pound, but Natal’s counter-wrestling is solid and his jiu-jitsu experience could give "The Barbarian" pause.
At the very least, I’ll be rooting for Boetsch with all the rest of you while Natal picks him apart with leg kicks on his way to a decision win.
Prediction: Natal by unanimous decision
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 205 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.