One more chance to make Uncle Dana happy.
Conor McGregor returns to action this Saturday evening (Aug. 20, 2016), hunting for redemption against rival Nate Diaz in the Welterweight main event at UFC 202, which takes place inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Glover Teixeira and Anthony Johnson will help the pay-per-view (PPV) co-feature attraction, while and Donald Cerrone takes on Rick Story in a tremendous 170-pound showdown.
It’s a quality show, but how’s the FOX Sports 1 lead-in? Let’s find out below (see the Fight Pass portion here):
135 lbs.: Cody Garbrandt vs. Takeya Mizugaki
Three UFC wins -- two of them by knockout -- set up Team Alpha Male’s Cody Garbrandt (9-0) for a blockbuster showdown with fellow top prospect Thomas Almeida in May. "No Love" made the most of his main event appearance with a brutal first-round stoppage of the Muay Thai menace.
Eight of his nine career wins have come by knockout.
Three years of alternating wins and losses came to an end in dramatic fashion when Takeya Mizugaki (21-9-2) rattled off five straight wins from 2012 to 2014. Dominick Cruz and Aljamain Sterling handed him the first consecutive loses of his ZUFFA career afterward, although he did manage to stave off the dreaded three-fight losing streak with a decision over George Roop in Sept. 2015.
He is seven years older than his favored opponent.
I honestly think Garbrandt is going to have more trouble with Mizugaki than one might think. The Japanese veteran has stood up to bombs from the likes of Francisco Rivera and held his own in the wrestling department against Bryan Caraway, while Garbrandt doesn’t have Cruz’s impeccable transition game or Sterling’s overall grappling prowess.
He’s still probably a bit too much for Mizugaki.
Garbrandt’s raw power is a major equalizer and Mizugaki’s boxing isn’t quite crisp enough to fully exploit the lunges of "No Love." The Alpha Male-trained product does enough damage in exchanges to win a competitive decision.
Prediction: Garbrandt via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Raquel Pennington vs. Elizabeth Phillips
Last September, Raquel Pennington (7-5) got revenge for her first UFC loss with a second-round submission of Jessica Andrade in Las Vegas. Her sole 2016 effort saw her edge a chippy battle with Bethe Correia by split decision to raise her UFC record to 4-2.
She has submitted three professional foes overall.
Elizabeth Phillips (5-3) appeared to have earned her first UFC victory against Milana Dudieva in Macau, only to run afoul of the card’s questionably judging. Things went a little more smoothly two Julys ago when she took two rounds from Jessamyn Duke at UFC on FOX 16.
She has knocked out two opponents and submitted another.
Pennington is a fairly tall task for someone who’s coming off a year-long layoff, especially considering the stylistic match up. Both Pennington’s striking and wrestling games outstrip Duke’s and Phillips is heavily reliant on getting her opponent to the mat. Pennington’s defensive grappling and ability to do damage in transition ought to work very well for her.
I expect Pennington to simply out-scrap Phillips, taking advantage of her layoff to wear her down en route to a unanimous decision.
Prediction: Pennington via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Chris Avila vs. Artem Lobov
Chris Avila (5-2) -- an understudy of Cesar Gracie alongside Nate Diaz -- enters UFC on a three-fight win streak since a decision loss in his World Series of Fighting (WSOF) debut. All three of those victories have come by stoppage inside of two rounds.
He is two inches shorter than Artem Lobov (11-12-1), but will have an eight-inch reach advantage.
Team McGregor’s Lobov made the best of his second chance on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 22 by rattling off three straight knockouts. He hasn’t had the same sort of success in UFC itself, dropping decisions to Ryan Hall and Alex White.
He’s been stopped just once in the last five years.
Zane Simon had a solid breakdown of Avila as part of Bloody Elbow’s "Welcome to the UFC" series and I’m inclined to agree with his assessment of Avila as someone trying to be a Diaz without the tools do so. He throws slapping shots reminiscent of Nate’s and can throw a good jab, but he doesn’t respond well to pressure and can’t replicate Nate’s trick of keeping his head just a little farther back than his opponent thinks.
Those issues combine to severely limit the impact his enormous reach advantage will have against Lobov’s brawling.
For all the grief Lobov and his little T-Rex arms get, he’s a durable and experienced veteran with some real pop in his hands. Avila just isn’t far enough along in his career to maintain the discipline needed to keep Lobov off of him. The Russian Hammer hammers his way to his first UFC victory.
Prediction: Lobov def. Avila via first-round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Randa Markos vs. Cortney Casey
Upsets of Tecia Torres and Felice Herrig took Randa Markos (6-3) to TUF 21’s semifinals, where she fell to Rose Namajunas’ vicious run. She’s since gone even (2-2) in the UFC itself, most recently defeating Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger in June.
Half of her wins have come by armbar.
Cortney Casey (5-3) slugged her way to "Fight of the Night" bonuses in her first two appearances, competitive decision losses to Joanne Calderwood and Seo Hee Ham. "Cast Iron" finally got her first UFC win last month, destroying Cristina Stanciu with ground-and-pound halfway through the first round.
She has knocked out three professional opponents.
Casey looked tremendous against Stanciu, using her size and strength extraordinarily well. This certainly has me more inclined to pick her than I would have been prior to that fight, but Markos did very well against another huge bruiser in Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger her last time out. If she can again live up to her potential, she has the tools to take out Casey.
Markos has the power and durability to hold her own on the feet and her wrestling ought to tip the scales. Markos lands enough right hands and spends enough time on top to edge out the decision.
Prediction: Markos via split decision
UFC 202 features a super fun main event, a possible No. 1 Light Heavyweight contender eliminator match in the co-feature, and a great fight between two hard-nosed bastards batting third.
See you Saturday, Maniacs!
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 202 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 under card balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.