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UFC 219 predictions, preview, and analysis

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The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) ends the year strong this Saturday evening (Dec. 30, 2017) with a clash of champions in the main event. Taking center stage is Cris “Cyborg,” one of the best female fighters mixed martial arts (MMA) has to offer, who faces boxing legend and former UFC champ Holly Holm.

The card will also see Khabib Nurmagomedov take on Edson Barboza in a Lightweight battle for the ages, plus Carla Esparza vs. Cynthia Calvillo and the return of Carlos Condit.

Nostradumbass was last seen tackling an international arms smuggler before rolling off a cliff, so I’m on main card duty. You can also check out my preview and breakdown of the UFC 219 “Prelims” card here and here as well as an analysis of the UFC 219 odds and betting lines here.

Now, let’s begin.

145 lbs.: Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino (18-1) vs. Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holm (11-3)

If this were a pure striking battle, Holly Holm would have a very real shot at the upset. While “Cyborg” isn’t the mindless brawler some perceive her to be, but she’s still a very straightforward striker. Her fight with Jorina Baars showed the gap between her Muay Thai and that of a true world-class competitor. Even her colossal power can’t bridge that gap.

Luckily, this isn’t a pure striking battle.

“Cyborg” has come a long, long way since accidentally pulling mount against Gina Carano. She’s become a strong wrestler and ground-and-pound artist, as demonstrated by her dissection of Marloes Coenen in their rematch. In addition, she has the confidence and variety in her striking to close the distance against Holm far better than Miesha Tate or Ronda Rousey did.

Unless Holm can slam home her left high kick in the first three minutes or so, “Cyborg” is going to get her to the ground, and there’s basically nothing Holm can do to her once it gets there. Justino overpowers her with takedowns and clinchwork until she gets the TKO stoppage.

Prediction: Justino by second-round TKO

155 lbs.: Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov (24-0) vs. Edson Barboza (19-4)

The thing about Edson Barboza’s style is that it just doesn’t work moving backwards. That’s not to say he hasn’t made huge improvements in his ability to fight off the back foot; he landed some brutal counters on Michael Johnson and Tony Ferguson, not to mention that incredible knee he used to wipe out Beneil Dariush, but he’s still much less effective when he can’t force his opponents to retreat.

Khabib Nurmagomedov does not retreat.

Though his striking is still more reliant on eagerness than fluidity, his chin and relentlessness are enough to get him in takedown range against pretty much anyone below 170 pounds. Even someone with A+ takedown defense and scrambling ability like Barboza isn’t immune; Khabib has an almost inhuman ability to transition from any kind of grip to a successful takedown. Once he’s on you, he’s almost impossible to shake off.

Barboza’s best weapons, those freakishly fast kicks, open him to that killer grip. And even that assumes he’ll be able to throw them at all with Nurmagomedov hunting him down.

Barboza certainly has the skills for a freak KO out of nowhere, but it’s more likely Khabib gets ahold of a body lock and puts him through the grinder before choking him out late.

Prediction: Nurmagomedov by third-round submission

155 lbs.: Dan “The Hangman” Hooker (14-6) vs. Marc “Bonecrusher” Diakiese (12-1)

Dan Hooker began his UFC career at Featherweight, where he went 3-3 with three stoppage victories. Following his loss to Jason Knight, he moved back to Lightweight and made an immediate impression with a knee knockout of Ross Pearson in his native Auckland.

He stands two inches taller than Marc Diakiese and will have two inches of reach.

“Bonecrusher” looked solid in his wins over Lukasz Sajewski and Frankie Perez, but it was his one-punch obliteration of Teemu Packalen that put the young Brit on the map. It so impressed the public that he entered his fight with Drakkar Klose as a major favorite, but ultimately lost a competitive decision after Klose battered his lead leg.

Half of his wins have come by knockout, including three in less than one minute.

Hooker is relentless, strong and deceptively slick. He’s also rather slow, incredibly easy to hit, and mediocre on the mat (not to mention that he has been competing against Featherweight competition for a while). Diakiese’s the better athlete by a massive margin and, while still too undisciplined on the feet, has such an edge in speed and power that it might not make a difference.

If the striking does wind up going Hooker’s way, Diakiese is a strong takedown artist who can at the very least keep Hooker down for long stretches and keep him guessing the rest of the time. Hooker can probably take his best shots, but that just means the beating will last longer. 30-27s across the board for Diakiese.

Prediction: Diakiese via unanimous decision

115 lbs.: Cynthia Calvillo (6-0) vs. Carla “Cookie Monster” Esparza (12-4)

Calvillo is a phenomenal grappler and a true blue-chip prospect. What she isn’t is proven against top-notch wrestlers; her best UFC win was a close fight against Joanne Calderwood and one of her three victories in the promotion came against Pearl Gonzalez, who turned in one of the worst performances in UFC history her next time out.

While the division has evolved past the point where someone like Esparza can use singularly potent takedowns to compensate for iffy striking, she’s still easily one of the three best wrestlers at 115. She’s overpowered the likes of Tecia Torres and Julianna Lima, while Calvillo has yet to face a takedown artist more effective than Montana De La Rosa or Amanda Cooper.

Calvillo could very well be the future. That future just isn’t here yet. Esparza by decision.

Prediction: Esparza by unanimous decision

170 lbs.: Carlos “The Natural Born Killer” Condit (30-10) vs. Neil Magny (19-6)

It’s been sixteen months since Carlos Condit tapped to Demian Maia. It’s been five years since he’s won consecutive bouts. He is currently on a 2-5 skid with only one win over a current member of the UFC roster in that stretch.

It’s become clear that Condit can no longer find consistent success at the top of the welterweight division. The question is whether Magny belongs among that group.

Even with his recent struggles, I say yes.

Condit, who has never been adept at finding his way inside without taking punishment along the way, is facing a five-inch reach disadvantage against someone he can’t simply wear down with sheer pace. Further, the wrestling is all Magny. Condit’s guard may be “dangerous,” but he has not scored a submission in almost ten years; he’s not stopping Magny off of his back.

Magny was always going to be a difficult matchup for Condit just based on his length, cardio, and wrestling. Condit’s layoff just tips things even more in his favor. Top control carries Magny to a decision victory.

Prediction: Magny by unanimous decision

There you have it. will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 219 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET, 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.

For much more on this weekend’s UFC 219 event click here.

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