It’s happening ... finally.
After what feels like a lifetime of buildup, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor will finally square off this Saturday night (Oct. 6, 2018) in Las Vegas, Nevada, serving as UFC 229’s magical pay-per-view (PPV) main event. In addition, the co-feature pits Tony Ferguson against Anthony Pettis in another pivotal Lightweight mixed martial arts (MMA) match up, while Ovince Saint Preux faces unbeaten Light Heavyweight prospect Dominick Reyes to round out the top three.
UFC 229 will feature seven “Prelims” undercard matches this time, down from eight thanks to Sean O’Malley’s run-in (details) with United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Let’s begin!
135 lbs.: Yana Kunitskaya vs. Lina Lansberg
Yana Kunitskaya (10-4) appeared to have submitted Tonya Evinger for the Invicta title, only for the fight to be overturned to a “No Contest” because of a referee error. She went on to lose the rematch, and though she beat Raquel Pa’aluhi for the newly vacant belt soon after, she fell to Cris “Cyborg” in her Octagon debut.
“Foxy” has dispatched seven professional opponents via (technical) knockout.
Lina Lansberg (8-3) likewise debuted against “Cyborg,” succumbing to the Brazilian’s power midway through the second round. “The Elbow Queen” has since won two of three bouts, scoring decisions over Lucie Pudilova and Gina Mazany.
Half of her professional wins have come by form of knockout.
As dangerous as Kunitskaya is on the mat, this strikes me as a rough match up for her. “Foxy” does her best work in the clinch, where Lansberg excels, and the former isn’t a particularly potent wrestler. The fight will almost certainly take place at extremely close range, with Kunitskaya looking for knees and trips while Lansberg tries to slam home her signature elbows.
Kunitskaya could get the win in seconds should it hit the mat, but I don’t believe “The Elbow Queen” will let it get there. Sprawl-and-brawl wins the day for Lansberg, racking up shots in the clinch to earn the decision.
Prediction: Lansberg via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Gray Maynard vs. Nik Lentz
The last few years have been less-than-ideal for Gray Maynard (13-6-1), who is just 2-5 in his last seven fights. He’s enjoyed a minor resurgence lately, however, defeating Fernando Bruno and Teruto Ishihara in two of his last three appearances.
This will be his first fight in 15 months and his return to Lightweight after three years at 145 pounds.
Nik Lentz (28-9-2) is 3-2 since his own return to Lightweight, most notably choking out Will Brooks to earn “Performance of the Night.” He last fought Swedish striker David Teymur in June, surviving some questionable tactics, but ultimately losing the decision.
“The Carny” will give up two inches of reach to Maynard.
Pre-2011, Maynard wins this fight nine out of 10 times. Back when he had the durability and confidence to march forward, swing heat, and straight-up power through his opponent’s sprawl for three minutes of uninterrupted grinding from guard. Nowadays, even a lackluster striker like Lentz is a knockout threat to him, and “The Carny’s” lackluster takedown defense looks sufficient to keep him afloat.
This fight essentially boils down to how trigger-happy Lentz gets with his guillotine. Maynard’s top control is still potent enough to win him a round if he winds up on top, so Lentz can’t afford to jump guard willy-nilly. So long as Lentz focuses on keeping it standing, I say he outworks Maynard and wobbles him once or twice to take home the decision.
Prediction: Lentz via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Ryan LaFlare vs. Tony Martin
Ryan LaFlare (14-2) entered 2018 on the heels of one of 2017’s most devastating knockout losses, a counter uppercut from Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira that left LaFlare out on impact. He got back in track this past April with a decision over Alex Garcia, improving his UFC record to 7-2.
He’ll have an inch of height and reach on Martin.
Despite wins in his previous three fights, Tony Martin (13-4) elected to make the move to Welterweight following a split decision loss to Olivier Aubin Mercier two Septembers ago. In his first appearance at the weight, he faced veteran grappler Keita Nakamura and walked away with a wide decision victory.
Half of his eight submission wins have come by keylock.
Though Martin is still a skilled striker and grappler, I’m not sure how far he can go at 170 pounds. A key component to his success at Lightweight was his sheer size and physicality, and while that wound up costing him in the cardio department early in his Octagon career, he appeared to have that problem fixed before abandoning ship.
In LaFlare, he faces an equally potent grinder, but one more accustomed to manhandling Welterweights. Martin’s striking advantage won’t play a huge factor when LaFlare is controlling the fight at close range, and I have more faith in LaFlare’s ability to stay effective for all three rounds than in Martin’s. Martin controls the early going before LaFlare wears him down in the clinch and takes control of the latter two rounds.
Prediction: LaFlare by unanimous decision
Four more UFC 229 “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict, headlined by a clash of Top 10-ranked Flyweight contenders. See you then, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 229 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 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.