UFC 229 is being billed as the biggest event in UFC history, mostly because of the mass appeal of Conor McGregor. His opponent, Khabib Nurmagomedov, brings a large Russian fan base to the table and hardcore mixed martial arts (MMA) fans are tantalized by the stylistic match-up, but it’s undeniable that casual fans will be purchasing the pay-per-view (PPV) because of “Mystic Mac.” For that reason I’ve decided to make a short list of fights on the card worthy of all viewers attention beyond just the main event.
This is the point where you either click the video above to learn where the hidden gems lie on this card or read on if you prefer to silently consume the content.
#3. ‘Sugar’ Sean O’Malley vs. Jose Alberto Quinonez
O’Malley was supposed to be in the featured bout on the “Prelims” undercard, but according to “Sugar” himself he was pulled from the event after testing positive for low levels of ostarine. His fight against Quinonez was originally No. 3 on this list because of how much hype there is behind the young Bantamweight. While there won’t be a late replacement opponent for Quinonez and the bout has been scrapped completely, I feel compelled to inform even the most casual of fight fans that Sean O’Malley is a name worth remembering thanks to his flashy style and bravado.
#2. Derrick ‘The Black Beast’ Lewis vs. Alexander ‘Drago’ Volkov
Lewis has won nine of fights in UFC by way of technical (knockout), which should be enough to make anyone care about his fights, he is a finisher, but I’ll there is more to this man than just his finishing ability. He has also lost twice in devastating fashion. He is kill or be killed and almost always puts on entertaining battles of fisticuffs.
Volkov — while he has nearly four times as many decision victories as Lewis — also has three more technical (knockout) finishes on his resume. The latest of those victories is over former UFC Heavyweight champion, Fabricio Werdum. He hasn’t lost since midway through 2015 and is on the short list of challengers for the Heavyweight strap. When it comes to fights that have divisional importance and a high probability of someone going to sleep, it doesn’t get more compelling than Lewis versus Volkov.
#1. Tony ‘El Cucuy’ Ferguson vs. Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis
There should be a disclaimer here about this fight not truly being a hidden gem and in actuality is one of the bright spots of this event, but I have a feeling that fan-base tuning in for this show won’t even recognize Tony Ferguson.
Ferguson is the former interim UFC Lightweight champion who hasn’t lost a fight in more than six years. During that lengthy stretch he has chalked up six post-fight bonuses for incredible finishes and electrifying fights. Despite having not lost since earning a gold belt he was stripped of the title basically because UFC didn’t feel it was necessary for him to have it.
Pettis, meanwhile, is also a former champion. Many of us believed he lost his fire and was on the decline after he briefly reigned over the Lightweight division before losing a title fight in 2014. Since that time he has looked like a world beater once again with a few impressive victories, most recently a submission victory over Michael Chiesa.
While both of these competitors are high level, and you could argue that they are at the top of their game, the main reason they are in the number one spot is because of the potential to fight Conor McGregor. If for any reason Nurmagomedov isn’t able to make it to the octagon on Saturday Ferguson is the obvious replacement. If Pettis were to beat Ferguson if each of the top fights stay intact he could get a shot against McGregor (and vice-versa).
Essentially, UFC 229’s co-main event is a fight between former champions who potentially have the biggest payday of their lives up next if successful Saturday night.
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MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 229 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 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.