It’s time to run it back!
After a competitive first go-round, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight champion, Robert Whittaker, will face Yoel Romero once again this Saturday evening (June 9, 2018) inside United Center in Chicago, ill., headlining UFC 225. Fifteen pounds south, Rafael dos Anjos takes on Colby Covington for the interim UFC Welterweight title, while Holly Holm welcomes Invicta Featherweight champ Megan Anderson to the Octagon one fight prior.
We have four more UFC 225 “Prelims” undercard bouts to break down, so pull up a chair and let’s have a look!
265 lbs.: Alistair Overeem vs. Curtis Blaydes
Alistair Overeem (43-16) rebounded from his failed title shot against Stipe Miocic with wins over rivals Mark Hunt and Fabricio Werdum, giving him six wins in his previous seven fights. “The Reem” was unable to do the same to Francis Ngannou, who unleashed 2017’s “Knockout of the Year” to put the Dutchman to sleep in a single round.
He has gone the distance just eight times in 60 fights.
Curtis “Razor” Blaydes (9-1) didn’t quite make the cut (sorry) in his Octagon debut against Francis Ngannou, but has gone undefeated in his past five fights, the sole blemish a beatdown victory over Adam Milstead that a failed drug test for marijuana turned into a “No Contest.” In his last bout, he survived a vicious right hand from Mark Hunt to overwhelm the veteran in Perth.
Seven of his nine wins have come by form of knockout.
Assuming Overeem is actually still alive and not just operating on reflex since that Ngannou uppercut obliterated his higher brain functions, this is an extremely winnable fight for him. He’s inordinately difficult to take down and Blaydes’ stand up — while definitely better than when he first joined UFC — remains rather lumbering.
Worse for Blaydes, failed takedowns tend to mean spending time in the clinch, where Overeem tends to destroy people in worryingly violent fashion.
Blaydes’ biggest asset here may be his chin — the right hand Hunt landed on him is probably the single most powerful blow the “Super Samoan” has landed in the Octagon and it wasn’t enough to put him away. That said, Overeem’s knees are in a class of their own. Blaydes spends a few minutes trying to muscle Overeem around the fence before ducking into something horrific.
Prediction: Overeem via first-round knockout
115 lbs.: Claudia Gadelha vs. Carla Esparza
Undeterred by her second loss to Joanna Jedrzejdzyk, Claudia Gadelha (15-3) handily defeated Cortney Casey and Karolina Kowalkiewicz to reassert her place among the Strawweight elite. Despite a strong start against Jessica Andrade, however, “Claudinha’s” fellow Brazilian handed her a beating in Saitama, although Gadelha did get a “Fight of the Night” bonus to ease the pain.
She has submitted seven opponents and knocked out another two.
Carla Esparza (13-4) lived up to her No. 1 ranking on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) by running through the competition, ultimately submitting Rose Namajunas at the Finale to become the inaugural UFC women’s Strawweight champ. Though she’s just 3-2 since that victory, she’s coming off an upset over the highly touted Cynthia Calvillo in Dec. 2017.
She will give up three inches of height to the 5’4” Gadelha.
I really, really think Gadelha should move to Flyweight, where she might actually have more than seven minutes of gas in the tank, but Esparza’s not the one to send her packing. Without Andrade’s dangerous stand up or her sheer pressure, Esparza will struggle to whittle down Gadelha’s stamina, and I’m not sure her wrestling is enough to take the Brazilian off her feet unless she’s well and truly fatigued.
As a result, this should mostly be a striking battle, where Gadelha figures to have a considerable edge. So long as she can force at least two good rounds out of her engine, Gadelha’s jab and physical strength carry her to victory.
Prediction: Gadelha via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Ricardo Lamas vs. Mirsad Bektic
Ricardo Lamas (18-6) cemented his status among the Featherweight elite with a bonus-winning submission of Charles Oliveira and a one-round thrashing of Jason Knight, setting up a rematch with former champ Jose Aldo at UFC on FOX 26. When Aldo got called up for a title shot, “The Bully” instead faced an overweight Josh Emmett, who rewarded Lamas for his flexibility by knocking him unconscious with a left hook.
His 10 stoppage wins are split evenly between knockouts and submissions.
Long considered among the sport’s best prospects, Mirsad Bektic (12-1) was minutes away from a wide decision victory over Darren Elkins when he suffered 2017’s most shocking upset. He returned to action 10 months later at UFC on FOX 27, crushing Godofredo “Pepey” with a bonus-winning shot to the solar plexus.
He has knocked out six professional opponents and submitted another three.
I’m still on the Bektic train, honestly. He loads up a bit too much on his strikes, but aside from that, he’s got an incredibly complete and destructive game. Lamas — though an adept kicker who could theoretically keep the Bosnian bruiser away — is in for a rough night.
Despite Lamas’ wrestling pedigree, he completes less than one-third of his takedown attempts and successfully defends less than one-half the ones coming his way. Any fight in which Bektic can establish top position is one his opponent is going to regret taking. Lamas -- a ferocious ground-and-pounder in his own right — gets a taste of his own medicine as Bektic mauls him.
Prediction: Bektic via second-round technical knockout
265 lbs.: Rashad Coulter vs. Chris De La Rocha
Rashad Coulter (8-3) took a licking against Chase Sherman in his UFC debut, but walked away with a “Fight of the Night” bonus in defeat. “Daywalker” wasn’t quite as competitive against Tai Tuivasa, who caught him with a flush flying knee late in the first round.
All of his professional victories have come by knockout.
Chris De La Rocha (4-2) joined UFC in 2015 and promptly got knocked out by Daniel Omielanczuk in 48 seconds, then got knocked out by Adam Milstead 10 months later. He wasn’t quite done in the Octagon, however, and answered the call when Allen Crowder withdrew with an injury.
This will be his first fight in two years.
This fight is on FOX Sports 1; meanwhile, Joseph Benavidez vs. Sergio Pettis is on Fight Pass and it isn’t even the featured “Prelims” undercard bout. This is dumb.
It’s hard to make a good read on this fight because both of their UFC careers have essentially been extended beatings. Neither is good enough to be in the Octagon. Coulter’s got more experience and looked like the more durable of the two, though, so I say he wins a slugfest partway through the first.
Prediction: Coulter via first-round technical knockout
Regardless of your thoughts on C.M. Punk, you don’t want to miss the rematch between Whittaker and Romero, as well as the interim Welterweight title scrap between dos Anjos and Covington. See you Saturday, Maniacs!
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 225 fight card, 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.