Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has assembled a solid but somewhat unusual fight card for its ESPN+ debut, which takes place tomorrow night (Sat., Jan. 19, 2019) inside Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
UFC on ESPN+ 1 is headlined by the 125-pound title fight pitting Henry Cejudo opposite TJ Dillashaw. Unlike traditional “champ-champ” fights, where the smaller fighter heads north, Dillashaw is cutting down to flyweight as opposed to Cejudo jumping up to bantamweight.
Before that five-round showdown gets underway, Greg Hardy will try to prove that he’s more than just an NFL export with a history of domestic violence, thanks to a heavyweight match up against the more experiences Allen Crowder.
Before we take a closer look at the six-fight main card, take a gander at what Patrick Stumberg had to say about the UFC Brooklyn “Prelims” offerings by clicking here and here. All the odds and betting lines for the ESPN+ action can be located here.
Let’s talk MMA.
125 lbs.: Flyweight Champion Henry “The Messenger” Cejudo (13-2) vs. Bantamweight Champion TJ Dillashaw (16-3)
This is such a weird fight and considering some of the silliness we’ve seen inside the Octagon, that’s saying something. I think the biggest X-factor here is the drop down to the flyweight division. I know TJ Dillashaw, along with Cody Garbrandt when “No Love” was still champion, openly talked about the ease in which they could make 125 pounds. That said, it’s still 10 pounds and it has to come from somewhere (and it won’t all be water). So what is the bantamweight champion giving up to make his mark? We may not find out until fight night.
What makes Dillashaw such a dangerous champion at 135 pounds is his ability to do ... well, everything. He proved that his striking is top of the food chain against Dominick Cruz — a fight I scored in his favor — and the aforementioned Garbrandt. In addition, the former Ultimate Fighter was ranked tenth in the nation as a collegiate wrestler for Cal State Fullerton. He’s not going to outwrestle an Olympic gold medalist in Cejudo, but he’s not the silver platter “The Messenger” might be used to in other fights.
If Cejudo is going to win, he’s going to have to be perfect.
That won't be very difficult because he’s got the home field advantage, so to speak. He’s not changing his training or diet and could actually be the stronger, faster fighter on Saturday night. But will he be the more skilled? Probably not, though to his credit, he improves from fight-to-fight and has become a legitimate threat on the feet. When Dillashaw is on his game, however, he’s one of the best in the business, and enters the cage with advantages in both height (2”) and reach (3”). I just can’t help but think those 10 pounds are going to prove critical and without his power, and perhaps his speed, his technique just won’t be enough. I would certainly expect him to win two rounds, probably the opening pair, but once Cejudo gets into a groove and settles down, a leaner, lankier Dillashaw is going to be taken down and frustrated for a loss on the judges’ scorecards.
Prediction: Cejudo def. Dillashaw by decision
265 lbs.: Greg Hardy (3-0) vs. Allen “Pretty Boy” Crowder (9-3, 1 NC)
We know a lot about Greg Hardy the person, thanks to the scrutiny surrounding his decision to compete in mixed martial arts (MMA), his former career in the NFL, and the domestic violence issues that continue to plague him. What we don't know a lot about is Greg Hardy the fighter, though what we’ve seen to date has been impressive. I think it’s worth pointing out that to compete on the gridiron you have to have a certain amount of power and athleticism, which are put to good use inside the Octagon. Point being, Hardy is the kind of fighter who can smoke most heavyweights of equal in-cage aptitude just because he’s such explosive athlete.
That includes Allen Crowder, an unspectacular addition to the 265-pound roster who quickly jumped out to an 0-1 start in his UFC career, courtesy of a knockout loss to Justin Willis at UFC 218 in late 2017. “Pretty Boy” was also smoked by Curtis Blaydes on the regional circuit in 2015 and has been out of action for over a year due to injury. I’m not sure what there is to make him the pick against Hardy because outside of MMA, Crowder manages a fitness facility and fights fires. He is vastly more experienced and could, conceivably, use the first round to clinch, wrestle, and tire out his opponent. After all, we’ve never seen Hardy past the first round so we don’t yet know what to expect in a fight that lasts more than five minutes.
Unfortunately for Crowder, we’re unlikely to find out. All three of his losses have come by way of knockout and all six of Hardy’s victories — split between the amateur and pro circuits — have ended via flying fists. No question “Pretty Boy” is going to be cognizant of the incoming attack, but I have a feeling Crowder is going to hit the ground before he even realizes he’s in trouble.
Prediction: Hardy def. Crowder by knockout
155 lbs.: Gregor “The Gift” Gillespie (12-0) vs. Yancy “The Kid” Medeiros (15-5, 1 NC)
Since crossing over from New Jersey’s Ring of Combat (ROC) in late 2016, Gregor Gillespie has captured wins in all five of his UFC appearances, with the last four ending by way of knockout or submission. His level of competition has been good, but not great, and Yancy Medeiros represents a positive step forward. “The Kid” is returning to lightweight after a pretty solid run in the 170-pound division though it should noted that Medeiros is unranked in either weight class. So what makes this fight a step forward for Gillespie?
The Hawaiian has five post-fight bonuses.
He’s not the type of fighter to play chess. Medeiros will march forward and open fire and not stop until the bell rings, or somebody drops. He boasts eight wins by knockout, four by submission, and six first round finishes. Not too shabby, but he also dies by the sword, having been stopped in four of his five losses. Entering this bout, Medeiros will have a four-inch advantage in reach. I want to say that will matter when the cage door closes, but we have to talk about his opponent’s wrestling.
Gillespie was a state champion in high school before becoming an NCAA Division-1 national champion, as well, in addition to being a four-time All American. If he wants to take this fight to the ground, it’s going to the ground. Alex Oliveira and Francisco Trinaldo were able to take Medeiros down with ease, so I’m not expecting it to be difficult for “The Gift” — unless his ego gets in the way. I think his fidelity to the ground game, coupled with Medeiros losing some of his strength and power back down at 155 pounds, makes this a relatively easy win for Gillespie and a second-round submission would not surprise me.
Prediction: Gillespie def. Medeiros by submission
125 lbs.: Joseph Benavidez (26-5) vs. Dustin Ortiz (19-7)
Joseph Benavidez used to be the No. 2 guy at 125 pounds, then Henry Cejudo came along and that place atop the flyweight leaderboard was no longer guaranteed. I understand that history will reflect a win over “The Messenger” in late 2016, but I know just as many people who scored that split decision in favor of Cejudo. Now that Demetrious Johnson has jumped ship in favor of ONE Championship, a strong showing for Benavidez has him right back in the mix.
Ortiz was finished by Brandon Moreno less than two years ago, but isn’t the type of combatant to go home and cry himself to sleep. Since that misstep, the 13-fight UFC veteran has strung together three straight wins, two of them ending by way of violent knockout. He’s well rounded, experienced, and like most flyweights, relentlessly scrappy. Even though he’s suffered seven losses, the Moreno defeat was the first time he’s ever been finished in his pro career.
My biggest issue with this fight is that we’ve already seen how it ends. Benavidez defeated Ortiz at UFC Fight Night 57 back in late 2014 and I don’t think Ortiz has done enough to close the gap in skill. Everything Ortiz can do, Benavidez can also do, just a little bit better. The former division title contender has also faced (and defeated) much stiffer competition. I thought maybe Benavidez was on his way out after the Sergio Pettis loss, but considering his extended layoff before that fight — as well as his crimes against Alex Perez last November — I’d say he’s right back on top, just out of the reach of Ortiz.
Prediction: Benavidez def. Ortiz by unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Rachael Ostovich (4-4) vs. Paige “12 Gauge” VanZant (7-4)
This fight is getting a lot more attention than it normally would have as a result of multiple storylines. Paige VanZant is coming off an extended layoff, back-to-back losses, and an arm injury that required surgery. Rachael Ostovich was beat up by her husband late last year, then got put on the same fight card as Greg Hardy, who was convicted of domestic violence and exiled from the NFL. That’s taken most of the attention off the actual fight and the more I think about it, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
VanZant and Ostovich are not technically sound in most departments.
“12 Gauge” was attributing her recent struggles, namely losses to Michelle Waterson and Rose Namajunas, to the brutal weight cut required to hit the 115-pound limit. Perhaps her opponents were simply the superior fighters, but VanZant didn’t help her cause by jumping up to flyweight and getting beat up by Jessica-Rose Clark. To her credit, the former Dancing with the Stars finalist is an exciting competitor and only two of her last eight fights have gone to a decision. Similarly, Ostovich has two finishes in both of her UFC fights and in one of two appearances on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). Her biggest issue has been consistency, reflected in her .500 record.
VanZant saw a mental coach prior to this fight and I think she’s back on her game. While it may not have evolved to where it needs to be for a Top 5 opponent, I would expect an aggression we haven’t seen in awhile, and for Ostovich to be mugged and slugged in the same way Felice Herrig was at UFC on FOX 15. The Aussie says she is ready for this fight, but she was recently hospitalized and already told the media she needed this fight to pay her bills. She’s not here because she wants to be, she’s here because she has to be. I think she wilts midway through the second stanza.
Prediction: VanZant def. Ostovich by technical knockout
205 lbs.: Karl “Baby K” Roberson (7-1) vs. Glover Teixeira (27-7)
At one point in his combat sports career, Glover Teixeira was ranked No. 2 in the world and the winner of 20 straight fights, which included decisive wins over Ryan Bader and Quinton Jackson, among others. But in recent years, the Brazilian is just 3-3 and has been knocked out in two of those three losses. Whether that’s a result of his career mileage, the fact that he turns 40 this year (or both) is unknown, but watching him go down on points to Corey Anderson did not leave me with that warm, fuzzy feeling.
After tumbling out of the Top 10, the No. 12-ranked Teixeira draws up-and-coming light heavyweight, Karl Roberson, who cut his teeth on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. As far as his stint inside the Octagon this far, “Baby K” is 2-1, with a submission loss to Cezar Ferreira sandwiched between wins over Darren Stewart and Jack Marshman. He’s certainly a well-rounded fighter, splitting six finishes between knockouts and submissions. The only knock on him to date is his level of competition. This bout will undoubtedly tell us where he’s at in his still-developing MMA career.
Teixeira is the same fighter he’s always been. He is not the most technical striker, but has one-punch knockout power and his grappling is world-class, which is why he’s never been submitted in 34 professional fights. At the same time, his chin has deteriorated to the point where anything flush is a potential fight ender and he’s been susceptible to elite-level wrestling. Roberson is not a better fighter than Teixeira. He is, however, younger, quicker, and more athletic. That wouldn't have been enough to stop the Brazilian just a few years back, but MMA years are like dog years, leaving G-Tex eligible for social security.
Prediction: Roberson def. Teixeira by decision
There you have it.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 143 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” undercard bouts at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN “Prelims” undercard bouts at 8 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
For the complete UFC on ESPN+ 1 fight card click here.