Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is just one day out from its championship doubleheader at the upcoming UFC 248 pay-per-view (PPV) event on ESPN+, locked and loaded for tomorrow night (Sat., March 7, 2020) inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. That’s where Israel Adesanya will make his next middleweight title defense against power-punching contender, Yoel Romero.
In the UFC 248 co-main event, also scheduled for five grueling rounds, strawweight titleholder Weili Zhang will put her belt on the line against former 115-pound straphanger, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, in a bout that will serve as a measuring stick for the future of both champion and challenger.
We’ll talk about those two fights in just a sec.
Before we break down the five-fight main card, which also features longtime veterans Beneil Dariush, Neil Magny, and Alex Oliveira, have a look at what combat sports connoisseur, Patrick Stumberg, had to say about the UFC 248 “Prelims” card, split across ESPN+ and ESPN, by clicking here and here. Odds and betting lines for all the “Adesanya vs. Romero” action can be dissected here.
Let’s get to work.
185 lbs.: UFC Middleweight Champion Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya (18-0) vs. Yoel “Soldier of God” Romero (13-4)
I’ve always thought of Yoel Romero as more of a special attraction than a bona fide title contender, the kind of musclebound power-puncher who brutalizes opponents regardless of whether or not he wins. That might count at the ticket booth, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot when it comes to championship title fights. Not only is “Soldier of God” not deserving of the promotion's latest charitable donation, he simply isn’t good enough to become 185-pound champion. If he was, it would have happened by now. Am I supposed to think the same fighter who couldn’t knockout Robert Whittaker or Paulo Costa is just going to magically connect against a striker as dynamic as Israel Adesanya? Romero’s only win over a fighter currently ranked in the Top 10 of the division is Derek Brunson at No. 8.
He’s also the only fighter in UFC history to miss weight twice for two separate title shots.
Romero is, and always was, more mystique than merit. That’s not to take away his devastating wins over the likes of Lyoto Machida and Chris Weidman, but maybe we can calm down with that whole “He ends careers, bro!” narrative because Luke Rockhold ruined “The Dragon” and “All American” long before Romero could get his hands on them. And I don’t know where this talk is coming from about Whittaker “never being the same” after his Romero wars ... are we now discounting the skill and determination of “The Last Stylebender” and instead crediting Romero for UFC 243? Keep in mind that Ronaldo Souza went on a 4-2 run after losing to the Cuban powerhouse, scoring four nasty finishes along the way, so let’s try to keep some perspective about what Romero has and has not done at the top of the 185-pound food chain.
What he has done: Put some people in body bags.
What he has not done: Won the big fights when they counted most.
I think it’s pretty clear at this stage of his career that Adesanya is the complete package. There was a time when you could argue that he didn't face quality opposition, despite victories over No. 8-ranked Brunson and No. 11-ranked Brad Tavares. I’m going to ignore his decision win over the mummified remains of Anderson Silva and instead look to his five-round war against Kelvin Gastelum, which showed that he can withstand adversity, battle back, and take home the victory. And anyone who thinks Gastelum is LOL-worthy when ranking opponents hasn’t been paying attention to the inner workings of the division for the past few years. That brings us to Whittaker and what is there to say? It was a masterful performance and when Adesanya is in the zone, there is not a better striker in the 185-pound weight class. His technique, as well as his timing, are without flaw. I guess now would also be a good time to point out, for those who want to talk about wrestling, that Gastelum, Brunson, and Tavares were a combined 2 for 28 in takedown attempts.
Whittaker and Silva failed to fire off a single shot.
I’m not sure what the gameplan is for Romero but it’s probably not going to work. If you’re one of those grave diggers who wants to exhume the knockout loss Adesanya suffered against Alex Pereira on the kickboxing circuit, then we should also resurrect the Rafael Cavalcante knockout scored against Romero under the Strikeforce banner. Adesanya is not immortal and I don’t want to paint him as such, but he’s both smart enough and disciplined enough to keep Romero at range, thanks to the assistance of an 80-inch reach. Not only does this keep him away from the kill shot, it also forces Romero to shoot from long distance, giving the champion ample time to scoot out of danger or stuff the takedown altogether. Let’s also accept that “Soldier of God” turns 43 next month and hasn’t done a five-round fight in almost two years. Adesanya, 30, is in his athletic prime both physically and mentally, and while Romero is still too tough to take out, he’s going to have a miserable 25 minutes. That's what happens when you spend more time wagging your tongue than implementing strategy.
Prediction: Adesanya def. Romero by unanimous decision
115 lbs.: UFC Strawweight Champion Weili “Magnum” Zhang (20-1) vs. Joanna “Joanna Champion” Jedrzejczyk (16-3)
Joanna Jedrzejczyk gets a lot of grief from us over here at Mania and while some of that is just me being a jerk (it’s literally in my job description), she brings a lot of that heat upon herself, which is not uncommon among sore losers. But when you take away all that “I’m still the champion even though I don’t have the belt” crap, which is as bad as “my doctor screwed up my weight cut and that’s why I lost” talk, you’re left with a very talented (and very accomplished) fighter. This idea that she’s washed up or over the hill is silly. Let’s not forget that in summer 2017, Jedrzejczyk was considered not just one of the best fighters in the women’s strawweight division, but also one of the best fighters, period. At 115 pounds, her only losses have come to Rose Namajunas in a pair of brilliant performances from the now ex-champ. True, she was outclassed by Valentina Shevchenko in her unsuccessful trip up to flyweight, but we can’t hold that against her in regards to this fight, the same way we don’t hold Max Holloway’s loss to Dustin Poirier against “Blessed” when talking about the Hawaiian’s future at featherweight.
Jedrzejczyk is an outstanding striker who is just as effective with her kicks as she is with her incredibly-fast hands, thanks to successful careers in both Muay Thai and kickboxing before crossing over to MMA. Her specialty is volume striking and it’s easy to get overwhelmed when there is no time to do anything but cover up. It’s interesting to note that Jedrzejczyk didn’t shoot for a takedown in her first five UFC fights and in 13 trips to the Octagon, she’s only rattled off a total of eight shots, five of which were successfully completed. Her takedown defense, however, boasts percentages that read like a work of fiction, though if we’re playing fair, it’s because most female wrestlers are awful. Not because they are athletically inferior, there just aren’t many opportunities for women to wrestle at a high level prior to getting into a world-class fight camp. At that point it’s usually an afterthought. That might change at UFC 248 and I’m kinda hoping Jedrzejczyk goes for a takedown against her super-swole opponent just for the pure spectacle of it.
Weili Zhang went from “one to watch” to “one to fear” in just one fight. Prior to getting slotted against Jessica Andrade back in August, a booking that benefited from its location in Shenzhen, China, Zhang was ranked No. 7 at 115 pounds and had been competing in UFC for less than two years. As far as her other competition, I don't want to go crazy over her Jessica Aguilar win at UFC Beijing, because “Jag” was 36 at the time and already 1-2 inside the Octagon. Similarly, Tecia Torres has lost four straight contests and cannot beat an upper-tier fighter. By themselves, they are not the kind of wins that deserve party hats and spiked punch, but coupled with the planishing of Jessica Andrade and we can say with some degree of certainty that Zhang is the real deal. We can also say that she has not been tested by a fighter with the kind of offense that Jedrzejczyk provides, and one who can also do five rounds of high-octane action without even breaking a sweat. “Magnum” has never seen a round four in her career and is built more like a rhino than a gazelle. That’s a variable that cannot be overlooked in this 25-minute title fight.
If you’re a Jedrzejczyk fan, the looming threat of the knockout is a worthy concern. The Pole has been put on her ass by Claudia Gadelha and the aforementioned Namajunas, the latter of which cost her the 115-pound strap. If those two combatants can check the chin, lord knows what Zhang can do. “Magnum” is also a bulldozer in the clinch with the kind of strength that is not often seen in women’s competition. Simply put, there are a lot of ways this fight can go wrong for the ex-champ. That doesn’t mean it’s a foregone conclusion, however, because a very disciplined and strategy-focused Jedrzejczyk can also play matador for the first couple of frames until Zhang empties her gas tank. From there, it would be a veritable shooting gallery in rounds four and five. She already made weight, and must now turn in the kind of performance we saw against Michelle Waterson. I believe Jedrzejczyk will use her mobility, as well as her advantages in both height and reach, to make this a frustrating game of cat-and-mouse. The crowd may not like it, but winning safe is still winning.
Prediction: Jedrzejczyk def. Zhang by unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Beneil Dariush (17-4-1) vs. Drakkar Klose (11-1-1)
Much has been made about the supposed collapse of Beneil Dariush, which I don’t seem to understand, because a 17-4 record in a division as tough as lightweight is nothing to sneeze at. Part of the issue stems from the high expectations fans (and the promotion) had when Dariush was turning away guys like Jim Miller and Michael Johnson in 2015, back when that sort of thing was a big deal. Despite getting finished in three losses to both veteran and up-and-coming talent — coupled with talk of retirement — Dariush still managed to find a way to win three in a row, with the last two coming by way of submission. That tells me the new plan for the second half of his career is to stick with what he knows best and when it comes to jiu-jitsu, there are few fighters in the division who can keep him at bay.
Drakkar Klose has been making a ton of noise these last few months, most of it about Dariush, after their first bout was canceled due to injury. I understand his urgency, because he’s unranked at 155 pounds and turns 32 in just a few days. But he also has to put some of that blame on himself, because Klose has been to the judges’ scorecards in eight straight fights, six of them for UFC, and fans are not going to rally behind you if they can’t even remember the last thing you did. In addition, Klose has yet to submit anyone in his professional career and doesn’t have a single attribute worth highlighting. Am I supposed to pop some champagne because he can strike and wrestle? This is 2020, most fighters are “good” in all disciplines and it’s going to take more to get on the path to greatness. A finish here is critical and quite frankly, long overdue.
Klose sports a more impressive record but less-than-impressive competition. It’s hard to predict his path to victory because he never seems to have one. He’ll probably come out and look for success on the feet but avoid the takedown because he doesn’t want to grapple with Dariush, who is not exactly Floyd Mayweather but is still no chump in the stand up. That’s really what this fight boils down to. Klose has to stay far from the clinch and avoid the ground at all costs. He may be the stronger fighter and his aggression will certainly win some of the exchanges, but he also has to survive 15 minutes armed with inferior technique. That’s a pretty tall order against someone as experienced as Dariush and a gameplan that is likely to short circuit midway through the fight.
Prediction: Dariush def. Klose by submission
170 lbs.: Jingliang “The Leech” Li (17-5) vs. Neil Magny (21-7)
Jingliang Li has given us one of the stranger welterweight runs in recent memory. “The Leech” has won eight of his last 10 with six violent knockouts along the way, and yet can’t seem to find a spot in the promotion’s “official” Top 15 rankings. He also decided to reach out and touch someone at UFC 221, digging his fingers directly into the eye sockets of Jake Matthews in Perth. Prior to that, Li flunked a USADA drug test for clenbuterol, only to be exonerated a few weeks later when, in a case not unlike Brandon Moreno from Mexico, it was determined that his native China was notorious for turning out tainted meat. I suppose his rankings snub is a result of his competition. Li hasn’t beaten anyone of note and a handful of opponents, like Anton Zafir, Bobby Nash, and Daichi Abe, among others, are no longer competing in UFC.
Magny has seen an equally puzzling run in the 170-pound weight class and to be frank, it’s miraculous he survived his first year of action. The 32 year-old welterweight went 1-2 back in 2013 and narrowly escaped a roster redo that saw 16 underperforming fighters get cut. His response to that second lease on his combat sports life was a stellar seven-fight win streak that ended at the hands of jiu-jitsu wizard Demian Maia. I want to brag about his victories over Johny Hendricks and Carlos Condit, as well as Hector Lombard, because at the time it was a big deal. Looking back, we can see that Magny was helped by the rapid deterioration of all three opponents, who are a combined 2-16 over the last four years. It also doesn’t help that Magny was put in timeout by USADA and unlike Li, the Illinoian didn’t have any meaty excuses to bail him out.
Magny has been out of action since late 2018 and his last fight was a brutal knockout loss to Santiago Ponzinibbio. Even if you take those two factors away, I’m not sure where I see an advantage for him against Li. “The Leech” has nasty leg kicks, something that has been known to chop down the legs of Magny, and also fights with ruthless aggression, another aspect of the fight game that seems to fluster his opponent. Both fighters are formidable wrestlers so I expect that to cancel out, though we can’t overlook the significant height and reach advantage for Magny, assuming he has the discipline (and range) to use them. Li has knockout power and an iron chin, as well as a consistent record to make him the betting favorite, so unless he experiences a complete collapse, I would be surprised if he did not dominate this fight for however long it lasts.
Prediction: Li defeat Magny by technical knockout
170 lbs.: Max “Pain” Griffin (15-7) vs. Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira (19-8-1)
UFC talent scouts first had their eyes on Max Griffin back in 2012, when he was added to Season 16 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). Unfortunately, “Pain” was bounced in Episode 1 and sent back to the regional circuit with his tail between his legs. Undaunted, the Californian got back on his horse and captured eight of his next 10, earning a callback from UFC and getting thrown right into a bout against Colby Covington at UFC 202. To call his Octagon run underwhelming would be fair, as most fans (and pundits) expected better than a 3-5 record. Any credit we gave Griffin for his win over Mike Perry quickly dissipated once we figured out that “Platinum” was simply mediocre, as well, evidence by a 6-6 record under the UFC banner.
It may or may not be too early to make a comparison to Alex Oliveira, who at one point seemed to be developing into a legitimate title contender at 170 pounds. By the end of 2018 “Cowboy” was sporting a 10-3 record inside the Octagon and a spot in the Top 15 of the official rankings. Then came a disastrous three-fight losing streak featuring performances in which the Brazilian looked progressively worse against competition that was nothing to write home about. No disrespect to Nicolas Dalby, but the 2016-17 “Cowboy” would have eaten him for lunch. How much of those struggles have to do with his troubling legal issues outside the cage are unknown, but Oliveira is not getting any younger — or any more durable — at age 32.
Griffin is two years older at age 34 and has been to the judges’ scorecards in his last six fights. In addition, he has just one finish as a UFC fighter and that came over three years ago. “Pain” has really upped his wrestling output and scored 12 takedowns over his last three fights. No doubt that strategy will be in play tomorrow night, as well, unless Oliveira — himself a formidable wrestler — beats him to the shot. The Brazilian has 16 finishes in 19 wins and a punishing clinch game but he also tends to tire himself out after the second stanza, the cost of being so physically strong. To the detriment of fight fans, Griffin has an equally putrid gas tank and that has as much to do with his style of fighting as it does with his physical conditioning. When all you do is go nuts for three rounds, it’s hard to keep your wind, so all we can hope for is an early finish. Oliveira may be down, but he’s not out, and I believe he’ll rise to the occasion and bring the “Pain” to Griffin.
Prediction: Oliveira def. Griffin by technical knockout
There you have it.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 248 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the Fight Pass/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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