Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is offering up its latest ESPN+ pay-per-view (PPV) event, as UFC 248 is set to go down later TONIGHT (Sat., March 7, 2020) inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event is set to feature a Middleweight title fight as division kingpin, Israel Adesanya, defends his title against top-ranked contender, Yoel Romero. In the co-headlining act, women’s Strawweight champion, Weili Zhang, is in search of her first-ever title defense when she faces off against former long-time division champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Adesanya has taken the mixed martial arts (MMA) world by storm ... with a quickness. After amassing an undefeated (11-0) record through the first five years of his professional MMA career, Adesanya signed with UFC in early 2018, and he’s continued on his tear ever since. After winning his first five fights inside the Octagon in the span of only 12 months, he tasted UFC gold for the first time after defeating Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 236 in April 2019 to claim the interim strap (highlights). He then proceeded to unify the titles by knocking out Robert Whittaker at UFC 243 six month later. So for those doing the math, that is seven straight wins, including two championship victories, in just 20 months. That’s an unprecedented run, which is the reason “The Last Stylebender” had no qualms in looking higher up to pick on current Light Heavyweight king, Jon Jones.
For now, Adesanya will face one of his stiffest challenges to date in Romero. Sure, he’s coming off two straight defeats, but that isn’t indicative of just what kind of threat “Soldier of God” really is. In fact, you can make a case for Romero winning his last two fights against Whittaker and Paulo Costa, which he lost via split and unanimous decision, respectively. Regardless, when UFC needed a viable opponent to face Adesanya after Costa suffered an injury, there was no better option than the Cuban-born muscle man.
Nevertheless, it truly is the old guard facing the new, as Romero is in search of his first-ever MMA world title at the age of 42, while Adesanya has already reached the pinnacle of the sport at age 30. Keep in mind, Romero didn’t make his MMA debut until he was 32 years old. That being said, you’d be a fool to let age sway you in this one, as Yoel is still as powerful, agile and speedy as they come. He has the knockout power to turn off anyone’s lights and his athleticism is through the roof (proof here). Adesanya, meanwhile, is already one of the best strikers in the game today, and if his callout of Romero teaches us anything, it’s that he isn’t looking for an easy road on his way to becoming one of the best of all time. He already has a massive following and is one of the faces of the promotion. Only Conor McGregor and Jon Jones have similar meteoric rises, and if Adesanya has his way, he’ll surpass them both in record time.
It’s going to be interesting to see how this one plays out because despite being an Olympic silver medalist in wrestling, Romero usually prefers to strike with his opponents. And that may not be the best strategy against a proven striker by trade. Furthermore, we haven't really seen “The Last Stylebender’s” wrestling tested yet, so Romero will definitely have a big advantage if he decides to go that route. Getting in to score the takedown, though, could be risky business for “Soldier of God” since Adesanya has the reach advantage that could give him some problems. And as Rafael Calvacante showed us in 2011, Romero can, in fact, be taken out by punches.
Still, Romero has the chance to become the second oldest fighter to win a UFC world title, with Randy Couture holding the record at age 43 when he defeated Tim Sylvia at UFC 68 back in 2007. Of course, the level in competition differs drastically when comparing Adesanya and Sylvia. Sorry, “Maine-iac.”
Let’s be honest, for as big as an event as this is, aside from the main- and co-main event title fights, it’s far from stacked. Why sugarcoat it? No knock on Beniel Dariush vs Drakkar Klose, Neil Magny vs Li Jinglian, or even Max Griffin vs Alex Oliveira, but I would have loved to see one more big fight with championship implications to complement the PPV main card.
Original Card Vs. Actual Card:
Piggy backing from the previous “What’s Not” segment, the card did have a bit more spice to it when the promotion announced that former 185-pound champion, Robert Whittaker, would be facing Jared Cannonier. But a few months later, Whittaker revealed that he would have to step away from the fight game for a little while to focus on some personal issues. A fight between Cannonier and Darren Till was teased for a bit as a replacement, but that never really gained any traction. Also, an intriguing 185-pound bout between Derek Brunson and undefeated phenom, Edmen Shahbazyan (11-0, 4-0 UFC), was yanked from the fight card and moved to UFC Fight Night 172 on April 11, 2020.
Douglas Silva de Andrade and Movsar Evloev were set to collide in Featherweight action, but after Andrade withdrew from the fight with an injury, Jammall Emmers was pegged as his replacement. Weeks later, Evloev took a tumble on his motorcycle and suffered some injuries, and he was forced out of the fight and ultimately replaced by Giga Chikadze.
Emmers is the only man making his UFC debut at this event, facing off against Giga Chikadze. Originally set to face Movsar Evloev, Emmers got a switch in opponents after a motorcycle accident forced Evloev to the emergency room and to the sidelines. While not ideal for the newcomer, “Pretty Boy” quickly had to shift his gameplan. That said, Chikadze is the one coming in on short notice without a full camp, so it evens out.
Winning eight of his last nine fights, Emmers’ lone loss during that span was on “Contender Series,” losing to Julian Erosa via knockout back in 2018. Since then, Jammal went on to earn four straight stoppage victories in four different organizations. That was good enough to get the call up to the big leagues. You probably wouldn’t know it given his string of stoppage wins, but Emmers’ specialty is wrestling, and can maul his opponents and grind out victories if needed. Chikadze is a striker, so it would behoove Emmers to take the fight to the ground if he wants to make a splash in his UFC debut.
How The ‘Prelims’ Look:
The undercard will be headlined by Sean O’ Malley taking on Jose Alberto Quinonez at Bantamweight. This will be O’ Malley’s first fight in two years after multiple issues with United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) forced him to sit out for an extended period of time. After several bookings and subsequent cancelations, the fight ultimately landed here. Dana White is very high on “Suga’ Sean,” even though he hasn’t really done much inside the Octagon, going just 2-0 since making a splash on “Contender Series.” That being said, if UFC is behind you, it’s not a bad thing, though you still have to deliver on your end. O’ Malley will have a tough challenge in front of him, as Quinonez has won five of his last six outings.
Also, Olympic silver medalist, Mark Madsen, will look to earn his second straight win inside the Octagon after making a successful UFC debut last September (see it here). If the undefeated (11-0, 1-0 UFC) wrestling standout keeps up his winning ways, he could move up the rankings rather swiftly. He will be facing Austin Hubbard, who is 1-1 so far in his UFC career. Furthermore, Rodolfo Vieira will look to stay undefeated (6-0, 1-0 UFC) when he faces Saparbek Safarov in middleweight action.
Plus, Daniel Cormier’s protege, Deron Winn, will look to get back in the win column after suffering the first loss of his MMA career at the hands of Darren Stewart in Oct. 2019. He will face Gerald Meerschaert, who has not been able to put together much momentum over his last four fights, going just 1-3.
Who Needs A Win Badly:
Alex Oliveira has lost his last three fights, with his last win coming in September of 2018. Oliveira has been fighting for UFC for five years now, but if he suffers his fourth straight defeat, letting him go will be a viable option for the promotion. After all, with all of the new blood coming in and trying to make some noise, UFC isn’t opposed to opening up roster spots for fresh faces and getting rid of veterans who just can’t catch a win. He’ll have a tough task breaking his skid, as he is facing Max Griffin who, despite his previous woes, is a tough draw for anyone, as he has only been finished once in his career. That was at the hands of Colby Covington way back at UFC 202.
Interest Level: 9 of 10
Despite its lack of other big fights on the main card, the two title fights more than make up for it, intrigue wise. Aside from getting to see a potential barn-burner between Adesanya and Romero, Weili Zhang and Joanna Jedrzejczyk should be fire. Zhang is on a ridiculous 20-fight win streak and hasn’t tasted defeat since her debut back in 2013. Inside the Octagon, she needed just four wins to become the 115-pound champion, knocking out Jessica Andrade rather swiftly in China last year (free fight here). Zhang is scary tough and has the speed and power to make the rest of the division tremble (see it on display here). Joanna, meanwhile, has been there and done that, as she has numerous title fights under her belt. Aside from having five straight title defenses on her resume, she’s taken part in nine championship fights so far in her UFC career. And that’s saying a lot since she’s fought only 13 times inside the eight-sided cage.
Look, I think Jedrzejczyk is a talented fighter, obviously, but when the promotion makes it so obvious that it wants her as one of its champions, it can get a bit frustrating. Yes, she is the longest reigning champ ever at 115 pounds, but after back-to-back title fight losses to Rose Namajunas, she was awarded a shot at the vacant flyweight title after scoring one win, which she lost to Valentina Shevchenko. After that, she defeated Michelle Waterson (see it), which was good enough to warrant yet another title fight. If you’re trying to build a division, focusing on just one fighter just doesn’t do it for me, especially if they are struggling as of late — Jedrzejczyk is 2-3 in her last five fights. For my money, I would have given Waterson the title fight against Zhang since she was on a three-fight win streak. Or maybe to Tatiana Suarez, who is undefeated (8-0), including winning her first four UFC fights. That said, if Joanna keeps getting offered the title fights, she’d be a fool to turn them down. Furthermore, Jedrzejczyk has somewhat of a likeable villain thing going for her, and has a knack for selling fights, so it’s no secret why UFC backs her.
Her fight against Zhang — who refuses to be bullied — will be a big challenge and will let us know exactly where she stands. If she comes up short in her bid to recapture the division strap again, I just can’t see how UFC will justify giving her another title fight in the near future...in any weight class.
Full Fight Card:
UFC 248 PPV Main Event On ESPN+:
185 lbs.: UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya vs. Yoel Romero
UFC 248 PPV Main Card On ESPN+ (10 p.m. ET):
115 lbs.: UFC Strawweight Champion Weili Zhang vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
155 lbs.: Beneil Dariush vs. Drakkar Klose
170 lbs.: Li Jingliang vs. Neil Magny
170 lbs.: Max Griffin vs. Alex Oliveira
UFC 248 Prelims Card On ESPN (8 p.m. ET):
135 lbs.: Sean O’Malley vs. Jose Quinonez
155 lbs.: Austin Hubbard vs. Mark Madsen
185 lbs.: Saparbek Safarov vs. Rodolfo Vieira
185 lbs.: Gerald Meerschaert vs. Deron Winn
UFC 248 Prelims Card On ESPN+ (6 p.m. ET):
115 lbs.: Polyana Viana vs. Emily Whitmire
135 lbs.: Jamall Emmers vs. Giga Chikadze
135 lbs.: Danaa Batgerel vs. Guido Cannetti
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 248 fight card this weekend 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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