( C) Amanda Nunes vs #1 Valentina Shevchenko
Amanda Nunes looks to defend the UFC Women’s Bantamweight for the second time against Valentina Shevchenko. The two previously squared off last year when Nunes won a three-round decision, but Shevchenko really started to come alive in the third round, and many people believe if it had been a five-round fight that Shevchenko would have won. In the first fight, Nunes strayed from her typical strategy and seemed to be more cautious, and looking to counter strike in the first round. In the second round, Nunes became the aggressor and bullied Shevchenko, taking her down and using ground and pound to wear her down. In the third round, Shevchenko was able to turn the tables and started to take control of the fight but was unable to overcome a two-round deficit.
Nunes is normally an extremely fast starter with six of her seven UFC victories coming in the first round. We have seen her have problems with her cardio in the past, both of her UFC fights that went outside the first round she seemed to gas at the end of the fight, but she says she has fixed these issues since switching camps to American Top Team. Shevchenko is a slower starter, but is an excellent counter striker and grappler. Three of her four UFC fights have gone the distance and she seems to get stronger as the fight goes on.
Nunes won the title from Miesha Tate after her first fight with Shevchenko. Since then it seems to have a fire lit underneath her. Nunes really displayed her skill when she knocked Ronda Rousey out in the first round last year. This victory showed Nunes willingness to defend her title at all costs, the mark of a good champion. With her new training camp at American Top Team we could see a completely different fighter than the one who fought Shevchenko the first time.
Prediction: Nunes will learn from her first fight and come out aggressive in the first round, and will try to use her reach advantage to land strikes on Shevchenko. In the Rousey fight she was able to avoid the clinch attempts and I see her being able to do that in this fight as well. If she is unsuccessful with the striking early on, look for Nunes to take Shevchenko down and use ground and pound to weaken her up. I believe the main difference in this fight will be the improvement Nunes has made compared to what Shevchenko has done since the first fight. Nunes (T)KO Rd 1
#1 Yoel Romero vs #3 Robert Whittaker
Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker square off for the interim middleweight championship, in possibly the most anticipated fight of the entire weekend.
Romero is one of the most decorated wrestlers in UFC history. He is well known for his silver medal in the Sydney Olympics, but even more impressive is his gold medal in the world championships, and three gold medals in the wrestling world cup. He is also a five-time gold medalist in the Pan American Championships. He is undefeated in the UFC with eight victories, six of those victories coming by (T)KO. He is possibly the most athletic fighter in the UFC with incredible strength and agility that are extremely rare. Romero is an unorthodox striker. He is super relaxed in all his movements, throwing his strikes at what seems like fifty percent power, and this seems to lull his opponents to sleep until he explodes in a violent outburst. People tend to question Romero’s cardio, which is fair because deep into fights he tends to breath heavy with his mouth open. That being said, five of his six knockouts have come in the third round. Even late into fights he is extremely explosive, and can end the fight at any time.
Whittaker has surprised many people and exploded into title contention with a knockout victory over Ronaldo Souza. Since moving to middleweight, Whittaker is undefeated with six victories. He is an extremely impressive striker and has the highest striking rate in middleweight history. Additionally, Whittaker has one of the most vicious left hooks in the middleweight division. He has extremely fast feet, and this helps him in his takedown defense that will be key in this fight against Romero. He has stopped ninety-one percent of takedowns in the UFC, and will need to draw on that in order to defeat Romero. Whittaker has shown the ability to compete with high level grapplers, but has yet to face someone with the wrestling pedigree of Romero.
Prediction: This is an extremely close fight that either fighter could win, but I have to give the edge to Romero based off his athleticism, and defeating the best fighters in the division. He has fought high level strikers like Loyoto Machida and was able to finish him in the third round. Romero also recently turned forty years old and realizes this might be his last shot to get to the top, and will use that as added motivation. Romero (T)KO Rd 3
#5 Michael Johnson vs Justin Gaethje
Justin Gaethje makes his long-awaited UFC debut when he takes on the fifth ranked lightweight in the UFC Michael Johnson.
Gaethje is a former division one wrestler, who has explosive striking, and a solid chin. One of Gaethje’s most dangerous weapons that he used while in the WSOF was his devastating leg kicks. He is 17-0 with 14 wins coming by (T)KO. While he is extremely entertaining there are a few holes that can been seen in his skill set. His footwork and head movement need improvement if he wants to compete at the highest level of the UFC. He also is constantly pressing forward, and is trying to be the more aggressive fighter, which against an effective counter striker could be a possible problem for Gaethje. The other possible problem for Gaethje will be the lack of competition he has faced to this point. His hardest opponents have been Melvin Guillard and Luis Palomino, and facing Michael Johnson will be a huge step up in competition.
Johnson is a long-time veteran of the UFC, and former Ultimate Fighter contestant. Johnson is a hard fighter to analyze because he has showed inconsistency when fighting to the point that it almost seems as if there is two Michael Johnson’s and you never know which fighter you will get when he steps into the cage. When Johnson is on, he can beat any lightweight in the world. One of the best strikers in the world, he combines incredible footwork, head movement, hand speed, and devastating knockout power to be one of the most dangerous fighters in the world. He also has great takedown defense to keep the fight standing. Johnson has become one of the top fighters in the division having bouts against Tony Ferguson, Joe Lauzon, and Edson Barboza. The bad side of Johnson is a completely different fighter. In some fights, he doesn’t use his footwork or head movement, and is just looking for a one punch knockout. He also seems to get frustrated, and mentally breaks down when he gets dominated on the ground. This was the case when he fought Miles Jury, Reza Madadi, and Khabib Nurmagomedov. He was completely dominated in all these fights and seemed to quit early on.
Prediction: This fight all depends on what Johnson decides to show up, but I believe Michael Johnson has a definite advantage in this fight. Gaethje’s poor footwork and head movement will be his downfall, as Johnson will be able to use superior technique to out strike Gaethje. I see Gaethje trying to be aggressive, rush straight forward, and try to use his leg kicks. Johnson will be able to avoid the leg kicks and counter strike Gaethje. Gaethje will show his toughness and solid chin, but by the third round the power of Johnson will be too much, and he will be able to put away Gaethje. Johnson (T)KO Rd 3