After two successful events for the UFC back in Las Vegas, we head back once again to the UFC Apex to find out who is the “Baddest Man on the Planet”.
The Heavyweight Champion of the world is a title that is revered across sports. Whether it was Muhammed Ali, Mike Tyson, or Tyson Fury in boxing. Bas Rutten, Cain Velasquez, or Brock Lesnar in MMA. If you hold the Heavyweight Champion title, you are someone to be feared, someone to be in awe of, and certainly someone to watch.
We will also see two standouts in the Bantamweight division, young Sean O’Malley in his first co-main event slot will look to keep the hype train running, but Marlon Vera, no stranger to the UFC or the big stage will look to take that shine.
Let us get into it.
UFC 252 Main Card Preview
Stipe Miocic (19-3) vs Daniel Cormier (22-2)
Both men are future UFC Hall Of Famer entrants. Stipe Miocic is everything you want your Heavyweight Champion to be. Father, Husband, part-time Firefighter, Golden Gloves champion and hits like a Mack truck. Daniel Cormier is just as much the perfect fit for the mould of Champion. UFC Champ-Champ, Father, Husband, Olympian, Wrestling coach, commentator.
Stipe Miocic won the title in the depths of Curitiba, Brazil. Its no mean feat to go into the Amazon and come out victorious against a native. Stipe did so to a silent crowd as he faceplanted MMA and BJJ legend Fabricio Werdum whilst pedalling backwards.
He then went on the longest win streak as a heavyweight champion in UFC History with 3 defences. Taking his title back to Cleveland, walking out to Machine Gun Kelly. He was again crowned King of the World and State when he finished Alistair Overeem inside a round by KO. JDS was next, again falling foul of the heavy hands of the champion. Miocic made quick work of the veteran, finishing him by TKO inside 3 minutes.
Then the big one. The most feared prospect knocked at the door, Francis Ngannou. Francis on route to his title shot had never seen the 3rd round of a fight, and never had a judge’s scorecard been read with his name on it. He came into that fight riding a 10-fight win streak and finishing each fight in brutal and devastating fashion. Miocic welcomed the fight and proved exactly why he was the best fighter on the planet. Executing a perfect game plan to stay away from the power of Ngannou, and wrestle when necessary to drain the battery of the Cameroon King.
He then rode into UFC 226 for the 4th defence of his title. Across from him was DC.
Daniel Cormier, 2x Olympian, Light Heavyweight Champion. One half of one of the greatest rivalries in MMA history with long-time champion, Jon Jones. DC first claimed the LHW belt back in 2015, 4 months after his first defeat to Jon Jones. Jones was subsequently stripped of the belt due to his arrest in conjunction with a hit-and-run. This allowed DC the chance to fight for the vacant belt against monster striker and athlete, Rumble Johnson. DC claimed the title with a 3rd round submission.
He made 3 defences of his title, beating one the greatest fighters to never win a title, Alexander Gustafsson in a close decision at UFC 192. A rematch with Anthony Johnson saw him finish the challenger with the same submission, a rear naked choke, but this time a round earlier in the 2nd in a truly dominant performance.
The rematch with Jones was set. UFC 214. The rivalry was at its most venomous, Jones dropping his previous character and giving us a glimpse of what was behind, DC doing his upmost to not get dragged too far from his composure. The fight ended in a 3rd round KO by Jones, during the pre-fight build up he had told Cormier that his hands were low, and he was going to exploit it. Exploit it, he did. A head kick dropped the champion and a barrage of strikes on the ground called the fight to a halt.
It was not long before the title was stripped of Jones and handed back to DC, as Jones failed a drugs test for turinabol. DC, ashamed of Jones, outwardly said he was not the champion until he fought for the belt. UFC 220, on the undercard for Miocic’s masterful performance against Ngannou saw DC solidify the title once again, when he finished Volkan Oezdemir by TKO in the 2nd.
DC, being undefeated at HW in his Strikeforce days, called for a matchup against Miocic. Vacated the belt and went up, walking into the cage at 226 to meet Stipe. DC shocked everyone when he knocked out Stipe with a left hook inside the pocket at 4:33 of the first round. Shocked most of all, was Stipe Miocic. Controversy over an eye poke marred the result slightly for DC, and gave wind to the sails of Miocic in his hope of a rematch.
A defence of the HW title that did not take him out of first gear took place against Derrick Lewis at UFC 230. Miocic took the time to recover, have a child and get ready for the rematch. The rematch took place in August 2019, Anaheim, California. Miocic employed another perfect game plan, ripping DC to the body, and punishing him with his hands. Eventually DC crumbled, the bodywork had proven too much, and Stipe finished him against the cage in the 4th.
Just under a year later, on August 15th, we see the trilogy. The answer to the question of who the better man is, and who is the Baddest Man on the Planet.
Sean O’Malley (12-0) vs Marlon Vera (15-6-1)
A name that is on the lips of almost every MMA fan is that of undefeated rising superstar, ‘Suga’ Sean O’Malley. In the age of the UFC crying out for personality, he certainly has one of those. Successful in the social media spheres, successful with his Twitch streaming channels, and with the highlight reel knockouts to boot. If O’Malley keeps rising, they have a real star on their hands at 135 pounds.
O’Malley has a wonderful technical striking style, with elements of Anderson Silva, Conor McGregor and Izzy Adesanya all moulded into the brain of the young man he can snipe someone for a walk off KO, as he did in his last outing against Eddie Wineland, catch you with a wheel kick as he did in LFA, or the demolition with a head kick and follow up strikes as he did against Jose Quinonez.
The question that most fans pose of O’Malley’s game, is that of his grappling. What happens when he meets a good grappler? In steps Chito Vera.
Marlon Vera is a UFC Veteran and a BJJ Black belt. 14 fights in 6 years under the UFC banner, 4 submissions and 4 KO/TKO shows you he is more than just a grappler, but certainly could cause O’Malley problems. O’Malley is a finisher, and Vera has never been finished.
Vera fights at a high pace, with fight ending intentions with every action. His TKO of Frankie Saenz, his KO over UK Legend Brad Pickett and his submission over Nohelin Hernandez give you a glimpse of what he is capable of.
His ability to make reads and counter with unorthodoxy has improved recently, no more than his performance against Andre Ewell, who tagged Vera with a couple of left hands early in the 1st. Vera made the read and ducked under the left when it came the second time and wrapped an Arm Triangle, taking Ewell down with it.
Vera is hittable, and this is something he will need to be mindful of when he steps in against O’Malley, but do we see Suga continue his rise to the top? Or will Vera be able to choke the steam from the UFC’s latest hype train?
Junior dos Santos (21-7) vs Jairzinho Rozenstruik (10-1)
Junior dos Santos is a legend of the sport. An entire article could be written simply on his achievements. Fighting in the UFC for 12 years. A TKO victory over Fabricio Werdum in his debut, Heavyweight Champion with a win over bitter rival Cain Velazquez in 2011.
28 fights and 16 years a pro, he has seen, and done it all. 76% finishing record, with 15 KO/TKO tells you that ‘Cigano’ is an incredibly good striker, clean, crisp boxing and a very underrated ground game are the primary tools in the arsenal of JDS. His two recent losses come to high level competition, there is no shame in losing to Francis Ngannou, and Curtis Blaydes is a tough night for anyone.
Jairzinho Rozenstruik is a relatively new name in the UFC, but certainly not new to combat sports. 85 kickboxing fights proceed his 11 MMA fights, 76-8-1 (64 KO’s) his record in kickboxing. If that does not show you the level of his striking, then nothing will.
He is used to being undersized in the HW division, he is used to dealing with big heavy strikers. Albeit losing to a left hook amid what must felt like a stampede of elephants raining down on him in his last outing to Francis Ngannou. History shows us that he can hang with guys bigger than him.
Predominantly striker vs striker, who gets back into the win column in this one?
John Dodson (21-11) vs Merab Dvalishvili (11-4)
This is a sleeper for Fight of The Night bonuses.
John Dodson is a perennial gatekeeper in the Bantamweight division. Having fought everyone from every era of the 135lb division, he is another fighter than has seen it all. Famed for his furious hand speed, incredible ability to scramble and his toughness, Dodson in his UFC tenure has only lost to the best.
A 58% finish rate sits behind The Ultimate Fighter Season 14’s 21-11 record. His last outing a TKO over uber-prospect, Nathaniel Wood.
He meets Merab Dvalishvili. Dvalishvili comes from the Serra-Longo gym, and everyone in that camp cannot say anything but glowing things about him. Aljamain Sterling has been singing this mans praises for a long time before his UFC debut in 2017 where he dropped a split decision over Frankie Saenz.
Since then he has gone on to set a record, and then break his own record for the most takedowns in a BW contest, now sitting at 13 (previously 12). This is the tale of the tape for Merab, relentless wrestling. 8 decisions from 11 fights shows that he has some holes in his game to fix, and Dodson will certainly be looking to exploit those.
Magomed Ankalaev (13-1) vs Ion Cutelaba (15-5)
In one of the strangest matchups in a while (and that’s saying something for MMA) the first meeting of these two ended with plenty of controversy. Before the fight even started Cutelaba marches across the cage to the sound of Bruce Buffer. Goes nose to nose with his opponent, only for Ankalaev to grab double under hooks and throw him against the cage.
Early in the first both men exchanged strikes, Ankalaev lands a head kick and a couple of other strikes. Cutelaba is swaying on his feet, but still returning fire. Magomed continues to land, landing a left hook and a right-hand flush. Cutelaba is still swaying and the referee steps in. As soon as the ref’s arm leans across the pair of men, Cutelaba explodes in anger pushing the ref away and imitating that he was playing possum.
Post-fight, Cutelaba campaigns hard for the rematch, and here it is.
All of Ankalaev’s finishes are by way of KO/TKO (62% finish rate). Cutelaba has 12 KO/TKO and 2 Submissions (93% finish rate).
The heat is seemingly real between these two, so don’t expect this to last much longer than the first fight.
UFC 252 Prelim Card Preview
Jim Miller (32-14-1 NC) vs Vinc Pichel (12-2)
Jim Miller just keeps coming back. Its incredible that he is only 36, after fighting 46 times, over a span of 15 years. Its incredible that he still has the fire, as a father, after battling lime disease after trying to climb to the top of the 155lb division and never quite reaching it to keep trucking.
In his last outing he knocked off the rebuild of Roosevelt Roberts, who had lost two fights previously to the other half of this fight, Vinc Pichel.
Pichel is in the second chapter of his career, after 3 fights in the UFC between 2012-2014 he took a break, returning mid 2017 with wins over Damien Brown and Joaquim Silva. A loss to Gregor Gillespie, and then turning around mid-2019 and taking a win over Roberts.
Miller is a fan favourite. Excellent grappling has led to him submitting 18 of his opponents. His last 4 wins coming from submissions, he will be looking to snatch up any limb or neck that Pichel may leave hanging. Pichel’s two losses have come by finish (1 KO/1 Submission). However, he has KO’d 8 of his opponents, leaving him with a 67% finish rate.
Does Miller use his grappling to dominate, or does Pichel land his heavy hands on the veteran?
Livia Souza (13-2) vs Ashley Yoder (7-5)
In our second female matchup, Brazil’s Souza takes on Americas Yoder in the Strawweight division.
Yoder’s run in the UFC has been a tough one, going 2-4. She has faced tough competition in Randa Markos, Angela Hill, Justine Kish and BJJ ace Mackenzie Dern.
Females are notoriously tough to submit, and Yoder has 4 submissions, (all armbars) on her record. Her grappling credentials stood up in the split decision loss to Dern. With no finishes in her current UFC run, Yoder will be looking to get into the win column and make a statement on Saturday.
Livinha Souza however, has plenty of finishes, finishing 77% of her fights, 8 by way of submission. Dropping her last fight to striker Brianna Van Buren, the Sao Paulo native will have looked to close those holes and use her tools to take her to the mat, and her strong submission game.
Felice Herrig (14-8) vs Virna Jandiroba (15-1)
Polarising Strawweight Felice Herrig has a fire under her. Historically, the UFC has cut fighters that lose 3 fights in a row, and Herrig is on a 2-fight skid. Albeit those fights have been against some of the division’s elite in Michelle Waterson and Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
Herrig is a well-rounded fighter. Holding a kickboxing record of 28-5 and finishing 4 of her MMA fights by submission there is an array of tools at her disposal.
Her opponent is a submission machine. Brazilian Virna Jandiroba made her UFC debut against #7 ranked Carla Esparza, a tough ask for any debutant. She bounced right back however with a rear naked choke over Mallory Martin, late 2019. In 15 wins she has submitted 12 of her opponents, with a variety of submissions. However, the rear naked choke is the specialty.
This is a great styles matchup, and should be a fun one.
Herbert Burns (11-2) vs Daniel Pineda (26-13)
Speaking of submission artists, you do not carry the surname “Burns” without having some chops on the ground. Herbert, the older brother of Gilbert started his MMA career around the same time as his brother. However, has only amassed 13 fights to his brothers 22.
He has had a highly successful start to his UFC tenure, scoring 3 finishes from 3 fights his latest scalp being the veteran Evan Dunham. In that Dunham fight he did show holes in his striking game, however when it reached the mat it was an obvious skill disparity.
Daniel Pineda, having exactly 3x more experience than Burns holds more submission wins than Burns has had fights. He makes his return to the UFC after 7 fights with the promotion between 2012-2014. Pineda, it is worth noting had the last two wins overturned during his PFL run due to elevated levels of testosterone-to-epitestosterone.
This is a question of experience vs cage youthfulness.
TJ Brown (14-7) vs Danny Chavez (10-3)
T.J Brown takes on UFC debutant Danny Chavez. After making good on his Contender Series appearance, Brown lost his second UFC matchup to Jordan Griffin. The Arkansas native will want to keep his excellent 93% finishing rate up, when he welcomes Chavez to the UFC.
Danny Chavez is riding a 3-fight win streak, picking up 3 first round KO’s on the regional scene before getting the call to the UFC. Interestingly, these were the first 3 finishes of his career.
Can he carry that momentum with him and hand Brown his second loss in a row?
Chris Daukaus (8-3) vs Parker Porter (9-5)
Heavyweight scraps are always fun. UFC debutants looking to make their mark at heavyweight, has to be fun, right? Both men are relatively light on their experience, with under 30 fights between them. Plenty of finishes, however. Porter the more well rounded with 4 KO/TKO and 4 submissions. Daukaus with all of his finishes coming by way of KO/TKO.
This shouldn’t go the distance, but that’s up to the MMA God’s at this point.