As the UFC tries to continue the success that was 2016, they give us the first worth while fight night event of the year. UFC Fight Night Denver’s main card fight’s determine the title picture for several weight classes and give us another chance to view some potential superstars. Today I will break down each fight and give you some x factors. At the end of each breakdown I will give out my prediction for the fight.
Andrei Arlovski vs Francis Ngannou
In a few ways, this fight could be similar to the Rodriguez vs Penn travesty the we witnessed a few weeks ago. Arlovski is coming off a very rough 2016 where he has lost 3 consecutive fights. Francis Ngannou is the new “it” kid in the heavyweight division and it would appear that Dana White and the UFC have made Arlovski the next stepping stone. This fight is a classic case of the grizzled veteran who is trying to make one final run at a title shot vs the new breed of fighter who wants to build himself up by beating a notable foe.
Arlovski is one of the toughest men to ever fight in the octagon and he is a former champion but age and all the physical punishment seem to have caught up with him. His best chance at winning this fight is to use his experience to control Ngannou on the ground and wait for mistakes to be made. That is no small task since I expect Ngannou to come out fast and land heavy shots. Arlovski’s chin has faded and he will need to protect himself if he wants to get this to the ground. He might get lucky and land some big shots of his own which could put Ngannou in a bad spot and Andrei can use his excellent submission game to finish the fight in a surprise upset.
Francis Ngannou is no longer a dark horse contender in the heavyweight division. He is being thrust into the light with this fight and he won’t be getting an easy fights from here on out. This will most likely be the last “easy” fight of his career. Ngannou has had above average timing in his previous fights and his cardio seems to be on par with the rest of the division so I am not worried about him fading in this fight. This may be the first time we see him take some hard shots from an opponent though and it will be a perfect time to see if his chin can hold up.
The x factor in this fight is cardio. Heavyweights are notorious for gassing out early at high altitudes. It was so bad that former UFC matchmaker Joe Silva said he would never book a heavyweight fight in high altitude again. If the elevation does play as much of a factor as I believe it will, then this is anyone’s fight.
Winner: Francis Ngannou 1st round KO
Donald Cerrone vs Jorge Masvidal
This will probably be voted as fight of the night. An incredible match up between 2 men with similar skills and skill level. These men can fight anywhere but this is going to be a stand up battle where both men will throw a series of perfect punch and kick combinations for 3 rounds.
“Cowboy” Cerrone has looked better than ever since moving up to the 170 pound division. Cerrone walks around at about 180 and it’s refreshing to see fighters fight at a more natural weight instead of cutting 20 or 30 pounds. Cowboy’s Muay Thai is second to none and his ground game is just as deadly. Donald likes to stay on his feet and is puts together perfect combinations. Don’t believe me? Go to YouTube and search Donald Cerrone combinations, you won’t be sad that you did. He has also won 9 out of his last 10 with his only loss coming at the hands of former 155 pound champ Rafael Dos Anjos. Let’s not forget that this fight is in Donald’s home town. He will be doing whatever he can to come out on top in this fight. While this fight will move Donald close to title contention if he wins at 170, it will not get him the title shot that he so desperately wants.
Jorge Masvidal is an interesting fighter once you start to dig in and look at his previous fights. Currently sitting on a two fight win streak, Masvidal has a tendency to become complacent and lose fights that he should win. When he applies himself and is focused on training he is one of the toughest fighters at 170. He has a better takedown defense and better striking defense than Cerrone and he could make this a real back and forth fight if he uses his defense properly. For Masvidal to win he will need to dominate this fight on every level and use his defense to keep it standing.
The x factor here is Donald’s mindset. Fighting in your hometown brings extra stress to perform and extra pressure to win in front of your friends and family. The last time we saw Cerrone in a high pressure fight he looked lost and didn’t seem to want to be in the cage. If he lets the stress get to him we could end up seeing a replay of his last fight with Rafael Dos Anjos.
Winner: Cerrone by Unanimous Decision
Valentina Schevchenko vs Julianna Pena
Time for the main event fight and it’s a good one. These two women have been battling for a shot at the title for years now and tonight we will find out which of them will battle current champion Amanda Nunez later this year. Schevchenko almost defeated Nunez once before but in an amazing display of heart Nunez was able to survive a near knock out and then became champion. Pena got her start in the UFC through TUF in which she was the winner of her season. This fight is a class of two different style of fighters and who can better utilize their particular set of skills.
Valentina “The Bullet” Schevchenko is a striker through and through. She loves to stand and trade with her opponent and every fight she has had in the UFC has ended the same way, by decision. This is not to say that her fights are boring because that is far from the truth. Valentina uses her takedowns to keep fighters from picking up her timing on punches and it has worked quite well for her so far. She walked through Holly Holm who was considered to be the most dangerous striker in the women’s 135 pound division at the time. This fight stylistically does not bode well for Schevchenko because she is facing a tough competitor who earns her living on the ground. Her takedown defense is around 70% and if she can keep this fight standing she should win.
Juliana Pena is a jui-jitsu fighter with strong wrestling to back it up. Her most recent win against Cat Zingano put her where she is today and has her one step away from a title shot. She recently moved her fight camp from her home in Spokane, Washington to Chicago so that she could move in with her boyfriend who works for the police department there. When Pena came out of TUF it was suggested that she may have had the skills to be the woman to dethrone the once great Ronda Rousey. She has suffered some set backs in her career but she seems to ready for her shot at the title. If she want to get there she will need to take this fight to the ground and either ground and pound a decision or try and submit her opponent. This will be a challenge given her 67% take-down success rate.
The x factor in this fight is heart. I really see this fight coming down to who wants it more. Either of these women can win this fight, it just comes down to who wants it more.
Winner: Julianna Pena by Unanimous Decision