UFC 209 is upon us and features a big rematch between Tyron Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson for the UFC welterweight championship. The show is also stacked from top to bottom, with a lot at stake for most of the fighters on the card.
The card features athletes at the beginning and end of their careers and the outcome of their contests could decide their UFC fates. This could be one of those shows that ends early; it’s likely we are going to see a lot of knockouts.
Tyron Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson
This fight is about the championship, but for Woodley it’s about something equally important: respect.
Woodley has complained recently that he’s being overlooked by the company and has been under-promoted. Woodley needs to win here to prove that he is at the level of the sport’s elite fighters. He is also going into the fight at a psychological disadvantage. He hit Thompson with everything he had and Thompson survived and nearly won their first fight. Woodley must find a way to win convincingly to defy the critics and land a big money fight.
Thompson has a lot to gain here. He pulled out a draw after nearly getting finished in the first fight. He’s an exciting stand-up fighter with a ton of marketing potential. Thompson has an opportunity to knock a distracted Woodley out; it’s possible (go watch Woodley’s fight with Nate Marquardt). He needs to find a way to get the win here to avoid falling into Rory MacDonald territory, a guy with great potential who arguably came up short inside the Octagon. Expect an explosive, short fight.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson
With Conor McGregor on the shelf, we get an interim lightweight championship match. This fight is huge because the winner could fight McGregor later in the year in a title unification match.
Nurmagomedov has long deserved a title shot and he gets it here, in a fight that he is totally capable of winning. There’s a feeling that McGregor has been ducking Nurmagomedov, but a victory for the Russian would make it impossible for McGregor to avoid him.
Ferguson is on a roll here and has a chance to capture the gold. A win sets him up for a big money fight with McGregor. Both guys here can afford to lose and still come back and be a contender. They are young and talented and both are probably future champions. The key to this fight for Nurmagomedov will be to take the fight to the ground.
Alistair Overeem vs. Mark Hunt
Overeem is walking into the lion’s den here. Overeem enjoyed a good run before he was knocked out by Stipe Miocic in his long-awaited heavyweight title match. He really cannot afford another knockout loss. With a suspect chin, all signs point to Overeem having trouble against the hard-hitting Hunt. Overeem will need to fight a technically perfect fight for all three rounds, win a decision and earn a title shot.
Hunt is returning to the Octagon after his infamous match with Brock Lesnar, a fight he lost on a decision, but then earned a no-contest after Lesnar was popped by USADA for performance enhancement drugs. Hunt is hungry and mad, a bad recipe for Overeem. One punch could end this fight. If Hunt wins he could push himself to the front of the line for a title shot. But even if he loses, he’ll be back because he’s always an exciting fighter to watch.
Rashad Evans vs. Daniel Kelly
Evans is on the downside of his career and faces a stiff challenge from a young rising star. At his age, Evans will have a hard time competing against the top guys in the middleweight division, so he’s really fighting for legacy here. Evans has knockout power so it is possible that he could pull out another victory here, but it’s not likely. If Evans loses, it could accelerate his retirement process.
Kelly needs a big victory here over a legend to get on people’s radar, and he can’t afford a lackluster three-round decision. Kelly needs to knock out or dominate Evans to get noticed by the top middleweights.
Lando Vannata vs. David Teymur
This will be a kickboxing spectacle and Vannata could emerge as a darkhorse title contender with a spectacular knockout or strong performance over three rounds. Teymur’s left-handed stance could throw Vannata off, so he’ll need to keep this fight standing up. If he follows through with such a game plan, win or lose, he will come out of the fight as a star. Teymur, meanwhile, has won two fights in a row and has a big future in the company whether he wins or loses Saturday night.