The UFC is back in action for one last time in 2020. A year in which a pandemic temporary shut the world down. However, the UFC temporary stayed down, as they became one of the first sports to return to action – trail blazing the way for other sports to attempt a safe return. With five plus months with at least one card a week, the UFC proved they could make it through 2020 in one piece. This event will end that streak, but the countdown to the return of Conor McGregor will follow suit into 2021. As for this card, the headliners come in the form of two Welterweight contenders. Former title challenger Stephen Thompson returns to action against the surging Geoff Neal. With a plethora of knockouts and the fact that these two men are strikers, I’d suggest not missing this one.
UFC Vegas 17 Main Card On ESPN+ (7 p.m. ET):
170 lbs.: Stephen Thompson vs. Geoff Neal – This is a hell of a fight and excellent matchmaking by the UFC. Stephen Thompson is still a contender at Welterweight, but his time is nearing. Fresh off a win over Vicente Luque, Thompson is tasked to yet again hold off an upstart Welterweight in Geoff Neal. ‘Handz of Steel’ is riding a seven fight win-streak, with all but one coming via stoppage. The last three wins in particular are impressive, as Neal dominated Belal Muhammad and put away Niko Price and Mike Perry. While ‘Wonderboy’ is a step up in competition, it’s a more than deserving one. The real shame is that this will be Neal’s first fight in 2020.
As for a prediction, give me ‘Wonderboy’. At 37 years old, Thompson may not be the same fighter he was when he fought for the belt. The results of late would confirm that. However, his most recent fight against Vicente Luque was telling that he’s not done. It also dismissed the thought that Thompson might have a compromised chin. Not only did Thompson eat Luque’s shots, he stood toe to toe and nearly doubled Luque in significant strikes. If Geoff Neal can’t put Thompson away early, I’m not sure his cardio holds for all five rounds. Neal also has to get inside Thompson’s distance, which has been tough for a majority of ‘Wonderboy’s’ foes. Ultimately karate prevails and Thompson takes this fight via late TKO.
135 lbs.: Jose Aldo vs. Marlon Vera – I want to side with Marlon Vera badly here. The man is underrated and he’s due for the fights he’s been getting. However, Jose Aldo in a three round fight is a hard out for anyone. Hell, in his last fight against the Champion Petr Yan – Aldo looked relatively good for the first three rounds. Against Vera, a known slow starter, I could see Aldo coming out strong and taking round one. IF Aldo would actually commit to throwing an abundance of leg kicks, he could honestly beat anyone. Regardless, I still favor Aldo in this contest. I’m not writing off Vera by no means though. If he can maintain distance and strike from the outside, he could realistically outpoint Aldo. Given his style, I don’t see that happening. So with that, give me Aldo to win via decision.
170 lbs.: Michel Pereira vs. Khaos Williams – It’s hard not to go with Khaos Williams. The man has the death touch it appears and given Michel Pereira’s style, we could see another short night of work for the upstart Welterweight. However, I’m going Pereira. In his last fight, he fought technical and less wild. In result, his cardio was solid and he wound up locking up a third round submission victory. As long as he can avoid being swarmed by Williams early, I favor Pereira to prevail. The unknown of Williams cardio and his ability to keep what will be a hard pace for more than a round is tough to side with. I mean, Williams isn’t yet in the Francis Ngannou territory. So with that, give me Pereira to win via late TKO.
135 lbs.: Marlon Moraes vs. Rob Font – Since round two against Henry Cejudo, something about Marlon Moraes seems off. I mean, for a guy who was religiously beating fighters over five rounds – Moraes seems to be having issues with cardio. Perhaps age and the consistent weight cuts down to 135 lbs. are starting to show. Regardless, this is a fight Moraes should realistically win. Rob Font is a great striker, who uses distance well and peppers opponents with volume. Size and reach advantages often play a role in Font being the better man on the feet, but he’s struggled at times with opponents who have power. Moraes has that power, more so in his leg kicks. If Moraes implements a gameplan to chop down Font with leg kicks, I see him succeeding. Should Moraes go toe to toe on and disregard using leg kicks, this could be a toss up. In the end, I believe Moraes will fight with urgency to resurrect himself. Another loss in the bantamweight division could result in a year setback just to get back to where he is. So with that, give me Moraes to win via decision.
265 lbs.: Greg Hardy vs. Marcin Tybura – Greg Hardy undoubtedly holds the power edge, but he lacks the necessary cardio to keep a strong pace. Marcin Tybura doesn’t lack that and as long as he can avoid the early storm, he should have an easier time handling Hardy the deeper this fight goes. In the end, there are levels to this game. Pending a Hardy landing a knockout blow, I don’t see him taking this fight should it go three rounds. So with that, give me Tybura via decision.
UFC Fight Night 183 Prelims Card On ESPN+ (4 p.m. ET):
170 lbs.: Alex Morono vs. Anthony Pettis – I don’t want to discredit Alex Morono, but this is the first time Anthony Pettis has fought a similar caliber fighter since probably Shane Roller over ten years ago. Now, Pettis isn’t the same fighter we remember, but he has fought the best of the division for quite some time. I have a hard time seeing him drop this fight, especially given his recent lifestyle changes. Pettis seems focused and I think the killer that knocked out Stephen Thompson last year returns to form against Morono. In a fun fight, give me Pettis via submission.
135 lbs.: Sijara Eubanks vs. Pannie Kianzad – While initially I was on Sijara Eubanks, I actually liken Pannie Kianzad here. On the feet, Eubanks has the power advantage, but Kianzad throws slightly more volume. Eubanks is physically strong with good wrestling, but Kianzad neutralizes that with her size and near flawless takedown defense. The later this fight goes, the better it will be for Kianzad too. She boost the better cardio. With all that said, give me Kianzad via decision.
195 lbs.: Deron Winn vs. Antonio Arroyo – While Antonio Arroyo has a massive height and a decent reach advantage, I’m going with Deron Winn. With a pink slip staring him in the face, I think it’s time we finally see Winn tap into his wrestling roots and grind out a decision victory. If he chooses to stand, I’m not overly confident come round three his cardio will be there to defend himself. So with that, give me Winn to win via decision.
125 lbs.: Gillian Robertson vs. Taila Santos – I believe that Taila Santos might finally be coming into her own after the dominant victory over Molly McCann. However, the loss to Mara Romero Borella combined with the record stacking on the regional scene leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Her physical strength though is tough to overcome, and I believe it will be the factor that makes this a close fight. In the end though, the scrappiness of Gillian Robertson is what gets her the nod. Robertson doesn’t have the striking nor volume to compete with Santos on the feet, but her grappling and persistence is going sway the judges. In the end, a few takedowns, some top control and submission attempts give Robertson the split decision victory.
185 lbs.: Tafon Nchukwi vs. Jamie Pickett – Tafon Nchukwi reminds me Melvin Manhoef – I got him winning via first round knockout.
125 lbs.: Cody Durden vs. Jimmy Flick – While I believe Cody Durden could very well come out of the gate and use his strength advantage to completely dominate and perhaps finish Flick early, I worry about the aftermath should he fail to. After all, his UFC debut was a draw. One in which he dominated round one and faded in the the last two rounds. Throw in the fact that even if Durden gets Flick to the mat, he is going to have to work for his money to avoid the constant submission threats Flick throws up. That in itself is going to be exhausting. The extra ten pounds Durden cut to debut at Flyweight is something to watch too cardio-wise. So with that, give me Flick to win via submission.
160 lbs.: Christos Giagos vs. Carlton Minus – Even on three days notice and with a questionable gas tank, Christos Giagos should take this fight with relative ease. Expect a healthy dose of takedowns en route to a decision victory.