185 lbs.: Robert “The Reaper” Whittaker (19-4) vs. Yoel Romero (13-2)
Nostradumbass predicts: There are a couple of interesting variables as we approach this power-punching rematch. What kind of chance you give Yoel Romero his second time around may depend on how much stock you put in “Soldier of God’s” destruction of Luke Rockhold. Romero missed weight, Rockhold suffered a brutal weight cut and already had questions about the durability of his chin after getting wasted by Michael Bisping, among others. I’m not sure we are getting a different version of Romero than the one we saw at UFC 213 when he first went down on points against “The Reaper.”
By the same token, we won’t see a different Whittaker. The Aussie hasn’t competed since capturing what was then the interim title over the Cuban wrestler, thanks to a horrific staph infection, which followed the championship shenanigans between Bisping and Georges St-Pierre. The layoff wasn’t dramatic enough to be concerned about ring rust, but Whittaker may need a round to find his timing, a luxury not typically afforded to blokes trying to bang with Romero. The way I see it, this will truly be round six of their first fight, with fresh cardio.
That means Whittaker will have to do one of two things: Finish Romero or survive 25 minutes with the most devastating puncher at 185 pounds. For all his wresting accolades, Romero’s MMA wrestling has been unexceptional and when you take away the big punch, all you’re left with is intimidation. Whittaker was successful last July because he didn’t fight scared and implemented his offense to win, not to avoid getting smashed in the face. If that same confidence shows up in Chicago, there is no reason to think “The Reaper” wasn’t right when he told the MMA media that UFC 225 would be the event where “Soldier of God” finally shows his age.
Final prediction: Whittaker def. Romero by unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Colby “Chaos” Covington (13-1) vs. Rafael dos Anjos (28-9)
Nostradumbass predicts: Colby Covington has, what we like to call in the pro wrestling world, “X-PAC heat,” which means the fans hate him — but not in that “love to hate him” way afforded to Jon Jones, but rather in that “Please God, just go away” sort of way. Unfortunately, the role of “People’s Champion” will be played by Rafael dos Anjos, who was exceptional at lightweight and above average in his new home at 170 pounds. I say “unfortunately” because the Brazilian — whose hands were good enough to smash Cowboy Cerrone and Benson Henderson — will spend most of this fight on his back.
Giving up a size and reach advantage to a wrestler with the chops of Covington means he’s going to the floor and I just don’t think Dos Anjos has that kind of one-punch knockout power he needs to end this quickly, or at least instill enough fear into his opponent that “Chaos” starts shooting from across the cage in fear of getting tagged (which would make stopping the takedown so much easier). Covington’s striking is laughable but his ground game is without peer until proven otherwise. He handled Demian Maia and Dong Hyun Kim, two of the toughest outs at 185 pounds due to their size and strength.
Dos Anjos has proven himself as a welterweight, but he’s also benefited from favorable match ups, including a past-his-prime Robbie Lawler, who fights with that “lost at sea” look in his eyes. While I don’t think it will be as lopsided as his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov, the Brazilian is just not built to repel the kind of offense presented by Covington, who will need someone like Kamaru Usman or Tyron Woodley to give him pause. Not only will be this a dump-and-hump beer-run type of bout, it’s going to leave us with another four-to-six months of Covington’s verbal diarrhea to drive us crazy.
Final prediction: Covington def. Dos Anjos by unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Megan Anderson (8-2) vs. Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holm (11-4)
Nostradumbass predicts: Outside of reigning champion Cristiane Justino, Megan Anderson is the first true featherweight to make her UFC debut in the barren 145-pound weight class. And because she’s alone in that regard, the promotion has once again asked former bantamweight titleholder Holly Holm to jump up in weight to add some name value to the Octagon newcomer. Yes, the same Holm who is just 1-4 since creaming Ronda Rousey in late 2015, but hey, who else is available? Germaine de Randamie surrendered her strap and dropped back down to bantamweight to avoid the wrath of “Cyborg” and the new season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) featuring all female featherweights is still months away from producing a pool of qualified contenders.
That leaves Anderson as the lone featherweight representative and she brings with her a pretty impressive resume from Invicta Fighting Championship, where she captured four straight wins which all came by way of knockout. One of her advantages is her size, standing 6’0” tall with a 73” reach. That’s four inches over Holm in both departments, a definite concern when you consider how “The Preacher’s Daughter” works her offense, using counterpunches and combinations to do most of the heavy lifting.
Holm is by far the superior striker and built an impressive resume on the regional circuit by beating fighters of Anderson’s caliber. Why she can’t seem to win a fight inside the Octagon is a mystery, but it certainly has nothing to do with her physical skills. She’s got cardio for days and elite-level boxing, but her ground game is about what you would expect from a newborn calf. Is that the opening Anderson needs? We just don’t know how truly good the Aussie is (or can be) simply because she hasn’t faced anyone of note. That changes tomorrow night.
Holm won the Rousey fight because “Rowdy” clomped around the cage with her hands low and chin high, looking for the power punch to make it an early night. Once that failed, she had no Plan B, but Miesha Tate and Valentina Shevchenko both showed the blueprint for success. A blueprint I fully expect Anderson to follow in “The Windy City” to cement her “Cyborg” title fight later this year.
Final prediction: Anderson def. Holm by submission
265 lbs.: Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski (27-15, 1 NC) vs. Tai “Bam Bam” Tuivasa (7-0)
Nostradumbass predicts: Andrei Arlovski is now training at American Top Team and has won two consecutive fights, so of course the “Pitbull” fanboys will declare he’s “back.” Sorry, but beating Junior Albini and Stefan Struve are nothing to write home about. The former is just 1-2 inside the Octagon — good enough to be ranked in the Top 15 because heavyweight sucks — while the latter has dropped two straight. And no amount of can crushing will erase the fact that Arlovski has been knocked out 10 times in his career.
To his credit, he appears to be using more of his wrestling in recent fights and it’s a shame he waited until he was almost 40 to show his skills on the ground. He remains dangerous on his feet and his right hand still has some pop, but I’m not sure he wants to get into a slugfest with Tai Tuivasa, because that’s the one thing he does and does very well. The Aussie has won all seven of his fights by way of punishing knockout and what he lacks in height and reach he makes up for in ruthless aggression.
The reason Arlovski has been stopped so many times is because it doesn’t take that much to hurt him. He does not do well getting charged and backed into the cage which is how a fighter like Brett Rogers was able to end their bout in the opening frame. We don’t know much about Tuivasa because he really hasn’t fought anyone of merit and has yet to leave the second stanza, though we can say for certain that he used to play rugby and has the gas tank of a Briggs & Stratton push mower. Even so, he’s no less qualified than a bloated tire mechanic from Sam’s Club — and we all saw how that ended.
Final prediction: Tuivasa def. Arlovski by knockout
170 lbs.: Phil “CM Punk” Brooks (0-1) vs. Mike “The Truth” Jackson (0-1)
Nostradumbass predicts: I’m not sure what to even say here. Am I supposed to provide a technical, detailed analysis of two 0-1 fighters who got clowned by Mickey Gall? Or do I just make a bunch of “CM Stunk” and “Mike Jackson’s nickname is ‘The Truth’ because the truth is he sucks” jokes until I hit my word count? Punk is a broken down ex-wrassler who was supposed to be halfway decent at jiu-jitsu, but the way he was crushed by Gall made me wonder what the hell he was doing on the Gracie mats for all those years.
Similarly, Jackson had some experience on the kickboxing circuit, then got dropped by Gall before succumbing to the rear-naked choke. So yeah, the only thing either of them were even remotely okay at doing had zero impact in their Octagon debuts. And let’s not pretend they were fighting some welterweight wunderkind. Gall isn’t even ranked in the top 15 and got outclassed by Randy Brown. I know that was a longwinded way of saying “these two guys suck” but yeah, they kinda do. Not that it matters in prize fighting, because Punk can sell tickets in Chicago and still has enough name value to move the PPV needle, which is why he makes a sickening $500,000 per fight.
I don’t expect this to be a good fight, but one thing we can say for certain is that Punk, who is quite wealthy, is fighting because he wants to, not because he has to. He is driven to compete and the embarrassment of what was — and what may be to come — won’t stop him from trying. Jasckon, on the other hand, only pursued this opportunity because he’s convinced the rub he’ll get from fighting (and potentially beating) Punk will advance his career exponentially. Considering both fighters are equally matched in their glaring deficiencies, Punk’s hunger is exactly the kind of difference maker that can change the outcome of a fight. He wants it, has spent two years dreaming about his redemption, and is probably better at grappling than Jackson is at kickboxing.
Final prediction: Punk def. Jackson by submission
There you have it.