UFC 219 Main Card Breakdown

Cyborg vs Holm

UFC 219 Main Card on Pay Per View

Here we are, the end of the year and plenty to look forward to the UFC’s final card of 2017. UFC 219 has it all. Deep prelims, solid lead-ins, a stacked main card and a phenomenal main event. There’s potential for it to be a card of the year-caliber event. And while we all mourn the loss of Jimmie Rivera vs John Lineker while praying to the MMA gods Khabib makes weight, we should all take comfort in knowing this card will be glorious. So treat yourself to an end of the year treat and buy this card.

You know you want to.

Daniel Hooker vs Marc Diakiese

Late addition to the main card it’s a doozy.

Daniel Hooker has been in and out of the win column since joining the UFC 2014 but with a KO victory over Ross Pearson in his last fight, he has the opportunity build his first win streak with the promotion. Surprising given his solid track record in the sport. Nonetheless a win would be a great step towards contender status and would keep him undefeated at lightweight.

Standing in front of him is uber-prospect Marc Diakiese. The Brit entered the UFC on the heels of winning the lightweight title in BAMMA and subsequently defending the belt in a total of 1 minute of cage time. The highlight-reel KO’s catapulted him to the top of the prospect pool and carried him into a much anticipated UFC debut. 3 wins and a close decision loss later and Diakiese finds himself kicking off the main card at UFC 219. But if he wants to warrant the hype, he’ll have to get back on track Saturday night.

“The Hangman”

Daniel Hooker gets his second lightweight start in the UFC and does so on the high of his knockout win. That’s become habit for the Kiwi.

His length is something to admire in the division and his style compliments it well. He’s got a long jab that he uses to keep range but the draw back often falls short which could allow a left hook counter from the speedy Diakiese. The lead leg is active and can clear space on a dime as well as wrap around the head of his opponent courtesy of the left roundhouse. His right hook comes on the counter and often tempers his opponents advances more than it creates damage. But perhaps his greatest asset in this fight is the long leg kicks he employed against Ross Pearson.

They often lacked set-up. But because of his length, he typically remains out of range. And against Diakiese, this could take away the speed and flashy kicks we’ve been accustomed to seeing from the Brit. And when Diakiese took on Drakkar Klose, leg kicks were used from the opening bell and forced a stance change just 2 kicks in. The kicks will allow Hooker to move forward and past the long kicks of Diakiese, making this a close-quarter battle. Despite the reach advantage of Hooker, I suspect he’ll be better off in tight than at distance.

Media day face off! #ufc219

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“Bonecrusher”

The reason Hooker won’t have the advantage at range is precisely why Diakiese has gained popularity in the first place. His left leg is quick and his wide array of spin kicks force his opponents back to the fence giving him the space to work. On the counter, it’s more his hands that come into play given their propensity for short range effectiveness and ease at finding the chin. Watching his 30 second demolition of Teemu Packalen shows us his rock back right hand is one of his best weapons in his arsenal which is what makes him a difficult fighter to defeat.

Stay at range and he’ll put his capoiera style techniques on full display. Try and close distance, and eat a right hand from an angle offline. The way to beat him is to force him back and force him to lead. Draw shots out of him and force him to defend the counters and grapple when need be. Against Klose, he showed he has the balance and strength to defend takedowns from one of the better wrestlers in the division. But ultimately, his inability to stay on his feet allowed Klose to take the judges scorecards and while his leg attacks forced scrambles and allowed him to sweep several times, he at times became a bit too content on the ground instead of exploding immediately.

Who Will Win?

Regardless of how this one plays out, it’s gonna be a fight of the night candidate. Daniel Hooker has some defensive holes that he must sure up when facing a dangerous striker such as Diakiese. He lacks head movement and often abandons the guard at range but makes up for it with good awareness and proper evasive maneuvers. There’s a possibility for a serious knockout here but it’s not just on Diakiese’s end. Marc has an excellent rock back but mostly doesn’t want to rely on his boxing in tight. But with hard leg kicks, he can break down the guard and force him to move backward.

This could benefit Hooker as he’s got the boxing edge with the stinging jab and the check hook. Length will be his ally when needed and the grappling will likely be in his favor once more. For that reason, i’ll give a slight edge to Daniel Hooker. But, in this fight more than most, danger is around every turn.

Prediction: Hooker via Decision

Carlos Condit vs Neil Magny

If you’re not excited for the return of Carlos Condit, check your pulse. He’s one of the best welterweights in MMA and a lock for an exciting contest every time he locks horns. Across the cage is a man who has made his name with a quiet run through the welterweight division’s best. Though it seems when the lights are the brightest he fades a bit. It’s harsh criticism but fair given his track record. This is a big one. Ignore Condit’s recent woes. A win over the “Natural Born Killer” means something. But it surely won’t” come easy.

Carlos Condit is a fan favorite if i’ve ever seen one. And his resume shows a willingness to test himself against the division’s elite at every turn. Name a welterweight legend and he’s fought him. Diaz, GSP, Woodley, Lawler, Maia. It’s unbelievable the names he’s run into over the years. And while that fire still burns bright, his recent run tells us he may not have much left. And ultimately that’s what this fight is about. Does Condit still belong with the best welterweights in the world? We’ll see, only a few more days.

“Natural Born Killer”

It is a bit unclear what we will see from Carlos Condit at UFC 219. We have not seen him in the cage since his loss to Demian Maia over a year ago. Still, we wait with baited breath for the return of the “Natural Born Killer”.

Carlos Condit has a difficult style to deal with. The volume he throws is often unmatched and his long front kicks and rangy high kicks make it difficult for his opponents to close distance at will. And once he’s in rhythm, NBK begins walking his opponent down and throwing length combinations starting with the awkward angle from his tight right hand and ending with a long range attack to maintain appropriate distance from counters. Or at least that’s the idea. Often he finds himself in tight and without a clinch battle, where he can display his sharp elbows and gut busting knees. However, against Robbie Lawler, this also meant absorbing several short yet powerful shots.

And against Neil Magny, that will also mean having to deal with high level grappling. And as we saw against Demian Maia, that could become a problem for the former interim champion. Now, it should be noted that Carlos Condit has 13 submissions on his resume and is no push over when it comes to ground exchanges. But as of late, his weakness has been wrestlers and Neil Magny could certainly fit that bill. Especially with the ever-advancing Condit.

3 Days. #UFC219 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

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“Magny”

Neil Magny has it all. He’s got a long jab to stay out of range, hard leg kicks to damage the mobility of his opponent and a grappling acumen that has seen him have success finding dangerous positions on the floor. Unlike Condit, on the feet, he’d rather have a rangy exchange than an in your face brawl. And while he’s been taken apart by the likes of Lorenz Larkin and Rafael Dos Anjos, I still see serious potential in him. Particularly in this fight. Leg attacks will put him on his back but if they aren’t set-up appropriately, his long right hand will land at will. And when pressured, like he surely will be on Saturday, his footwork gets him in trouble. He finds himself evading into the fence line and artificially closing distance himself.

However, as we saw against the aggressive Kelvin Gastelum, his superior wrestling often acts as a last defense and a damn good one at that. Condit will be moving forward, he’ll need to close distance to land his short range attacks and he won’t be able to do so sitting back. Magny will snap the jab and employ the front kick to keep range. This means NBK will be advancing early.

From there, he often loses foresight on his distance control and can find himself in a vulnerable range. This is where Magny can shoot under his arms, due to Condit’s tall stance, and take the fight to the mat. From there, Condit has shown time and time again, he is willing to give his back to stand up. And with Magny’s long limbs allowing him to find and maintain a back mount, I see this as his path to victory.

It won’t be fun for fans of the “Natural Born Killer”. But there’s a path to victory for Neil Magny and it’s not through a dog-fight.

Christmas is coming a little late for me this year! #ufc219 #ufc #mma

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Who Will Win?

Both men have weaknesses in base and in body. Leg kicks will take the feet right out from them and body work will slow the pace of the two voluminous strikers. However, I don’t necessarily see either of these approaches being taken full advantage from by either fighter. Body work will be there, but I feel Condit doesn’t have the power to cripple Magny and Magny won’t have the tenacity to strike in tight where he can target the body more effectively. For that reason, there are two ways I see this fight going.

Scenario #1: Condit starts slow and begins to build on his volume which finds Magny slowing down. It’s a slow but steady pace where Neil is unaware of the mounting damage he is taking and see’s no desperation. Because of this, he decides to keep the fight on the feet where he is out struck by Condit and ultimately will fall by decision.

OR

Scenario #2: Condit begins walking Magny down and forces his back to the cage. But because of his inability to utilize his range with his hands, he’s forced to close distance to inflict more damage. Because of the obvious danger associated with an advancing NBK, Magny shoots for the takedown and gets it. This will eventually end in a scramble, a back take and a rear naked choke for Magny.

As much as i’d love to pick Condit, i’m not sure what we’ll get from him. He’s contemplated retirement and has been too inactive for me to be comfortable picking him. For that reason, i’m taking scenario #2.

Prediction: Magny via Submission

Cynthia Calvillo vs Carla Esparza

Alright, here’s the deal. I’m a huge fan of Cynthia Calvillo and because i’m trying to be nicer, i’ll say i’m simply not a fan of Carla Esparza. She’s the former champ but let’s be honest, she won TUF and once faced with serious competition, we saw what she was made of. With that out of the way, I won’t let that sway my thoughts of this fight so let’s get into it.

Cynthia Calvillo has burst on the scene in a big way. She’s a serious candidate for breakout fighter of the year and with a win could find herself challenging for the belt in 2018. And after a win over strawweight staple, Joanne Calderwood, she already looks like a star in the making. She now faces the inaugural UFC strawweight champion for a chance to register 4 wins in her first year in the octagon. It would be an impressive feat, but at UFC 219, she’s got a fight on her hands.

Carla Esparza hasn’t found the success she once held in the TUF house. The Ultimate Fighter has found several stars we now love to watch. But, it’s a difficult tournament to showcase your entire skill set and often times it’s the losers that end up being the steady contenders. Esparza benefited from her excellent wrestling ability and made a run through the house where she defeated Tecia Torres, Jessica Penne and current champion Rose Namajunas. But that was then and this is now. Esparza has traded wins and losses since her debut against Jedrzejczyk and coming off a win to Maryna Moroz means she has a shot at her first win streak. Big stakes, big fight, big test.

“Calvillo”

Cynthia Calvillo is as well rounded a fighter as you’ll see in the women’s strawweight division. In that sense, she reminds me of current champion, Rose Namajunas, and represents a new breed in women’s MMA. She has shown her mobility and crisp combinations as well as her back control and submission ability in her previous 3 bouts.

In her bout against Pearl Gonzalez, she showed every part of her game and will likely employ a similar gameplan against the wrestling heavy Esparza. On the feet, she showed an ability to stick and move. She kept the jab in Gonzalez’s face and strung 3-4 punch combinations forcing the advancing Gonzalez to shell up and hold position. From there, she changed the angle so she avoided remaining directly in front of Pearl and then stuck the jab in once more when the guard opened back up again. It was a sequence that played out often in the fight and allowed her to apply her gameplan rather than that of her opponent.

On the ground, her prowess is well understood. She has a great awareness for advancing position and a knack for taking the back of her opponent leading to submission victories over Pearl Gonzalez and Amanda Cooper. Against Esparza, she’ll have plenty of opportunities to show her game. The takedowns will come early and often but won’t be disguised very well. The thing Pearl had was an ability to set her takedowns up thanks to her decent striking ability. Esparza has never been accused of having a good striking base and that will likely hinder her ability to take down the Alpha Male product.

Ready to invade Sin City 🤘🏼 #UFC219

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“Cookie Monster”

For Esparza, it begins and ends with her wrestling. In her last bout, a decision win over Maryna Moroz, her striking looked…..improved. But ultimately, if it’s a win she seeks, she must time her shots and control Calvillo from on top. And while i’ve never been a fan of Esparza’s lay and pray style, it’s easy for me to glow about her in that respect.

Her shots are somewhat slow and often come from far out thanks to her inability to naturally close distance against a quality striker. However, once she gets a hold of you, she’ll drive and turn on the single or double to place her opponents back on the mat. From there, she works. Her control game is on another level compared to other top strawweights. She’s uses her strength to drag her opponents down and does well to stay tight to the hips of her opponent, not allowing them to buck and sweep. And that’s where the fight is won. Cynthia Calvillo, while a good wrestler in her own right, has mostly relied on her scrambling ability in order to win ground exchanges.

For Esparza, avoiding these quick transitions and tricky positions become a must. But there are layers and layers of defense she must weed through in order to get it there. Calvillo showed excellent footwork against Joanne Calderwood, always changing angles and turning her opponent. This forced her opponent to fall into vulnerable positions without ever finding the proper distance to fire and land quality shots. The jab was working and for Esparza, that will likely be the biggest obstacle. She’ll have to overcome the length and active footwork of Calvillo to draw counters and shoot underneath. If she has it her way, the fight will be against the cage more than in the center of the octagon. It’s possible, but not promising.

Who Will Win?

Look, i’ll cut to the chase. In case it was unclear before, I don’t think Esparza has much of a chance against Calvillo. She is a tremendous fighter and holds a submission win over the current champ. But those were somewhat fortunate circumstances and honestly, I think the division has surpassed her. Women’s MMA is constantly evolving and while I recognize the improvements she made in her last fight, I feel it may be too little too late. Cynthia Calvillo is the future of this division and that will be made clear Saturday night.

Prediction: Calvillo via Decision

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Edson Barboza

Awwww yeeeeah it’s Khabib time!

I always love watching the specialists fight. It’s interesting to see how they use their “limited” (in a relative sense of course) skill set to overcome the challenges they face. I saw someone on twitter a couple of days ago say something to the effect of, “Khabib can more than hang with Barboza on the feet.” Wrong. He can’t. I mean, he can in the sense that he won’t get knocked out in their first exchange, but he needs this on the ground and theirs nothing wrong with that. Especially when you’re trained to bring a bear to the ground. The issue of course is his activity. He holds a spotless 24-0 record but hasn’t fought in over a year and only has competed 3 times in an almost 4 year span.

Edson Barboza on the other hand, has been far more regular with his exploits. And while the highlight-reel KO’s have mostly been a thing of the past, something better has taken their place, consistency. On a 3-fight win streak, Barboza has looked increasingly unstoppable as he continues to progress in the rankings. And coming off a knockout win over Beneil Dariush and facing the top contender in the lightweight division means Barboza could find himself in a title fight by next year. Of course that means first escaping the grasp of “The Eagle”.

“The Eagle”

Khabib Nurmagomedov is a serious problem for lightweights. While he’s a specialist which means he’s largely considered one-dimensional, he posses perhaps the most dominant ground game in MMA. Few have been able to deal with it. And it’s clear why.

On the feet, he’s nothing to gush about. However, his stand-up serves a purpose. He walks forward as he’s confident in his grappling ability and forces his opponents to throw often in order to work their way off the fence. He keeps the right hand loaded for counters and will throw the 1-2 to draw reactionary counters from his opponents to allow for a double leg or clinch against the fence. From there, he uses his superior strength to hit the outside trip, body lock or double leg takedown and bring the fight to the mat. This is where his damage is done.

On the ground, no one is better. Khabib uses a pass and smash, pressure based method of forcing his opponent to give him a fight ending opening. Against Johnson, he continually stepped from full guard to half and then knee sliced his way to side control where the crucifix or mount was there for the taking. From there he utilizes wrist control, sometimes from around his opponents back, to limit their defensive options. If you don’t move you’ll be stopped by strikes, if you do, he’ll move to a more dominant position. All while draining the gas tank making it difficult to compete in the later rounds and allowing “The Eagle” to dominate as the fight goes on. So from that, you see the trick is to keep the fight on the feet and end it early. Simple right?

“Junior”

For Barboza, it may be.

In order to prepare for this fight, we need to understand how he deals with pressure and how he handles counters. Well, look no further than his last bout against Beneil Dariush. From the opening bell, Dariush took the center of the cage and moved forward forcing Barboza to stay on his bike and counter from the back foot. However, Barboza handled this well. His counter right hand landed flush on the long left from Dariush and he kept his feet moving and circled out after throwing every shot. That would be key against a takedown hunting Nurmagomedov however, Barboza likely won’t have time to stand, throw then move. He’ll have to stay on his bike and counter at angles rather than stick and move. If he can avoid standing directly in front of Khabib, he’ll have openings to capitalize on.

The biggest hole in Khabib’s striking game relative to Barboza’s tendencies is the lowered left hand and against Johnson, this became clear. Johnson had landed the right hook over Khabib’s low left hand from the first exchange and later hurt Khabib with the same shot. Barboza, being an orthodox fighter will have the counter right hand he used against Dariush and the right high kick that is as powerful as any shot in MMA. Those are the shots to watch for. Of course, Barboza must be patient and wait for the opening rather than attempt to manufacture the moment. But, a Mark Henry coached striker is a smart striker. And if anyone can use the speed difference and open guard of Khabib to their advantage, it’s Edson Barboza.

Who Will Win?

I can’t imagine i’m alone in saying this is my favorite fight on the card. Sure, Cyborg x Holm is an interesting bout in its own right. And everyone loves the “Natural Born Killer”. But, this is somewhat of a specialist on specialist match-up. And it’s an endlessly fascinating challenge for both men. As for who wins. I hate having to pick this one. But, until I see someone deal with what Khabib brings to the table, i’m rolling with him. Their are serious holes when he’s striking. Keep an eye on the left hand come fight night and I guarantee if Barboza pulls the upset, it will be via the right hand of right high kick.

But, he’ll have to end it early. This bout will have to end early because once Khabib gets a hold of his opponents, the fight takes a dramatic turn for the worse. If Barboza can’t finish this in the first round, Khabib will only have more opportunities to take the fight to the mat and smash him into submission. I see this being a close first round, an easy 2nd round and a finish in the 3rd for Khabib.

Prediction: Nurmagomedov via TKO

Cris Cyborg vs Holly Holm

Honestly, i’m not entirely certain what the consensus is with this fight. I haven’t heard much being said about either women’s chances of winning are. However, looking at the odds for this fight, it appears Holm is a pretty sizable underdog in this contest. Doesn’t surprise me too much though Holm will be Cyborg’s most difficult test to date. And despite Holly’s 1-3 record in her previous 4 fights, she’s still got the ability to make a run as champion.

But in front of her stands the greatest female mixed martial artist of all time. Cyborg is an appropriate name for the fighter Holm will see across the cage from her Saturday night. The Brazilian hasn’t lost a fight since her debut almost 13 years ago and has knocked out all but 2 of her opponent’s since then. Most recently, she stopped the always tough but overwhelmed, Tonya Evinger, to capture the featherweight title after Germaine De Randamie was reluctant to defend against Cyborg, forcing her to vacate. And I can’t say I blame her for that decision. Cyborg is an lion. But Holm may be her tamer.

“Cyborg”

What to say, what to say. Cris Cyborg is the best female fighter to ever step into the cage and on Saturday night, she’s got the opportunity to cement that legacy once and for all. Regardless of her recent struggles, Holm is right there with Cyborg in that quest and could have the same fate with a win at UFC 219.

But fighting Cyborg is a whole-nother ball game. She comes to shock n’ awe. She’s as powerful as they come. But, there’s another aspect to Cyborg’s game many don’t talk about, her technique. Against Evinger, that was on full display. As soon as the bell rang, Cris took the center and began stalking. She stuck the jab out front to measure for the overhand and slammed leg kicks in whenever convenient. And on the counter, it was the short right shovel punch that found it’s home several times. Cyborg lands with power but often needs to be inside in order to really stun an opponent. At range, she can hit you, but she leaves herself open and defensively, it can become a liability.

This is where Holm can capitalize. We all remember the left high kick that put Holly on the map. It was quick and powerful, ending Ronda’s run at the top of the bantamweight division. Cyborg must stay inside of that kick in order to have success. And at range, she must keep the right hand tight to her chin at all times. In her bout against Evinger, this was not considered. Her right hand came down and away on every unset-up leg kick and her right hand came across to parry the straight Tonya would lean in to. Against a fighter like Evinger, it wasn’t a concern. Against Holm, a left straight feint to left high kick would land hard on the unsuspecting chin of Cyborg. It’s there and it’s dangerous. But that’s not the only path to defeating the champ.

“The Preachers Daughter”

I say it ALL the time. Cage craft is the most important part of fighting. And often, it’s the difference between victory and waking up wit a nose full of canvas. What I mean by cage craft is your level of awareness inside the cage: where you are, where your opponent is and where you need to be. Great fighters have wandered into trouble spots without recognizing it before it’s too late. And with Cyborg, it’s a must.

Holm must put her footwork on display at UFC 219 and force Cyborg to follow her rather than get herself trapped on the fence. In a close decision loss to De Randamie, she shined in this area. Holm kept on the back foot but allowed herself enough space to circle out of danger and stay outside of the right hand. She was looking for the right high kick the whole fight which forced her to circle into the right hand of De Randamie however, she avoided the shot at range. Unfortunately it became a calling card for De Randamie during the fight as on the counter, she sat down on her back foot and landed the right hand over top Holm’s straight.

And that’s where Holly will have difficulty. It typically takes her until the 3rd round to feel comfortable opening up her offense and taking over the fight. But 2 rounds is a lot to give to a powerful striker like Cyborg. In the first two rounds of her fight against Germaine, Holm never changed cadence and often fell into a very predictable rhythm of throwing the 2-1 to create space and throwing the leg kick behind it. Against Cyborg, she’ll need to diversify her combinations earlier in the fight or Cyborg’s short counter-right will land in devastating fashion. It comes down to distance and broken cadence for Holm to win the fight and capture the title.

Who Will Win?

I hate having to predict Holly’s fights. It really is a coin toss when she competes. We know she won’t be lulled into coming forward and breaking strategy which means if she has it her way, this will be an uneventful fight. And if i’m creating a gameplan for her, it falls right into the dull and monotonous category. What she must do is keep the jab alive, create space with the lead leg, counter with the left straight and feint her way into the left high kick that ended Ronda Rousey and Bethe Correia.

But that will be difficult with the always advancing Cyborg. Cris must be aware of the range Holm can kick in to, measure for the overhand right and establish dominant foot position in order to trap Holm as De Randamie was unable to do. Holm circled outside of Germaine’s right hand the whole night, but an extra step towards the rear foot of Holm would mean the right hand is in range and ready to fire. It’s a difficult pick but i’ve got to go with Cyborg. The gas tank will be a question mark but not enough of one to sway my prediction.

Prediction: Cyborg via TKO

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