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#UFC 218 #Conor McGregor #Francis Ngannou #UFC 217 #Alistair Overeem #Max Holloway #Lomachenko vs Rigondeaux #Mike Perry #GSP


UFC 214 was a grand event, but unfortunately, the combat sports world now begins its descent into the madness that is Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. Forgotten in that is UFC 215. The full card stands as follows:

  • Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg
  • Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko
  • Junior dos Santos vs. Francis Ngannou
  • Neil Magny vs. Rafael dos Anjos
  • Jeremy Stephens vs. Gilbert Melendez
  • Henry Cejudo vs. Wilson Reis
  • Ilir Latifi vs. Tyson Pedro
  • Sara McMann vs. Ketlen Vieira
  • Gavin Tucker vs. Rick Glenn
  • Ashlee Evans-Smith vs. Sarah Moras
  • Arjan Bhullar vs. Luis Henrique
  • Kajan Johnson vs. Adriano Martins
  • Mitch Clarke vs. Alex White

The UFC seems bearish on how well the card can perform when millions are likely to throw down $100 for the bonkers boxing match, and as such, it has packed the card with fights that carry weight with the hardcore fans.

Atop the card is the flyweight title fight between Demetrious Johnson and Ray Borg, a bout that could see Johnson shatter the seemingly unbreakable record for consecutive UFC title defenses. The co-main event is no slouch either, as Amanda Nunes rematches Valentina Shevchenko with the women's bantamweight title on the line. The undercard, meanwhile, is chock-full of former champions and contenders looking to gain momentum for another shot at gold.

The card is more than a month away, set for September 9, but it's worth taking a good look at it in advance, just as a reminder of what the UFC has in store for fans after the circus on August 26.

Ilir Latifi vs. Tyson Pedro

Alas, Ilir Latifi's days as a top-10 fighter are over. Cut short by a flying knee from now-Bellator champ Ryan Bader. The Sledgehammer has an untested Tyson Pedro to rebound off of, though. If he can conjure up another storm of violence, he'll regain his position in the division, and then he can begin working his way back up the rankings.

          

Ashlee Evans-Smith vs. Sarah Moras

Neither Ashlee Evans-Smith nor Sarah Moras have had their UFC careers work out as they hoped. Both women have .500 UFC records and neither has demonstrated serious technical improvement over their years with the company, with Evans-Smith sputtering while active and Moras shelved for incredible lengths of time. Depending on how this fight shakes out, it could be a loser-goes-to-Invicta match.

Gavin Tucker vs. Rick Glenn

Former WSOF featherweight champion Rick Glenn was successful in his return to 145 pounds at UFC 208. Gavin Tucker looked solid in his UFC debut in February. Now, to make sure they can't both demand a pay raise, they're pitted against one another in a momentum-killing matchup that stands as a complete toss-up.

Kajan Johnson vs. Adriano Martins

Kajan Johnson, better known as the fighter who was ejected from the UFC Athlete Retreat for bashing the Reebok deal, is back in the cage after a two-year hiatus. It's basically impossible to guess what he'll look like, which makes it impossible to analyze how he'll fare against a solid Adriano Martins.

Mitch Clarke vs. Alex White

It's do-or-die time for Mitch Clarke. The Canadian is 2-4 in the UFC to this point (albeit against stiff competition) and needs to keep his career on life support by defeating Alex White. He should be able to pull it off, given White's similarly flimsy record against much softer competition, but if he can't, Bellator likely lies in his future.

Arjan Bhullar vs. Luis Henrique

Former Olympic wrestler Arjan Bhullar makes his UFC debut at UFC 215, but there's cause to question his legitimacy at this point, given his consistently soft opposition on the regional circuit. He faces Luis Henrique in the Octagon...but the odds are stacked against him.

Sara McMann vs. Ketlen Vieira

Former bantamweight title contender Sara McMann has been on a hot streak of late. So hot, in fact, that her losses to Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes feel like distant memories. Unfortunately, at 36 years old she is fighting against Father Time as much as she is against her actual opponents.

She has precious little margin for error and needs to continue wowing fans and decision-makers alike with strong performances. Her next mark is Ketlen Vieira.

Vieira hasn't made any real mark in her career to this point. She entered the UFC last year after posting a 6-0 pro record on the Brazilian MMA circuit and has improved that to 8-0 in the Octagon, with her most recent fight being a unanimous-decision victory over Ashlee Evans-Smith. She has looked solid to this point, but McMann represents a big step up in competition. Too big, in fact.

      

Neil Magny vs. Rafael Dos Anjos

Rafael dos Anjos scored a much-needed win in his welterweight debut, but the former lightweight champion's career ills still linger. He's a complete unknown to fans, he's still haunted by the ghost of his scrapped UFC 196 fight with Conor McGregor, and he's still not long separated from back-to-back losses to Tony Ferguson and Eddie Alvarez. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the UFC is doing him no favors with this high-risk, low-reward fight with Neil Magny.

The TUF16 alum went from the UFC's chopping block in 2014 to bona fide top-10 status in 2015, thanks to a hyperactive schedule and a 9-1 record over those two years. He has slowed down a bit in recent months but is still coming off a big win over former welterweight champ Johny Hendricks. 

Dos Anjos has a tall order on his hands, but this is a manageable fight for him. While Magny is good, RDA's veteran savvy should be able to carry him to a decision win.

       

Jeremy Stephens vs. Gilbert Melendez

After a three-fight skid, longtime lightweight elite Gilbert Melendez is dropping back down to featherweight for the first time since 2005. He'll be greeted by fellow struggling former lightweight Jeremy Stephens.

Both Melendez and Stephens seem to be well past their prime. Melendez, once regarded as one of the best 155-pound fighters in the world, has struggled to leverage his strong grappling arsenal over recent years. Stephens, meanwhile, doesn't seem to have the physicality or punching power that kept him relevant for so long.

All things considered, however, the deck is stacked in Stephens' favor. He's younger (31 years old vs. 35) and is seemingly comfortable with his cut to 145 pounds.

           

Henry Cejudo vs. Wilson Reis

Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo is back, and he's got something to prove. After rocketing into the flyweight title picture, he was easily dispatched by champion Demetrious Johnson and then narrowly edged out by Joseph Benavidez in December. Still, Cejudo's time as an elite fighter is just starting, and he'll almost certainly be able to get back on track at the expense of Wilson Reis.

The former EliteXC champion has been solid at 125 pounds, but he has done little to transcend his middle-of-the-pack status. This is a tailor-made matchup for Cejudo, and the UFC knows it. Look for him to outstrike Reis and employ the "wrestling in reverse" strategy to keep Reis from ever getting to his comfort zone on the mat.

Francis Ngannou is the first great heavyweight prospect in a very, very long time. The French slugger exploded into the Octagon in 2015 and has been perfect since, amassing an impressive 5-0 UFC record, with each win coming via knockout.

At 30 years old and in an aging division, he is clearly in a position to hold UFC gold at some point. Is he a contender today, though? That's the question that will be answered at UFC 215 when he faces former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos.

Dos Santos has been alternating wins and losses since his devastating title defeat in 2012 but has been able to keep himself in the hunt for years based on his strong boxing and above-average athleticism. Coming off an ugly loss to Stipe Miocic and showing a bit of wear-and-tear from his 11 years of competition, however, many are wondering if his best years are behind him. 

In a pro wrestling-style matchup, the UFC is looking to have JDS pass the proverbial torch to the next generation and crown Ngannou the next contender in the heavyweight division. That said, odds are that they will not get their wish.

While Dos Santos is coming off a rough loss, the Brazilian remains a dangerous man, and while Ngannou has wowed fans, pundits and other fighters with his rapid improvement, he remains a relative novice in the cage. Look for the former champ to slow down the Ngannou hype train at UFC 215, and remind the world why he has remained relevant for so long.

Prediction: Junior dos Santos def. Francis Ngannou by unanimous decision.

A rematch between Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko was set for UFC 213 but fell through after Nunes controversially pulled out of the contest just hours before showtime. The match was quickly re-booked for UFC 215 and remains a compelling contest.

The two women faced off in 2015 in a competitive affair that saw Nunes score enough points in the early goings of their fight to survive a late Shevchenko rally. In the years since, both have made dramatic improvements to their already-strong games and stand at the top of their division.

This is an exceptional fight, and the X's and O's remain no different than they did two months ago, when the fight was previewed for UFC 213. The prediction also remains the same.

Prediction: Valentina Shevchenko def. Amanda Nunes by unanimous decision.

Ray Borg isn't just "the other guy" in his UFC 215 fight with long-reigning champion Demetrious Johnson. He's "the other, other guy."

Despite being the on-paper top contender at 125 pounds, the 23-year-old found himself caught in the crossfire of an ugly dispute between Johnson and the UFC, stemming from Dana White publicly pressuring the champ to face No. 3-ranked bantamweight TJ Dillashaw. While the fight itself made little sense, the company's commitment to making it a reality saw Borg belittled by fans and decision-makers alike, a fact that didn't sit well with him.

Forgotten in all the bickering is the fact that Borg is a legitimate challenge for Johnson. 

Since joining the UFC in 2014, Borg has rapidly developed while facing consistently tough competition. While he is riding a seemingly humble two-fight winning streak, his dominant win over Louis Smolka and clean victory over top-five staple Jussier da Silva put him in elite company at this time, and they suggest he can hang with the best in his division.

Granted, "hanging with the best in his division" is a far cry from being a serious threat to Mighty Mouse's reign. Joseph Benavidez, John Dodson and Henry Cejudo all fit that bill, and Johnson comfortably beat each of them. Still, this is the opportunity of a lifetime for Borg—and an interesting challenge for the champ.

Prediction: Demetrious Johnson def. Ray Borg by unanimous decision.

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