The UFC returns to Texas, this time with the lightweight title up for grabs. In addition, the women's strawweight belt is also on the line and, to add hometown flair, Johny Hendricks looks to get back on title track opposite Matt Brown.
Will Pettis retain his title opposite RDA? Is the 'Cookie Monster' ready to put the Polish Jedrzejcyzk behind her in her first UFC title defense? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Saturday night.
Where: American Airlines Arena, Dallas, Texas
When: Saturday, the three-fight Fight Pass card starts at 6:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight FX main card starts at 8 p.m. and the five-fight pay-per-view card kicks off 10 p.m.
Here's what Pettis does, at least most recently. If he can body you with hard strikes a al Donald Cerrone, so be it. If he can't, he looks to strike and land just enough to make his opposition run into a poor, desperate decision. From there, it's easy pickings where he'll finish off with strikes or a submission they never see coming. RDA won't go quietly, but it's hard to see how he gets much of anywhere. He's going to try to bully Pettis against the cage, but his takedown defense is nuts at this point. At this range, he might try a leg kick, but he'll get countered with relative ease. RDA will hang around longer than most, but there's no obvious path to victory for him. By contrast, Pettis needs only the tiniest of windows to cause damage or force poor decisions. RDA is legit, but Pettis seems next level.
Carla Esparza vs. Joanna Jędrzejczyk
I think ultra highly of the Polish hammer's ability, but here's the issue. She has good defense as it relates to digging underhooks and stuffing takedowns, but it's just that: defense. She hasn't quite yet turned the corner when it comes to defense and separation or including offense at various moments in the defense itself. Moreover, despite Esparza's babysitter vibe, she will tear you to pieces. Her mix of strikes and takedowns is borderline flawless. Her movement in and out of range is sensational. Her submission defense is fantastic. There are just too many factors if her favor to ignore. To me, it's not this fight that matters, but the eventual rematch. That's the one I've got my eventual eye on.
Johny Hendricks vs. Matt Brown
Either Hendricks blitzes him early or this fight is crazy competitive over distance. And if this goes long, anything is possible. The reality is Hendricks is a bit of a head hunter and Brown's head defense is very good. If Hendricks has tailored his game plan around body work, he should be able to make Brown pay. If not? Look out. Brown could easily overwhelm him in the clinch, stuff a takedown or two and force him to make an error. I favor Hendricks no matter what, but this is one to watch.
This is a real pick 'em. If Overeem follows the same plan he chose against Stefan Struve, it's his fight to lose. Nelson's takedown defense is not great, particularly when his back is against the cage. Frank Mir made this known. That said, if there's any prolonged point where this fight takes place at range, Nelson's chin and Overeem's inability to absorb damage make for a rough combo. If Nelson gets ridden out over three rounds, so be it. But I suspect there's more than a decent chance he gets the chance to launch overhand punches on more than one occasion.
The gold medalist looked awesome on the scales and thus far, awesome with his jab, combos and pace. Cariaso is a serviceable opponent in that his defense has several gears and he's experienced against high-level opposition. That said, it's hard to see a scenario where Cariaso lords his offense over Cejudo for any amount of time.
From the preliminary card:
Ross Pearson def. Sam Stout
Elias Theodorou def. Roger Narvaez
Daron Cruickshank def. Beneil Dariush
Jared Rosholt def. Josh Copeland
Sergio Pettis def. Ryan Benoit
Joseph Duffy def. Jake Lindsey
Larissa Pacheco def. Germaine de Randamie