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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Once again, a UFC event has taken a major hit.

Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson will no longer be attempting to break the record for the most consecutive UFC title defenses at UFC 215. Due to illness, Johnson’s opponent, Ray Borg, has been forced to withdraw from the card. Now, the co-main event between UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes and top contender Valentina Shevchenko will serve as the headlining bout of the pay-per-view.

Although this card wasn’t very flashy to begin with, it still carries some fun and important match-ups. Apart from the solid main event, UFC 215 features a pivotal welterweight contest between former champ Rafael dos Anjos and Neil Magny, the UFC featherweight debut of former Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez, and a high-profile flyweight contest in Henry Cejudo vs. Wilson Reis.

What: UFC 215

Where: Rogers Place, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

When: Saturday, Sept. 9. The two-fight UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begins at 7v p.m. ET, the four-fight FOX Sports 1 preliminary card begins at 8:00 p.m. ET, and the five-fight main card begins at 10:00 p.m. ET on pay-per-view.


Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko

Well, Amanda Nunes will be headlining a UFC event after all.

The Brazilian striker will finally attempt to complete her second UFC title defense in a long-awaited rematch with the No. 1 contender of the division Valentina Shevchenko.

I find Nunes (14–4) to be the best striker in the female bantamweight division. She has clean technique, great footwork, and plenty of speed and power behind her strikes. Nunes is also very skilled on the ground with strong takedowns, a dominant top game, submissions, and heavy ground-and-pound. Nunes is probably the best and most dangerous fighter at 135 pounds. However, from her previous performances, that seems to only hold truth early in the fight. Nunes’ biggest problem has been her gas tank, as she tends to fade a little past the second round.

Meanwhile, Shevchenko (14–2) is also extremely well-rounded, but she’s not as explosive or as powerful as Nunes. Shevchenko is great at counter punching, but sometimes she doesn’t throw the striking output needed to win rounds against more active fighters. Shevchenko’s biggest attribute here is her clean striking technique, durability and conditioning.

In a three-round fight, I really do believe Nunes will beat Shevchenko most of the time, but can’t really say the same for a five-rounder. Historically, if Nunes can’t stop her opponents early, she ends up getting in trouble. And like I said, I think Nunes is the most dangerous fighter at 135 pounds, but I think Shevchenko is the best defensive fighter in the division. Extremely tough fight to call, but I don’t think a stoppage for Nunes is the most likely outcome (despite still being pretty high), and I don’t like her odds in a decision. I see Nunes starting strong and getting an early lead on Shevchenko. However, I think Shevchenko will eventually enter into her groove and comeback to take the decision.

Pick: Shevchenko

Neil Magny vs. Rafael dos Anjos

Former UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos will be getting another difficult test in his run at welterweight.

The Brazilian will be taking on Neil Magny, who’s ranked sixth in the division. The winner here could likely find himself fighting for the title soon – considering the lack of clear contenders in the weight class.

Dos Anjos (26–9) is extremely skilled in both the grappling and striking departments. Dos Anjos is among the most well-rounded fighters in the UFC. The 32-year-old can grapple with the best grapplers, strike with the best strikers and manage to find a good degree of success. Dos Anjos is dangerous everywhere, and at 170 pounds, we’ve seen a rejuvenated fighter that still has plenty of fight left.

Magny (19–5) is another well-rounded fighter, but not on the same level as dos Anjos. Magny is a great, rangy striker and a solid grappler, but lacks the wrestling dos Anjos possesses. Magny’s biggest advantage in this fight is his physical attributes, as he’s bigger and has much more reach than dos Anjos.

I think this should be a fairly dominant performance by dos Anjos. I see dos Anjos boxing his way into the pocket and scoring a takedown from there. Stylistically, I think this isn’t the best matchup for Magny.

Pick: Dos Anjos

Henry Cejudo vs. Wilson Reis

This is a very high-profile bout between two top flyweight contenders and former title challengers. It’s definitely one of the best matchups on the card and it deserves to be on the pay-per-view.

Henry Cejudo is a highly decorated wrestler that has become one of the most effective strikers of the 125-pound division. On top of that, Cejudo is extremely well-conditioned, explosive and durable. Cejudo’s well-rounded set of skills make him one of the most dominant fighters in the division.

On the other hand, Wilson Reis is also a ground specialist, and likely more well-rounded than Cejudo in that area. The Brazilian has good judo, takedowns and a very advanced jiu-jitsu game, being a black belt.

I think Reis will have an edge on the ground, but I think Cejudo will negate that with his solid takedown defense and superior athleticism. I see this fight being contested on the feet where Cejudo should have an advantage in technique, speed, and power.

Pick: Cejudo

Ilir Latifi vs. Tyson Pedro

Tyson Pedro is likely the most underrated light heavyweight prospect in the UFC, but that can change against Ilir Latifi.

At just 25 years of age, the Australian fighter has managed to compile an unbeaten professional MMA record of 6-0 with all six wins ending in first-round knockout or submission. In his short UFC run, Pedro has scored first-round stoppages over TUF 23 runner up Khalil Rountree and then undefeated Paul Craig. Pedro remains somewhat unknown to the masses, but with the right performance against Latifi, Pedro could very well turn a corner in his career.

Latifi (12–5, 1 no-contest) is no walk in the park for anyone in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. The Swedish fighter is extremely explosive with his striking and wrestling. Latifi also has plenty of power in his striking and he’s not afraid to let his hands go. Latifi can end the fight at any point.

This is a hard match up to predict. I believe Latifi will have the edge in wrestling, strength, punching power, and experience. However, I think Pedro possesses superior jiu-jitsu and technique in striking. I can see Latifi stopping Pedro early or I can see Pedro wearing on the seasoned veteran and picking him apart to get a late stoppage or decision. Tough call, but I think Latifi gets it done.

Pick: Latifi

Jeremy Stephens vs. Gilbert Melendez

Gilbert Melendez will be making his UFC featherweight debut, and veteran Jeremy Stephen has the difficult task of welcoming the former Strikeforce lightweight champion to the stacked 145-pound division.

This is one of my favorite matchups of the card, as both fighters fight at a high pace while contrasting each other in fighting styles.

Melendez (22–6) is undergoing a bit of a rough patch in his career. Since 2014, “El Niño” lost the three times he’s competed and also served a one-year drug suspension. But despite the losing streak, Melendez has looked solid and has proven to still be more than competitive at a high level. Melendez remains a very durable fighter with effective striking and strong wrestling.

Meanwhile, Stephens (25–14) has shown he can hang with the very best but not necessarily beat them. The 31-year-old has had difficulty defeating top-10 opposition, usually fighters that are able to stick to a game plan and keep things technical with him. Stephens is one of the strongest and most powerful strikers in the featherweight division. He’s also aggressive and proficient in his striking and takedown defense.

This should be an extremely fun fight and I think it’s a good test for Melendez’s new venture at 145 pounds. Like Frankie Edgar, Melendez can mix things up with wrestling and striking which could likely give Stephens problems. Melendez is one of the most durable fighters in the roster, which significantly drops Stephens’ chances of getting a knockout.

The drop in weight class would be my only reservation against picking the 35-year-old Melendez. However, Melendez appeared to be in good health on the scale Friday morning, so I don’t see why Melendez can’t pick up a convincing decision.

Pick: Melendez

Undercard:

Sara McMann def. Ketlen Vieira

Ashlee Evans-Smith def. Sarah Moras

Gavin Tucker def. Rick Glenn

Alex White def. Mitch Clarke

Arjan Bhullar def. Luis Henrique

Adriano Martins def. Kajan Johnson