Will the second verse be the same as the first?
That’s a question that can apply to both the main and co-main event on Saturday as bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw faces off with rival Cody Garbrandt in an immediate rematch of their UFC 217 encounter that Dillashaw won by second-round knockout, and Henry Cejudo gets his long-awaited second shot at indomitable flyweight king Demetrious Johnson after falling to “Mighty Mouse” by first-round TKO at UFC 197.
In other main card action, Thiago Santos welcomes Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series contestant Kevin Holland to the Octagon, Brazilian submission specialist Polyana Viana looks to continue her impressive finishing streak against JJ Aldrich, and Renato Moicano takes on another featherweight veteran in Cub Swanson.
What: UFC 227
Where: Staples Center in Los Angeles
When: Saturday, Aug. 4. The three-fight UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begins at 6:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight FX 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.
T.J. Dillashaw vs. Cody Garbrandt
Many would argue that it’s too soon for T.J. Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt to be butting heads again, but the matchup has been made and it’s difficult to imagine it looking too different than their first meeting.
However, that doesn’t mean the end result can’t change.
Though Garbrandt fell in his first title defense attempt, one could justify him getting an immediate rematch based on how close he came to putting Dillashaw away at UFC 217. “No Love” has some of the best hand speed in the bantamweight division, and if he’s to be believed, he’s now free of the back issues that plagued him last November and his movement and agility should allow him to be even more effective this go around.
He’ll have to be in peak form if he wants to avenge the loss to Dillashaw, who is as complete a fighter as there is at 135 pounds. The champion’s elite wrestling has almost been forgotten in light of his emergence as a top-shelf striker, but there’s no area of the Octagon where Dillashaw isn’t effective.
So this likely comes down to who gets their offense going first. It was Garbrandt last time and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be Garbrandt this time. Even if he once again fails to finish in round one, expect Garbrandt to show improved poise, maturity, and defense as he attempts to avoid the pitfalls of UFC 217.
Garbrandt gets the finish in the rematch, setting the stage for a trilogy bout (hopefully one that isn’t booked too soon).
Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo
Unlike with the main event rematch, it feels like the timing is right for Henry Cejudo to be getting his second shot at Demetrious Johnson. The Olympic champion wrestler has improved in all aspects since their first meeting, where — as Cejudo himself has admitted — he was still “green” in the sport of MMA. Cejudo’s first challenge of “Mighty Mouse” came in just his 11th pro bout; by comparison, Johnson was defending his UFC title for an eighth time.
Few could forget Cejudo getting blown out at UFC 197, a result of him absorbing some brutal knees to the body from Johnson, arguably the greatest clinch fighter in the world. Even as he’s become a better overall fighter, getting into a prolonged clinch war with Johnson is still something Cejudo will want to avoid.
Instead, he’ll have to hope that his already sharp boxing has advanced to the point that he can stand and trade with Johnson while mixing in a steady diet of takedowns to keep the champion off balance. It’s a simple plan on paper, but one that could quickly go out the window given that no flyweight outside of Tim Elliott has been able to hold Johnson down for long since his title reign began.
Cejudo will do better this time around, that seems certain. The problem is that Johnson has shown no signs of slowing down since their first encounter and has noticeably improved in a lot of areas himself. His suplex-to-armbar submission of Ray Borg was the perfect synthesis of speed, timing, wrestling, and jiu-jitsu, and yet somehow Johnson has promised that he still has more tricks up his sleeve.
As great as Cejudo has become in his own right, it still feels unwise to ever pick against Johnson.
Cub Swanson vs. Renato Moicano
After suffering back-to-back losses to top-five opponents Frankie Edgar and Brian Ortega, things don’t get any easier for Cub Swanson.
Renato Moicano might not be as well known as some of Swanson’s recent dance partners, but he is quickly becoming one of the toughest outs at 145 pounds. He’s actually going into this bout as the favorite, which isn’t too surprising given that he has a recent win against Jeremy Stephens and has been impressive in all five of his UFC outings. Even against Ortega, Moicano was faring well before falling prey to the third-round magic of “T-City.”
These are two fighters heading in opposite directions. Swanson is tough as nails and still has power in both hands, but he hasn’t actually finished an opponent in five years and he’s going to have a hard time landing a decisive blow on the youthful chin of Moicano. Swanson is no slouch on the mat, so it could be fun to see him literally tangle with Moicano, a fellow Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.
This should be Moicano’s fight to lose. He makes excellent use of leg kicks to do damage from distance, and Swanson is going to have to take risks to get inside. Even if he can, Moicano will welcome the opportunity to tie him up and test his submission skills. This one ends with Moicano earning a tapout win in the third.
Polyana Viana vs. JJ Aldrich
File this one under grappler vs. striker, as the python-like Polyana Viana takes on smooth striker JJ Aldrich.
Just 25 years old, Aldrich has already shown herself to have strong technical standup skills and good speed too. She excels at controlling distance, which she showed in her last two fights against Chan-Mi Jeon and Danielle Taylor. Aldrich used her smarts to defuse the aggressive Jeon and her size to completely neutralize the smaller Taylor.
She won’t have a physical advantage against Viana, who packs a lot of strength into her 5-foot-7-inch frame. Though she’s only a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, Viana has been a killer on the ground in her MMA career so far and her goal will be to close the distance as fast as possible and drag Aldrich into her world.
Viana will have 15 minutes to turn this into a BJJ contest, and if she can’t, the odds are slim that she can out-strike Aldrich. She isn’t at the stage yet where she can simply assert her will against any opponent as far as takedowns go, and Aldrich presents enough of a step up in competition that Viana will likely be in for a frustrating evening.
Thiago Santos vs. Kevin Holland
Kevin Holland is the wildcard of the pay-per-view portion of UFC 227, having come fresh off of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series where he won but was not awarded a contract after an entertaining, if uneven, performance.
The Octagon newcomer has incredible length for the middleweight division with a reach of 81 inches, about three inches less than Jon Jones. That said, he had problems dealing with the shorter Will Santiago on DWTNCS and strangely, the more physically comparable Thiago Santos might actually be a better matchup for him.
“Better” is a relative term, when you consider that Santos is capable of taking off a fighter’s head in the blink of an eye. The Brazilian striker has lethal hands and leg kicks, and will throw spinning techniques at the drop of a hat. He is weaker in the grappling department, but Holland has not shown a propensity for taking the fight to the mat in his previous fights. Holland is more inclined to attempt submissions and initiate scrambles off of his back.
If Holland insists on keeping this one standing, it’s going to be tough for him to pull out a win against the powerful “Marreta.” That may be the plan if he’s looking to put on a fun fight in his first UFC appearance, but it won’t be the recipe for a win on Saturday.
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