Chris Weidman isn’t being eased into the ranks of the light heavyweight division.
As a former UFC champion at 185 pounds, it’s understandable that the matchmakers wouldn’t want to give Weidman a lay-up in his first fight in a new weight class, but they’ve set a high bar pairing him up with the undefeated Dominick Reyes in the main event of UFC on ESPN 6 on Friday.
Reyes is 5-0 inside the Octagon so far and owns the longest active UFC light heavyweight win streak. He’ll be extra motivated to keep his perfect record intact given that the path to Jon Jones is wide open. Finishing an established name like Weidman could be just the statement he needs to tighten up his case for a title shot.
As for the co-main event, don’t worry, you are not experiencing deja vu. Yair Rodriguez and Jeremy Stephens are indeed fighting again, a makeup for the disastrous UFC Mexico City main event four weeks ago that lasted just 15 seconds when Stephens was unable to continue following an accidental eye poke. Though they won’t have a chance to compete for five rounds this time, fans should still be in for a treat so long as both fighters can keep their fingers to themselves.
In other main card action, top heavyweight prospect Greg Hardy meets newcomer Ben Sosoli, lightweight lifer Joe Lauzon makes his 27th UFC appearance when he takes on Jonathan Pearce, future flyweight contenders Maycee Barber and Gillian Robertson square off, and Deron Winn looks to go 2-0 in the UFC when he fights Darren Stewart in a catchweight (188.5 pounds) bout.
What: UFC on ESPN 6
Where: TD Garden in Boston.
When: Friday, Oct. 18. The entire card will air on ESPN2, with the seven-fight preliminaries beginning at 6 p.m. ET and the six-fight main card starting at 9 p.m. ET.
There’s no getting around it: Dominick Reyes is bigger, faster, stronger, and younger than Chris Weidman. As simplistic as it sounds, those are going to be massive hurdles for Weidman to deal with regardless of any possible skill gap between the two.
Weidman’s game still has a lot of appealing aspects. At 35, he fights like a man five years younger, fearlessly wading into exchanges and pushing the pace against the very best at 185 pounds. This mentality has also been to his detriment in recent times. It’s chilling to think what will happen to him if he decides to stand and bang with Reyes.
“The Devastator” is just beginning to peak physically. He has power in both hands, a quick head kick, and he’s agile enough to avoid Weidman’s grappling attempts. Should this end up on the ground, that’s Weidman’s best bet to win this one as Reyes’s defense is largely untested down there. It’s conceivable that Weidman frustrates Reyes by taking him into unfamiliar territory, tires him out, and scores a submission.
There are just so many things that can go wrong in the standup before Weidman closes the distance and one only need to look at his last four losses to see the various ways that he can get caught and finished, even when it seems like he’s in the fight. Kudos to Weidman and his team for making the move to a new division and eliminating a stressful weight cut, it might just be too little too late.
Here’s what I wrote about the Yair Rodriguez-Jeremy Stephens matchup last month:
Don’t let his .500 record inside the Octagon fool you, “Lil Heathen” has only been knocked out twice in 44 pro bouts and that’s having shared the cage with some of the heaviest hitters in MMA. It will take a lot for Rodriguez to put him down, especially since Rodriguez should look to approach this match carefully. Rodriguez showed a solid chin in the Chan Sung Jung matchup, but he won’t want to find out how it stands up against the hammers of Stephens.
With a couple of inches of height on Stephens, Rodriguez’s top-shelf kicking game will be on full display and he’ll use it to keep Stephens from wading in and brawling. Stick-and-move will be the name of the game for Rodriguez if he wants to pick up his second consecutive win here.
Unless either man has experienced a major change in their training regimen or undergone some bizarre physical transformation via underground scientific experiment in the past 27 days, that analysis still stands. Sure, there’s the added emotional element from the last meeting that could play a factor, but gauging intangibles is a fool’s game unless you’re truly convinced that there’s some sort of karmic retribution coming for Rodriguez given his somewhat churlish behavior following what happened with Stephens last time.
My original prediction was Rodriguez by decision after five rounds. Change that to three rounds and we’re good to go.
If the intention is to create a contender in Greg Hardy, the matchmakers couldn’t be doing a better job.
That’s not to take away from Hardy’s development; regardless of who he’s fighting (and what one may think of his outside-of-the-cage issues), he’s developed exactly how you would want an elite prospect to, showing sharper striking, a modicum of takedown defense, and learning not to knee people when you shouldn’t knee people. He’s amazingly fast and coordinated for a heavyweight and he’s been given a hittable target in the affable Ben Sosoli.
Sosoli is a hard-luck hero, having failed to make the UFC through The Ultimate Fighter and the Contender Series before getting this short-notice call. He can take a punch and could be the man to test Hardy’s cardio and heart if this goes past the first round, a scenario that Hardy has only faced once (the ill-fated Allen Crowder fight). And he could test Hardy’s chin too as there haven’t been too many opponents willing to trade shots with the former NFLer.
Just looking at their body types, it might look like Sosoli is a walkover win for Hardy. However, this isn’t a bodybuilding contest, which makes Sosoli a live dog given his striking confidence and a decent resume compared to Hardy’s other opponents. I’m still predicting a Hardy KO win, but wouldn’t be shocked if Sosoli pulled off the upset and sent Hardy and his team back to the drawing board.
Is the writing on the wall for Joe Lauzon?
“J-Lau” has been in so many wars, it’s almost surprising that it took as long as it did for the 35-year-old’s durability to visibly decline. It’s not that Lauzon was impossible to finish in his prime, it’s just become clear that his ability to get as good as he gives has diminished greatly (back in November 2017, he was finished via strikes by Clay Guida. It was the first knockout win for Guida in nine years).
Should this be one of Lauzon’s last fights (or the last depending on how it goes), at least the matchmakers have given him a young gun who will stand in the pocket with him and throw. Jonathan Pearce has shown he can fight smartly and circle well to find angles; he’s also shown that he’ll absorb punches if it means landing one of his own. Again, it’s the kind of opponent a young Lauzon would have thrived against.
The other factor to consider here is that Lauzon projects as having the much stronger ground game. It’s getting there against Pearce that will be a problem, as will keeping up with Pearce’s output. Fighters the same age as Pearce will have trouble matching his pace, an opponent eight years his senior even more so.
Pearce by knockout.
The youngest fighter on the card at just 21 years old, Maycee Barber showed some defensive deficiencies in her last fight. In a perfect world, she’d be given a step back in competition to address these holes; in the UFC, she’s instead been given another step up.
Gillian Robertson is legit. For whatever reason—perhaps it’s the Canadian’s unassuming personality or the fact that her last four fights have taken place outside of the U.S.—Robertson has flown under the radar, despite the fact that she’s 4-1 with all of her wins coming by way of knockout or submission. In fact, she has the most finishes in the UFC’s nascent women’s flyweight division.
I’m not convinced Barber has the takedown defense to stop Robertson from making this a ground battle, which is where Robertson thrives. What Barber has going for her is great instincts as far as knowing when to turn up the offensive volume and when to dial it back, as well as an aggressive clinch game, which is one of the most difficult skills for a young fighter to master. She’s not a delicate prospect who has been wading through the competition either. If her last fight with JJ Aldrich showed weaknesses, it also showed her ability to work through those weaknesses and find a way to win.
This is the toughest main card fight to predict and I don’t see either woman’s reputation being damaged too badly by a loss, nor do I expect this to be the last time these two meet in the cage. Let’s say Robertson takes this first encounter though.
It’s never a good thing for a fighter to miss weight, but I favored Deron Winn before he came in heavy on Thursday, and the extra poundage isn’t shifting my opinion.
It just so happens that Winn’s greatest strength, his elite wrestling, also happens to be one of Darren Stewart’s biggest weaknesses. Stewart struggled to stay upright against Edmen Shahbazyan in his last loss and while he bounced back with an uneventful victory over Bevon Lewis, he didn’t get to show if his takedown defense has improved at all.
Winn’s UFC debut against Eric Spicely forced him to show other aspects of his game as Spicely coaxed him into an enjoyable brawl. Like his mentor Daniel Cormier, Winn is going to be at a height and reach disadvantage in a lot of matchups and like “D.C.” he can make up for it with timing and relentless pressure. The threat of the takedown will also benefit him greatly against Stewart.
After winning a Fight of the Night in his UFC debut, Winn could have acquired a taste for the standup; more likely, he goes back to his roots against Stewart, grounding him early and often and securing a TKO or wrestling his way to a convincing decision victory.