As has often been the case, Tyron Woodley isn’t getting the fight he wanted, but it might just be the one he needs to get him a shot at regaining the welterweight championship.
“The Chosen One” meets surging contender Gilbert Burns in the main event of UFC on ESPN 9 in Las Vegas on Saturday, with Woodley’s No. 1 spot in the rankings potentially on the line. Burns has been campaigning for high-profile opponents for the past two years and after dispatching Brazilian legend Demian Maia inside of a round this past March, he now sets his sights on a marquee name.
This is Woodley’s first fight since losing the welterweight title to Kamaru Usman 14 months ago. Is he due for his rematch or is it time for Burns to build his resume off of him? We’ll find out tonight.
In the co-main event, heavyweight veteran Blagoy Ivanov looks to hold off Augusto Sakai, the former Bellator standout who is 3-0 to start his UFC career. An impressive performance will likely earn one of these big men a top-10 ranking.
Also on the main card, Billy Quarantillo and Spike Carlyle meet in what should be a high-paced catchweight (150 pounds) bout, lightweight Roosevelt Roberts looks to continue his winning ways against Brok Weaver, and jiu-jitsu ace Mackenzie Dern meets Hannah Cifers in a strawweight encounter.
What: UFC on ESPN 9
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
When: Saturday, May 30. The entire event will air on ESPN and ESPN+, with the six-fight preliminaries starting at 6 p.m. ET, and the five-fight main card starting at 9 p.m. ET.
Tyron Woodley isn’t ready to pass that torch just yet.
In his most recent outing against Kamaru Usman, Woodley looked awful, there’s no disputing that. Much of the credit has to go to Usman for taking the fight to Woodley and never giving him a chance to breathe, but it’s easy to digest the narrative that Woodley just wasn’t himself in that fight based on his stunning lack of output. As patient as Woodley can be, he looked utterly lost at certain points against Usman.
If you believe that’s simply how Woodley is now that he’s just a couple of years shy of 40, then Burns is the easy pick here. “Durinho” has been brilliant at 170 pounds, showing off his elite jiu-jitsu while adding flashes of the potent striking that make him such a compelling dual threat. This is not an opponent that will be intimidated by Woodley in the slightest. Burns is going in there to finish on Saturday.
I’m in the camp that thinks Woodley still has a lot left in the tank and his skill set shouldn’t be forgotten just because it was absent in one critical fight. He’s still an outstanding wrestler with a dynamite right hand and even though his time on the shelf was due mostly to circumstances outside of his control, the rest will likely do him more good than harm.
A rejuvenated Woodley could be scary, and while I don’t know if he’ll be able to put away the durable “Durinho,” I do see him walking out with a win on the scorecards.
With respect to Blagoy Ivanov, youth will be served in this matchup.
At 29 years old — four years Ivanov’s junior — Augusto Sakai looks to be peaking at the right time and sharpening up his striking with every appearance. He doesn’t do anything fancy and from a technical standpoint Ivanov might be superior, but Ivanov doesn’t have the power of Sakai. Even if he frustrates Sakai early, I don’t know if Ivanov can avoid that monster right hand of Sakai’s for three rounds.
One concern for Sakai would be hurting Ivanov early and prematurely emptying his gas tank in search of a finish. Ivanov has never been knocked out and his defense could cause Sakai to wear himself out if he isn’t careful. With his strong striking fundamentals, Ivanov could surprise a tiring Sakai with a counter-punch KO of his own.
However, I’m leaning towards Sakai becoming the first fighter to finish Ivanov via strikes.
Shifted onto the main card after Kevin Holland fell out of his bout with Daniel Rodriguez, Billy Quarantillo and Spike Carlyle are as good a choice as any to showcase that there are hidden gems at this event. Quarantillo is an aggressive grappler, while Carlyle has impressed with his explosive and unorthodox standup style (not to mention his confidence on the mic).
It’s not quite a classic grappler vs. striker matchup as Quarantillo will mix it up on the feet. He’s going to want to close the distance and pressure Carlyle, limiting the creativity of “The Alpha Ginger” while hunting for trips and takedowns. We’ll see how effective Carlyle’s movement is against a more aggressive opponent than he faced in his first UFC outing.
I actually like Carlyle’s chances of either outlasting Quarantillo with his takedown defense or at least having enough submission defense to hang in there on the ground until he can scramble out. This is a fun matchup on paper and I think it ends with Carlyle scoring another knockout win.
Both of these guys have great size at 155 pounds and they’ve shown they’re comfortable going the distance if the early finish isn’t there. Brok Weaver hasn’t lost in MMA in almost four years and Roosevelt Roberts has never been finished.
Roberts is trending upward. After being outclassed in his first career loss to Vinc Pichel, “GoGetta” looked improved in all aspects in his subsequent win over another veteran in Alexander Yakovlev. Making the most of your physical gifts can be a tricky thing for long, rangy fighters, but it looks like Roberts is figuring it out.
Another thing to like about Roberts is how well he paces himself. The third round is usually a good one for him so if this fight is close through the first two frames, Roberts knows how to save his best for last. Weaver is no slouch in the cardio department either. However, his lack of a more well-rounded game will cost him here.
Roberts by decision.
Hannah Cifers isn’t an easy bounce-back opponent for Mackenzie Dern. If Dern hasn’t shored up her striking deficiencies, she’s going to be eating counters and short combinations for 15 minutes.
When the two meet in the cage, expect Dern to be the bigger fighter, which will go a long way towards her imposing her will on “Shockwave.” Cifers has some pop, but Dern has shown that she can take a punch even if her own standup is a work in progress, and she’ll absorb some damage if it means she can get a hold of Cifers and take this one to the ground.
In the grappling department, Cifers is a gamer, but her inherent toughness will only take her so far against a jiu-jitsu practitioner of Dern’s caliber. Dern is going to tie Cifers up at some point and the submission will be there for the taking.
Daniel Rodriguez def. Gabe Green