This weekend’s UFC event makes its first ever pit-stop in Cleveland, Ohio for UFC 203, the home of current heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic who headlines the card and defends his belt for the first time against Dutch destroyer Alistair Overeem. Miocic became champion four months ago when he knocked out Fabricio Werdum at UFC 198 and after convincing the top brass, he was granted his first title defence in his hometown. Attempting to wreck his homecoming party is Alistair Overeem, the beast of a human that holds wins over some of the world’s best heavyweights. This will be an intriguing contest to watch unfold as both these fighters are nearly identical in weight, height and reach and both are primarily strikers. If ever there was an exciting heavyweight title fight; this is it. In the co-main event, another heavyweight clash sees Fabricio Werdum and Travis Browne attempt to bounce back from their respective losses. Former champion Werdum knows a win on Saturday could launch him back into contention while an impressive victory for Browne over the former champ could sky rocket him up the rankings. Elsewhere on the main card and the fight that makes UFC 203 stand out from the casuals, is the long awaited debut of former WWE wrestler CM Punk as he takes on 2-0 newcomer Mickey Gall. Long-time competitor Urijah Faber will take on the up and coming Jimmie Rivera in a bantamweight battle and opening the main card, in the women’s Strawweight division, Jessica Andrade attempts to overcome Scotland native Joanne Calderwood. Also on the undercard there is plenty to feast on as Ian McCall finally gets his comeback fight by taking on Ray Borg, Yancy Medeiros faces off against Sean Spencer and two of the toughest women in the sport Bethe Correia and Jessica Eye go toe to toe. UFC 203 is a fantastic card from top to bottom that should live up the hype, so be sure to be tuned in come Saturday night.
As always, I will now break down all the main card fights, give my predictions and of course put my own “Armchair Expert” title on the line.
STIPE MIOCIC vs. ALISTAIR OVEREEM
This fight could last 25 seconds or it could last 25 minutes, it all depends on what game plan they choose to implement. This is a huge opportunity for Overeem to win his first UFC belt, having previously held honours in Dream, K1 and Strikeforce but he is facing a fighter who likes to stand and strike and with that knowledge, I expect Overeem to be cautious and aim to counter punch his way to victory. The last thing the “Reem” will want to do is stand and trade because at 36 years of age and having being knocked out 9 times in his career already, his chin has become slightly weathered and a clean connection from the powerful hands of Miocic could turn out his lights for a tenth time. Overeem is a decorated kick-boxer and he will need to use his strong leg kicks to keep Miocic from pushing forward too fast, if he kicks smartly he can take Miocic out of his rhythm and decidate the fight. For the hometown hero his game plan should remain the same as always, mix up the strikes and hit fast, Miocic doesn’t give his opponent a moment to rest and that will be key here because when the fight is brought to Overeem and he begins to back up, he becomes vulnerable and that’s when Miocic can land the killer strike. The other advantage Miocic holds for this bout, apart from the backing of the crowd, is his severely underrated ground game; he is a fantastic wrestler and although he doesn’t use it very often, it’s a fall back weapon if the exchanges aren’t working out against Overeem. This is being built as Miocic’s night but Overeem has the potential to spoil the party. I just don’t think he fights smart enough to snatch the victory here, Miocic should wear him down and put him away in the later rounds and make the crowd go wild.
Miocic by KO.
FABRICIO WERDUM vs. TRAVIS BROWNE
With the heavyweight title on the line in the main event and the division not exactly swarming with challengers, the winner of this contest could land himself a title shot with a notable performance. The former champion comes into this contest having lost his belt only four months ago, prior to that loss, he had been on a six fight win streak; one of those victories coming against the man he faces here; Travis Browne. Since losing that fight, “Hapa” Browne has gone 2-2, his latest defeat coming against a re-energised Cain Velasquez at UFC 200. Looking back on their first encounter two years ago, Browne was tipped as the better striker and for Werdum to win he would have to drag the fight to the mat but what unfolded was a clinic in stand up as Werdum out struck Browne on his way to a unanimous decision victory. This time around I don’t see any reason why that should change, Browne’s striking hasn’t got any better since teaming up with Edmond Tarverdyan while Werdum has added a greater striking arsenal to his already perfect ground game. Unless Browne reverts back to the fearsome striker with vicious elbows that he used to be then I don’t expect this fight to be any different from their last meeting. Werdum can win this on his feet and if needs be on the ground, Werdum to get the nod from the judges.
Werdum by decision.
CM PUNK vs. MICKEY GALL
There isn’t an awful lot I can breakdown for this fight, Punk is 0-0 and Mickey Gall is 2-0. Punk signed with the UFC back in December 2014 and injury has prevented him from making his debut sooner; which was probably a blessing in disguise as it gave him more time to learn more aspects of the game from Duke Roufus. I was one of many that weren’t happy with the UFC handing CM Punk a contract when he had zero fighting experience but from watching him train I can only give him props for getting his head down and getting stuck in. Any man deserves credit for being brave enough to step foot in the Octagon but being brave won’t save him from the fists of Mickey Gall. In his two pro fights so far, Gall has looked great, he is still young and has plenty to learn but he has a talent and more importantly a fighting background that should be too much for Punk. The only thing waving in Punks favour is the unknown; we really don’t know what way he fights or what skillset he has but we’ll find out soon. I can’t see past Micky Gall and I can see Punk getting past the first round.
Gall by KO.
URIJAH FABER vs. JIMMIE RIVERA
Urijah Faber has been around the block; he made his debut back in 2003 and has amassed a record of 33-9 fighting a who’s who of 135 and 145 pounders along the way. At 37 years of age “The California Kids” best days are behind him and that’s quite possibly why they have made this match up against a fighter who is 10 years his junior and who is beginning to make waves in the bantamweight division. Jimmie Rivera is currently 19-1, his sole loss coming in his second pro fight, which means he is on an amazing 18 fight win streak. “El Terror” signed with the UFC in 2015 and has won his three bouts under the UFC banner; each one of those contests was another step up in competition but this fight against Faber isn’t only a step up, it’s a leap. Faber is one of the finest wrestlers on the roster and despite his age, he is still as quick and agile as ever, Rivera will need to be quicker and fight smart; he can’t leave any openings to be taken down, otherwise Faber will pounce. Despite losing 9 times in his career, 8 of those were title fights and the other was when Faber stepped up to featherweight to take on Frankie Edgar; Faber isn’t any easy man to beat and for the first time in a long time he holds a slight reach advantage on an opponent. All this lead me to believe Faber grinds his way to victory and shows the old dog still has some life left in him.
Faber by decision.
JESSICA ANDRADE vs. JOANNE CALDERWOOD
The last time I previewed Joanne Calderwood’s fight I spoke about how she had never really impressed me and that by joining up with Firas Zahabi it would help her click all the elements of her game together and that is exactly what happened when she beat Valerie Letourneau in her last outing. That fight was the best Calderwood has looked inside the Octagon, she stuck to her game plan and picked her apart but she will need to build on that performance again when she faces the extremely tough Jessica Andrade. The Brazilian made her Strawweight debut at UFC 199 when she destroyed Jessica Penne inside two rounds, Andrade is a complete fighter who is as dangerous on her feet as she is on the ground, she will look to come forward against Calderwood and if she can get her to the ground she will work tirelessly to lock in a submission. Calderwood’s greatest assist for this fight is her reach, she holds a 4inch reach advantage and needs to utilize it and to keep firing out the jab and leg kicks to keep Andrade out of range. If Calderwood can perform like she did last time out, by fighting smartly and timing her shots, she should win a decision victory here or possibly a late stoppage.
Calderwood by decision.
Best of the Rest.
Jessica Eye vs. Bethe Correia
Eye to win.
Nik Lentz vs. Michael McBride
Lentz to win.
Caio Magalhaes vs. Brad Tavares
Tavares to win.
Ian McCall vs. Ray Borg
McCall to win.
Yancy Medeiros vs. Sean Spencer
Medeiros to win.
CB Dollaway vs. Francimar Barroso
Dollaway to win.
Drew Dober vs. Jason Gonzalez
Dober to win.
Bet of the Day.
The adventurous bet: all 12 predictions in an accumulator is about 359/1.
The conservative bet: Faber, Calderwood and Werdum to win is 5/1 or a Double Chance on Werdum by KO or submission is 11/8
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