Behind the Card: A Look at UFC 200

The Main Event

     Arguably the biggest rivalry in UFC history will culminate in a championship fight next weekend at UFC 200 in Las Vegas, Nevada, when Daniel Cormier faces interim champion Jon Jones. Both will enter the octagon already bloody from the violent smack talk that has flown leading up to the first punch. Cormier is maybe the best Cormier we’ve ever seen, on top of his game and coming off two impressive wins, while Jones is perhaps still rusty from his mandatory vacation from the business.

     With a dramatic rear naked choke win against Anthony Johnson and a banger decision win over Alexander Gustafsson that showed his striking improvement, it’s easy to say that Cormier will be confident and warm when he steps into the octagon.  Alternately, Jones was out for 14 months after, once again, the legal problems stemming from his lack of discipline in his personal life, affected his professional life. After bulking up and teasing a devastating return, literally bigger and better, he underwhelmed in a flat and inactive decision win versus OSP. In the UFC post-fight presser, Jones explained he was playing it safe in order to be sure and secure the interim belt, but many felt it was a lazy demonstration of his commitment to being back stronger than ever. One way or the other, this fight will be a rematch that ends this chapter of their blood feud.

     “Can you hear me now?” Those were the resounding words during UFC 199, revealing the final shocker for the UFC 200 card. Brock Lesnar’s highly anticipated return will be versus the Super Samoan, Mark Hunt. It’s a tall order for the returning WWE legend turned MMA super star. Hunt is at the top of his game, after losing some weight following a devastatingly horrific TKO at Fight Night 65 that left everyone begging referee John Sharp to stop it. Hunt came back leaner and stronger, promising in the UFC 193 open workouts that he could “go 10 rounds.”

     Hunt has certainly delivered, giving fans back-to-back first round walk-off knockouts versus Antônio Silva and Frank Mir. Lesnar, by contrast, hasn’t fought in the octagon since Alistair Overeem knocked him out with a flurry of punches in the first round at UFC 141 in 2008.  This fight will happen in the dust of Mark Hunt’s PED use accusations against Lesnar, telling MMA Junkie this week that he’s “been fighting cheaters his whole career.” Lesnar responded to that accusation with “I’m a white boy and I’m jacked. Deal with it.”

    In April Hunt signed a new six-fight multi-million dollar contract, despite announcing in 2014 that he’d be retiring after that contract ended. Incidentally, had he retained his plans to retire after that six-fight contract, this fight versus Lesnar would be his final career fight.

     Many people think if Hunt is able to sprawl and keep this fight on his feet, and knock out Brock Lesnar, there will be a title fight for Hunt in the near future, perhaps facing a rematch with Fabricio Werdum who defeated him via TKO in 2014, or with Ben Rothwell whom he defeated via unanimous decision in 2011.
 

     The second of the three title fights of UFC 200 is Miesha “Cupcake” Tate, riding a 5 fight win streak, versus Amanda “The Lioness” Nunes, coming in with three wins in a row. Miesha has arguably beaten some of the best in the division to get her long sought UFC title belt, with wins against Liz Carmouche, Sarah McMann, and an impressive, dominating submission win against Holly Holm in March at UFC 196. Since August of 2014, Nunes has defeated Sarah McMann and Valentina Shevchenko to cap off her wins in five of her last six.

     The third of the three title fights is huge for long time UFC fans. Jose Aldo makes his first octagon appearance since his devastating knock-out loss vs UFC Superstar Conor McGregor, and he’ll be facing an enormous undertaking against Frankie Edgar, the oft overlooked stepson of the UFC. Edgar hasn’t been in the octagon since his Performance of the Night win against Chad Mendes in December of 2015, but not for lack of trying. Riding his five fight win streak since his loss to Jose Aldo via decision in 2013, he’s been on social media and TV begging for fights, whether it was a rematch with Aldo, or a fight with McGregor. Most recall that after his decisive win against Mendes, Dana White offered him, “whatever he wanted.” At the UFC 196 presser, Edgar cornered White, demanding to know if he would get the next McGregor fight after the Diaz submission. Instead of sticking by his already tarnished promise, White backed down, saying he didn’t know what was in store for McGregor.

     Likewise, many people think Aldo has been the disrespected golden child of the UFC. With an 18 fight undefeated record going into his fight with McGregor, many people thought the Irishman was overstepping his level of experience. With seven title defenses since being the first featherweight champion in the UFC, Aldo was starting to eye Anderson Silva’s record of ten title defenses. Perhaps overlooking the Irish brawler, Aldo rushed in with his chin up, and was knocked-out by a left hook heard round the stadium, in just 13 seconds of round one.

     Therefore, maybe people believe this rematch fight for the interim featherweight belt is a big one, securing either the Aldo/McGregor rematch that fans of Aldo think he deserved from the beginning, or the long sought begged for title fight between McGregor and Edgar that fans have long thought would be a great stylistic match up. This will definitely be a contender for Fight of the Night.

     The first main card fight of the night will be #2 heavyweight, and previous Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez versus #7 ranked heavyweight Travis Browne. Browne might seem like an odd choice for this fight, having won only two of his last four, but he’s got wins in five of his last seven and a brutal but controversial knock-out win of Matt Mitrione back in January after multiple eye pokes by Browne left Mitrione’s eye badly damaged. Having garnered more press attention for domestic abuse allegations and whom he’s currently dating, the UFC might be using his newfound name recognition just a little, but Browne is definitely one you shouldn’t sleep against.

     When Fabrício Werdum choked out Cain Velasquez in the third round of UFC 188, Velasquez demanded an instant rematch, and was given one. However, both fighters bowed out citing injuries, and so now he faces Browne in the biggest card in UFC history. This will be the first time these two fighters face one another. The question will be whether or not Browne’s cardio can stand up against the legendary endurance of the prior champ.

Fox Sports 1 Prelim Fights

     It’s doubtful that anyone can forget when Ronda Rousey slapped an armbar on Cat Zingano in fourteen seconds at UFC 184. Zingano rushed in, trying to knee Rousey in the liver in the opening seconds, and ran directly at an Olympian level judoka, ensuring she came into her unbalanced and was easily thrown. Many MMA loving fans screamed out loud in that moment. How can anyone forget Zingano’s tears, as fans followed her heart-breaking story of overcoming the suicide of her husband, and a devastating knee injury that put into question her entire career? She overcame it all, but then was submitted in fourteen seconds. Her post-fight speechlessness and tears moved many viewers, and everyone watching UFC 200 will be hard pressed not to root for her comeback.

     However, across the octagon from her, will be young, confidant Julianna Peña, riding a three fight winning streak and an 8-2 record. With half her wins coming by way of submission, Peña is a solid grappler and wrestler, but she’ll be facing the challenge of her career in Zingano, a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. More importantly perhaps, Zingano moved her training to Alliance MMA in preparation for UFC 200, so she’s been training with the likes of Alexander Gustafsson, Dominick Cruz, and Phil Davis. These two aggressive stand-up fighters are sure to keep the action high, and it would be a surprise if this one goes all three rounds.

     Two fighters with histories of weight cut issues face off in the only welterweight bout of the night. Johny Hendricks faces off against Kelvin Gastelum in what some have rumored to be a do or die fight. Hendricks is right back in the ring after a brutal knockout loss to Stephen Thompson in February. Gastelum last fought in November at his return to welterweight following a catchweight loss against Tyron Woodley, and a middleweight win via corner stoppage against Nate Marquardt.  His return to welterweight at the TUF: Latin America 2 final resulted in a split decision loss to Neil Magny. Hopefully, Gastelum has been focusing more on his weight cut and training, and less on his recent smack talk with TJ Dillashaw about the training KO Gastelum says he handed Dillashaw, that may or may not have happened.

     Ongoing ankle injuries have sidelined Raphael Assunção since December of 2014. This has surely been frustrating to the 23-4 bantamweight who was rocketing to the top of the rankings at the time. After a 10-week heal time turned into almost a year, and a canceled bout with Uriah Faber for Fight Night 62, he underwent surgery on the ankle, and faces off in a rematch against T.J. Dillashaw in his return bout twenty-one months later. No small feat.

     T.J. Dillashaw will be coming in hungry, and ready to establish the first win on the road back to his bantamweight belt after losing it in a decision loss to Dominick Cruz in January. This fight will be a rematch of the controversial 2014 Assunção win that most experts had scored for Dillashaw. Many think this fight will put the winner at the very top of the list of future title contenders.

     The first Fox Sports 1 prelim fight of the night will be Sage Northcutt versus Enrique Marin. It’s probably not a surprise that match makers decided to put Northcutt against Marin, whose eight wins include five by submission. Barberena handily submitted Northcutt in January, and many critics seem to think Northcutt might have tapped too early in the arm triangle choke. In the post-fight interview Northcutt revealed he’d been fighting strep throat leading up to the fight, was on loads of antibiotics, and felt quite out of sorts in the octagon, saying he “had a hard time breathing out there” and “felt like [his] legs were cement.” He promised to come back better than ever, and UFC 200 will tell fans a lot about his ground game, or lack thereof.

     Spanish fighter Enrique Marin, runner up on the TUF: Latin America 2 is looking to cement a presence in the UFC, and utilize this opportunity to dramatically increase his presence in the rankings. According to the Sutemi Fight Academy’s Facebook page, in order to train for UFC 200, Marin moved from his usual gym in Spain, to Kings MMA gym in California, home of Rafael dos Anjos and former champion Fabricio Werdum. While he’s coming in a big underdog in this fight, Marin is not someone who should be looked past. This fight is a huge opener for the Fox Sports 1 prelims, and sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Fight Pass Early Prelims

     Diego Sanchez and Joe Lauzon will be capping off the Fight Pass prelims at UFC 200. Lauzon is coming off a decision loss against Evan Dunham back in December, while Sanchez defeated Jim Miller by decision in his return to lightweight at UFC 196 in March.

     Gegard Mousasi will take on Thiago Santos in a middleweight bought. Mousasi defeated Leites via decision in February at Fight Night London, but some will more readily recall his loss via flying knee by Uriah Hall at Fight Night Japan in September of last year. Santos is on a four fight winning streak, most recently knocking out Marquardt in the first round at UFC 198.

     Jim Miller and Takanori Gomi will open the night at UFC 200, the lightweight bout being the first fight of the UFC Fight Pass prelims. Gomi, The Fireball Kid, has lost three of his last four bouts, the last two by knockout. He’s been out for a year, his last loss being Fight Night Chicago in July of 2015. Jim Miller has lost four of his last five bouts, losing to big names such as Donald Cerrone, Beneil Dariush, Michael Chiesa, and Diego Sanchez.

     Whether you think UFC 200 is the biggest card in UFC history or not, it’s safe to say that this card is as stacked as they come. Stacked with do or die fights, the return of a superstar, arch nemeses meeting, rematches to decide title shots, and three championship bouts, this is sure to be a wild night that will have MMA fans tweeting into the morning hours. What fights are you looking forward to the most? Who are you eager to see win or lose? You can comment below, or tweet us at @CombatDocket and let us know!