This weekend is the kickoff to the Mixed Martial Arts calendar and also a huge milestone for the sport itself. This Saturday will feature the beginning of the ESPN and UFC marriage on the streaming service ESPN+. Let’s get into the top storylines for this fight card.
Flyweight Division 125lbs
There is so much riding on this one fight. This fight is the first main event and first championship fight on ESPN+ for the UFC. This was surely no mistake by Dana White and company as they have shown a propensity to have big, compelling fight cards to open new relationships with television providers.
Not only is this a championship bout for the Flyweight strap, but the title is also being challenged by the Bantamweight champion, making it a champion vs. champion title fight. Just when you thought the stakes couldn’t get any higher, this could also be the potential death of the flyweight division. Dana White was asked this very question about potentially shuttering the division if Henry Cejudo lost and he matter of factly replied: “We’ll see what happens on Saturday.”
The fight itself is very interesting. Cejudo is a former Olympic Gold medalist in freestyle wrestling and has become better than competent in his striking. The evolution of his striking game along with gaining more experience under his belt allowed Cejudo to topple the previous 125lb kingpin Demetrius Johnson in August of last year.
T.J. Dillashaw is coming off a knockout victory in August of 2018 on the same fight card that Cejudo wrested the title from Demetrius Johnson. Dillashaw, however, was defending his belt against his nemesis Cody Garbrandt in a fight in which he used his excellent footwork and precise striking technique to earn a knockout.
Dillashaw has fought only twice in the past two years and against the same man in Garbrandt. He is moving down to 125lbs to challenge Cejudo and join the recently growing ranks of simultaneous two division champions in the UFC. That list is elite, and Dillashaw is an elite fighter. However, he had struggled against smaller, quicker fighters and has not seen or prepared for a different fighting style other than Garbrandt’s since December of 2016 when he fought a power brawler in John Lineker.
Dillashaw has a multitude of obstacles working against him in the fight itself, but a major factor will also be the weight cut. Dillashaw will be at a health and stamina disadvantage, a wrestling disadvantage and a challenger’s disadvantage. The only advantage Dillashaw will have is striking, and I do not think Cejudo will entertain that aspect of the fight for too long. Cejudo wants to win, save the division and then move up to 135lbs and challenge T.J. for his title.
I have Cejudo by TKO via ground and pound in the third round.
Heavyweight division 206lbs – 265lbs
The co-main event will feature none other than former NFL defensive end Greg Hardy in his official UFC debut (He’s had two fights on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series). Hardy is 3-0 in professional bouts and 3-0 in amateur bouts since turning to MMA after being exiled by the NFL after the 2015 season due to multiple off the field issues.
Hardy has all of 2 mins and 7 seconds of professional MMA experience and will be taking on a 12 fight veteran with over 18 mins of UFC experience alone. This is a controversial fight being put on the ESPN+ fight card to attract as many viewers as possible. From an actual fight standpoint, this is a mismatch due to sheer size.
Crowder is generally a smaller heavyweight, his last fight in December of 2017 he weighed in at 237lbs and Joe Rogan stated during the fight that he could easily make the 205lb weight division. For this fight, Crowder has weighed in at 252.6 pounds. He will need all of that weight and then some to compete against a super athlete like Hardy who, by all accounts, cuts weight to make the 265 lb weight limit of the heavyweight division.
I see a smaller man who has been knocked out by big heavyweights taking on a freakishly large man with massive power.
I have Greg Hardy by KO in the first round.
Undercard Highlight Bout
Women’s Flyweight Division 125 lbs
In another controversial fight, the UFC is pitting two of the most popular women’s fighters against each other to get as many eyeballs on this ESPN+ fight card as possible. The controversy was twofold, putting a recent victim of domestic violence on the same fight card as one of the more notorious domestic violence offenders and also having Ostovich fight less than two months after the incident that caused a broken bone on her face. On top of those controversies you have two fighters coming off losses, two losses in a row for VanZant and 1 for Ostovich, that are in desperate need of a win.
The fight itself will be a contrast in styles with VanZant holding the striking advantage and Ostovich having the grappling one. Both fighters have a lot riding on this fight, and I foresee much tentativeness.
I have VanZant winning by decision.
Undercard + Preliminary Fights
The undercard is littered with name fighters getting tough matchups and young fighters looking for their break. Fan favorite Donald Cerrone continues his hall of fame career against exciting prospect Alexander Hernandez; Joseph Benavidez takes on fellow contender Dustin Ortiz, rising star Yancy Medeiros looks to rebound from a loss against Gregor Gillespie and Dennis Bermudez looks to keep his employment against Te Edwards.
Plenty is going on for the first major fight card of 2019. I’ll be watching these fights on my phone through the ESPN+ app while watching the Pacquiao vs. Broner fight on my phone. Should be a lot of fun.
What: UFC Fight Night 143 Cejudo vs. Dillashaw
Where to watch: ESPN+ app
When: Saturday, January 19th, 2019
Time: Main Card 9:00 PM CST