The UFC + ESPN marriage rolls on with the latest, exciting Fight Night out of the O2 Arena in London, England. Big ramifications are at stake at the top of this card for the 170-lb and the 205-lb divisions.
Welterweight Division – up to 171 lbs
Darren Till (#3 UFC) 17-1-1-0NC vs Jorge Masvidal (#11 UFC) 32-13-0-0NC
This fight is dictated by a need for the UFC to have an international fighter at the top of a marquee division. Till, of Liverpool, England, recently lost his undefeated record to then-champ Tyron Woodley in a humbling loss. Now that the division has a new champion in Kamaru Usman, Till is in a prime position to throw his name back into the championship challenger picture. A win against an undersized and underpowered Masvidal is exactly what the doctor has ordered to keep Till relevant.
Till uses his size (moved down from 185 lbs division in 2014) to bully opponents into striking matches. His striking is above average and he has power that can render the judges pointless. Till overpowers and knocks out lesser competition, but his move up the rankings has had mixed success, knocking out undersized Donald Cerrone, winning a razor thin decision against Stephen Thompson and finally getting submitted by then-champ Woodley. In his fight with Woodley it looked like he abandoned all of his usually-great technical Muay Thai striking skill and was just looking for one huge power shot. Instead of finding that shot, he got rocked with a huge right hand from the champ that began the ending sequence.
Masvidal is a fan favorite, and I remember watching his backyard bare knuckle fights on YouTube 15+ years ago. Seeing those fights with no hand protection, no weight limit, and no time limit made me realize Masvidal is cut from a different cloth. Before Masvidal landed in the UFC some six years ago, he bounced around between several smaller promotions (Bodog fight, CrazyHorse Fight, World Victory Road, Shark Fights, G-Force Fights, Bellator and Strikeforce to name a few) and was the definition of a prize fighter.
Masvidal is a polished striker and his only losses have come against the very top of the welterweight and lightweight divisions. Masvidal’s optimal weight class is the 155 lb division; however, a loss to Al Iaquinta forced him to reassess his championship goals and try his luck in a division where he would not have to cut as much weight. He uses his wrestling to keep his fights standing and will create openings through fast combinations and continued pressure. He has a killer instinct and will exploit any opening his opponent gives him. Masvidal struggles with wrestlers that can keep him down or strikers with fast hands that can take his punches and give more back.
If Till wins, he will be teed up to fight Woodley in a rematch or Ben Askren in a number one contenders fight. If Masvidal wins, he gets out of gatekeeper status and launches himself into the top of the division. Plenty on the line for both men.
I have Darren Till by decision.
Welterweight Division – up to 171 lbs
Leon Edwards (#10 UFC) 16-3-0-0NC vs Gunnar Nelson (#13 UFC) 17-3-1-0NC
The Co-Main Event features two fighters with similar records and rankings vying to upstage the fellow welterweights at the top of the card. These two fighters will continue the proxy war between famed fighting camps SBG Ireland and A.K.A., the fights camps of Connor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov respectively.
Leon Edwards is the 10th-ranked welterweight fighter in the UFC and is on a six-fight win streak. His last loss came in 2015 against current champion Kamaru Usman. His only real losses have come in the UFC, as his first loss was a disqualification due to an illegal knee.
If Darren Till is big for the welterweight division, then it would be apt to say Edwards is enormous for it, coming in at 6’2” with a 74-inch reach. Edwards, like Till, fights out of the southpaw stance and uses his size and speed to keep his opponents at a comfortable distance. He uses great footwork to mix his hand strikes with thunderous leg kicks. His last fight was a five-round unanimous decision victory against veteran Donald Cerrone.
Gunnar Nelson is 8-3 in the UFC and is coming off a submission win against dangerous striker Alex Oliveria. In the Oliveria fight, Nelson used his world-class grappling skills to take down his opponent, batter him and sink in the rear naked choke. Nelson also uses a wide karate stance that invites his opponent to strike him, which Nelson uses to counterstrike. This fight style has garnered Nelson a lot of buzz and comparisons to his SBG Ireland stablemate Connor McGregor. But the results have been mixed, with a recent loss by knockout to surging Santiago Ponzinibbio in a fight that he was winning.
Edwards is averse to risk in many of his fights, but he will have to take some or he will be in danger of falling behind on points to the counter-striker Nelson. The winner of this fight keeps the hype going for themselves and wins a ticket to a potential match against a top five opponent.
I have Nelson via submission in the 2nd round.
Undercard Highlight Fight
Light Heavyweight Division – up to 206 lbs
Volkan Oezdemir (#6 UFC) 15-3-0-0NC vs Dominick Reyes (#8 UFC) 10-0-0-0NC
This fight could easily headline a different UFC Fight Night. Volkan Oezdemir, the 205-lb darling of 2017, came crashing down in 2018 against stiff competition with losses against Daniel Cormier (for the UFC 205-lb Championship) and against recent title challenger Anthony Smith.
Oezdemir blitzed the UFC from the moment he debuted here in Houston in February of 2017. He won his first fight against perennial top-10 contender Ovince Saint Preux by decision and then absolutely starched his next two top-10 opponents, Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa, by knockout in the first round. This earned Oezdemir a title fight against then champion Daniel Cormier. Cormier easily beat Oezdemir by TKO in the second round. After that loss, Anthony Smith used a methodical game plan that punished Oezdemir throughout the fight and had Oezdemir running on fumes in the 3rd round. Smith jumped on Oezdemir and sunk in a rear naked choke to end the fight. This is his first fight since those two losses.
Oezdemir has a karate background and is very quick and agile for his size. He uses his quickness and overlooked power to catch fighters off guard. By the time they realize the speed and power Oezdemir possesses, they are face-up, looking at the lights. Cormier and Smith did not underestimate Oezdemir and took the fight to him to get the W.
Dominik Reyes is undefeated in the UFC and in his overall MMA career. Reyes has been given a step up in competition with every successful victory in the UFC, and he’s answered all the questions to this point. His latest victory was a unanimous decision victory against crafty veteran Ovince Saint Preux in his longest fight in the UFC. His previous three fights in the UFC have ended via exciting knockout or by submission.
Reyes is a powerful striker who mixes his combinations and puts on a relentless pace. He is always coming forward with kicks, uppercuts or whatever he thinks he can land. He has what’s called sneaky power, in that a punch that doesn’t look like it would cause a lot of damage ends up turning the lights out for his opponent. He showcased that power with uppercuts against Jared Cannonier and with straight lefts against Joachim Christensen.
This fight will show that Reyes is the next big thing at light heavyweight and that Oezdemir was a flash in the pan, or that Oezdemir is a legitimate contender and his losses were only against the top of the division.
I have Reyes by KO in the 1st round.
What: UFC Fight Night 147: Till vs Masvidal
Where to watch: ESPN+ app
When: Saturday, March 15, 2019
Time: Main Card – 3:00 p.m. CST