2017 has been a year to forget for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Despite staging some fantastic events over the last 12 months, they have been too far and in between.
The UFC’s biggest star, Conor McGregor, fought in the boxing ring instead of the octagon and no-one knows whether the Irishman will ever return to compete in MMA again after pocketing over $100m against Floyd Mayweather.
The return of Jon Jones at UFC 214 – one of the best cards of the year – seemingly welcomed back one of the sport’s icons; but another failed drugs test again taints his legacy and casts extreme doubt over his future in the sport.
Nevertheless, the UFC will be hoping to go out with a bang with their final pay-per-view event of the year – UFC 219 – live from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
We preview and predict the night’s main card below…
MAIN EVENT – UFC WOMEN’S FEATHERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
Women’s Featherweight – Cris ‘Justino’ Cyborg (C) (18-1-0) vs Holly ‘The Preacher’s Daughter’ Holm (11-3)
The main event of the evening sees two of the worlds best collide as Cris Cyborg defends her featherweight title against former bantamweight champion – Holly Holm.
With Germaine de Randamie refusing to fight her, Cyborg finally added UFC gold to her collection at UFC 214 when she beat newcomer Tonya Evinger via TKO in the third round to claim the vacant title.
She faces arguably the toughest test of her career so far against Holm who has already fought for the featherweight belt against de Randamie at UFC 208. She bounced back with a head kick knockout against Bethe Correira at bantamweight but now steps up in weight again to attempt to dethrone Cyborg.
‘The Preachers Daughter’ will enter the cage as an underdog given the dominance her opponent has displayed throughout her career, but her style gives the American a chance in this fight. Her footwork and movement will be key as she must stay on the outside and avoid Cyborg’s power.
The reigning champion recognises the challenge she faces in Holm but believes she will be no match for her power on December 30th. While she does have a chance, it’s hard to look past Cyborg. She is arguably the most dominant female fighter in history and will have a size advantage. Undefeated in 12 years, Cyborg’s violent, aggressive style has led to knockouts in 16 of her 18 professional wins.
I believe her strength will be too much for Holm to handle meaning the champion will retain her belt.
PREDICTION: Cyborg via third-round KO
Lightweight – Khabib ‘The Eagle’ Nurmagomedov (24-0) vs Edson Barboza (19-4)Embed from Getty Images
In the co-main event of the evening, there is a welcome return to action for a lightweight superstar, Khabib Nurmagomedov, who faces one of the deadliest finishers in UFC history – Edson Barboza.
‘The Eagle’ fights for the first time since UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden where he mauled Michael Johnson before submitting him via kimura. Nurmagomedov was scheduled to face Tony Ferguson at UFC 209 for the interim lightweight title but was hospitalised due to his weight cut, and he hasn’t fought since. He has insisted he would ‘cut off his leg’ to make weight for this fight amid concerns from fans that he could again suffer similar issues.
With Conor McGregor yet to defend his title, Nurmagomedov believes the Irishman is not the real champion and says he must meet Ferguson in the future to crown the real king at 155lbs.
In his way, however, is Barboza. The Brazilian has shot up the lightweight rankings after picking up decision victories over former champion, Anthony Pettis, and Gilbert Melendez before adding another knockout to the highlight reel against Beneil Dariush earlier in the year.
Barboza’s kicks are arguably the best the UFC has ever seen, and his boxing has also steadily improved over time. Now working with Mark Henry and training with the likes of Eddie Alvarez and Frankie Edgar, his grappling has also improved but preparing for Nurmagomedov is easier said than done.
The Russian sambo star can take anyone down and displays some of the best top control in the world. He has lethal ground and pound as well as deadly submissions. Even if you stuff one takedown, Nurmagomedov will try and try until you hit the ground.
Despite improvements in his striking, it’s clear Barboza will have the advantage on the feet. But on the ground, it’s Nurmagomedov’s world. I think Barboza will find some success on the feet, but it’s a matter of time before Nurmagomedov takes you to the ground.
PREDICTION: Nurmagomedov via second-round submission
REST OF THE MAIN CARD
Welterweight – Neil Magny (19-6) vs Carlos ‘The Natural Born Killer Condit (30-10)Embed from Getty Images
Also returning to action in Las Vegas is a welterweight veteran, Carlos Condit, who will face #12 ranked Neil Magny after spending over a year on the sidelines.
The ‘Natural Born Killer’ flirted with the idea of retirement after failing to beat Robbie Lawler for the welterweight title at UFC 195 as well as losing to Demian Maia via submission in the first round on his return. His long MMA career is coming to an end, but Condit is willing to have one more go at UFC gold.
The 33-year-old is one of the most prolific finishers in the sport – only two of his 30 wins have gone to a decision. Condit sees an opportunity and pounces searching for the finish. He will give up a height and reach advantage to Magny so expect Condit to use leg and body kicks to chop him down to size.
On the other hand, Magny has been handed an excellent opportunity to add a huge name to his record if he manages to pick up the win. He is one of the taller 170lb fighters but lost his last bout to a much smaller man in Rafael Dos Anjos; he was submitted in the first round at UFC 215.
Magny’s best weapon in this fight will be his wrestling. Condit has traditionally struggled to defend takedowns so Magny should aim to take this fight to the ground instead of engaging in a striking war.
Both men are coming off a loss, and a win would be huge for either. MMA fans would hate to see Condit call it a day but many fighters have struggled after such a long lay-off. His break could reinvigorate the former title challenger and spark another UFC title run, or it could prove to be his downfall.
Magny has lost three of his last four fights and desperately needs a victory to stay ranked in the welterweight division. 170lbs is arguably the deepest division in the UFC, and many stars such as Darren Till and Santiago Ponzinibbio are quickly climbing the rankings and leaving Magny behind.
Condit hasn’t lost to anyone ranked outside the top four since 2009, and I’m backing ‘NBK’ to take home a knockout victory.
PREDICTION: Condit via second-round TKO
Strawweight – Carla ‘Cookie Monster’ Esparza (12-4) vs Cynthia Calvillo (6-0)Embed from Getty Images
Opening up the main card is an intriguing bout in the women’s strawweight division between former champion, Carla Esparza and rising star, Cynthia Calvillo.
Ezparza became the inaugural strawweight champion after beating reigning champion, Rose Namajunas, back in 2014. She lost the belt to Joanna Jedrzejczyk and since losing the Pole, has been consigned mostly the prelims.
After beating Maryna Moroz back in June, she returns to the pay-per-view main card to face one of the hottest prospects on the roster.
Calvillo is 6-0 in her professional career and has fought already fought four times this year – three of those coming in the UFC. She submitted Amanda Cooper and Pearl Gonzalez before clinching a decision victory over Joanne Calderwood – the biggest win of her career thus far.
There could be a potential title shot for the winner given Calvillo’s tremendous performances so far and Esparza already holding a win over the champ.
It’s likely Esparza will try to grapple as much as possible while Calvillo will search for another finish – the former champ will be the toughest test the 30-year-old has ever faced.
It’s a tough fight to predict, but I’m going to back the Team Alpha Male star to continue her excellent start to life in the octagon.
PREDICTION: Calvillo via third-round submission
Who will come out on top at UFC 219? Let us know your predictions in the comments below!