Marking both the first event of 2019 and the first under their new deal with ESPN, the UFC enters a new era with UFC Fight Night 143 this Saturday night.
With TJ Dillashaw looking to become the next double champ in a recent swathe of super fights by the UFC, this particular champion vs. champion bout may have the biggest consequences of them all.
As rumours ramp up of the removal of the flyweight division, Henry Cejudo may be defending more than the 10 lbs of gold around his waist once the cage door is closed.
In addition to the marquee bout at the top of the bill, UFC Fight Night 143 is stacked from the ground up as every contest on this 13-fight deep card is an intriguing one. From Belal Muhammad vs. Geoff Neal on the early preliminary card to Joanne Calderwood vs. Ariane Lipski and the massive Alexander Hernandez vs. Donald Cerrone on the ESPN portion, UFC Fight Night 143 is one to sit all the way through as we await what 2019 has in store for MMA.
Henry Cejudo (13-2) vs. TJ Dillashaw (16-3)
Henry Cejudo has improved markedly in his last three outings with the culmination of his work being the man to end Demetrious Johnson’s record-breaking title reign.
With his Olympic gold-winning wrestling base, Cejudo has developed a sharp striking game that relies on single strikes as opposed to putting combinations together. ‘The Messenger’ should also boast a speed advantage in this bout and as a natural flyweight, he will be more accustomed to performing at the weight class and how his body reacts as the fight wears on.
Dillashaw meanwhile will be fighting at the 125 lbs limit for the first time and while he would have done the right preparation, including a test run with the additional weight cut, come fight night he will be entering new territory for how his gas tank weighs up.
Where I think this fight will be won however is in Dillashaw’s striking ability. His footwork is amongst the very best in the history of the sport and his arsenal is much more varied than his opponent. With combinations, drawing counters and a more diverse kicking game, I think Dillashaw will be able to hit cleaner work in the open although I predict a close fight that goes the distance.
Pick: TJ Dillashaw
Greg Hardy (3-0) vs. Allen Crowder (9-3, 1 NC)
The UFC knows what they are doing here and it’s obvious that Crowder has been offered up to be a sacrificial lamb for Greg Hardy.
For all of the despicable things that Hardy has done in his past, from an athletic standpoint he is a standout and that counts for a huge amount in a shallow division like heavyweight.
If Crowder can escape the first round, his experience will tip the scales massively in his favour but Hardy is a big hitter and I’d be surprised if it goes beyond the five-minute mark.
Pick: Greg Hardy
Gregor Gillespie (12-0) vs. Yancy Medeiros (15-5, 1 NC)
This is an early contender for the fight of the night honours as both men set a high pace and are more than happy to brawl.
In Medeiros, you have a fighter who is keen to dish out punishment but is defensively porous and there are questions about how his durability can stand up. The Hawaiian has been in some gruelling affairs, in particular his last two, and at some point he has to be more defensively aware or face the consequences.
Gillespie meanwhile is a fast starter and can be placed in the wrestle-boxer style of fighter. While he is more comfortable on the mat due to his dominant and commanding control, Gillespie is a hard-hitter on the feet and will use his jab as a starting point to set-up feints to either land big shots or blast doubles from the outside.
With Medeiros’ tendency to start slow and by not being the most disciplined fighter defensively, I think Gillespie will get a good footing in this bout early on and either find a finish on the mat or dominate from their en route to a decision win.
Pick: Gregor Gillespie
Joseph Benavidez (26-5) vs. Dustin Ortiz (19-7)
Dustin Ortiz is on a good run of form heading into this bout but I feel Benavidez is still on that next level.
Ortiz has shown a lot more comfortability on his feet and is more trusting of his ability to land big shots but Benavidez has routinely fought the best of the best throughout his career and you can only point to the Sergio Pettis loss as a slip-up from his usual level.
If Benavidez didn’t bounce back in such impressive fashion against Alex Perez, I’d be more cautious of picking the older fighter here but Benavidez’s experience and well-rounded game should be decisive here.
Pick: Joseph Benavidez
Paige VanZant (7-4) vs. Rachael Ostovich (4-4)
I worry for Ostovich here as she may be jumping back into competition too soon after a harrowing experience of her own and VanZant should be too much for her to handle.
While Ostovich has shown a decent submission game, VanZant has fought better opponents more competitively both on the mat and on the feet.
With PVZ being a better striker as well, I think this is VanZant’s fight to lose.
Pick: Paige VanZant
Glover Teixeira (27-7) vs. Karl Roberson (7-1)
While Roberson showed more to his game in his last outing against Jack Marshman, a fight with Glover Teixeira can’t help but give off the ‘too much, too soon’ vibe.
Teixeira has fought the best in the light heavyweight division and he’s adept on the feet and on the mat.
I’d be surprised if the Brazilian didn’t take this fight to the mat early and ends the fight soon after.
Pick: Glover Teixeira
(2016: 61%, ’17: 60%, ’18: 58% Success Rate)