Whisper it quietly, but we may have got to fight night with the best card of the year intact.
Featuring three title fights – headlined by a champion vs. champion clash no less – UFC 259 is absolutely stacked from top to bottom.
With a preliminary card that boasts top 15 fighters in every bout, the main card kicks into an even higher gear with more champions than you can shake a stick at.
Starting the gold rush with the first bantamweight title defence of Petr Yan against Aljamain Sterling, double champion Amanda Nunes will look to defend her 145 lbs championship against Megan Anderson in the co-main event billing before the headline act of middleweight champion Israel Adesanya challenging light heavyweight king Jan Blachowicz.
Simply put, any fight card that can have Dominic Cruz positioned on the preliminary card and have it make sense is one that is a must-watch from start to finish.
Jan Blachowicz (27-8) vs. Israel Adesanya (20-0)
I think a lot of people are writing Jan Blachowicz out of this contest and I believe this is a bigger ask of Adesanya than a lot realize.
While Adesanya has certainly got the advantage when it comes to his technical ability on the feet, his kickboxing history has shown he can struggle with more physically imposing opponents and Blachowicz most definitely holds that extra power.
Come the time they enter the octagon, Blachowicz will likely hold a big weight advantage and that extra power in his strikes could see this fight play out similarly to Dustin Poirier vs. Max Holloway.
While that particular contest was perhaps more balanced in their technique, the power of the bigger man carried a huge deal early on as Poirier rattled Holloway frequently in the first two rounds.
Adesanya no doubt will want to use his speed and counter-striking to negate any blitzes that Blachowicz throws his way and he’ll likely have to do that for 25 minutes.
To his credit, Adesanya most certainly has that ability and I’ll back him to come through on the judges’ scorecards. I do however expect him to face early adversity before his kicking game can fully develop.
Pick: Israel Adesanya
Amanda Nunes (20-4) vs. Megan Anderson (10-4)
Megan Anderson carries a big physical advantage here as a natural featherweight which Nunes is not.
With range and considerable power, Anderson can land if Nunes gives her the opportunity but outside of that though, I don’t see how she wins barring a big strike landing early.
Nunes has been at this level for a long time and her ability to adapt to her ground game if needed makes her even more of a favourite here.
While Nunes has shown a willingness to fight fire with fire when needed, she’s far too experienced to not make use of her advantage on the mat.
Pick: Amanda Nunes
Petr Yan (15-1) vs. Aljamain Sterling (19-3)
It’s pretty clear that Yan would favour this fight to remain standing while Sterling will want to work his submission ability for as often as possible.
On the feet, Sterling is a kick heavy fighter although he has steadily improved his hands over his UFC tenure. Yan meanwhile is much more fluid and versatile with his shot selection in addition to doing so with a pressure heavy style.
I’d expect Sterling to try and counter Yan’s aggression with takedowns but ‘No Mercy’ is a tough fighter to hold down thanks to his scrambles.
Much like the other title fights, I think the underdog will have their best chance early but Yan’s ability to get back up to his feet and more rounded striking game make me side with the champion in what I expect to be a fun fight.
Pick: Petr Yan
Islam Makhachev (18-1) vs. Drew Dober (23-9, 1 NC)
While Makhachev is being touted as the Khabib Nurmagomedov heir apparent, I haven’t seen the dominance that his stablemate had in his earlier fights.
Obviously, any comparison to Khabib is a lofty one as one of the greatest of all time but Makhachev was pushed by a young Arman Tsarukyan on the mat.
Dober however isn’t as talented as Tsarukyan with his grappling but his powerful boxing can certainly make a dent in Makhachev’s ambitions.
It’s a hard fight to pick as Dober is much more active and in form than Makhachev but Dober’s struggles have been with wrestlers and that is where the Russian’s bread is buttered.
Pick: Islam Makhachev
Thiago Santos (21-8) vs. Aleksandar Rakic (13-2)
Both Santos and Rakic are destructive forces with their powerful striking but I do think Rakic has the advantage on the mat.
While that may never become a factor as both far prefer to keep the fight standing, I am dubious about Santos’ ability to fight off of the back foot.
If Rakic is brave enough to be the aggressor, I think he can clip the Brazilian and potentially even land some trips to tip the fight further in his favour.
Pick: Aleksandar Rakic
(Last Predictions: 3/5, Total: 18/37, 49% Success Rate)
(Success Rate: 2016: 61%, ’17: 60%, ’18: 58%, 19′: 57%, 20′: 67%)