01 Jan UFC 250 predictions
For the first time, the UFC holds a pay-per-view event at its APEX facility in Las Vegas when UFC 250 goes down this Saturday.
That’s not the only history being made. Amanda Nunes can become the first fighter to successfully defend two UFC titles will holding both simultaneously, something that not even recent dual-division champions like Henry Cejudo, Daniel Cormier, and Conor McGregor can claim. McGregor never defended either of his belts and Cejudo and Cormier were stripped of their first-won titles at before defending their second.
So Nunes can claim this achievement for herself if she gets past featherweight upstart Felicia Spencer. The 29-year-old Canadian gets her shot at “The Lioness” in just her 10th pro bout and she’s looking to join the list of all-time great MMA upsets by knocking off Nunes.
Former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt makes his return to competition in the co-main event after a 462-day layoff and he’s been given anything but an easy fight as he fights perennial contender Raphael Assuncao. Though Assuncao might not be as dynamic a threat as Garbrandt’s most recent opponents, the Brazilian vet is one of the toughest outs at 135 pounds and he’s more than capable of extending Garbrandt’s losing streak.
In other main card action, would-be bantamweight title challengers Aljamain Sterling and Cory Sandhagen battle to keep their spot in the pecking order, Neil Magny and Rocco Martin look to get winning streaks going at welterweight, and star Sean O’Malley faces one-time UFC bantamweight title challenger Eddie Wineland.
What: UFC 250
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
When: Saturday, June 6. The three-fight early preliminary card begins at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN+ and the four-fight preliminaries continue at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN+. The five-fight pay-per-view main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available for purchase exclusively through ESPN+.
Amanda Nunes vs. Felicia Spencer
It’s been encouraging to see some spoiler sentiment building behind Felicia Spencer, a challenger who has been placed into a UFC title fight as much because of circumstance as her own skills. She’s a fight finisher, which fans always like to see, and a genuine featherweight of which there are few at the highest levels of MMA.
Amanda Nunes isn’t the kind of champion to take anyone lightly. One could forgive her for not feeling the same motivation to fight Spencer as she may have felt in previous clashes with Cris Cyborg or Ronda Rousey, but she knows what’s at stake here as far as historical importance. She also has some reputation rehabilitation to do after a lackluster bantamweight title defense against Germaine de Randamie.
The game plan for Spencer would presumably be to weather the early storm from Nunes — easier said than done — and use her grappling to wear the champion down in the later rounds. Though Nunes is a strong grappler in her own right, on the mat is where Spencer has the best chance of controlling Nunes and attacking with submissions or ground-and-pound.
I just don’t have enough confidence in Spencer’s standup skills for her to get past the first stage of that plan. Yes, she went three rounds with Cris Cyborg, but that has more to do with her incredible heart and durability than her defensive skills. She had issues navigating the striking of Zarah Fairn. What chance does she have of surviving Nunes’s blitzes?
Spencer is a fine challenger. She’ll also make a fine addition to Nunes’s list of conquests.
Raphael Assuncao vs. Cody Garbrandt
I hate this matchup for Cody Garbrandt. In the matchmakers’ defense however, I’m not sure what matchup is ideal for “No Love” at this stage of his career.
We already know that Garbrandt is far too willing to get into firefights with proven finishers, so perhaps a duel with the more measured Raphael Assuncao is exactly what the former champion needs. Garbrandt has great agility and hand speed, which make him a threat to land a knockout blow at any moment. If he can combine that explosiveness with the creativity he showed in his title fight win over Dominick Cruz, we could see him return to top form.
He’ll have to show all the facets of his game to deal with the well-rounded Assuncao. The Brazilian has excellent muay Thai and he’ll chop Garbrandt down if Garbrandt can’t find the range early. If Assuncao damages the legs in round one, it’s going to be a rough outing for Garbrandt. Add in a dangerous ground game and you can understand why Assuncao is such a live underdog.
Assuncao by decision.
Aljamain Sterling vs. Cory Sandhagen
Your guess is as good as (or likely better than) mine.
Physically, Aljamain Sterling and Cory Sandhagen have a lot of similarities. They’re long and lanky (Sandhagen is the taller fighter, but Sterling actually has a slight reach advantage), they’re young and athletic, and they’re both properly motivated. The winner of this fight should become the No. 1 contender for the bantamweight title if there’s any justice in this world.
At a glance, Sandhagen should have the edge on the feet while Sterling is the more proven ground fighter. However, both fighters have shown they’re capable of adapting to whatever circumstance is thrown their way so don’t be surprised if Sterling is happy to kickbox with Sandhagen or if Sandhagen mixes in takedowns to throw sterling off kilter.
The only thing I’m confident in is that this one should go the distance and if I have to choose, I’m leaning towards Sandhagen, because I think this will primarily be a standup affair and that’s where he’ll shine.
Neil Magny vs. Rocco Martin
Speaking of close matchups, we have another one here with this welterweight tilt between Neil Magny and Rocco Martin.
Magny is as experienced as they come and he makes his 22nd UFC appearance (one of only five welterweights to hit that mark) on Saturday. Martin fights in the UFC for the 15th time, though he’s still a relatively new face at 170. This could be an opponent whose size gives the former lightweight problems.
The good news is that Martin is blessed with great reach at a listed 73.5 inches. However, he’s facing one of the longest fighters in the division in Magny, who has an incredible 80-inch reach. He knows how to use it too and he’ll force Martin to deal with that lethal jab throughout the bout. In close, Magny will look for trips to gain top position, where he’ll have to be careful due to Martin’s well-versed ground game.
I see this one coming down to a dramatic third round with Magny outlasting a scrappy Martin for the win.
Sean O’Malley vs. Eddie Wineland
This is a great matchup to showcase Sean O’Malley’s striking skills while also giving him a veteran opponent in Wineland who will make him better just by sharing the cage with him. It’s somewhat surprising that O’Malley would be matched up with an opponent that has logged so much more octagon time than him (this will be Wineland’s 14th UFC fight, O’Malley’s fourth), but that tells you how high the matchmakers are on “Sugar.”
O’Malley has the kind of skill set that has plagued Wineland in the past. He’s fast and accurate, elusive, and stronger than he looks. Wineland doesn’t excel when he has to chase down speedier fighters and over-pursuing opponents has led to him being on the receiving end of some highlight-reel KOs. He is resilient though, having not been finished in over six years, and if he can make this fight dirty then it could turn out to be more than a learning experience for O’Malley.
Even given Wineland’s experience edge, you have to like the variety of O’Malley’s striking here and his athleticism advantage. Wineland is going to push him, but O’Malley finds a finish here.
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Cody Stamann def. Brian Kelleher
Charles Byrd def. Maki Pitolo
Alex Perez def. Jussier Formiga
Alonzo Menifield def. Devin Clark
Herbert Burns def. Evan Dunham