The era of money fights in the UFC has begun ladies and gentlemen. The Conor McGregor circus will again come to town this weekend in Las Vegas as seeks to avenge his only UFC loss to date against the ever popular Californian Nate Diaz.

The pair’s original meeting in March came out on only 11 days’ notice, with McGregor’s initial opponent, the then UFC Lightweight Champion Rafael Dos Anjos, pulling out with a broken foot. Diaz then stepped in and their media clashes set the MMA world on fire and helped draw impressive viewing figures for the fight. McGregor expected that his powerful left hand would put Diaz down like it had so many on his way to the Featherweight crown but Diaz took it. And then another. And another. In fact, Diaz took several of McGregor’s best shots and whilst he was battered and bloodied, he looked fine and eventually pounced on a tired McGregor, locking in a vicious rear-naked choke and securing the second round submission.

Diaz had done the unthinkable – he beat the UFC’s biggest star. McGregor looked defeated and it appeared he would go back to 145 lbs and fight Frankie Edgar or Jose Aldo but then a rematch between ‘The Notorious One’ and Diaz was scheduled for UFC 200. Then McGregor withdrew and the fight was removed from the biggest card in the company’s history before being rebooked here.

That caps off an interesting night of fights – it is not the best card the UFC has put together but promises action fights and the opportunity for some young stars to establish themselves. So, here are my breakdowns for the evening’s 12 fights!

Fight Pass Prelims

Middleweight – Alberto Uda (10-1) vs Marvin Vettori (10-2): Alberto Uda makes his second UFC appearance looking for his first win after losing his debut via TKO to Jake Collier. He welcomes Italian Marvin Vettori to the UFC, who at 22 is one of Europe’s hottest middleweight prospects. Vettori is much more athletic than the Brazilian and possesses impressive wrestling and some good submission skills, with chokes accounting for 7 of his wins. Uda is a brawler who likes to clinch but so does Vettori and the Italian’s athleticism should give him an advantage. Vettori is very light on his feet and gets in and out well, something that will be a problem for the rather plodding pace of Uda. I expect the two to trade before Uda eventually looks for a clinch, which will probably prove his undoing. Vettori has the power to sweep him and has a substantial advantage on the ground. Prediction: Vettori via first round submission.

Welterweight – Colby Covington (9-1) vs Max Griffin (12-2): Griffin, who punched his ticket to the UFC with a first round KO of UFC veteran David Mitchell, could hardly have drawn a tougher opening assignment. Covington is a high-level wrestler and possess a grinding style that will wear down most opponents, so whilst his striking is quite rudimentary, it isn’t much of an issue. Griffin is quite athletic and does have power in his hands but has failed to demonstrate thus far in his career sufficient takedown defence to fend off Covington for long. It promises to be a very long and tough debut for the Californian Griffin. Prediction: Covington via unanimous decision.

Welterweight – #7 Neil Magny (18-4) vs Lorenz Larkin (17-5, 1NC): This promises to be one of the best fights on the card and will be much more entertaining than the original bout scheduled between Magny and Dong Hyun Kim. Larkin will be a more than willing striking partner for Magny, being equally comfortable pushing the pace or using his speed to counter-strike effectively. That will serve him well against Magny, whose substantial height and reach advantage means he prefers to move forward and land volume (he averages 4.15 significant strikes per minute compared to 3.43 for Larkin). The odds for this fight are close and that’s no real surprise as Larkin does have a good chance here. Magny’s style means he is prone to getting clipped and Larkin has more than enough power to stop him. That said, I still believe that when Magny settles into his rhythm he will have just a bit too much in the tank. Prediction: Magny via split decision.

Fox Sports 1 Prelims

Women’s Strawweight – #13 Randa Markos (6-3) vs Cortney Casey (5-3): The winner of this fight will have some real momentum moving forward as both are coming off impressive wins. Markos has a really strong wrestling game which helps her dictate the pace, whilst her striking is ever improving and she has substantial power. Casey has consistently wowed crowds in her fights to date, showing good wrestling and heavy hands. This fight is close to call as Casey looked outstanding against Cristina Stanciu and has striking to mix with most elite strawweights. However, Casey’s aggression has cost her before and I think that will be the difference here. Her aggression will make her more vulnerable to the takedowns of Markos and the Canadian is very durable and should withstand Casey’s pressure on the feet. Prediction: Markos via unanimous decision.

Welterweight – Artem Lobov (11-12-1, 1NC) vs Chris Avila (5-2): Quite simply, this fight is only on the card because of the main event. Lobov’s record and two UFC defeats to date could have seen him released, while Avila has an underwhelming record (his victories have come against opponents with a combined record of 13-25) and looks limited. Avila, Nate Diaz’s friend and teammate, has decent hands and some grappling but it’s not particularly impressive. Lobov is much more experienced and whilst he lacks Fight IQ, he does have heavy hands and is much better-rounded than Avila. Lobov could easily throw this away (his dire record tells you that), but he’s got too much power and I expect him to clip Avila early. Prediction: Lobov via first round TKO.

Women’s Bantamweight – #8 Raquel Pennington (7-5) vs Elizabeth Phillips (5-3): Another women’s fight and another chance for the winner to earn some real momentum. Pennington has been putting it all together following her February 2015 defeat to former champion Holly Holm, winning impressively against Jessica Andrade and Bethe Correia. She is an incredibly tough test for Phillips, who is yet to convince inside the Octagon and has spent more than year on the sidelines. Phillips needs to get this to the ground to win but Pennington has good takedown defence and works a great pace on the feet. Both of those things should see her ease home. Prediction: Pennington via unanimous decision.

NoLoveBantamweight – #8 Cody Garbrandt (9-0) vs #11 Takeya Mizugaki (21-9-2): This fight, the featured prelim, tells a tale as old as combat sports – a feisty young prospect against the crafty veteran. Mizugaki is a tough out for anyone and a win over him would vault Garbrandt into title contention but a defeat would set the Team Alpha Male prospect back and quell some of his hype. Garbrandt has outstanding boxing and whilst he does have an advantage over the Japanese fighter, Mizugaki has been in there with some hard hitters before and should have enough to steer clear of too much danger. His submissions skills will keep Garbrandt honest but the American should get a big win here. Prediction: Garbrandt via unanimous decision.

Pay-Per-View Card

Welterweight – Tim Means (25-7-1) vs Sabah Homasi (11-5): Means was hit with a temporary USADA suspension earlier in the year and was expected to return against Sean Strickland. However, the lanky Californian withdrew and was replaced by the debuting Sabah Homasi. Homasi, a contestant on TUF 21, has scored three wins this year on the regional scene and all were by TKO. The most recent of those came against UFC and WSOF veteran Jorge Patino just two weeks ago. Homasi is a striker who loves to come forward, winging big punches and looking to brawl. Means is not averse to the brawl himself, racking up 17 TKO wins so far, but he is the more technical striker. I expect him to use that effectively here, picking his moments to back up Homasi before unloading in the clinch. Prediction: Means via second round TKO.

HGL.jpgWelterweight – Hyun Gyu Lim (13-5-1) vs Mike Perry (7-0): Whilst this fight lacks the name value of earlier fights on the card, it promises fireworks and will really get the crowd going. Lim has shown himself to be an exciting striker who is exceptionally durable and packs a lot of power. That will be no different here against promotional newcomer Perry, who has finished all of his opponents so far by TKO. Perry is a natural athlete and looks to be a name for the future but this fight looks to be too much too soon. Prediction: Lim via first round TKO.

CowboyWelterweight – #9 Rick Story (19-8) vs #14 Donald Cerrone (30-7, 1NC): This is one of the hardest fights to call on the entire card. Story had been on the shelf with a long injury but returned in May against Tarec Saffiedine and looked outstanding. He combined excellent body punches (body shots have caught Cerrone out before) and didn’t need his wrestling to secure a comfortable decision. Cerrone, meanwhile, has looked phenomenal since his move up to welterweight earlier in the year. He still has the hand and leg speed he had at lightweight, but now seems to have more power and better movement. It’s tough to say one man convincingly but I’m leaning towards Cerrone given how good he has looked since his move and his higher volume on the feet. Prediction: Cerrone via unanimous decision.

Light Heavyweight – #1 Anthony Johnson (21-5) vs #2 Glover Teixeira (25-4): The two top contenders at 205 pounds square off knowing that a title shot against Daniel Cormier is probably at stake. Johnson is one of the scariest strikers in the UFC and has more than enough power to stop the Brazilian, but Teixeira has demonstrated a good chin to date. That said, he cannot afford to take too many shots if he wants to win the fight. Teixeira has been focusing on his dominant ground game in recent fights and will know that that is where he has a massive advantage over Johnson. If this bout was five rounds I would favour Glover, given his durability and Johnson’s shallow gas tank, but it’s not. The takedown defence Johnson has demonstrated against Cormier and Phil Davis suggests to me he should be able to stay upright and on the feet he has the power to cause the Brazilian issue. Prediction: Johnson via unanimous decision.

MysticMac.jpgWelterweight – #4 LW Nate Diaz (19-10) vs ((C) FW) Conor McGregor (19-3): The big one. This fight is not necessarily one hardcore fans clamoured for but it is an interesting one and is one that draws in casual fans. Stylistically this fight is the same as before – McGregor has better footwork and has better striking, whilst Diaz has a substantial advantage on the ground. Last time, though, there were a lot of things working against ‘The Notorious One’. He only went to 170 lbs on short notice and had no experience of the weight. Similarly, he expected that Diaz would crumble after a few punches like most had done before. That didn’t happen and eventually McGregor gassed and got choked out. This time I think the Irishman will be more used to the weight increase and will have had a full camp to prepare at that weight so his stamina will be better. I also expect the lessons learned from that defeat will help his game plan – focusing on energy conservation and just connecting with volume and not loading up on big shots. That should see him outwork the Stockton native over the course of five rounds. There again, nothing would surprise me with these two. Prediction: McGregor via unanimous decision.

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