By Ike Feldman
UFC Fight Night 143 is the perfect storm for chaos and championship caliber Mixed Martial Arts. At the very top of the card, MMA fans will be treated to one of the most technical matchups the UFC could have booked.
On the flipside, the co-main event features a ton of unanswered questions, as former NFL Defensive End Greg Hardy will make his UFC debut after just two years of training. From sideshows to showdowns, the UFC’s debut on ESPN is a microcosm for the first 25 years of MMA, action-wrapped into one card.
(C) Henry Cejudo (13-2) vs TJ Dillashaw (16-3)
Let’s start with the superfight headlining fight between the two-time Olympic gold medalist and UFC Flyweight Champion Henry Cejudo going against the UFC Bantamweight Champion TJ Dillashaw. This fight has MMA pundits going cross-eyed with the amount of variables that are being accounted for with each passing day.
The biggest factor of why this fight is a tough one to pick is the simple fact that the already-lean Dillashaw is shedding 10 more pounds to hit the 124.9 mark. Dillashaw has been preaching over and over that he’s hired the right people to supervise and strategize this foreign weight class, and if there’s anybody who likes to prove critics wrong, it's Dillashaw.
He’s looking to become only the 7th fighter in UFC history to be a champion in two different weight classes. Strategically, Cejudo will probably look to incorporate his world-class wrestling to test Dillashaw’s cardio conditioning for the five-round fight. PREDICTION: Cejudo via Split-Decision.
Greg Hardy (3-0) vs Allen Crowder (9-3)
The elephant in the room, aka Greg Hardy, aka the UFC’s next meal ticket is getting a gigantic opportunity when he steps in to fight an unproven Allen Crowder on Saturday night.
The former professional football player, whose career was interrupted by his off-the-field antics, will have a huge stage to showcase his athletic prowess once again. This time, it’s an eight-sided cage, and not a 100-yard field. The only question is, after surviving his media obligations and dedicating two years to an intense training regimen, will Greg Hardy prove he can fight with a lot more eyeballs watching?
Hardy and his team have said that they see him fighting top 5 UFC Heavyweight contenders inside of 18 months, which would defy everything we know about MMA! But, what people are pointing to is Hardy’s athletic ability, from his explosive footwork to his powerful thor-like punches, he is a step above his peers in terms of athleticism. PREDICTION: Hardy via 1st Round Knockout. Sorry Allen.
Donald Cerrone (34-11) vs Alex Hernandez (10-1)
The all-time UFC wins leader in Donald Cerrone going against the up-and-comer Alex Hernandez is a classic young versus old fight. Cerrone is making a quick turnaround after his beautifully executed submission victory over Mike Perry back in November.
The biggest question for Cerrone is similar to Dillashaw’s: How will Cerrone’s body react to a steeper drop in weight? While Cerrone has fought at 155lbs before, the reason he moved up to 170lbs was because of the vigorous weight cut. Hernandez is a fierce young competitor that doesn’t seem intimidated by the veteran’s legendary mystique. If Hernandez can utilize his will and his fast pace, the 35-year old Cerrone could look his age real fast! PREDICTION: Cerrone via 3rd Round Submission.
Yancy Medeiros (15-5) vs Gregor Gillespie (12-0)
There’s a very familiar theme for UFC Fight Night 143: How will fighters look at their new/former weight class? This holds true for Hawaiian native Yancy Medeiros, who is dropping back down to 155lbs to face an elite wrestler and New York native Gregor Gillespie.
When speaking with the very laid back Medeiros, he says that he was uneducated in past fights, and that he has a strict diet now. In competition and outside of the cage, Medeiros is a free-flowing guy as he shows no fear during his fights. It’s not uncommon that Medeiros will share a smile with his opponent during a bloody exchange of fists.
It’s interesting to see how Medeiros’ loose fighting style will look against Gregor Gillespie, who’s a grind-it-out grappler who can take a fighters’ best shot and keep trucking through to victory. Opponents have a very difficult time getting back to their feet when Gillespie is on top. His ground pressure is up there with UFC Champions Khabib Nurmagomedov and Daniel Cormier and he is constantly evolving in the striking department. PREDICTION: Gillespie via Unanimous Decision.
Paige VanZant (7-4) vs Racheal Ostovich (4-4)
Former ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ reality show participant, Racheal Ostovich going against combat sport celebrity Paige VanZant is a very intriguing fight, not only because these women are knockouts, but because they can knock you out.
While VanZant has been building her brand ("Dancing with the Stars," book tour), Ostovich has been fighting her way into the spotlight. Unfortunately, Ostovich’s recent headlines on Google aren’t about her huge fight against VanZant; they consist of her domestic violence incident with her husband back in November. The 27-year old Hawaiian native has made it clear that she didn’t want to miss this fight date as a way to show perseverance to others. Can Ostovich forget her troubles for one night and rip away some of VanZant’s limelight? PREDICTION: Ostovich 2nd Round Submission.