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Best 5: March 2017 Fight Outlook

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March 2017 is here. It is time to look ahead to the best five fights the month has to offer in the world of MMA:

1. Khabib Nurmagomedov (24-0) vs. Tony Ferguson (22-3)

UFC 209 – 3/4/2017

This fight has everything a fight fan could ever want. A pair of elite fighters on amazing UFC winning streaks in one of the toughest weight classes to do so. Throw in a weird interim title in there that makes it five rounds? Yes, please.

This stylistic matchup can perplex even the most avid prognosticator.

Nurmagomedov is one of, if not the best grappler in the UFC right now. He employs takedowns from a multitude of different traditions, not just from his background in Combat Sambo. The way he fluidly combines all his grappling weapons and his ability to set traps no one sees coming is what separates him from the pack. Where he has shown vulnerability, though, (as much vulnerability as an undefeated fighter can show) is in his striking at distance. While his striking is serviceable, it can be reckless at times. He strikes just enough to get close and grab you.

If anyone has a style that could hang with Nurmagomedov, it would be Tony Ferguson.

Ferguson can stay on the outside and pick you apart. He is also very unpredictable and enjoys going for random Imanari rolls to either throw opponents off their rhythm or go for leg locks should they present themselves. He has what it takes to make the fight competitive on the ground as well.  Whether it’s from him rolling into it a ground scramble, or if he gets taken down.

There are many more layers that make this such a compelling fight:

  1. The fact that either Nurmagomedov or Ferguson – on an eight and nine UFC win streak, respectively – is actually going to lose.
  2. This is clearly a match with high stakes. The winner will more than likely face Conor McGregor to unify the lightweight belts.
  3. It’s a fight we’ve anticipated twice before and different injuries have forced it to be canceled in the past. The fact that it has remained intact this time makes it feel like we’re finally going to get to see we’ve been waiting for a long time.
  4. Who doesn’t like a war of words to top it off? These two have been talking smack to each other for years now. Particularly last week.

It will be intriguing to see who comes out on top, once and for all.

Current fight odds: Nurmagomedov -175 (favorite), Ferguson +155 (underdog)

2. Tyron Woodley (16-3-1) vs. Stephen Thompson (13-1-1)

UFC 209 – 3/4/2017

Woodley and Thompson are running it back immediately after their first clash, last December at UFC 205. Woodley ended up retaining his welterweight title in their first fight, a consequence of the bout ending in a majority draw. In that fight, Woodley came closest to finishing the fight. He wobbled Thompson with strikes in the second round and transitioned to a guillotine choke that somehow did not finish Thompson. Thompson even came back and stole some rounds in the latter moments of the fight.

This time around, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, they have learned from their first experience. Whether Woodley will commit to more takedown attempts or try to finish with strikes if he manages to rock Thompson once again, instead of going for a choke.

Conversely, it will be captivating if Thompson can be more creative with his diverse arsenal of kickboxing weapons to catch Woodley from an angle he wasn’t expecting.

This matchup gives you a lot to contemplate about, which is exactly what you want when there is a UFC title on the line.

Current fight odds: Thompson -160 (favorite), Woodley +140 (underdog)

3. Edson Barboza (18-4) vs. Beneil Dariush (14-2)  

UFC Fight Night 106 – 3/11/2017

Edson Barboza rarely has a boring fight. Six UFC fight of the nights and one KO of the night (year?…ever?) under his belt are proof positive of it. As a prolific Muay Thai striker, he also has the distinction of being the only UFC fighter to stop two different opponents via leg kicks.

Beneil Dariush, who is somehow still only 27 years old,  is one Michael Chiesa RNC away from being on a Ferguson-like eight-fight win streak. He is 8-2 in his UFC career, with half of his wins coming via stoppage.

Combine these two and there are not very many ways you can see it being a bad fight.  

Current fight odds: Barboza -175 (favorite), Dariush +155 (underdog)

Gunnar Nelson (15-2-1) vs. Alan Jouban (15-4)

UFC Fight Night 107 – 3/18/2017

This fight is a perfect barometer for where these two fighters stand at this point in their careers.

Although both men have identical 6-2 UFC records, Jouban is streaking as of late, having won his last three fights in a row. A win for a burgeoning striker like Jouban, who is showing more patience and maturity with each fight, will most likely vault him into the top 15 of the lightweight division.

Nelson, on the other hand, is 2-2 in his last four fights after winning four straight coming into the UFC. This fight will (fairly or unfairly) label Nelson either as a middling lightweight that will win some/lose some or a second win in a row that could potentially help him make another run at the higher ranks of the division.

No fight odds available at this time.

5. Alistair Overeem (45-15 [1]) vs. Mark Hunt (12-10-1 [1])

UFC 209 – 3/4/2017

This fight is a rematch of two big heavyweights, both former kickboxers, that haven’t fought each other in more than 8 years. Both men are coming back from disappointing performances and are looking to bounce back with a win in a topsy-turvy heavyweight division. This fight, however, has almost more to do with Hunt vs. the UFC, rather than Hunt vs. Overeem.

The UFC is very familiar with lawsuits. It sued Randy Couture back in 2008 and stayed a motion filed by HDNet that same year regarding Couture’s standing with the promotion. Cung Le and other former UFC fighters filed a class-action suit in 2014 claiming the UFC held an illegal monopoly over the MMA market during a designated period of time. But no one has done so while actively fighting at the same time.

Enter Mark Hunt.

Hunt filed a lawsuit immediately after this fight with Overeem was announced. The suit stems from his last fight, where he lost (and later ruled a no-contest) to Brock Lesnar. It was revealed shortly after the fight that Lesnar tested positive for a banned substance. The core of Hunt’s argument is that the UFC knew Lesnar was doping, exempted him from the four-month USADA testing reintegration program. Hunt had come out several times in the media, after unsuccessfully vying for part (if not all) of Lesnar’s purse, and asked that his contract either be terminated or have a stipulation added where if he fights someone that gets caught doping, that Hunt would get half of the opponent’s purse. He pursued legal action when neither option was granted to him.

His interactions with the promotion will be fascinating to see in the lead up during fight week and fight day.

Current fight odds: Overeem -145 (favorite), Hunt +125 (underdog)

Honorable Mentions:

Lando Vannata vs. David Teymur, UFC 209

Tonya Evinger vs. Yana Kunitskaya, Invicta 22

Marloes Coenen vs. Julia Budd, Bellator 174

Francisco Trinaldo vs. Kevin Lee, UFC Fight Night 106

Lance Palmer vs. Andre Harrison, WSOF 35

Joseph Duffy vs. Reza Madadi, UFC Fight Night 107

Vitor Belfort vs. Kelvin Gastelum, UFC Fight Night 106

Ayaka Hamasaki vs. Livia Renata Souza, Invicta 22

Mackenzie Dern vs. Katherine Roy, LFA 6

Alexandre de Almeida vs. Steven Siler, WSOF 35

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