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Combat Sports Weekend Preview for December 15-17, 2017

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After last week’s monster of a combat sports weekend, the sequel this week doesn’t look to be much of a letdown. While there aren’t as many events this weekend, they are certainly of a higher quality, with the last big shows of the year for HBO Boxing, Ring of Honor Wrestling, UFC on FOX and WWE, and all are bound to be closing a high note.

So, let’s see what we got.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Pro Wrestling

Ring of Honor Final Battle 2017 — Hammerstein Ballroom — New York, New York — 9 p.m. Eastern (PPV)

The second biggest wrestling company in American heads to one of wresting’s greatest venues to close out what has been a banner 2017, which is remarkable considering the amount of talent the promotion has lost this year, particularly to WWE NXT. The main event will have the man largely responsible for a lot of that, Cody Rhodes, in the main event, defending the ROH World heavyweight title against Dalton Castle. The flamboyant Castle is probably ROH’s top domestic babyface and if one guy was going to beat Cody, he would have to be the guy. But given how successful Cody’s run has been for the company, it is hard to see him losing the belt (and ring) at this time.

The other three Ring of Honor titles are also on the line here. Ring of Honor World Television Champion and Bachelor contestant Kenny King will have his work cut out for him, as he faces Punishment Martinez, Shane Taylor, and Silas Young in a four-way elimination match. Young, who had a great year in the promotion, is my dark horse to win his first title here, but my gut is that King will retain as well. The Motor City Machine Guns will defend the ROH World Tag Team titles against one of my favorite teams, The Best Friends, Trent Barretta and Chuck Taylor. These may be the most likely titles to change hands, especially given Trent and Chuck are coming off a great run in the New Japan Tag League and would make great, newish opponents for the Young Bucks.

Speaking of the T-shirt selling machines, they will team with cohort Adam Page to defend the ROH Six Man Titles against Flip Gordon, Dragon Kid, and Titan from the CMLL promotion in Japan. Even though Gordon is getting a sizeable push and Dragon Kid is one of the best flyers in the world, expect the Bullet Club to retain.

This card has two singles matches that could definitely steal the show. First is IWGP junior heavyweight Champion Marty Scurll against former ROH World Champion Jay Lethal, and Scurll’s old hat, Will Ospreay, facing Matt Taven. Both of these are can’t miss matches, and this may be the strongest card ROH has had on pay-per-view all year.

And then what looks to be the swan song for a hardcore legend, Bully Ray will team with his old friend Tommy Dreamer against his former partners, the Briscoe Brothers, in a New York Street Fight. Bully has a bad neck and all signs point to this being as legit as wrestling retirements get, but there’s no way that Bully isn’t going out in a blaze of glory. Expect blood, and lots of it here.

MMA

Bellator 191 — Metro Radio Arena — Newcastle, England — 9 p.m. Eastern (Spike TV)

The latest UFC transplants to Bellator MMA make their debuts Friday night in England, with the main event featuring former UFC interim bantamweight title challenger Michael McDonald, fighting in Bellator for the first time against Frenchman Peter Ligier. McDonald (17-4), was once undisputedly one of the best bantamweights in the world, but has fallen on hard times in recent years. He was choked out by Renen Barao’ in his title shot in February 2013, and was then choked out again later in the year by Uriah Faber. In his last fight eighteen months ago, he was ripped to shreds by John Lineker in one round and reportedly has had trouble paying for training expenses since.
Now McDonald is looking to resurrect his career, and Bellator is probably the best place for that. His opponent, Ligier (8-1-1), is also making his Bellator debut and is taking up a huge stop in class, but he has won three in a row on the European level. Whether he can tell us if McDonald is still a contender or not remains to be seen.

Also making her Bellator debut is Valerie Letourneau (8-6), who in November 2016 faced Joanna Jedrezjczyk for the UFC strawweight title. Valerie fought well, but was leg kicked to death and lost a wide decision. She has lost both fights since and clearly had outgrown the 115-pound weight class. Now is she is fighting 125, which seems to right weight class for her. She will be facing TUF 23 competitor Kate Jackson (9-2-1, 1-0 Bellator), who beat UFC strawweight Ashley Yoder in the first round before being submitted by eventual winner Tatiana Suarez in the semifinals. She made her debut in Bellator in August, but her opponent Collen Schneider, hurt her knee half a round into the bout, so in a sense, this is Jackson’s debut as well. Jackson will have the English crowd behind her, and it looks to be a pretty solid fight on paper. Also that night, UFC vet Phillip DeFries (13-6) meets James Thompson (20-16, 0-1 Bellator) in a battle of English heavyweights which should produce fireworks.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

UFC Winnipeg — Bell MTS Place — Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada — Prelims: 4 p.m. Eastern, Main Card: 8 p.m. Eastern (UFC Fight Pass/FS1/FOX)

The final “big FOX” event of the year will emanate from Winnipeg (you idiot!), as the MMA Leader returns to the City of Jericho for the first time since 2013, and has one of the best matchups of the year in the main event.

The main event will feature former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler (28-11, 14-5 UFC) against former UFC lightweight champ Rafael Dos Anjos (27-9, 16-7 UFC) in a battle that in a sense is a title eliminator for current welterweight champion Tyron Woodley. It’s a terrific matchup between two guys who can crack. Lawler took a year off before coming back and scoring a close decision over Donald Cerrone, while Dos Anjos moved up to 170 after losses to Eddie Alvarez and Tony Ferguson. He out-fought Tarec Saffedine in Singapore in June and then ran through Neil Magny and submitted him in the first round in October. These are two champions whose strengths complement each other it’s a terrific matchup.

The co-main will see third ranked featherweight Ricardo Lamas (18-5, 9-3 UFC) face off late replacement Josh Emmett (12-1, 9-1 UFC). Lamas is coming off an electric knockout of Jason Knight and a sick submission of Charles Olivera, and was supposed to fight former UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, but Aldo took Frankie Edgar’s spot against champion Max Holloway. In steps Emmett, who is by far fighting the most high-profile fight of his career. He trains out of Team Alpha Male and has good record, but I literally can’t remember any of his fights. Lamas can’t take Emmett lightly but it’s a case of win and advance for him.

But the one to watch is clearly in ninth ranked Santiago Ponzinibbio (25-3, 7-2 UFC) against fourteenth ranked Mike Perry (11-1, 4-1 UFC) in a battle between guys who simply desire knocking the other guy out, and both who have concussive power. Ponzinibbio has won five in a row and is coming off the biggest win of his career against Gunner Nelson, while Perry won two in row and has scored knockouts in every one of his UFC wins. He had also emerged as one of the most insane characters in the UFC, with his facial tattoos and willingness to say absolutely anything. Someone is getting laid out in this fight and a big fight is on the line for the winner.

The main card opens with a sick light heavyweight fight as third ranked Glover Teixeira takes seventh ranked Misha Cirkunov. Both men are coming off losses, so this one feels hard to call. The prelims will close with another light heavyweight bout, as Jared Cannonier faces Jan Blachowicz in a battle of two guys trying to put together a winning streak. It really is an excellent card in Winnipeg. You idiot.

Boxing

HBO World Championship Boxing — Bell Centre — Montreal, Quebec, Canada — 10:30 p.m. ET (HBO)

HBO heads to the boxing hotbed of Montreal for its final show of the year, as former IBF middleweight champion David Lemieux (36-3, 32 KO’s) challenges England’s Billie Joe Saunders (24-0, 12 KOs) for the WBO middleweight title. Lemieux, an Armenian-Canadian who has been long been a ticket seller in Montreal and has won three in a row since being dominated by Gennady Golovkin in October 2015, including what is probably the devastating knockout of the year in boxing against Curtis Stevens in August.

Saunders is making the third defense of the title he won in December from Andy Lee in December 2015 and has gained the derision of boxing fans for calling out the likes of Canelo and GGG, then deliberately pricing himself out of fights with them. He’s nowhere a big of a star as he seems to think he is, and has faced nowhere the opposition that Lemieux has.

It is an interesting matchup because Saunders is a good boxer with solid movement, and Lemieux is the second biggest puncher in the division. He doesn’t always use it to the best, but has come a long way since his younger years. Saunders has been allergic to big punchers, so how he handles getting hit Lemieux will be interesting. The winner also should be in line for another big fight as HBO is investing heavily in the 160-pound division. I’m all for it.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Pro Wrestling

WWE Clash of the Champions — TD Garden — Boston, Massachusetts — 8 p.m. Eastern (WWE Network)

The final big WWE event comes from Boston and while the E usually delivers on the big shows, it has always been easy for them to build interest for these things lately, especially among smart fans. But this card has a couple of things going for it-one, it’s been four whole weeks since the last one, Survivor Series, and two-they have matches they’ve actually made people want to see.

The first of two main events will see AJ Styles defend his WWE World Championship against the man he beat for the title, Jinder Mahal. Styles beat Mahal for the title about six weeks ago in England, in a moment that was the rare complete shock in WWE. Now Mahal is trying to regain the title he lost, and its not out of the question that Mahal wins the title back, as he was able to cement himself as a star in India with his big match recently with Triple H. But Styles did cause a bump in Smackdown’s ratings for the first few weeks of his title reign so its hard to call. Being that Styles is probably the most popular guy on Smackdown and no less than the second-best wrestler in the world, he should probably go over, but…. well, you know.

The second main event may actually be the bigger matchup as the super heel team of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, who have been on fire since October, facing Shinsuke Nakamura and Randy Orton in a match that if they lose, they have to leave WWE. It is a situation that has escalated over the past month and several weeks ago, Smackdown commissioner Shane McMahon named himself special guest referee. But now Smackdown General Manager Daniel Bryan has named himself the second referee, as to stop Shane from possibly “screwing” Owens and Zayn. There is all sorts of intrigue here! Does Shane turn heel? Does Bryan turn hell? Do Owens and Zayn possibly lose and what happens if that goes down. And there’s also four good workers in there so, heck yeah.

Also this night, Charlotte will be defending the SD Women’s Title against former champion Natalya in Lumberjack Match, and with the Riott Squad (Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan, and Sarah Logan) causing trouble, who knows what’s going to happen in this match. Then Baron Corbin will defend the United States title against Bobby Rood, in his first main roster title match, and Dolph Ziggler, and something in my gut tells me DZ wins the belt here. And the Usos, who have had their best year in the WWE, will defend their tag belts in a four-way bout against the New Day, Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable, and Rusev and Aiden English. Given the talent in the ring and how the Usos are, I feel like this one might steal the show.

These are the best weekends to me. Big shows, spaced apart, and schedules should fit that fans can watch all of them. This should be a great one.

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