I mean, living in Boise, Idaho had to pay off sooner or later, right?
In the shadows of a mostly successful International Fight Week, one of the best cards top to bottom that we’ve seen so far this year comes to Boise, as part of the first ever UFC card in that city. From the Fight Pass Prelims to the main event, this card is full of fighters that many casual UFC will notice and want to see fight, along with matchups that should have all long-time fans excited.
The main card itself is pretty ridiculous, especially when you have the return of one the best featherweights ever, a pivotal battle between popular female bantamweights, the return of Super Sage, and battle between explosive heavyweight strikers in the main event.
1) Cat Zingano (9-3, 2-3 UFC) versus Marion Reneau (9-3-1, 4-2-1 UFC) – 3 rounds – Female Bantamweights
Two of the most popular female bantamweights start the main card off in a battle that will go a long way towards getting either woman towards a title shot. The Women’s 135-pound division has been decimated by a number of factors in the past year, and a few strong wins for anyone could get you in position.
This is especially true for Zingano, who despite a three-fight losing streak and several layoffs, remains one of the most popular female fighters in the world, and why not?
From her reign as the best female flyweight in the world at the beginning of the decade, to the grit and determination she showed in her wins against Miesha Tate and current champ Amanda Nunes, to the brave she showed after her fourteen second last to Ronda Rousey, she has long been a darling of fight fans. If anything, the slew of injuries, health issues, and unbearable personal tragedies that Cat has battled through have made her more popular. But in the cage, she has only fought twice in the last three years, where she was outwrestled by Juliana Pena and outhustled by Keitlin Viera. It’s been a rough go.
Meanwhile, the forty-year-old Reneau has come into her own in the past two years, going 3-0-1 in her last four fights, finishing all three of her wins, the last being a dramatic come from behind submission victory against the much stronger Sara McMann. The gym teacher fighting to put her son through college has become a cult favorite among WMMA fans, and her much improved striking, combined with excellent ground game and fitness level have made her a legitimate title threat. Yet even with all of Zingano’s struggles, Reneau will need her very best Friday night.
Right now, Cat seems more mentally and physically healthy than she has been in years. She’s changed up her training, she’s finally in the shape she needs to be, and she will come into this fight with a definite striking advantage. Reneau has to be very tricky and near perfect to win this fight. Cat won’t underestimate her on the ground the way some fighters have, so she can’t count of that. It’s a pivotal fight from both women, and we can only hope they both fight like it.
2) Chad Mendes (17-4, 8-4 UFC) versus Myles Jury (17-2, 7-2 UFC) – 3 Rounds – Featherweights
When you talk about the greatest 145 pounders of all time, one man has to be in the conversation is Mendes, who is FINALLY back after two and a half years off. Mendes was one of the first people hit by the USADA bug, and received a two-year suspension, reportedly for growth hormone that was in a skin cream that he used for eczema. A bit ridiculous if you ask me.
Before then, Mendes has been terrific. A two-year, five fight winning streak led to a tremendous five round title match with Jose Aldo that many thought he won. He bounced back with a first round submission of Ricardo Lamas before taking on Connor McGregor on two weeks’ notice at UFC 189, considered by many to be one of the best shows in the history of the UFC. Mendes of course famously dominated McGregor for eight minutes before being knocked out. Chad then got laid out in one round by Frankie Edgar in his last fight before the suspension. However, Mendes never stopped training and looks physically better than ever.
He could not have a more perfect foe than Myles Jury for his return. For one, his fight with Jury is another chapter in the storied rivalry between Team Alpha Male and Alliance MMA, which will probably be going on a hundred years from now. Jury was once one of the hottest prospects in the sport, winning his first fifteen fights, including five in the UFC until ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone gave him an ass whipping in January 2015. He was then submitted in one round by Charles Oliveira before taking a sixteen-month layoff. Since then he has won two in row, the last being a close one to Mendes’ teammate Rick Glenn last December. It’s an excellent matchup.
There are a few things to watch for in this fight. One, is the first round. Mendes figures to be either really cold, or to start so fast he risks blowing himself out. Jury needs to start smart and start fast. This is especially important if the fight goes the distance. Second, Jury is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt who few people would choose to go to the ground with, but Mendes’ wrestling background is second to none, and he will be willing to take Jury down where few opponents would. The ground game will probably huge here. In any case, it’s a big matchup for this division. The winner will be right back in the crowded title mix if they are impressive.
3) Randy Brown (10-2, 4-2 UFC) versus Niko Price (12-1, 4-1 UFC) – 3 Rounds – Welterweights
Weeeeeeee! When this bout was announced several weeks ago on the UFC Unfiltered podcast,
I couldn’t help but get excited. This an excellent matchup between two young welterweights on the verge of the Top 15, and neither of these young men are known to shy away from a fight. These are guys that like finishes and both know the high stakes.
Brown is one of the fighters discovered during the First Season of Dana White: Looking for A Fight, and he has probably fought the best opposition of anyone on this show. His last win was a very fun battle of fellow ‘Looking for A Fight’ alums against Mickey Gall last November at MSG, and he has worked very hard to shore up his game. Huge for the weight class at 6’3, Brown has worked very hard to shore up his grappling, and he has always been a long, rangy striker with good power. He has the look of a serious title threat one day.
While much fewer have said this about Price, his UFC run has been very fun to watch so far. He has finished every one of his UFC wins, the last being an excellent submission win over George Sullivan in January. Price also has some real power, which he showed when he upset Alan Jouban last August in Mexico City. In reality, these two fighters are pretty similar in their styles, experience, and strengths.
The interesting thing about this fight is they have both had the same Achilles heel-speed. Speed was a factor in both of Brown’s losses, to Michael Graves and Belal Muhammad, and Price was completely overwhelmed by the red-hot Vincente Luque. While Price has good movement, I don’t believe he has the speed to really bother Brown. His best chance may very well be to get inside, get a clinch and hope for a takedown. It’s risky, given Brown’s size advantage, but Price can’t risk the alternative, getting stuck on the outside with a rangier striker. It’s a corker for sure.
4) Dennis Bermudez (16-8, 9-6 UFC) versus Rick Glenn (20-5-1, 2-2 UFC) – 3 Rounds – Featherweights
At some point, the NuevoRican wrestle/boxer Dennis Bermudez has to get tired of this. For the third time in a row, Bermudez faces a fighter from the Team Alpha Male camp, having faced Darren Elkins and Andre Fili in his last two fights, both of which he lost by split decision. The Fili loss, which took place on one of the worst cards of the year in Charlotte last January, was particularly painful, given it was on big FOX and that Bermudez outlanded Fili by a significant amount. It’s just another chapter on what has been a tough run for “The Menace,” which has included three straight losses and five losses in seven.
The latest Alpha Male to face Bermudez is Rick Glenn, a former WSOF champion who has shown an excellent motor and sweet mustache. After dropping a short notice decision to Evan Dunham at lightweight, Glenn won two in a row back at his normal weight before dropping his own close decision to Myles Jury in December. Really, these two guys are facing each other at the right time. Both need the win badly.
I am looking at Bermudez in this fight. For too long, he has relied too heavily on his wrestling and hasn’t trusted his striking. This is the fight where he finally has to do that. If he was unable to take the 5’11 Fili down because of his length, the 6’0 Glenn should be equally as hard. Bermudez has to get in and out, use his low calf kick, and be elusive. If he ever hopes to be serious contender again, Bermudez has to win this fight.
5) Sage Northcutt (10-2, 5-2 UFC) versus Zak Ottow (16-5, 3-2 UFC) – 3 Rounds – Welterweights
Super Sage! The last year has seen the precocious Texan get fully serious about his career. He left Texas A&M University (great move) and headed out train full-time at Team Alpha Male in California, looking to shore up his hands and his wrestling. The result has been two straight wins, but those happened at 155 pounds. For this fight, Northcutt is moving back up to `170 pounds, where both of his losses to Bryan Barberena and Mickey Gall, occurred. For his part though, Sage has taken significant time to bulk up and looks bigger and more shredded than ever, so the time to move up seems to be now.
He will be getting a full-fledged welterweight in Wisconsin’s’ Ottow, who despite being named “The Barbarian,” should actually call himself “The Road Warrior” as he has fought in China, Brazil, New Zealand, and Oregon in his UFC career. He is also coming off the biggest win of his career, sending long time fringe contender Mike Pyle in retirement with a huge overhand right hand. The most interesting thing about Ottow coming into this bout, however, is that he is a Brazilian Jiu jitsu black belt who before coming to the UFC, won most of his bouts by submission. Yet in the UFC, he has mostly been a kickboxer. That may have to change here.
Given that Ottow is facing a world-class standup fighter, he may very well need to go back to his roots and take Northcutt down, use his size and ground fighting in a way he has yet to do so in the UFC. While he may be able to find Northcutt’s chin, I suspect that the rumors of Northcutt’s fragility at 170 pounds is overstated, especially considering Northcutt’s recent efforts. It’s a very interesting fight either way, and Ottow is no gimme for everyone’s favorite good boy.
6) Junior Dos Santos (18-5, 13-4 UFC) versus Blagoy Ivanov (16-1) – 5 Rounds – Heavyweights
It’s a good ol’ fashioned heavyweight main event to cap of this corker of a card, and one of the more interesting ones at that. It’s nothing new for Dos Santos of course, the former UFC heavyweight Champion responsible for some of the greatest moments in the history of the company. Just one year ago, he may have been a few leg kicks away from winning the title for the second time, but instead he was flattened by Stipe Miocic at UFC 211 and then had to pull out off a bout with Francis Ngannou when USADA came a callin’. But his suspension is over now, and its time to get back to work.
For this night it will be welcoming to the cage one of the more interesting prospects to come into the UFC in recent years – former WSOF heavyweight champion Blagoy Ivanov, a 5’11, 245-pound Bulgarian menace. A black belt Judo and former combat Sambo world champion, Ivanov is a strong striker as well as a very good grappler. His career was briefly interrupted by a little stabbing incident several years ago, and despite commonly giving up a height advantage, Ivanov has only one loss in his career, a submission lost to top ranked heavyweight Alexander Volkov. This occurred in the finals of the Bellator heavyweight tournament in March 2014 and Ivanov has won five in a row since. The UFC is clearly the place for him to be, and at thirty-one years old, he can still make a difference.
This is such an interesting fight because Ivanov is such an unpredictable quantity. Will he attempt to stand with Dos Santos, one of the best boxers in the history of the heavyweight division. Will he try to impose his grappling, Cain Velasquez style? How does he handle the UFC jitters? And where is Dos Santos? What has the year off done for him and how is he after being handled by Stipe? There are a lot of questions going into this main event, and this could very well be one of the great heavyweight main events of old. For all of our sakes, I sure hope so.