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The New Era Begins: Looking at UFC on ESPN+ 1



I’m barely old enough to remember the old VHS tapes of the first ten or so UFC events that used to be sold in the pro wrestling section of Blockbuster and older video stores. I remember John McCain calling in “human cockfighting” and remember of all people, Terry Funk, predicting the Ultimate Fighter would be a huge thing for Spike and terrible for the WWE.

So it was surreal for me several weeks ago when late night on Saturday, around midnight, when I turned on ESPN and UFC’s “Top Ten” program was on the screen. It was the first live in living color sign that the UFC had arrived on the Worldwide Leader in Sports, the biggest sports channel in the history of the world.

And tomorrow all of the hype, the clip shows that have been everywhere for a few weeks, the promotion on Sportscenter and First Take, Dana White on every damn show will culminate in live punching in the Octagon for the first time ever from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

The UFC had truly arrived.

Thankfully for the fans, we get a matchup tonight worthy of such a stage as UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw will move DOWN in weight to challenge new UFC Flyweight Champion and former Olympic Gold Medalist Henry Cejudo in what will be a captivating matchup.

Dillashaw, the two-time champion who has never fought at 125 would be the first UFC champion to move down in weight to claim a second championship, and only the fourth person to claim two world titles at the same time.

Tomorrow’s card will be presented in a rather unique way. The Early prelims, formely the denizen of UFC Fight Pass, will be on ESPN+ starting at 6 pm Eastern. Then the prelims will be featured on ESPN starting at 8 pm, live and free. The Featured Prelim for this part of the card will feature budding UFC icon Donald Cowboy Cerrone facing rising young gun Alexander Hernandez of San Antonio, Texas.

One of the more interesting things about the hype for this fight is that this matchup has been featured more the way a co-feature match of a card would be showcased, and why not? As the de facto main event of the ESPN portion of the card, Cerrone versus Hernandez is likely to be the most viewed fight of the evening. This is wonderful news for fight fans, because this is a fascinating matchup that will have serious ramifications for the glamour division of the UFC.

It is the first fight at 155 pounds for Cerrone (34-11, 20-8 UFC) in over three years, since he was stopped in the first round in a December 2015 title shot against Rafael dos Anjos. Cerrone moved up to welterweight in 2016 and went 4-0 with four stoppages that year only to go 0-3 with two knockout losses in 2017. Cowboy managed to right the ship by going 2-1 last year, none more important than his win two months ago in his hometown of Denver at the UFC 25th Anniversary Show.

That night in war against teammate turned rival Mike Perry, Cerrone hurt the much bigger Perry on his feet, forcing Perry to take Cerrone to the mat. There Cerrone managed to hook on a vicious armbar and get a first round submission. It was Cerrone’s first fight since the birth of his son, Dacson Danger Cerrone (Yes, the SOB named his son Danger) and Cerrone said he had something fight for the first time. Now Cerrone is back in the division where he made his name.

But he has a killer in front of him in Hernandez, who entered the UFC with a vicious first round knockout of long time lightweight contender Benil Dariush on less than two weeks’ notice. He then went onto dominant highly regarded Olivier Aubin-Mercier, controlling the French-Canadian on both the feet and the ground. He is young, thick, motivated young fighter who has looked comfortable in the spotlight all week. He should be the last fighter than an older contender should be wanting to fight, but as UFC fans have learned over the years-Donald Cerrone is fucking crazy.

This is a wild card of a fight because we still don’t know a lot about Hernandez. We have never seen hurt and really tested and we don’t know how he will handle Cowboy’s excellent striking. We also haven’t seen Cowboy at 155 lbs in so long and we don’t know how he’ll look after cutting that weight for the first time in three years. But after fighting huge dudes like Perry and Darren Till, Hernandez will seem small. It should be a relief.

Of course, the UFC is never without controversy and it will have perhaps its most controversial debut ever when former NFL Pro Bowler Greg Hardy makes his long-awaited and disputed UFC debut. Of course, Hardy was basically blacklisted from NFL after horrific domestic violence charges in 2014, in addition to other off the field issues. With his NFL career done, Hardy went to the American Top Team in Florida and embarked on a MMA career. After finishing three amateur fights in a combined less than two minutes, Hardy turned pro last summer on Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series.

Now at 3-0 with all of his fights ending under a minute, Hardy will face Allen Crowder, a tough but seemingly ordinary heavyweight who Hardy will have a significant size advantage over. Crowder was knocked out in his UFC debut fourteen months ago at UFC 219 by Justin Willis, a fighter who is nowhere near as explosive as Hardy, but still finished Crowder with explosion. It’s a made to order fight for Hardy, who will be in the co-main event slot for his debut.

Hardy’s presence on this card is even more controversial because of the presence of Rachael Ostovich, who will be fighting the uber popular Paige Van Zant. Ostovich became a survivor of domestic abuse two months ago, when she was assaulted by her husband, MMA fighter Arnold Berbon, Ostovich suffered a broken orbital bone and even briefly pulled out of the fight, but she decided to go on with the fight to make a statement for survivors of domestic abuse.

The presence of Hardy and Ostovich on the same card is not alright. It’s not okay. As Hardy has been a good citizen since he’s entered MMA, he gets the slightest benefits of the doubt being in the UFC in the first place. But he doesn’t only have to win inside the cage to stay there, he has to be perfect outside of the cage. Time will tell if that’s going to be the case.

Also, now that the UFC is on the biggest stage, they can afraid no more PR mistakes like this. The UFC still has a suspect reputation throughout the sports world, and things like this cannot fly anymore. This ain’t Spike TV…

As for Ostovich and Van Zant, this fight has gotten more publicity than any fight between two fighters who are 0-3 in their last three fights should ever get, and it was that way before the attack on Ostovich. The reason is simple-these two women are probably the two hottest women in sport of MMA. Putting them on this card is a stroke of fucking genius in the UFC. It’s also a great fight to begin rebuilding Van Zant, who just two years ago looked like the next female superstar of the UFC.

Two and a half years ago, Van Zant was 4-1 in the UFC and coming off a star making performance on ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ She had a bunch of endorsements and even her loss to Rose Namajunas wasn’t a black mark against her, because she went five rounds with one of the best female fighters in the world. But losses to Michelle Waterson and Jessica Rose Clark, combined with a slew of injuries and illnesses have killed her progress. The broken arm she suffered against Clark was the worse, requiring two surgeries. But now married, healthy, and in the right weight class, PVZ is back to rebuild. Shes only twenty-five years old and can still be a huge star. But she needs to win this fight.

And then we have the main event between two of the best fighters in the lower weight classes. Dillashaw is coming of two knockout wins over Cody Garbrandt and is legit one of the best strikers in MMA, but the weight cut has him looking gaunt and sick. That’s not how you want to be against Cejudo, who is very strong for 125 and is a freaking Olympic Gold Medal wrestler. Cejudo is brimming with confidence after his win over Demetrious Johnson and has better striking to go with that wrestling. This is the biggest challenge of Dillashaw’s career.

But say you will about Dillashaw, who is one of the biggest heels in all of MMA, drama happens around him. He is always is surrounded with excitement, which is exactly what the UFC needs for its first showcase. This is the right fight for this and it should be corker.

That being said, I’m going with Cejudo. Why? Check the record.

Dillashaw wins four fights in a row and loses. And he is on a four fight winning streak now…

"Frank has been a wrestling fan since he was two years old. (Don't worry, he's got proof.) He's also a huge boxing and UFC fan and has a long standing love affair with Popeyes Chicken. He still owns a VHS copy of the first Ring of Honor show ever and was watching NXT before it was cool (or good). Bret Hart > Shawn Michaels. You can follow him on Twitter at @FightFanaticPod and on Tumblr at FrankTheFightFanatic." He's also starting his own podcast soon!

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