The UFC is heading back to Australia this weekend where the biggest star in the sport today, UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, has the whole city of Melbourne under her thumb.
Australia’s Etihad Stadium will be the setting for a card that will boast not one, but two women’s championship bouts, and a card that the UFC is hoping will break the promotional attendance record set by UFC 129 ‘St. Pierre vs. Shields’ inside of Toronto’s Rogers Centre in 2011.
Here are my picks for the second to last UFC PPV of the 2015 calendar year.
PPV Main Card Picks (10 PM ET/7 PM PT)
• Women’s Bantamweight Championship Bout: Ronda Rousey (c) (12-0) vs. Holly Holm (9-0)
There’s no one in the UFC right whose star is shining brighter than Ronda Rousey’s. She has a certain aura about her that is almost incomparable in the sport of mixed martial arts. When she takes on Holly Holm in the main event of UFC 193 she will be facing the most established athlete and pure striker she’s ever stepped into the cage with.
If there’s even been a time that Rousey could be vulnerable in her relatively young mixed martial arts career it’s right now. For the first time in her UFC career there have been a variety of “personal” issues that have garnered headlines ahead of this high-profile bout with Holm – we won’t get into any of them here. The question is, could they play a factor and lead to a shocking upset that in hindsight everyone will say they saw coming clear as day? Maybe for anyone else – but not for a champion of Rousey’s caliber. Rousey has put herself in a position where she’s always in the driver’s seat. She may not like this comparison – but I almost liken it to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in his prime – she can pick her opponents when she believes she has the best chance at beating them. Holly Holm simply isn’t ready for the tornado that is Ronda Rousey right out of the gate. We saw how nervous she looked against Raquel Pennington in her UFC debut earlier this year. In boxing and in the UFC women’s bantamweight division against anyone other than Rousey – you can adapt and shake those nerves off after taking a couple of shots and dishing some out of your own. Against Rousey – you better be ready because every single solitary second counts.
The X-factor in this one is coaching. Aside from all of the outside of the cage rumblings, Rousey seems to be as comfortable with her head coach Edmond Tarverdyan as she’s ever been. And for Holm, it simply doesn’t get any better than her long time coaches Mike Winklejohn and Greg Jackson. We know Holm has a game plan – but that all goes out the window during those first 15-20 seconds with Rousey. She may be stubborn enough to go toe-to-toe with the greatest pure female boxer in the division, but when it comes down to it, after a couple of exchanges Rousey will rely on her bread and butter.
Prediction: Rousey via submission (armbar) – early 1st round
• Women’s Strawweight Championship Bout: Joanna Jedrzejczyk (c) (10-0) vs. Valerie Letourneau (8-3)
The odds for this fight are a bit much. Jedrzejczyk currently sits at -2250 while Letourneau will close somewhere near +950. Don’t get me wrong – I’m extremely high on Jedrzejczyk – we all are. What she did to Carla Esparza and Jessica Penne, two of the best champions to come out of Invicta, just speaks volumes. Let me play devil’s advocate for a minute though and attempt to downplay those victories just for the sake of making this co-main event more interesting.
Following a UD victory over Juliana Lima in her UFC strawweight debut and a hard-fought split decision over Claudia Gadelha of the controversial variety in her sophomore effort – Jedrzejczyk earned herself a title shot against Carla Esparza. Esparza is by far the best wrestler in the division but her striking leaves a lot to be desired. Joanna’s lethal kickboxing and Muay Thai background had many believing she could pull this one off without any problems if she could stop Esparza’s relentless takedowns. Not only did she stop Esparza’s takedowns – she made her look silly, amateurish and one-dimensional en route to a 2nd round TKO.
Her first title defense came against Jessica Penne, a natural atomweight. While Jedrzejczyk’s 14 minute plus bludgeoning of Penne in Germany may end up earning her beatdown of the year honors – it wasn’t like she was taking on someone who ever had a chance against her on the toes – we knew that coming in.
What Letourneau and Jedrzejczyk have in common is that they have both gone the distance with a common opponent in the aforementioned Gadelha, a fighter who many still believe is the best in the division and a fighter who is on deck for a title shot against whomever comes out with the strap in Melbourne following this fight. Letoruneau is by far a better kickboxer than Esparza and Penne and all three of her losses come against top talent (Gadelha via split and natural bantamweights Sarah Kaufman and Alexis Davis early on in her career). Don’t expect this fight to look even close to Jedrzejczyk’s last two bouts – we may even see a competitive moment or two.
Do I believe that Valerie Letourneau has what it takes to win this fight? Nah – not really. I certainly am giving her a better shot than the oddsmakers though. I believe this one goes the distance and that both fighters will even learn a thing or two about themselves after it’s all said and done.
Prediction: Jedrzejczyk via UD
• Heavyweight Bout: Mark Hunt (10-10-1) vs. Antonio Silva (19-7-1)
If you would’ve told me these two would go 25 minutes when they first battled back in Brisbane a couple of years back I would’ve laughed and asked you for a small sample size of whatever you were smoking on that particular day. In hindsight, we now know that Antonio Silva tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone (which he was likely injecting into his chin?) and we already knew Mark Hunt is a freak of nature.
This time around, you can go ahead and tell me that they’ll go the full 15 – I’ll still laugh and completely dismiss everything you say to back it up. The New Zealand born and Sydney, Australia based Hunt looks to be in the best shape of his career at the ripe young age of 41 heading into this one and I believe he will leave the Octagon looking like a hero in front of his friends, family and tens of thousands of others who will all be up on their collective feet following another highlight reel knockout from the “Super Samoan”.
Prediction: Mark Hunt via walk-off KO – Round 1
• Middleweight Bout: Uriah Hall (12-5) vs. Robert Whittaker (14-4)
This will be the second consecutive time Uriah Hall has come into a fight on short notice. Last time around we witnessed him upsetting Gegard Mousasi with a finish straight out of a video game in Japan. Many folks have already forgotten that Mousasi was dominating Hall up to that point of the fight. The veteran made a uncharacteristic mistake that cost him dearly – don’t expect Whittaker to do the same.
Whittaker would’ve had a much tougher time stylistically with his original opponent, Michael Bisping, than he will with Uriah Hall in this contest. Whittaker emerges victorious out of this one with a dominant performance that showcases his complete game.
Prediction: Robert Whittaker via UD
• Heavyweight Bout: Stefan Struve (26-7) vs. Jared Rosholt (13-2)
As a fan of the sport and having the utmost respect for what these men and women put on the line when they engage in combat I find it very difficult not to root for Stefan Struve. At the age of 27 with 33 professional fights under his belt the man could’ve easily called it quits due to his ongoing heart issues that first surfaced back in 2013. Instead, he finds himself opening the main card of a potential record-setting PPV against a man who could easily wrestle-bleep him to death.
If this fight stays upright, I like Struve to use his insane reach advantage to pick apart Rosholt with his jab. If it goes to the mat, expect to see the Struve of old. This man could easily go down as one of the most prolific submission artists in UFC heavyweight history, especially if he can earn his 5th career UFC submission on this night – and 9th career finish – against a NCAA Division I standout in Rosholt.
Prediction: Struve via submission – Round 3
FS1 Preliminary Card Quick Picks (8 PM ET/5 PM PT)
• Lightweight Bout: Jake Matthews (8-1) < Akbarh Arreola (23-9-1)
• Welterweight Bout: Kyle Noke (21-7-1) > Peter Sobotta (15-4-1)
• Light Heavyweight Bout: Anthony Perosh (15-9) < Gian Villante (13-6)
• Flyweight Bout: Richie Vaculik (10-3) < Danny Martinez (17-7)
UFC Fight Pass Preliminary Quick Picks (6:15 PM ET/3:15 PM PT)
• Middleweight Bout: Dan Kelly (9-1) < Steve Montgomery (8-3)
• Welterweight Bout: Richard Walsh (8-3) > Steve Kennedy (22-7)
• Welterweight Bout: James Moontasri (8-3) > Anton Zafir (7-1)
• Flyweight Bout: Ben Nguyen (13-5) < Ryan Benoit (8-3)
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