The UFC will visit Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City tonight for the first time since UFC 53: Heavy Hitters, a card that saw Rich Franklin defeat Evan Tanner for the middleweight title and Andrei Arlovski successfully defend his interim heavyweight title against Justin Ellers. We also got to see Matt Serra take on Karo Parisyan and Forrest Griffin, fresh off his TUF Season 1 victory, take on Bill Mahood; some guy you may remember named Nick Diaz opened up the preliminary portion of the card against Koji Oishi — those were the days.
Tonight, for the third consecutive event, the lightweight division will take center stage when Kevin Lee and Edson Barboza battle in another important main event, representing the most stacked division in the game today. In the co-main, we get a rematch that no one expected when Frankie Edgar faces off against Cub Swanson in a battle of two of the most exciting and likable veterans in the sport.
The full main card for tonight’s show consists of six fights, beginning at 10 p.m. eastern time following the four-fight FS1 card and one-fight Fight Pass card. You can check out Frank’s preview for those bouts below before we dig into the main card, which will continue on FS1.
157 lbs: Catchweight Main Event: Edson Barboza (19-5) vs. Kevin Lee (16-3)
Kevin Lee looked like a ghost of himself when he weighed in two pounds over yesterday morning for this main event contest with Edson Barboza. The ‘Motown Phenom’ is on the back-end of his 20’s now so weight cutting will only become more of an issue which means it may be time to move up to 170 lbs sooner rather than later. You also have the rumors of a 165 lbs division swirling which would be perfect for a guy like Lee, who can no longer make 155 without ramification.
Lee will have to work quick here against Barboza, who will want to keep some distance from his opponent early. Lee will have the advantage when it comes to power but he may look to take Barboza down if the opportunity presents itself. I like Barboza to work those deadly leg kicks of his from the opening bell to put a damper on Lee’s movement when this fight reaches the latter rounds, where he’ll look to head up top and take this one via TKO when Lee begins to show those inevitable negative effects of his weight cut. I absolutely love the value on Barboza here at +130 for this fight.
Prediction: Barboza via TKO (4th Round)
145 lbs: Frankie Edgar (22-6-1) vs. Cub Swanson (25-8)
The first time these two met, Edgar dominated Swanson all the way until the four-second marker of the final round where he would force him to tap to a neck crank. Edgar pieced Swanson up on the feet, took him down whenever he felt like it and pounded his face in when they hit the mat. Why we’re getting this rematch made no sense to me until I saw that this fight took place over 4 years ago. It’s really been that long? In that case, seeing that both of these men are still in the top five inside of their division, I’m ok with it.
So, why wouldn’t this fight turn out the exact same way as their first meeting? First off, no one is saying that it won’t. Edgar is still one of the most dangerous men in the lower weight classes on any given night. Most of the talk coming into this particular fight revolves around how he will perform just over two months removed from the first defeat via stoppage in his career. And this wasn’t just any stoppage; Brian Ortega lifted this future first ballot Hall of Famer off of his toes with an uppercut from the depths. If you told me that you believe this turnaround is too quick for Edgar, I would nod vigorously in agreement. That said, “The Answer” simply was not going to turn down the opportunity to fight in his home state.
Since his loss to Edgar, Swanson has done what he’s always done throughout his career. He beats the guys he’s supposed to beat and he loses to the guys who are supposed to beat him. He’s a part of some of the most exciting fights year in and year out and he conducts himself in a manner that you’d hope most of the fighters on your roster would — pure class on the streets, pure violence inside of the cage.
Fun fact — Edgar is 3-2-1 in rematches overall but two of those wins came in trilogy bouts against BJ Penn and Gray Maynard, making him 1-2-1 in sequels. For Swanson, this will be the first rematch of his career.
If Edgar can avoid the power of Swanson to get on the inside and use his world-class wrestling I still don’t see how this fight goes any different. Again, it all depends on how much life that uppercut took off Edgar’s chin.
As far as predictions go, it’s always tough to bet against Edgar when you look at how complete his game is. The speed is still there at 36, it’ll be up to Swanson to cut off the angles, avoid being put on his bottom and land that leather where it counts. This may not have been the rematch anyone was asking for, but whenever these two guys make that walk, it’s always must see TV.
Prediction: Edgar via UD
265 lbs: Justin Willis (6-1) vs. Chase Sherman (11-4)
Sherman made waves last year with his brutal elbow KO of Rashad Coulter at UFC 211 but he hasn’t been able to follow it up with that big performance of the night victory everyone has been expecting from him. A victory over former M-1 Global champ Damian Grabowski would be followed up by a KO loss to Russian Sanshou extraordinaire Shamil Abdurakhimov which brings us to his current bout against the surging Justin Willis. A win over Willis gets Sherman right back into the thick of things in a division that needs a constant shot in the arm. Unfortunately for him, Willis should be just a little too much to handle for him tonight.
Prediction: Willis via TKO
185 lbs: David Branch (21-4) vs. Thiago Santos (17-5)
After posting a 13-2 record following his first stint with the UFC, Branch has gone 1-1 upon return. He’ll face a fighter in Thiago Santos who is on an absolute tear right now. There are just no easy match ups for Branch here at 185 lbs and unfortunately for him, his second UFC stint could last about as long as his first if he doesn’t pick up a victory tonight.
Santos should earn a 5th straight victory here via KO/TKO to cement himself as one of the most dangerous guys in the division. I’m really surprised to see Santos closing at -165 here. A parlay with Santos, Barboza and LaFlare (who faces Alex Garcia on the prelims) wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Prediction: Santos via TKO early
135 lbs: Aljamain Sterling (14-3) vs. Brett Johns (15-0)
Brett Johns’ undefeated record is in serious jeopardy when he takes on his toughest test to date in his 3rd fight inside of the Octagon. He’ll face a man who was once thought of as a future title challenger in Serra-Longo product Aljamain Sterling.
Sterling had an opportunity to jump right back into contention late last year when he suffered an early knee to face finish courtesy of former WSOF champ Marlon Moraes. Now, having dropped 3 of his last 5, Sterling must stay focused for the full fifteen and stay away from the flashy stuff by sticking to that wrestling base to put the first mark on Johns’ perfect record.
Prediction: Sterling via UD
155 lbs: Jim Miller (28-11) vs. Daniel Hooker (15-7)
Jim Miller opening up the main card in Jersey is money in the bank. This is some masterful booking here from Sean Shelby.
Prediction: Jim Miller via submission
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