Interim UFC Lightweight Championship: Justin Gaethje (21-2) vs. Tony Ferguson (25-3)
Luke Irwin: Here’s my X-Factor in this matchup. Is Ferguson going to fight with reckless abandon and take a chance on potentially losing his marquee matchup with Khabib Nurmagomedov? The mythical Tony-Khabib matchup that MMA fans have been salivating after for YEARS, potentially the biggest lightweight fight in history to crown perhaps the greatest lightweight of all-time has gotten sidetracked due to injuries, lung issues, weight-cut fatigue, and finally, a GODDAMNED PANDEMIC. We know Gaethje is going to walk in and deliver everything he has, because this is a Wonka Golden Ticket for him. He was relegated to gatekeeper after finding his ceiling in the UFC, and now he has a chance at the interim championship and his own date with Khabib. Technically, Ferguson is a much more brilliant and complete fighter and could probably box and elbow up Gaethje over twenty-five minutes, but would he? Or will he get sucked into a firefight? Or if he goes in and dances and weaves for five rounds, will that sour fans or Dana on their ferver for Tony-Khabib? Lotta factors at play here, and I don’t envy Ferguson’s position here. Lotta risk, little reward. I think he keeps his head in it and fights smart, but hard. Ferguson via UD.
UFC Bantamweight Championship: Henry Cejudo (c) (15-2) vs. Dominick Cruz (22-2)
Luke: I have no idea how this is going to go because I have no idea what Cruz is going to look like in the cage. When you don’t fight since 2016, it’s hard to judge, especially with his litany of injuries. Will his plantar fascitis affect Cruz’s herky-jerky footwork that has flummoxed opponents? Will his arm and shoulder injuries affect his ability to keep distance? This is a crapshoot, I have no idea what Cruz has in his creaky toolbox in the year our lord 2020. Hell with it, if Cruz can reach back and follow the same gameplan he did against Demetrious Johnson in 2011, he’s got a shot. Cruz via SD.
Heavyweight Bout: Francis Ngannou (14-3) vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (10-0)
Luke: Well, we know Ngannou is capable of an absolute stinker against a fellow heavy hitter, as he showed against Derrick Lewis. I’d like to think he learned from that all-timer of a bomb, but it can’t be disqualified. Since then, he’s nerfed Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez, and Junior dos Santos in the first round, so I think he’s turned that corner. Rozenstruik, while racking up a hell of a knockout card, can’t deny that Arlovski and Overeem are both very, very chinny, although I like that he had the gas to go twenty-five minutes with Reem and still find a finish. I’ll think with my heart instead of my head and say these two absolutely go for it with only one man remaining standing. Ngannou via R2 KO.
150.5lb Catchweight Bout: Calvin Kattar (20-4) vs. Jeremy Stephens (28-17)
Luke: Good job, Jeremy! Great effort! Coming in four and a half pounds overweight when you had MONTHS to plan for this! Great hustle. Aside from that, it’s fair to say that Stephens’s fastball is all but gone, and Kattar is a step quicker, battering him up for fifteen minutes. Kattar via UD.
Heavyweight Bout: Greg Hardy (5-2) vs. Yorgan De Castro (6-0)
Luke: Hardy was rushed too hard against Alexander Volkov, this is more his speed. Unless Hardy’s cardio got insanely better, he had to deal with a fighter in De Castro, who can not only take punishment, but has the gas tank to not even last into the third, but enough energy and wind to finish fights in the third, as well. I don’t see Hardy getting finished early, but maybe more of a white flag exhaustion finish late. De Castro via R3 TKO.
Welterweight Bout: Anthony Pettis (22-10) vs. Donald Cerrone (36-14)
Luke: Seven years ago, Pettis shined a big bright light on bodywork being able to cut down Cerrone, and it’s not like Cowboy’s gotten any better defensively. Pettis via R1 TKO.
Heavyweight Bout: Aleksei Oleinik (58-13-1) vs. Fabricio Werdum (23-8)
Luke: Oleinik has long made his bones in MMA submitting heavyweights who don’t know the first thing about grappling. Suffice it to say, that will certainly be a challenge against Werdum, quite possibly the best grappling heavyweight mixed martial artist of all-time. Werdum via R1 KO.
Women’s Strawweight Bout: Carla Esparza (15-6) vs. Michelle Waterson (17-7)
Luke: Neither of these two have had a finish since 2016, and they’re both talented and well-rounded enough to not put themselves in a position to get finished. At its crux, this is a wrestling vs. striking matchup, and with both fighters’ specialties very clear, it might come down to who can do the other’s game better. And in this case, I like Waterson’s ground game better than Esparza’s striking. I see The Karate Hottie being adept enough to not get trapped under Esparza and ground-and-pounded, keeping distance with a rare similarly-sized opponent as her. Waterson via UD.
Middleweight Bout: Ronaldo Souza (26-8) vs. Uriah Hall (15-9)
Luke: NOVEMBER 2039: The population has dwindled to mere thousands worldwide. Darkness envelops the land, the sun is but a mere memory to some, a myth to the young. Lo, a lone voice rings out from the abyss “THIS IS THE YEAR URIAH HALL PUTS IT ALL TOGETHER!”. Souza via UD.
Welterweight Bout: Niko Price (14-3) vs. Vicente Luque (17-7-1)
Luke: This fight headlining the early prelims is bananas, this is a terrific matchup and should deliver in the cage. This is a rematch of a 2017 matchup in Brazil that Luque won via D’Arce choke. For what it’s worth, that was the last time he won by submission. Since then, he’s focused more on his striking, and Price either lives or dies by the strikes, so I Price is wary enough of going to the mat with him again, but Luque can still crack him in a darkhorse FOTN contender (if Ferguson or Gaethje slips and hits their head backstage and can’t compete). Luque via R2 KO.
Featherweight Bout: Bryce Mitchell (12-0) vs. Charles Rosa (12-3)
Luke: When two submission aces face each other, we either get a terrific demonstration of technique, scrambling, and pressure…or we get a bad kickboxing match. Rosa has more chops on the feet than Mitchell, by far, but his bread-and-butter is still on the mat. Mitchell is very impressive, but I need a decent name on his win card before I can start believing in him. Rosa might be that guy, but I think Rosa can keep him in check. Rosa via UD.
Light Heavyweight Bout: Ryan Spann (17-5) vs. Sam Alvey (33-13)
Luke: These two are gonna swing and swing. Both have loose hands and hard chins. Deep darkhorse FOTN contender. Spann via R3 TKO.