UFC Fight Night 143: Cejudo vs. Dillashaw - Predictions and Picks

The UFC kicks off its new ESPN deal with a Superfight!
The UFC kicks off its new ESPN deal with a Superfight!

A new era dawns this weekend as the UFC makes its debut on the ESPN networks with UFC Fight Night 143: Cejudo vs. Dillashaw, live from Brooklyn, New York. The card is quite fascinating as the early prelim fights will take place on the ESPN+ streaming service, the main preliminary card will be shown on the actual ESPN network, and the main card will move back to ESPN+.

It’s pretty much a low-end pay-per-view level card, with a huge champion vs. champion clash in the main event and a host of prospects and contenders up and down the card. The co-main event might also see one of the most controversial debuts in UFC history.

Here are the predicted outcomes for UFC Fight Night 143.

#1 Henry Cejudo vs. TJ Dillashaw

How will TJ Dillashaw cope with his move to 125lbs?
How will TJ Dillashaw cope with his move to 125lbs?

In a piece of curious booking, the main event sees a ‘superfight’ between UFC Bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw and UFC Flyweight champion Henry Cejudo, but unlike the UFC’s previous champion vs. champion fights, this one will see the lighter title on the line, as Dillashaw will move to 125lbs for the first time in a quest to become a double champion.

Hanging over the fight is a black cloud; the possibility that the UFC will remove the Flyweight division following the show. This idea is now up in the air since Joseph Benavidez announced he’s signed a new contract with the UFC to fight at Flyweight, so who knows really? I’m choosing to focus purely on this fight rather than the future for now.

Looking at the recent history of both men, you’d have to argue that Dillashaw has been the more impressive of the two. He’s coming off back-to-back knockouts of Cody Garbrandt, and hasn’t lost a fight since Dominick Cruz took a contentious decision from him in January 2016. Cejudo meanwhile took the Flyweight title from Demetrious Johnson in the summer, but that decision was hugely controversial, with many feeling Johnson deserved the nod.

With that in mind, it’d be easy to pick Dillashaw here, but for one huge caveat: TJ has never faced a wrestler anywhere near the calibre of Cejudo – who is an Olympic gold medallist and arguably the greatest wrestler in UFC history – and you could perhaps argue he’s never actually faced a wrestling-based fighter throughout his tenure in the UFC, as he’s largely snacked on strikers or BJJ artists.

Cejudo meanwhile has improved his striking hugely to go along with his incredible wrestling, and against Johnson he was able to hit takedowns by using his strikes to set them up. An unorthodox striker, Cejudo prefers to come out using a karate-esque stance, ala Lyoto Machida, rather than the more straightforward Muay Thai style preferred by Dillashaw.

So could Cejudo simply out-wrestle Dillashaw and grind him out for a decision? It’s definitely possible – it’s hard to prepare for a wrestler on the level of ‘The Messenger’ after all – but then Dillashaw is no slouch himself having come from a pretty impressive wrestling background of his own, and you can bet he’s been training to combat Cejudo’s takedowns since the moment this fight was signed.

Then, of course, there’s another huge x-factor to consider – how will Dillashaw cope with the move to 125lbs? It sounds like a huge cut for a man who was already shredded at 135lbs, and who knows what kind of toll losing another 10lbs will take on his body? Dillashaw isn’t a young fighter either at 32 years old, meaning the cut might be even harder for him. We shall see come weigh-in time, but if he looks drawn out or – worst case scenario – outright misses weight, then that could give Cejudo a big advantage.

With everything considered, I’m actually leaning towards Cejudo here. I don’t think Dillashaw’s speed will be as much of a factor at the lower weight, with Cejudo already having faced lightning-quick opponents like Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez; I’m not sure how well Dillashaw will take to the cut, and if it saps his cardio, then Cejudo could really work his wrestling in the later rounds, and while I’d say Dillashaw is the better striker, Cejudo isn’t a sitting duck by any means even if his chin hasn’t been truly tested.

I could be way off, but I think Cejudo gets through a couple of tricky rounds and then takes over in the late rounds to outwork Dillashaw for a decision.

The Pick: Cejudo via unanimous decision

#2 Greg Hardy vs. Allen Crowder

The controversial Greg Hardy makes his UFC debut this weekend
The controversial Greg Hardy makes his UFC debut this weekend

In the co-main event, we’ve got perhaps the most controversial debut in UFC history as former NFL defensive end Greg Hardy steps into the Octagon for the first time to face Allen Crowder in a Heavyweight tilt. For those who don’t know, Hardy has a chequered past involving drugs and domestic abuse, hence the controversy around his signing.

There’s little anyone can do about that now, though – Dana White has stated that everyone deserves a second chance – and so here we are. In terms of his fighting skill, we don’t know that much about Hardy given his entire professional career has lasted just over two minutes in three fights. He’s knocked out all three opponents, but the fact is that they weren’t all that skilled.

Hardy is undoubtedly an A+ athlete; he’s huge at 6’4” and 265lbs and he’s clearly in good shape, he hits like an absolute truck and seems to have decent striking skill, and he’s deceptively fast for a big man. Those skills alone should be enough to get him up the ladder to a certain extent in the UFC. But will they allow him to take out Crowder?

I’d have to say yes. Crowder holds a record of 9-3, but it’s no coincidence that two of the men he lost to – Curtis Blaydes and then Justin Willis in his UFC debut – were great athletes with exceptional speed and strength even at Heavyweight. In the fight with Willis, ‘Pretty Boy’ simply didn’t have an answer for Willis’s fast hands, and went down in the first round.

Crowder probably isn’t the worst Heavyweight on the UFC’s roster but I’m not sure how he stands up to the sheer ferocity of Hardy. Expect this one to go quickly.

The Pick: Hardy via first round knockout

#3 Gregor Gillespie vs. Yancy Medeiros

Gregor Gillespie is unbeaten thus far in his UFC career
Gregor Gillespie is unbeaten thus far in his UFC career

After snacking on fighters at the lower end of the Lightweight division, former NCAA Division I wrestling champion Gillespie finally makes a step up – of sorts – when he takes on iron-chinned brawler Medeiros, who is returning to 155lbs following a run at 170lbs.

That run ended at the hands of Donald Cerrone last February in an epic brawl, and the Hawaiian hasn’t fought since. It’s the longest layoff Medeiros has had since his UFC debut in April 2013, but it may have done him some good given the punishment he took against Cerrone and against Alex Oliveira in his previous fight.

Gillespie for his part has been outstanding in his UFC career thus far. He fights with a wild style, throwing crazy strikes to set up his takedowns, and once he gets his opponents down he wastes no time in punishing them with ground-and-pound while looking for submission opportunities. A boring wrestler he is not. The only knock on him would be the strength of his competition.

For me this comes down to two factors – firstly, can Gillespie consistently get Medeiros to the ground? If he can, I’ve got little doubt that he can either grind the Hawaiian out for a decision or a late submission. But the other factor is whether he decides to brawl with Medeiros first. If he does that, he’s risking a hell of a lot as Medeiros can take inhuman amounts of punishment while dishing plenty out himself.

In fights like this I always tend to favour the wrestler – even if Gillespie gets into trouble, I just don’t see that Medeiros can prevent him from taking him down. In the end I think the takedowns will be simply too much for Medeiros to handle. Expect the fight of the night – but also expect Gillespie to win.

The Pick: Gillespie via unanimous decision

#4 Joseph Benavidez vs. Dustin Ortiz

Joseph Benavidez looked back to his best against Alex Perez
Joseph Benavidez looked back to his best against Alex Perez

According to most reports, the reason for this fight is to create a backup fighter for the main event; should Dillashaw miss weight, then Benavidez – or perhaps Ortiz – is expected to step in. Hopefully that won’t happen, and so we’ll get a rematch of a fight we saw back in 2014, when Benavidez outworked Ortiz for a decision.

Ortiz has improved somewhat since their first fight; he’s had mixed results going 5-3, but he’s mostly been impressive, particularly with his recent winning streak that saw him knock out the dangerous Matheus Nicolau in the first round. But this is a tricky fight for him – he’s facing a guy who already beat him comfortably, and is probably a better grappler and striker.

A few months ago I might’ve been tempted to pick Ortiz here as I felt Benavidez was past his best, but then he turned back the clock and destroyed Alex Perez with one of his best performances in years in November. Essentially, at 125lbs he’s only ever lost to an exceptional striker in Sergio Pettis, and the greatest of all time at the weight in Demetrious Johnson.

It feels strange given I picked Alex Perez against him just a few weeks ago, but after that Perez fight I’m not comfortable in picking against Benavidez at Flyweight again – unless he faces Cejudo. Ortiz is solid enough but I just don’t think he has what it takes here.

The Pick: Benavidez via unanimous decision

#5 Paige VanZant vs. Rachael Ostovich

Paige VanZant is looking for her first win in over a year
Paige VanZant is looking for her first win in over a year

In a Flyweight battle, the ever-popular VanZant returns to face TUF veteran Ostovich, who found herself in the news for all the wrong reasons recently as a victim of domestic violence.

VanZant hasn’t fought for almost a year now following her upset loss to Jessica-Rose Clark last January in her Flyweight debut, and if she can’t win this one then her whole future as a potential contender is likely in doubt. The UFC won’t cut her – she’s too marketable for that – but there’s no way she’ll get close to a UFC title if she loses here.

Thankfully for her, Ostovich is a big step down in competition, no offense intended. Largely a grappler with a judo base, Ostovich isn’t a bad fighter by any means, but she just isn’t the best athlete in the division and that’s shone through in her losses to Andrea Lee, Christine Ferea and in the UFC, Montana de la Rosa. She does have a strong submission game, but it’s doubtful she’d be able to out-grapple PVZ – assuming Paige is back on the form she showed in 2014/15.

My personal hunch is that with all of the hype outside the cage – the modelling opportunities, appearances on Dancing With The Stars, VanZant probably took her eye off the ball somewhat. Remember, this is a woman who comfortably out-grappled both Felice Herrig and Alex Chambers – she shouldn’t have been out-grappled by Clark in the way she was.

VanZant’s coaching team might be a worry – she hasn’t looked as good since she left Team Alpha Male in 2016 – but I don’t think Ostovich is the fighter to expose her weaknesses as Clark – and Rose Namajunas and Michelle Waterson – did. Hopefully this is the return of the ultra-aggressive, pace-pushing PVZ from 2014, as she was super-fun to watch.

The Pick: VanZant via second round TKO

#6 Glover Teixeira vs. Karl Roberson

Glover Teixeira is faced with a late replacement in the form of Karl Roberson
Glover Teixeira is faced with a late replacement in the form of Karl Roberson

This one is a huge disappointment to me because originally, it would’ve seen Teixeira facing off with hot prospect Ion Cutelaba in a big step up for the Moldovan fighter. But Cutelaba pulled out with an injury last week and Roberson – a natural 185lber – stepped in to take the fight on about a week’s notice.

That removes a lot of the intrigue for me. Roberson is a strong prospect with excellent kickboxing skills and an ever-improving grappling game that he used to outwork Jack Marshman in November, but it’s hard for me to work out a way he can beat a man like Teixeira.

Teixeira is undoubtedly past his prime now; he turns 40 this year and is 2-2 since the beginning of 2017, but he hasn’t been losing to scrubs, either – Alexander Gustafsson and Corey Anderson are his two losses in this time.

More to the point, he hasn’t lost his chin, either. Sure, Anthony Johnson turned his lights out but then that’s Rumble, one of the hardest hitters in MMA history, and it took Gustafsson five rounds of abuse to break him down.

Roberson’s best hope for this fight is that his speed surprises Teixeira and he can catch him with some big strikes. But even then, I don’t think he’s got the capability to turn Glover’s lights out in one shot, and Teixeira is still incredibly dangerous on the ground from top position, with a rock-solid mount and some deadly submission skills.

In fact, Teixeira dealt with a fighter very similar to Roberson just over a year ago in Jared Cannonier. The smaller Cannonier did rock Glover a couple of times, but overall he wasn’t able to stop Teixeira from taking him down and was simply overwhelmed on the ground. I see the same thing happening to Roberson here, but as Roberson is even smaller and less experienced than Cannonier, I think he’s getting tapped.

The Pick: Teixeira via first round submission

#7 The Prelims: ESPN card

The legendary Donald Cerrone headlines the ESPN prelims
The legendary Donald Cerrone headlines the ESPN prelims

Main event-ing the first ever UFC card on the full ESPN network will be a true legend in Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone. Fresh off his November win over Mike Perry – which gave him the records for both the most UFC wins and finishes – Cerrone now faces hot prospect Alexander Hernandez. Hernandez had a tremendous 2018 – upsetting Beneil Dariush with a quick knockout and then outgrappling Olivier Aubin-Mercier – but this feels to me like a step too far. Cerrone lost to Darren Till and Leon Edwards at 170lbs, but he was outsized there, and for me he’s too wily for a relatively inexperienced foe like Hernandez. Cerrone by submission is my pick.

At Women’s Flyweight, Joanne Calderwood returns to face newcomer Ariane Lipski, a Brazilian fighting out of Poland who is considered one of the best in the world at 125lbs. Calderwood has long claimed that the cut to 115lbs gave her most of her issues, but while that may be true, I worry about her overall durability as she’s been rocked in most of her losses. It’d be nice to see the popular ‘JoJo’ pick up a win, but I don’t like her chances against a fighter who sounds like a dangerous newcomer. I’ll take Lipski via TKO.

In a tricky fight to pick at 205lbs, Alonzo Menifield, an unbeaten prospect who won his fight on Dana White’s Contender Series, takes on newcomer Vinicius Alves Moreira, who also won on the Contender Series last year, albeit the Brazil version. This is a tough fight to pick given we don’t know all that much about either man; Menifield won his fight on the Contender Series in just 8 seconds and appears to be an explosive striker based on his past fights. Moreira meanwhile looks more of a grappler, winning most of his fights via submissions. I’m taking Menifield here though – Moreira looked somewhat hittable in his Contender Series fight, and Menifield looks like the kind of guy who destroys whatever he hits. Menifield via KO is my pick.

In a last-minute fight at Bantamweight, Cory Sandhagen takes on Mario Bautista, who is stepping in for an injured John Lineker on a week’s notice. Bautista is 6-0 and fights out of the MMA Lab – Benson Henderson’s camp – but Sandhagen has looked fantastic in his first two UFC fights and given he was due to fight Lineker, you have to think the UFC has high hopes for him. I can’t see a late replacement like Bautista taking him out and so I’ll go with Sandhagen with his third TKO in the Octagon.

#8 The Prelims: ESPN+ card

Dennis Bermudez is looking to right the ship after 4 straight losses
Dennis Bermudez is looking to right the ship after 4 straight losses

Headlining the early prelims are Featherweights Dennis Bermudez and Te Edwards. Bermudez has been on a horrible run as of late, losing his last 4 fights, but realistically, better judging could’ve seen him beat both Andre Fili and Rick Glenn to go 2-0 in 2018. He’s still a hard-nosed wrestler with solid striking and underrated submission skills. Edwards meanwhile lost his UFC debut in October. I think this might be somewhat of a softball from the UFC to Bermudez, as he really shouldn’t be on such a sticky run, so I’ll take him via decision.

Finally, Welterweights Belal Muhammad and Geoff Neal look likely to open the card with the cancellation of Randy Brown’s fight with Chance Recountre. Muhammad, a strong wrestler with decent striking, is on a 4-fight win streak, while Neal is coming off that huge knockout of Frank Camacho in September. Neal is clearly an explosive prospect and he could definitely turn Muhammad’s lights out if he can land, but I question if he can avoid Muhammad’s takedown, and so I’m going with Muhammad by decision.

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Edited by Sai Krishna
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