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