International fight week is upon us. This year there are only two cards for the festivities, but things get started with the intriguing Ultimate Fighter finale between explosive striker Dhiego Lima (brother of Bellator welterweight champion Douglas Lima) and powerhouse wrestler Jesse Taylor. Lima is a well-rounded fighter, but striking is his forte. On the other side, Taylor is a one-dimensional fighter who is relentless with the takedown, but if Lima is able to defend Taylor will be in deep trouble. The main event of that card is the debut of former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion Justin Gaethje, who has promised to bring violence to the Octagon. He is 17-0 with 14 wins by knockout. He is welcomed to the Octagon by the No. 5-ranked UFC lightweight, Michael Johnson. Johnson claims Gaethje’s wild style will be easy to pick apart, but nobody has been able to figure him out so far.
The week culminates with UFC 213 on Saturday night. We will be treated to two great title fights, including a host of other compelling matchups. The title fights are for the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Title (Nunes vs. Shevchenko) and the interim UFC Middleweight Title (Romero vs. Whittaker). Some of the other interesting matchups include a trilogy fight between legends Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem, and Anthony Pettis’s return to lightweight against Jim Miller. This should be an exciting weekend of fights, and will kick off a month where there are events every weekend, culminating with the rematch between Jon Jones and UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier on July 29.
As always, below is your MMA barometer with rising, falling, and check status fighters.
Yoel Romero, UFC, Middleweight
Romero is undefeated in the UFC with finishes in six of his eight appearances. He has defeated a laundry list of elite fighters with his most recent victory being a highlight reel flying knee knockout against former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman. Romero is an athletic specimen whose strength and explosiveness are unmatched in any fight. The only question mark is his conditioning when the fight goes into later rounds. This undoubtedly comes from his huge, muscular frame that uses up a lot of oxygen to perform. However, in the first two rounds there is no more intimidating fighter than Romero.
This Saturday Romero squares off with another fighter who is undefeated at middleweight in the UFC, Robert Whittaker, for the interim UFC middleweight title. Whittaker is a dangerous striker, and he also seems to have good conditioning. His takedown defense was good in his latest victory over Souza, but Romero is far more explosive and a more accomplished wrestler than Souza. Once Romero gets a hold of somebody, the outcome is likely the other fighter ending up on their back. The unknown in this fight is how both fighters will fare in a five-round contest. Neither has competed in such a fight, so conditioning will be imperative. Whittaker’s style seems to save more energy. Romero throws huge shots and looks to finish the fight at all times, and his takedowns are explosive too. That is part of the reason why his energy is low in the later rounds, such as the infamous "Stoolgate" fight against Tim Kennedy. Romero’s style of takedowns and grinding on his opponent should help to slow Whittaker down and make “The Reaper” more tired in the later rounds. This is all assuming the fight lasts into the championship rounds which, based on the two fighters’ records, is not likely to happen.
Next Fight: Robert Whittaker, UFC 213: Nunes vs. Shevchenko
(July 8th, 2017)
Gerald Meerschaert, UFC, Middleweight
Meerschaert is a veteran mixed martial artist who competed 32 times before making his UFC debut. So far, his UFC career has gotten off to a great start with two first-round submission victories. That makes seven finishes in a row including fights outside the UFC. Meerschaert combines good boxing with an excellent submission game. In his UFC debut, he caught his opponent with a slick armbar from the bottom. His submission game is good, but many of his victories outside the UFC have come after he hurts somebody standing.
His fight against Thiago Santos should be a treat for fight fans. Santos likes to stand and strike, as he showed with his spinning heel kick knockout victory over Jack Marshman in his last fight. Santos also has a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, so he should be able to match Meerschaert on the ground. However, Santos has five losses in his career and two have come by submission. That shows he can be submitted, and Meerschaert will certainly look to take advantage of that. This is a big step up in competition for “GM3,” and he would likely move into the top fifteen of the UFC middleweight if he can get his third victory in a row.
Next Fight: Thiago Santos, UFC 213: Nunes vs. Shevchenko
(July 8th, 2017)
Amanda Nunes, UFC, Women's Bantamweight
The bantamweight champion seems to keep improving with every fight. She combines incredible power with a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Nunes has only one loss in eight career UFC fights. In her seven victories inside the Octagon, she has finished all but one fight. However, her lone decision victory came in a three-round war with Saturday's title challenger, Valentina Shevchenko. It was a close fight, and many people, including Shevchenko, are of the opinion that had the fight lasted a few minutes longer, Shevchenko would have been able to finish Nunes. This is an interesting piece of information because their fight this weekend will be five rounds.
In their rematch, Nunes will likely try to implement some of the strategy from their first fight. She had success with takedowns, and will likely look to take things to the mat as that is where Shevchenko, the decorated Muay Thai and taekwando fighter, is weakest. “The Lioness” can stand with anybody in the division, and she has the power to knock out any woman in the world, but her safest bet is to rely on takedowns and wear Shevchenko down. The only issue for Nunes is she has never actually fought for five rounds. Her title fights have all ended before the championship rounds. Shevchenko has gone five rounds in her decision victory over Holly Holm. However, I expect Nunes to continue her dominance and finish this fight before those championship rounds. Nunes has improved since the last fight with Shevchenko, and even though her last two fights were against aging fighters, she has looked dominant. With her unparalleled standup, it is hard to picture her being defeated by any women’s bantamweight fighter in the world.
Next Fight: Valentina Shevchenko, UFC 213: Nunes vs. Shevchenko
(July 8th, 2017)
Alistair Overeem, UFC, Heavyweight
Overeem rebounded well from his title fight loss to Stipe Miocic by stopping Mark Hunt in the third round. Hunt is always a tough customer, but Overeem will have a major test this Saturday against former heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum. Werdum and Overeem both share common opponents in Miocic and Hunt, and both had the same result with each fighter. Miocic knocked both Overeem and Werdum out in the first round, and they both finished Hunt. This will be the third fight between Overeem and Werdum.
Overeem fought Werdum in 2006 and lost by submission. However, “The Reem” got his revenge in 2011 by beating Werdum in a Strikeforce heavyweight title fight. It was a bizarre fight where Werdum often feigned being hurt and fell to the mat in an attempt to get Overeem to come to the ground. Overeem refused to come to the ground and Werdum did not want to get up because, at that time, Overeem was the most feared heavyweight in the world. This matchup offers additional complexities, as Werdum has undoubtedly improved as a mixed martial artist. He will not be afraid to stand with Overeem this time around, but his strategy will ultimately be to get the fight to the ground to work for submissions. “The Reem” is always dangerous standing, as he proved when he finished the notoriously tough Hunt. His submission defense is also very good, so this should be a close fight. If Overeem wins he may be in line for another title fight in the near future.
Next Fight: Fabricio Werdum, UFC 213: Nunes vs. Shevchenko
(July 8th, 2017)
Anthony Pettis, UFC, Lightweight
The former UFC lightweight champion has had a rough two years since losing his title. He has lost three of four fights and jumped weight classes twice. First, he moved down to featherweight after three consecutive losses at lightweight. In his featherweight debut, he was able to get a submission victory, but then in an interim title fight against now UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway he was badly outclassed. In addition to losing, Pettis missed weight which prompted his current move back into the lightweight division. His next opponent is no cakewalk as Pettis faces tough UFC veteran Jim Miller.
Miller is coming off of a losing effort in a Fight of the Night performance against Dustin Poirier. He is an incredibly tough matchup for Pettis, as his style is the type that has given “Showtime” problems in the past. Miller is an excellent grappler and likes to pressure his opponents. He is not afraid to strike, but against a striker like Pettis, Miller will undoubtedly look to adopt the strategies used by Rafael Dos Anjos and Eddie Alvarez the last two times Pettis competed at lightweight. RDA took Pettis down again and again, and Alvarez held Pettis against the fence for much of the contest. This will be Miller’s blueprint for the fight. If Pettis is unable to use footwork and movement to stop Miller from cornering him and getting him against the cage, Pettis could be in for a long night. However, a person willing to stand-and-trade like Miller could be a good opportunity for Pettis to get another highlight reel knockout.
Next Fight: Jim Miller, UFC 213: Nunes vs. Shevchenko
(July 8, 2017)
Johny Hendricks, UFC, Middleweight
You shouldn’t kick somebody when they are down, but it’s hard to give Johny Hendricks a pass with his recent performances in and out of the Octagon. Hendricks has missed weight in three of his last four fights. Twice at welterweight and then for his last fight against Tim Boetsch at middleweight. It is understandable that he would have a hard time cutting to 170, but missing weight at 185 is unacceptable and shows a lack of commitment. Hendricks wrestled at 165 pounds for Oklahoma State in college, and never missed weight despite having to hit that mark in very short periods of time on multiple occasions. However, there is a rumor that Hendricks fell ill the week of his most recent fight, which didn’t allow the weight to come off as it should.
Although that may have been the case, Hendricks did not look great in the Octagon, regardless of whether he was on weight or not. He constantly tried to throw his big left hand and couldn’t find a home for it. Additionally, Hendricks did not even attempt one takedown. He has world class wrestling skills and did not utilize them at all. This led to the much bigger and longer Boetsch being able to find his distance and land a devastating head kick that led to a quick finish.
If Hendricks can’t make weight at middleweight, then there are really no options for him. He is already very short for that weight class, and a move to light heavyweight would see him get beaten by a bigger fighter virtually every time. Even if he can make weight at middleweight, it doesn’t seem like he can compete with good fighters in the division, as he was badly outmatched by a middle-of-the-road Tim Boetsch. Hendricks doesn’t seem to have the drive to fight and compete at a high level anymore, or to make weight, so it may be best for him to take an extended leave of absence or call it a career.
Next Fight: TBA