It may not be the most heralded UFC pay-per-view in the history of the promotion, but UFC 215 is one set for history.
Say what you want to about the flyweight division (that includes you Dana!), but Demetrious Johnson is still the best pound-for-pound fighter in the game today, and may have his claim by the end of his career of being the greatest ever. No steroid suspensions or rumors, just cleaning out the division over the years and possibly setting himself up to become the company’s second simultaneous two division title holder.
With a win in the main event of the show on Saturday night he will set the record of most UFC title defenses and effective rename the flyweight ranks into the “Mighty Mouse” division. The problem is though there just isn’t enough hype around him as a fighter or the card in general for that fact.
Regardless, there are two titles on the line and some fun match-ups for everyone in the family to enjoy, so make sure you check it out on September 9th.
FLYWEIGHT TITLE – (c) Demetrious Johnson vs Ray Borg
Like said above, ‘Mighty Mouse’ may be the only dominate champion in UFC history that people just don’t seem to be extremely interested in. Not only are some of his PPVs the lowest of the modern era in terms of buys, but he has also had his title fights pushed to UFC on Fox and Fight Night cards. Some of it is the lack of competition because he’s beat every single challenger in the division, but some of it comes down to the lack of big time knockouts and a perceived lack of personality by DJ. I’ve had the honor of interviewing Johnson three times in the past and he’s a great guy, but unlikely to give you a big showy sound bite like Nate Diaz or Michael Bisping. His opponent is a legit contender who has grown as a fighter, but not an unbeaten guy like some of the prior match-ups. Could Borg shocked the world and finally stop DJ? Absolutely. Are the odds good at that happening? Not at all. My hope is Johnson goes and sets history at 215 and then moves up to bantamweight to face Dom Cruz and however holds the belt after that battle.
Stack’s Pick: Johnson via submission in 3rd
WOMEN’S BATAMWEIGHT – (c) Amanda Nunes vs Valentina Shevchenko
This was one of the complimentary fights that should have made UFC 213 a big spectacle, but again the July PPV was cursed and the bout was scrapped. Nunes is looking to stabilize the division after a hot potato last two years occurred with the belt dating back to Ronda Rousey. Nunes not only disposed of ‘Rowdy’ and Miesha Tate, but she effectively ended their careers in the process too. Amanda looks like a force inside the cage that packs more power than a traditional 135 pound fighter, and doesn’t seem to be as drained compared with what Cyborg would be to reach the weight (last weight cut notwithstanding). Shevchenko is not a tomato can and has deserved this title shot. She’s trained with Young’s MMA in the past and featherweight Aaron Lacey vouches for her toughness in training. We’ve seen fighters pull the shocking upset in the past, but I don’t feel like this is the one it happens.
Stack’s Pick: Nunes via TKO in 2nd
WELTERWEIGHT – Neil Magny vs Rafael dos Anjos
Once one of the most feared champions in the UFC, RDA ran into some tough competition and not only lost his belt, but plummeted down the lightweight ranks. He bested Anthony Pettis to win the belt and then defeated Donald Cerrone in a title defense in fairly short order, looking like it would be awhile before his reign would end. Alas for the Brazilian it was to be short lived and the next bout was a quick finish by Eddie Alvarez after dos Anjos’ injury scrapped a big money fight with Conor McGregor months earlier. Things weren’t much easier on the ascent back up the ladder as Tony Ferguson went on to a five round war with the former champ, though in a losing effort for RDA. Never doubt what dos Anjos can do, especially with some of the notches he has on his win column over the years. Confidence is back up for the Brazilian with a decision win versus Tarec Saffiedine in June and maybe this is the start back to the top for RDA. That doesn’t mean you should take his opponent in Neil Magny lightly, who won a decision with Johny Hendricks last time he fought in December. Magny has had two setbacks in the UFC career, losing to Demian Maia in 2015 and then a TKO loss to Lorenz Larkin last August. He does have 12 wins in the UFC, including 16 total fights since 2013 and that cannot be discounted. Magny is always looking for a fight and he’s going to get one in this scrap.
Stack’s Pick: dos Anjos via 2nd Round submission
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT – Illir Latifi vs Tyson Pedro
In a division that is desperate for contenders outside of the top four or so, enter Illir Latifi and Tyson Pedro. The light heavyweight ranks are in a state of flux without both Ryan Bader and Phil Davis leaving for Bellator over the past few years, along the fact that the rest of the division has been pushed down makes this an interesting weight class. Of course we know about Jon Jones’ issues and who knows what that means for Daniel Cormier’s title chances moving forward. Outside of those two there are two legit contenders to the throne with Volkan Orzdemir and Alex Gustafsson, but beyond those four guys there are a ton of question marks. That’s why this could be a way for both Pedro and Latifi stake their claim to filling out the top ten in the near future among the light heavyweights. Pedro is an Australian with an undefeated mark of 6-0 with two UFC wins at the ripe age of 25. One could argue that he hasn’t faced the caliber of fighter needed to jump up in the rankings, but the current 13th ranked fighter would deserve that with a win versus Illir. Pedro is also a dangerous fighter picking up a TKO win in the first round versus Paul Craig in March and ending all of his fights in less than five minutes. Latifi will be rested and making his first bout in a year by the time UFC 215 hits, but has had five wins in the octagon for the UFC in his career. Latifi last lost to Ryan Bader by TKO in the second, and has had a career that’s been fairly stop-start like. One benefit you could put in for the Swede is that he’s never lost two fights in a row and that means he’s due for a win right? Only five of his 18 fights have gone the distance so I bet you can chalk this one up to ending earlier than the allotted 15 minutes.
Stack’s Pick: Pedro via 1st Round knockout
FEATHERWEIGHT – Jeremy Stephens vs Gilbert Melendez
This one should be an absolute delight to watch, though it is a crossroads match-up for both guys. Gilbert Melendez is one of the greatest Strikeforce Champions of all-time, defending his lightweight title seven times while with the promotion. The problem for Gilbert is that his UFC career didn’t mirror his success with Strikeforce and it’s resulted in a 1-4 record for him. To add to matters, Melendez hasn’t fought in over a year (unanimous decision loss to Edson Barboza on July 23, 2016) and hasn’t won since he bested Diego Sanchez in 2013. A fourth loss in a row in the UFC for this 35-year old fighter may spell the end of his MMA career. Jeremy Stephens isn’t in as dire of straits, but will need a win to reassert him into contention again too. He’s lost to some very game fighters in Max Holloway, Frankie Edgar, and Renato Moicano in three of his past four fights, but has won just once during that span, taking down a sinking Renan Barao. Stephens is the slightly younger and more active fighter and you have to believe that will give him the edge in this one. Just three total finishes between these two fighters since 2012 so I bet we see this one go the distance.
Stack’s Pick: Stephens via unanimous decision
(Photo credit UFC via YouTube)