Heart vs. Brain: Predicting UFC 219

Full fight card

ADDITIONAL GIFS AND LINKS IN BOLD!

UFC 219: Cyborg vs Holm

Barring weigh in day shenanigans (update: this time, the shenanigans came early), the lineup for UFC 219 is finalized. In an alternate universe, the headliner for this card is a welterweight title fight between Tyron Woodley and Nate Diaz, continuing the UFC’s recent path of  chasing “money fights.” In our reality, the main event is decidedly not, a money fight. On Saturday, December 30th, we will see former boxing and MMA titleholder Holly Holm challenging the terrifying destroyer of worlds, Cris “Cyborg” Justino for the 145 belt. It has been an uphill battle for Cyborg to gain traction with the fans, and it seems she is just now starting to get the appreciation that she quite honestly has deserved for many years. This is not a particularly compelling fight in terms of career momentum; Cyborg has been virtually untouched since losing in her professional debut, and in her last fight Holm broke a 3 fight losing streak with a gnarly headkick win over Bethe Correia in June.

betched

The peoples’ main event, however, is the co-main featuring Khabib Nurmagomedov and Edson Barboza. Not only is this a ridiculously intriguing stylistic match up between arguably the best grappler and striker in the division, the winner is in a strong position to challenge either Tony Ferguson or Conor McGregor for a lightweight championship.  I’m pretty salty this isn’t a five round fight, but the UFC would not risk headlining a card with Khabib Nurmagomedov, notorious pull-out artist, at this stage.

khabib record

Heart vs. Brain: Main Card Predictions

The concept is pretty self explanatory, I’ll pick who I want to win for personal reasons, and who I think will win based on the stylistic matchup and objective factors. For fun, I’ll keep a running scoreboard and see what yields better predictive results, my “heart”, or my “brain” (both are lacking in quality in this case.) As of now, the preliminary and main card divisions have not been set, so I’ll use the top few fights.

Jimmie “El Terror” Rivera vs. John “F***ing” Lineker

Update: John Lineker has withdrawn from the fight for undisclosed reasons as of Christmas Eve, because we were naughty. Read on like it’s happening anyway!

Heart: I am SO torn. It is not about how much I like Jimmie Rivera, he’s a solid combination counter puncher with heavy hands and even heavier leg kicks, representing Tiger Schulmann’s in New Jersey. There’s a lot to like about the guy, he’s a true martial artist, an action fighter, and holds a beautiful 21-1 professional record.

jimmie rivera gif

My conflict is whether I absolutely love or hate John Lineker. In the cage, the man is a stout tornado of bricks with a chin of granite, a violent character and a great ambassador for exciting fights at the lower weight classes.

echange-with-dodson-lets-him-off-the-cage

All that aside, there’s something that rubs me the wrong way. John Lineker has missed weight FIVE times in the UFC, including his fight with John Dodson where he competed up at 135 pounds. Lineker is clearly unapologetic about his unprofessional behavior, exhibit A:
lineker belly rub

Something else you’ll learn about me is I’m frustrated seeing fighters win exchanges or fights completely based on sheer physical talent. His physical gifts and the rigidity of his fighting style lead me to believe Lineker may be undisciplined in his training, not just with his weight management. I admit I view this fight a righteous battle where hard work should beat talent when talent doesn’t work hard, which should tell you something about whether or not I have any physical ability.

In this one, I put my love\hate relationship with “Hands of Stone” on hold and opt for Jimmie Rivera, fueled by my desire to see him against the best of the best at 135.
Pick: Rivera

Brain: I don’t think Lineker has been improving. He is often outfought by more careful and disciplined strikers, and would be likely finished if he had a human’s chin. When his opponent doesn’t stand in front of him or move straight back off the flurry, he can look lost at times and will resort to goading his opponent into brawling with him. Rivera has looked a little more hittable as of late, but he is an extremely intelligent fighter who studies his opponents thoroughly, and has all the tools necessary to put a beating on Lineker. I expect a  thoughtful kickboxing clinic, and a vintage Rivera performance to set up a fight for the title. Pick: Rivera

Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov vs. Edson Barboza

Heart:  Khabib has been able to ragdoll, control, and beat on all of his UFC opponents, and I believe this is 100% attributable to the fact that the man GREW UP WRESTLING BEARS.  That bear has a great butterfly guard and a mastery of flow-rolling, a star in his own right really. Listen, I love both of these fighters. But here’s the dilemma, Khabib Nurmagomedov has been struggling with making weight at 155 since 2013 at the earliest.  His battle with tiramisu outside the octagon is well documented. He’s entering his physical prime at 29 years old, and he’s freaking enormous, look at him next to beloved light heavyweight champDaniel Cormier on his left, and UFC veteran at 155 Tyson Griffin on his right.  Khabib is a treasure and I want to protect the future of his career, which is why he needs to move up to 170 ASAP. He completely controlled former lightweight champ Rafael Dos Anjos at 155, who is now terrorizing the welterweight division, I have no doubts he can have championship level success at 170.

khabib throw

For this reason, Khabib has to lose this fight. He will not give up on 155 with a colossal fight with Conor McGregor looming on the horizon with a win, he needs a loss to nudge him in the right direction, for his own sake. Pick: Barboza

Brain: In a “striker vs. grappler” matchup, it is often the case that the wrestler or grappler needs to show a threat in the striking exchanges to open up a clean takedown entry, for a good chance of finishing on top.  Khabib will implement risky, “lead with my face” blitzing combinations in spots to get his positions. All he needs is to be touching you, where he can at the very least force a clinch position, where he has freaky mutant strength.
khabib blitz

Somewhere out there, there’s a clip of Khabib blasting through gigantic middleweight Luke Rockhold in training. Along with his immense physical talent,  Nurmagomedov is a masterful wrestler and grappler, making great use of folkstyle wrist rides and non-traditional grappling control positions to hammer away with ground and pound.

khabib gnp
Pictured: Michael Johnson being assaulted

Then there’s Barboza, the best kicker in the UFC. The issue for Edson in the past was pressure and forward movement from heavy handed wrestlers, he would either back up with his hands down to defend the shot and get nailed, or cover up and end up in a disadvantageous position. More recently we have seen Barboza really develop his boxing game, he is no longer afraid of pressure, and has shown great “eyes”, reading his opponents’ attacks and countering with jabs and check hooks. We rarely see Barboza on his back, as he keeps great distance and position in the cage, in addition to his great hips. Anyone foolish enough to remain standing in front of “Junior” over three rounds is going to end up unconscious or missing a leg.

At this point in their careers, I don’t think Khabib Nurmagomedov is fragile enough for Barboza to properly punish him for his mistakes. I see Nurmagomedov using frantic blitzes to get his clinch positions or to get a hand on a leg, where he can probably control for long stretches. I don’t predict a Michael Johnson type beat down, but a unanimous decision seems like a safe bet.  Pick: Nurmagomedov 

Women’s Featherweight Championship:
Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino vs. Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holm

Heart: I’m a bit of a Cyborg hater, there, I said it. She has clearly abused PEDs in her career, and it has given her an enormous physical advantage over many of her opponents. As I said before, I don’t like to see fighters win in obvious physical mismatches, which describes all of Cyborg’s UFC fights. She’s a bully style fighter, and I couldn’t help but smile when she took a kickboxing bout against world champ Jorina Baars. The UFC has recently decided to embrace her, much to the delight of many long time fans, but I’ll be a hater until she loses decisively and eats some humble pie, because that’s how I operate.

jorina baars gif

Holly Holm has to be one of the nicest people in MMA. Watch her interviews, listen to other people talk about her, she’s clearly a saint. The former 19 time (that’s just silly) boxing world champion has also displayed some beautiful craft in the cage. Holm is out here throwing lead leg question mark kicks against muay thai world champs. For a standout boxer, Holm has really shown off a sensational kicking game in MMA. She also has some sweet tumbling skills, need I say more? Pick: Holm

Brain: We have not seen Cris Cyborg fight someone who can manage distance and circle off the cage like Holly Holm. In a more simple sense, Cyborg has only fought undersized bantamweights at 145/140, and now she is fighting a large bantamweight at 145. At 145 pounds Holly can keep a high pace, and keep Cyborg at the end of her lead kicks to the knee and side kicks to the body, as well as straight counter punches. I have only ever seen Cyborg walk girls down, get them to the cage, and just unload with muay thai combinations. She is very skilled, powerful in the clinch and very heavy in the top position. In my eyes, this is a very dangerous fight for anyone, but it favors Holm stylistically. Look for Holm to pick up points from the outside and use her defensive acumen to make Cyborg pay for her aggression. Pick: Holm

holm slip gif

Tune in to UFC 219: Cyborg vs. Holm on Saturday night December 30th, we’ll find out if I should trust my heart, or my brain.

Follow @edMMAtweets for future article posts and other combat sports commentary.

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