The UFC’s 25th anniversary celebration show may not end up etched in the annals of history like the event that it’s commemorating, but two headlining scraps featuring four of MMA’s most exciting fighters almost guarantee that UFC Denver will be one to remember.
“The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung is back. Mandatory military duty in his home country of South Korea and a litany of injuries limited Jung to just one fight in the last five years and he’s hoping that a win in Saturday’s main event propels him to another shot at the featherweight title that he once challenged for all the way back in August 2013.
He’ll have to get past short-notice replacement Yair Rodriguez. “El Pantera” is stepping in for an injured Frankie Edgar and the talented 26-year-old is being given the opportunity to regain the career momentum that was snuffed out in emphatic fashion by Edgar at UFC 211 last year. Both Jung and Rodriguez are known for their stunning stand-up displays, so don’t be surprised if UFC Denver produces a Fight of the Year candidate.
Then again, the main event will probably have a tough act to follow after Donald Cerrone and Mike Perry meet in the welterweight co-headliner. With drama brewing between the former training partners, the stage is set for what could be a thrilling three-round duel or fast and furious finish.
In other main card action, Raquel Pennington welcomes former 145-pound champion Germaine de Randamie back to the bantamweight division, Beneil Dariush faces Octagon newcomer Thiago Moises in a lightweight bout, Maycee Barber looks to begin her quest for strawweight domination when she takes on Hannah Cifers, and The Ultimate Fighter 27 lightweight tournament winner Mike Trizano looks to unofficially defend his crown against Luis Pena a.k.a. “The Violent Bob Ross”.
What: UFC Denver
Where: Pepsi Centre in Denver
When: Saturday, Nov. 10. The two-fight UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begins at 7 p.m. ET, the four-fight FOX Sports 1 preliminary card begins at 8 p.m. ET, and the six-fight FOX Sports 1 main card begins at 10 p.m. ET.
Chan Sung Jung vs. Yair Rodriguez
It is going to be mesmerizing to watch Chan Sung Jung marching through the offense of Yair Rodriguez, a whirling dervish of spectacular strikes who looked like a world beater before being brought back to reality in his last outing. At his best, Rodriguez can do damage from a number of unorthodox angles and the occasionally plodding Jung might be the perfect target with which to show off his arsenal.
On the other hand, there’s a reason that Jung’s zombie-like demeanor is so highly praised. He’s only been cleanly knocked out once in his career and outside of that he has proven almost impossible to rattle. We know he can survive a storm of strikes if it means landing shots of his own. The question is can Rodriguez withstand a back-and-forth fire fight?
The other dilemma Rodriguez faces is Jung’s superior ground game. Rodriguez simply hasn’t shown much in the way of grappling offense or defense (he hasn’t had to) and it’s a stretch to picture him getting the better of those exchanges with Jung, who is a demon in scrambles.
Add in the fact that Rodriguez had to accept this fight on about two weeks’ notice and you can see why signs point to a Jung victory.
Donald Cerrone vs. Mike Perry
Earlier this year, it would have been easy to explain why Donald Cerrone is superior to Mike Perry. He’s more experienced, has shown himself to be a more versatile striker, and his submission game has always been underappreciated.
But Perry showed a lot of maturity in defeating Paul Felder this past July. It was the first decision victory of Perry’s career, and while that may sound unimpressive compared to the explosive knockouts “Platinum” has authored in the past, it was actually encouraging to see him could go the distance against a skilled opponent. Even taking into account that Perry had a size and power advantage in that matchup, it was a solid win.
The other reason to lean towards Perry coming out victorious on Saturday is the fact that Cerrone’s chin can’t possibly be as durable as it was in his prime. At 35, Cerrone will be the oldest fighter competing at UFC Denver; he wears his age and his incredible MMA resume with pride, but the fact remains he’s been in a lot of wars and each one has taken a little more out of him. After only being knocked out once in his first 40 fights, Cerrone has been finished with strikes in two of his last five.
If Cerrone has the discipline to avoid a prolonged stand-up battle, he could get a takedown and snag a submission on the untested Perry. That’s just never been Cerrone’s style. He’ll want to see how real Perry’s highly-vaunted finishing power is, and if that’s the case it won’t end well for him.
Raquel Pennington vs. Germaine de Randamie
Lost in the drama surrounding Germaine de Randamie’s less-than-epic reign at 145 pounds is the fact that she remains one of the UFC’s most accomplished strikers. Her losses have typically come against fighters able to impose their will on the mat, but “The Iron Lady” has shown improved takedown defense inside the Octagon and it’s no longer a sure bet that wrestling will be her downfall.
That puts a lot of pressure on Raquel Pennington to win stand-up exchanges with the rangy and tactical de Randamie. At her best, Pennington is a solid, steady striker. She has a good jab and rarely overextends, which both benefits her on the scorecards and limits her finishing opportunities. She won’t want to trade shots for long, instead looking for opportunities to close the distance and bully the taller de Randamie.
In close, de Randamie can do a ton of damage with those educated knees and elbows, though she’ll have to be careful not to sacrifice her balance and fall prey to Pennington’s raw strength.
This is going to be a hard-fought battle, with both women having techniques to make the other uncomfortable. Unless Pennington finds a way to consistently score takedowns, it’s the striking of de Randamie that will be the difference after three close rounds.
Pick: De Randamie
Beneil Dariush vs. Thiago Moises
What did Beneil Dariush do to keep getting saddled with these short-notice wild cards? After being finished in 42 seconds by the relatively unknown Alexander Hernandez in his last fight, Dariush now has to deal with the dangerous Thiago Moises.
Fortunately for Dariush, he won’t have to deal with Moises coming out as hot as Hernandez did. The 23-year-old Brazilian is more of the wait-and-see type and he’ll let Dariush be first if it means setting him up for a precision counter later. Moises excels at waiting for his opponent to get into range before snapping at them with a left or right hook, or a front kick.
Dariush is a fundamentally sound and patient fighter in his own right and Moises’s methodical style might actually be the perfect formula for him to break his three-fight winless skid. He’s great at making mid-fight adjustments, which is one of the reasons Dariush has never lost a decision. Moises has only lost by decision, and since I don’t think he’ll be able to break through Dariush’s defenses and find a finish, I expect that trend to continue here.
Maycee Barber vs. Hannah Cifers
Like most young fighters, the name of the game for Maycee Barber is pressure. She wants to push the pace and have her opponent on the back foot at all times. However, her extensive karate background also means she’s more than comfortable to strike from distance should the situation call for it.
She’ll have to be smart against the powerful Hannah Cifers, who packs a mean punch despite standing just a shade over five feet. Cifers brings legitimate Muay Thai skills to the cage as well as fierce ground-and-pound.
I’m inclined to pick Barber here if only because she’ll have a significant size advantage, one that will help her when this fight goes to the mat. She can use her long limbs to tie Cifers up and avoid getting bludgeoned down there, and then set up a submission in the second or third round.
Luis Pena vs. Mike Trizano
Mike Trizano is well-rounded with cardio for days, but skill-for-skill he’s going to have problems dealing with the gigantic Luis Pena.
You never want to put too much stock in who someone is training with, especially when evaluating how they’re likely to actually perform on fight night, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that Pena’s recent work with the killers at American Kickboxing Academy (including unbeaten lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov) is going to pay dividends. At 6-foot-3, Pena already has a glaring size advantage at 155 pounds, and if this one goes to the ground, Trizano is in deep trouble.
While Pena is a big target, he’s not going to stand still and let Trizano pick him apart. Look for Pena to press forward early, fire combinations, and eventually take this one down to the mat where he’ll secure a submission.
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Davi Ramos def. John Gunther
Julian Erosa def. Devonte Smith
Joseph Morales def. Eric Shelton
Joby Sanchez def. Mark De La Rosa