FIGHT PREVIEW

UFC 220: Miocic-Ngannou, Cormier-Oezdimer headline star-studded card

Francis Ngannou is an up and coming star. MMAjunkie.com

In the history of fight sports, people have always loved to watch the big men fight. At UFC 220 in Boston they will get to see both the heavyweight and light heavyweight titles contested. In both instances, you get a grizzled veteran champion taking on a young and powerful challenger who has taken the division by storm. 

The headliner features the Heavyweight Champion of the World, Stipe Miocic (17-2) taking on Francis “The Predator” Ngannou. Miocic has the chance to set the all-time record (albeit at only three) for title defenses at heavyweight, but Ngannou is perhaps his most dangerous opponent to date. He has blitzed through the division, finishing his last four opponents each in under 2 minutes, including a cringe-worthy knockout of Alistair Overeem back in December. He has cartoonish power in both hands, he hits hard in close and at range, and pushes forward with a pressure that no one is comfortable with. Miocic is a striker by nature, but is also a very gifted offensive grappler, though he hasn’t shown that side of his game in this title run. To handle Ngannou he may need to revert to those roots. Either way, I envision a quick and explosive finish to this fight. 

The co-main event features the man many believe would run the heavyweight division should he choose to return to it, 205-lb. champ Daniel Cormier (19-1), taking on the hot new prospect in the division, Volkan Oezdimer (15-1). Cormier has proven to be one of the best fighters in the world, despite his inability to beat Jon Jones. With the exception of a hard-fought decision over Alex Gustaffson and the aforementioned Jones, Cormier has made everyone at 205 and heavyweight look like they didn’t belong in the cage with him. His wrestling and top-control are world class, and his striking has improved to the point where he isn’t afraid to trade leather before taking the fight to the ground. Oezdimer has the kind of power that can end a fight quickly, proven by his sub-minute KO’s of Misha Circunov and Jimi Manuwa, both top 10 fighters. Cormier has seen that before with Anthony Johnson, and he was able to weather the storm and get a decisive victory. 

Francimir Barroso (19-6) taking on Gian Villante (15-9) may not be appealing on paper and it may not have any remotely immediate title impact, but these two guys will be throwing leather. Barroso is a power puncher who dives for takedowns behind them, but has very little in the cardio department. Villante is a strong wrestler who has a strong chin, and needs it, as he is arguably the worst defensive fighter in the division. If Barroso can’t get an early finish, I expect him to have a long night underneath Villante. If his cardio outlasts Villante’s chin, we could be in for a spectacular knockout. 

Thomas Almeida (21-2) takes on Rob Font (14-3) in a bantamweight fight that should push the winner back into contender consideration. Almeida was once 20-0 and fought Cody Garbrandt for a number one contender’s spot. Garbrandt obviously got the win, and went on to win the title. Almeida bounced back with a decisive win over Albert Morales, but lost a decision to Jimmie Rivera where he was greatly out-grappled after that. Font is a strong all-around fighter whose game is based on counter-flurries. It has been effective for Font, but this may be a bad matchup for it, as Almeida excels once he can get opponents into clinch range. 

The undercard features Brandon Davis, Abdul Razak Alhassan and a lightweight bout between Islam Makhachev and Gleison Tibau. 

PREDICTIONS

Ngannou by TKO

Cormier by TKO

Burgos by DEC

Barroso by KO

Almeida by TKO

Davis by DEC

Alhassan by SUB

Pantoja by SUB

Are by DEC

Barzola by DEC

Makhachev by DEC

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Composite photo by Jack Brame

As things continue to relax as far as the COVID-19 pandemic is concerned, a return to a semblance of normalcy seems imminent. The NBA has some parameters in place for a potential return. Training camps are set to open late this month and the season is supposed to open July 31. Whether that's the rumored Disney-centered one-stop shop or another form, they have a plan in place to return. There's also no argument between the league and players going back and forth about money either (MLB could learn a lesson here).

So when it comes to the potential return, how does that fare for the local team? The Rockets were 40-24 and tied for the fifth seed in the West when the season was shut down. Since they're getting ready to return potentially, we need to be looking at what chances they may have in making a run in the playoffs towards an NBA title.



Harden's new physique

According to his new trainer, James Harden has done more cardio workouts and lost some weight. Specifically, he's done more football player workouts as opposed to basketball player workouts. There was a pic of Harden floating around showing an obvious loss of weight. His new-found cardio and weight loss could mean more late-game and late-season success for Harden and the Rockets.

Westbrook's edge

Russell Westbrook has a competitive fire that can't be put out. It's like one of those never-ending burning torches you see at monuments. He wants nothing more than to prove he's a winner on a high level. Given that he's reunited with a long time friend in Harden, his competitive nature could help fill the gap where Harden may lack. These two have proven they can coexist very well this season. Now could be their time to take surge.

Small-ball

When the Rockets traded Clint Capela, they fully committed to small-ball. There were times they didn't have a guy in the lineup over 6'5. The tallest guy that gets regular time is roughly 6'8. The smaller, quicker lineup is an advantage on the offensive end, but can be a huge liability on the defensive end. Given the stoppage and restart of the season, it could help them. Suppose other teams are sluggish and can't get their chemistry straight. Houston's advantage is that they go through one or two guys and eat off their shooting. Shooting can be worked on during times like these, whereas other aspects of your game can't.


I'm not saying the Rockets have a built-in advantage, but they have as good a shot as they've ever had in the past. The field is wide open to any team that's in the playoff hunt. No team will have a built-in advantage over others. With the Rockets' unique brand of ball, they may be able to make a run at a title this season. Couple that with Harden's weight loss and Westbrook's competitive nature, it could be very interesting. Whenever the NBA comes back this season, which I believe they will, I think this team has a legit shot at winning it all.

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