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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Kyle Tucker had a big day at the plate on Sunday. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games of the series, with one team or the other putting on a solid offensive performance in each, the Astros tried to win their fourth series in their last five by taking the rubber game on Sunday against the Blue Jays. Thanks in part to a big day from Kyle Tucker, who played a significant role in the early offense they used to power to the win, they would accomplish their mission.

Final Score: Astros 7, Blue Jays 4

Astros' Record: 18-16, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (2-1)

Losing Pitcher: Nate Pearson (0-1)

Kyle Tucker helps lead the offense to seven unanswered runs

Houston did not go easy on Nate Pearson in his 2021 debut. After a scoreless first, the Astros loaded the bases on two walks and a single, then brought the first run of the day home on an RBI walk by Michael Brantley. Another walk opened the door in the bottom of the third, and Kyle Tucker capitalized with an RBI triple to make it 2-0, followed by an RBI single by Robel Garcia to make it a three-run lead, ending Pearson's day one out into the bottom of the third.

Things didn't get easier for Toronto's pitching in the next inning, as Jose Altuve would lead off the bottom of the fourth with a solo homer. A single and a walk then set up another big hit for Kyle Tucker, a three-run dinger to make it seven unanswered runs and giving Tucker four RBI on the day.

Blue Jays pound Greinke in the fifth

After four shutout innings to start his day on the mound, working around a few hits along the way, Zack Greinke tried to cash in on his team's offense to get another win on his record. He wouldn't be able to get it done, though, as Toronto would get after him in the top of the fifth. They would score four times amongst five batters that came to the plate, with a solo homer by Rowdy Tellez, a two-RBI double by Bo Bichette, and an RBI single by Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

That made it a 7-4 game, and with Greinke still not having recorded an out in the frame, Dusty Baker would lift him at 88 pitches in favor of Bryan Abreu, who would get a pop out and a double play to end the inning and keep the lead at three runs. Greinke's final line: 4.0 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 88 P.

Houston takes the series

No more runs would come on either side the rest of the way, with Kent Emanuel working around a single for a scoreless sixth, Ryne Stanek getting a 1-2-3 seventh, and Andre Scrubb doing the same in the eighth to set up Ryan Pressly for the save. Pressly would get the job done, sending the Blue Jays down in order, including two strikeouts to wrap up the win and giving Houston the series victory.

Up Next: The Astros will stay at home to continue this homestand, welcoming in the Angels for three games starting Monday at 7:10 PM Central. The opener will feature a pitching matchup of Alex Cobb (1-2, 5.48 ERA) for Los Angeles and Luis Garcia (0-3, 3.28 ERA) for Houston.

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