A.J. HOFFMAN

UFC 228 preview: Woodley's return highlights card

Tyron Woodley returns to the Octagon. Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

UFC 228 is one of those rare double-title fight cards. Beyond that it is a little sparse on competitive matchups, but there are a few fighters who are definitely worth watching. 

The main event is for the welterweight title, featuring the return of Tyron Woodley. Woodley hasn’t been the most beloved champion, as he has had awkward fights (draws and wins) over Stephen Thompson and Demian Maia. He has gotten away from his power-punching ways and has become more of a counter-striker, which isn’t exactly fan-friendly. His opponent, Darren Till, also holds a win over Thompson. Till’s fight wasn’t much more exciting than Woodley’s fights with Wonderboy. Till’s biggest issue to date has been his inability to make weight. He wasn’t close on the scale in his last fight, and if he misses again, he not only loses his title shot, but also will probably be pushed up to 185 permanently. Till may be the more aggressive of the two fighters, but I think going five rounds after a tough weight cut will be problematic for him. 

The co-main is for the women’s strawweight title. Nicco Montano holds the title, and most people aren’t taking her seriously. She won her title on The Ultimate Fighter, but to her credit, was an underdog in all of her fights on the show. Her opponent, Valentina Schevchenko, is much more experienced, much more successful and has seen significantly better competition. Montano will likely be the biggest underdog champion in UFC history, likely to open up around +850. While that number doesn’t accurately show what a live underdog she can be, I have a hard time seeing her being more than a footnote on a long Schevchenko title run.  

My must-watch fighter on the card is Zabit Magomedsharipov. He has been a force since his arrival on the UFC roster, and was supposed to see an uptick in competition on this card, but Yair Rodriguez pulled out of the fight. He is a high-volume striker who also throws in strong grappling and submissions. There really isn’t much he hasn’t shown to be good at. Instead of Rodriguez, Brandon Davis gets the call. He got to the UFC through Dana White’s Contender Series, and this will already be his fourth fight of 2018. He is aggressive and unafraid, which should lead to, at a minimum, an exciting fight with Magomedsharipov. 

While we are talking about exciting fights, Niko Price and Abdul Razak Alhassan is the top contender for fight of the night. Both men are power punchers and proven finishers. In his last fight, Price finished Randy Brown with hammerfists from his back, easily one of the highlight moments of the year. Alhassan has finished nearly all his fights by first round knockout, though his one loss came when Omari Akhamedov survived that initial flurry. Price has proven hittable, as Alex Morono had him nearly finished in the first round, before eventually getting the knockout himself late. It would shock me if this fight went the distance. 

The prelims feature Tatiana Suarez, Jimmie Rivera, John Dodson and a solid matchup between Aljamain Sterling and Cody Stamann. Texan Geoff Neal also has a spot on the early prelims. 

PREDICTIONS:

Woodley def. Till by DEC

Schevchenko def. Montano by DEC

Magomedsharipov def. Davis by SUB

Kowalkiewicz def. Andrade by DEC

Alhassan def. Price by KO 

Suarez def. Esparza by DEC

Sterling def. Stamman by DEC

Dodson def. Rivera by DEC

Byrd def. Stewart by SUB

C. White def. Sanchez by KO

A. White def. Miller by TKO

Aldana def. Pudilova by DEC

Brooks def. Sanchez by DEC

Neal def. Camacho 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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