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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