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. 


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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Keep an eye on Tank Dell this Sunday. Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images.

I remember thinking how in the world can these little frail guys survive at the NFL level? I mean, I saw Joe Theismann and Ed McCaffrey's legs snap. Drew Bledsoe got his chest caved in. Seeing 300-plus pound men cry when injured is humbling. So when a guy like Tank Dell comes along, I'm always a bit apprehensive. Especially when they come with a ton of hype.

For every eight to ten big strong players that get hurt, there's one or two little fellas that have relatively healthy careers. The comp that came to mind when looking at Tank was DeSean Jackson. Listed at 5'10 and weighing a heavy 175 pounds, Jackson was arguably the best “small guy” in NFL history. Dell being about two inches shorter and about ten pounds lighter, while also playing a similar role, is in line to be a similarly electrifying type of player. I put my assessment on the line and doubled down with my predictions on what his, and others' season totals will look like last week:

Tank Dell: 68 catches, 1,105 yards and 6 touchdowns- Dell will be a really good slot, but has some outside skills. Namely, his speed. He's more slippery than if Mick had greased that chicken before Rocky tried catching it. I could see his production going up as the season gets longer because Stroud will begin to look for him more and more as they build chemistry. Yes, I know I only have him with six scores. Keep in mind this is a run first offense. At least that's what we can deduce from looking at where it came from in San Francisco.

In his debut game last week vs the Ravens, he notched three catches for 34 yards on four targets. He was tied for third on the team in targets with Noah Brown and Mike Boone. While Robert Woods and Nico Collins were one and two in targets last week, I think Dell will ascend that list starting this week. Word came down that Noah Brown is headed to IR, meaning he'll miss at least the next four weeks. The chemistry he and fellow rookie C.J. Stroud have developed is palpable. From working out together, to attending UH games together, these two seem to have a nice bond already.

Woods is a solid vet two years removed from an ACL injury. Collins was a third rounder with size who hasn't done a whole lot. Dell is easily the most exciting option at receiver this team has. John Metchie III was expected to be the next guy up. Unfortunately, cancer had him take a backseat, until now. Metchie is back at practice this week, so a debut is imminent. He could potentially challenge for more playing time, but it may take him some time to get used to things and get going again.

As far as my statistical prediction for his season, he only needs to average four catches for 67 yards per game, and get a touchdown every two to three games for the remainder of the season. Given Brown being out the next few games, Metchie not quite being up to speed, Woods being an older player on a short-term deal, and Collins not really being what everyone thought he could be, it leaves things wide open for Dell to step up.

Playmakers come in all shapes and sizes. Levon Kirkland was a 300-pound middle linebacker in a 3-4. Doug Flutie led teams to playoff wins as a 5'9 quarterback. In football, size matters. The bigger, stronger guys normally win out. When it comes to receiving and returns, you want speed, quickness, and agility. Dell has that in spades. Add his competitive nature and chemistry with his quarterback and you have a recipe for a star in the making. I know I'm not the only one hoping the Texans continue Tank-ing.

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