A.J. HOFFMAN

UFC 230 preview: Lewis vs. Cormier headlines piecemeal card

Derrick Lewis highlights the UFC 230 card. Harry How/Getty Images

This isn’t the UFC 230 we had all hoped for, but it will have to do. After several potential headliners fell apart, the UFC was able to convince Derrick Lewis to take on Daniel Cormier for the heavyweight title, just a few weeks after Lewis came back from the brink of defeat to beat Alexander Volkov in one of the wildest fights of 2018. Dustin Poirier was supposed to take on Nate Diaz, but Poirier was injured. The rematch between Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman was booked for this card, but Rockhold was injured. So we are left with a thrown together card that should make for a good night of fights, if not many that are particularly consequential. 

The main event is for the heavyweight title that Lewis himself said less than a month ago “he didn’t have the cardio” to fight for. Money talks, though, and here we are with a tired Lewis (21-5) fighting the two-division champion, Daniel Cormier (21-1). Cormier isn’t totally fresh himself, as he is still recovering from an injured hand from his starching of Stipe Miocic. Let’s be serious here. Daniel Cormier is a -700 favorite in this fight for a reason. He is one of the greatest fighters of all time, coming off a massive win. Lewis, though, is not a walk-through fight. You can never let your guard down against him, because he can end the fight with one shot. Cormier will also have a hard time holding down Lewis, who has made “get up” one of the most effective moves in his arsenal. Cormier will need to employ a game plan similar to Mark Hunt’s against Lewis, which involved lots of angles and footwork to exhaust the “Black Beast” before he really turned it on. Cormier is clearly the more skilled fighter, but avoiding the fight-ending power of Lewis is not an easy thing to do for 25 minutes.

The co-main event features two middleweights who are trying to make one last run at the 185 lb. title. Chris Weidman (14-3) became an overnight superstar with his knockout of Anderson Silva. He won the rematch, but his career has been a roller coaster ride ever since. He went on a 3-fight skid, getting finished violently in all three fights. He has dealt with multiple injuries and fight cancellations, but broke through for a big victory over Kelvin Gastelum last summer. His opponent, Jacare Souza (25-6) is 39 years old, and if he is going to get a UFC title shot, he has to start that path with this fight. He has lost three fights since coming to the UFC in 2013. Razor thin, split-decision losses to Gastelum and Yoel Romero, sandwiching a head kick knockout at the hands of Robert Whittaker. Jacare is a master on the ground, but his skills have declined in recent years, along with his ability to take big shots. Stylistically, this matchup is very intriguing and should make for one of the best of the night. 

David Branch (22-4) was supposed to be fighting Souza on this card, but the Rockhold injury forced Souza up, and left Branch with a much less exciting opponent. He gets Jared Cannonier (10-4) who has competed at both heavyweight and light heavyweight previously and will make his middleweight debut here. Branch has shaken the reputation of being a one-dimensional fighter, and his striking has markedly improved. Cannonier is a dynamic (albeit not incredibly skilled) striker, but has proven to struggle mightily with takedown defense. That could be a real issue for him in this one. 

The difference in styles between Derek Brunson (18-6) and Israel Adesanya (14-0) make this another intriguing bout. Adesanya is a world-class kickboxer, who has worked hard at improving his defensive wrestling. Brunson was once a lay and pray wrestler, but has evolved (that word used loosely here) into a pressure fighter who hunts for knockouts. It would be wise of Brunson to keep Adesanya on his back, because if he finds himself charging wildly at or counterstriking with Adesanya, it will likely be a quick night for him. 

The prelims feature Ben Saunders, Sheymon Maraes, Sijara Eubanks and a fun matchup of Jason Knight and Jordan Rinaldi.

Enjoy the fights! 

PREDICTIONS:

Cormier by TKO

Souza by submission

Branch by decision

Marshman by decision

Adesanya by KO

Rinaldi by decision

Eubanks by decision 

Moraes by decision

Good by KO

Vannata by TKO

Burgos by TKO

Jackson by decision

De Lima by KO

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome