The UFC returns for its first pay-per-view offering of 2018 as UFC 220 takes place from the TD Garden in Boston.
The main event features Stipe Miocic defending the UFC heavyweight championship against No. 1-ranked Francis Ngannou. In the co-main event, Daniel Cormer defends the light heavyweight championship when he faces No. 2 ranked Volkan Oezdemir.
Who walks out of Beantown with the gold? Sporting News MMA contributors E. Spencer Kyte and Steven Muehlhausen give their picks.
UFC 220 predictions
Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou for UFC heavyweight title
Kyte: This is one of the most difficult fights to break down in quite some time, because in addition to the obligatory “anything can happen” factor, it’s also a heavyweight fight, which means both guys carry fight-ending power and one shot is all they need to seal the deal.
On top of that, we don’t really know a great deal about Ngannou’s secondary skills and some of the defensive abilities he could need to exhibit in this fight in order to secure a victory because up to this point, his obscene power has been more than enough to carry him to victory.
And that’s precisely why I’m picking Miocic to retain the title.
Look, Ngannou could knock him out just like he did Alistair Overeem and Andrei Arlovksi before him. He might have tremendous takedown defense or an outstanding guard, which makes Miocic think twice about taking him to the canvas or leads to a submission win instead of another Street Fighter V finish on the feet. He might have the gas tank to go 25 minutes at a good clip and simply outwork the Ohio native from start to finish. We just don’t know.
What I do know is that Miocic is a complete fighter who has been in this position before and while a lot can change in a couple years — especially with someone who seems to pick up techniques as quickly as Ngannou — I can’t shake the fact that Luis Henrique and Anthony Hamilton were able to get Ngannou to the ground with relative ease and believe Miocic will be able to do the same. It’s the safest path to avoiding the challenger’s blistering power and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Miocic employ the strategy he used to perfection against Mark Hunt against Ngannou on Saturday night in Boston.
Prediction: And still… Stipe Miocic
Muehlhausen: I see that we are kicking off 2018 like we ended 2017, not agreeing.
You are right on the fact of "anything can happen" with the heavyweights. Let's be honest, this is one-round fight. Miocic's last four fights have ended in a first-round knockout. Ngannou's last four fights have also ended in the first round with of those by KO.
One of the big questions is whether or not Ngannou can take a punch. Miocic, a former Golden Gloves champion, is the heaviest puncher Ngannou has ever faced. The best chance for the champion to win is to use his cardio and superior wrestling. He doesn't want to feel the power of Ngannou, who just has to connect for you to crumble to the canvas. Keeping Ngannou on the mat will negate his power. No disrespect to Hamilton or Henrique but at the end of the day, Ngannou did get up and won those fights.
A complete fighter will win the majority of the time but when you have once-in-a-lifetime power, all you need is one shot. If Ngannou gets taken down, he will get up at some point and the fight will get back to the feet. And when it does, Ngannou's going to use his ferocious power and send Miocic packing back to Cleveland.
Prediction: Ngannou wins by KO to become the new heavyweight champion.
Daniel Cormer vs. Volkan Oezdemir for UFC light heavyweight title
Kyte: I like Volkan Oezdemir. I think his rapid ascension into title contention didn’t get the attention it deserved last year and that people dismissing his chances against Cormier are underselling a dangerous challenger who shouldn’t still be getting overlooked on the eve of fighting for the light heavyweight title.
He’s here for a reason. You don’t knock out Jimi Manuwa and Misha Cirkunov in a combined 70 seconds by mistake. Oezdemir is legit; it’s time to accept it.
That being said, I think Cormier rolls.
Regardless of how you feel about his two championship reigns, the thing that people always seem to lose sight of with Cormier is that he’s beaten everyone he’s ever faced in two different divisions outside of the guy everyone believes is the greatest fighter in the history of the sport. He went 13-0 as a heavyweight, dropped down and collected six more victories in the 205-pound ranks, including using Dan Henderson as a wrestling dummy, submitting Anthony Johnson twice and showing his championship mettle in a dogfight with Alexander Gustafsson.
Oezdemir will come out hot looking to finish quickly, but Cormier has seen it all during his relatively short, but stellar career in the cage and after weathering the early rush, I think we’ll see “DC” wrestle his way to a unanimous decision victory.
Prediction: And still… Daniel Cormier
Muehlhausen: Fight fans are dismissing what Oezdemir brings to the table.
He's taken the light heavyweight division by storm since his debut in Feb. 2017. He's defeated top contenders Ovince Saint Preux, Cirkunov and Manuwa, the latter two by knockout in 70 seconds to earn this opportunity.
We shouldn't lose sight of what Cormier's done. Yes, he's lost to Jon Jones twice. Remember though, Jones was on PEDs in their rematch at UFC 214 and could have been using during their first fight at UFC 182. Remember, he faced Dan Henderson in his 40s and Anthony Johnson, who had some of the worst game plans I have ever seen in both of those fights. His only legitimate win at 205 pounds is the Gustafsson fight, which was one of the greatest fights I have ever seen.
Age is a factor as well. Oezdemir's 28 years old while Cormier is 38. Father Time is undefeated. How much longer can Cormier keep up with the young guns? We saw when he faced the much younger Jones, he lost.
Oezdemir will come at Cormier early and try to finish him off. Cormier will try and use his wrestling to keep Oezdemir on the mat. Like the Jones fight, Oezdemir's striking will start to become too much and will force Cormier to make a mistake. When that happens, Oezdemir will capitalize and finish Cormier off.
Prediction: Volkan Oezdemir wins by KO and becomes the new light heavyweight champion.