The UFC returns for their second pay-per-view of 2017 as UFC 209 takes place on Saturday night at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The main event features a rematch for the welterweight title as champion Tyron Woodley takes on Stephen Thompson. The co-main event was supposed be for the interim lightweight title featuring Khabib Nurmagomedov against Tony Ferguson. On Friday morning, however, the card took a huge hit when the fight was pulled after Nurmagomedov entered a Las Vegas hospital due to a weight-cutting issue.
Woodley (16-3-1) and Thompson (13-1-1) put on a show at UFC 205. The back-and-forth battle was declared a draw. Woodley had Thompson nearly finished in the first and fourth rounds and the challenger had controlled the second, third and fifth round to have the fight scored a draw. After the fight, UFC president Dana White felt it warranted a rematch and we get it on Saturday evening.
Despite the co-main event being canceled, there are plenty of reasons to watch UFC 209. Here are the five biggest:
Who is the best welterweight in the world?
In the build-up to UFC 209, Woodley has proclaimed he will go down as the best of all-time. “The Chosen One” feels he won the first fight due what he did in the first and fourth rounds, especially in the latter round, where he nearly had Thompson finished on two occasions. Woodley doesn’t think a rematch should be taking place and would have rather fought a higher caliber opponent like Nick Diaz, Georges St-Pierre or middleweight champion, Michael Bisping.
Thompson felt he didn’t fight at his best and still was able to get a draw. He said he took Woodley’s best effort and it still wasn’t enough. He feels he didn’t fire off everything in his arsenal and things will be different come Saturday.
Five rounds wasn’t enough in November, so Woodley and Thompson will get five more rounds to show who is truly the best welterweight in the world.
Former world champion returns at a new weight class
It was looking like Rashad Evans would fight again. Coming off back-to-back losses to Ryan Bader and Glover Teixeira, Evans decided he would go down to middleweight and try to make a run at being a champion in a second weight class.
Evans (24-5-1) ran into a speed bump though in his new journey. Days before he was scheduled to face Tim Kennedy at UFC 205, the New York State Athletic Commission pulled Evans from the fight after an anomaly was found on his MRI. The fight was rescheduled for UFC 206 a month later, but the Ontario Commission refused to clear Evans for the same reasons as the New York commission.
With the concern taken care of, the UFC booked “Suga” to face Daniel Kelly (12-1) at this weekend’s event. He was still worried he wouldn’t get cleared to compete but ended up getting the stamp of approval by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
Evans is ready to show he still has something left. The “Ultimate Fighter” winner feels he can make some noise in the 185-pound division and make a run at gold once again.
Can Mark Hunt stay focused?
This is the million-dollar question heading into UFC 209. Back in January, Hunt filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the UFC, Dana White and Brock Lesnar claiming breach of contract, fraud, racketeering and negligence among things after it was revealed that Lesnar failed two drug tests in conjunction with their fight at UFC 200 (Lesnar won by unanimous decision but later was overturned to a no-contest).
Then, earlier this week, the UFC and White filed a motion to dismiss the suit.
Hunt told MMA Fighting earlier this week that the UFC “forced” him to take the fight against Overeem as he kept rejecting offers to compete.
Watching the media conference staredown between Hunt (12-10-1) and Overeem (41-15, 1 NC) with White in the middle was a sight to see. You could cut the tension with a knife.
With this distraction hanging over his head, it will be hard for Hunt to stay focused on the hard-hitting Overeem.
This is a fight that fans have been waiting to see for a long time. These are the two best strikers in the sport and instead the fight is marred by drama. If Hunt doesn’t stay composed and in the moment, Overeem will knock his block off.
The broadcast team
Beyond the referee, the broadcast team is the last thing you notice unless they were awful or a great call was made. It was awkward at last month’s UFC 208, as it was the first PPV broadcast in 20 years that didn’t feature Mike Goldberg. The UFC had decided in December it wasn’t renewing Goldberg’s contract and UFC 207 was his last broadcast.
UFC 208 was hosted by Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier. Cormier seemed to be stepping over Rogan and Anik. Then it appeared the latter didn’t know when he should step in and talk. At times, it was good as Cormier brought great analysis and jelled well. It was an uneven broadcast at best with a lot of room to grow.
UFC 209 will feature Anik and Rogan in the booth, but they will be joined this time by former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. The former champion is perhaps the best analyst in the sport. No one breaks down a fight like Cruz. He’s worked with Anik in the past but never Rogan. Cruz should be able to adapt pretty quickly and Rogan should be in the grove of working alongside a current fighter.
From the classroom to Octagon
Before making his promotional debut at UFC on Fox 22 in December, Paul Craig was a high school teacher in Scotland. When he was fighting in Europe, he would have to take Fridays off to attend weigh-ins. Leading to his Fight Pass-headlining fight at UFC 209 against Tyson Pedro, the light heavyweight tried to take two weeks off but the school denied his request. That made Craig realize he needed to focus on fighting full-time and quit teaching.
“BearJew” is a rising prospect at 205 pounds. He’s undefeated in nine fights, all wins via stoppage. The light heavyweight division is thin and could use another fighter to rise in the ranks.