It’s funny how fast things can change in the UFC. One day flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson is headlining UFC 215, an event where he has the opportunity to break the all-time record for consecutive UFC title defenses. The next day women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes is fighting in the main event.
This despite the fact UFC President Dana White recently said Nunes would not get the chance to headline another fight card.
In the new main event, Nunes, the only woman not named Ronda Rousey to successfully defend the women’s bantamweight title, puts her belt on the line against top-ranked contender Valentina Shevchenko. Coincidentally, this matchup was rebooked for UFC 215 after Nunes withdrew from UFC 213 after weigh-ins for health reasons.
UFC 215 takes place at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.
Here are 10 reasons to watch the event.
1. Something to prove
UFC President Dana White was unhappy with Nunes when she withdrew from her UFC 213 fight against Shevchenko the morning of the event. Some fans think Nunes, No. 1 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA women’s bantamweight rankings, withdrew from the fight not due to chronic sinusitis, but because she was afraid of Shevchenko (14-2 MMA, 3-1 UFC). No. 2-ranked Shevchenko accused Nunes (14-4 MMA, 7-1 UFC) of “backing out” because of a flubbed weight cut. The thing about all that is, Nunes doesn’t care.
“Honestly, I don’t really worry about what people think,” Nunes said during a recent conference call.
Despite her claim, one wonders, does Nunes have a point to prove? And if she does, is Nunes going to put herself at risk by being ultra-aggressive against Shevchenko?
Nunes has fought three full rounds on only two occasions; she’s never gone five. Nunes lost one of her three-round bouts, and in the other, against Shevchenko, she faded, leaving everyone to wonder if Shevchenko would have won had the fight been a five-rounder. With Nunes defending her title in this bout, we could get an answer to that question.
2. Looking up
After 34 lightweight fights, former 155-pound champion dos Anjos moved to welterweight. In his 170-pound debut, he earned a unanimous-decision win over former Strikeforce champion Tarec Saffiedine. After his victory, dos Anjos said he wanted to work his way up the rankings. He gets his wish at UFC 215 where he meets No. 10-ranked Magny.
Where dos Anjos and Saffiedine were close in height and reach, that’s not the case with Magny. Magny (19-5 MMA, 12-4 UFC) has a 10-inch reach advantage and a 7-inch height advantage over dos Anjos (26-9 MMA, 15-7 UFC).
Dos Anjos wanted a test, and he gets one in Magny. If he can deal with the lanky Magny, who’s coming off a win over former champion Johny Hendricks, expect dos Anjos to ask for a top-five opponent in his next outing.
3. Stay in the mix
No. 8-ranked Reis (22-7 MMA, 6-3 UFC) was on a three-fight winning streak before a submission loss to Johnson. Cejudo (10-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC), currently ranked No. 3 in the division, was a perfect 10-0 before his April 2016 TKO loss to Johnson.
Reis hasn’t fought since losing to Johnson. Cejudo is currently on a two-fight skid after dropping a split decision to perennial top contender Joseph Benavidez in December.
The winner of this fight should stay in the mix for another shot at the flyweight title. The loser could find himself relegated to gatekeeper, testing the next generation of 125-pounders – fighters such as Sergio Pettis, Brandon Moreno, Ben Nguyen and Alexandre Pantoja.
4. Getting things done fast
Tyson Pedro has been a wrecking machine since turning pro in 2013. He’s ended all six of his bouts, including two with the UFC, in the first round. At UFC 215, he faces Ilir Latifi, who has 18 fights on his record.
Pedro, an honorable mention in the light heavyweight rankings, has looked good during his limited octagon time. He displayed sound submission skills in his win over Khalil Rountree and vicious ground strikes when he knocked out Paul Craig.
Latifi will be at a height and reach disadvantage in this contest. That has not been an issue for him in the past. He’s knocked out fighters nearly as tall as Pedro (6-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC) and submitted taller opponents. Latifi (12-5 MMA, 5-3 UFC) is not the most active striker, but his one-punch knockout power makes up for his low output. Like Pedro, Latifi tends to get things done quickly after racking up eight career first-round stoppages, with four of those coming in the UFC.
5. Trying something new
Things have not gone well for former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez since he joined the UFC. His record with the promotion is 1-4, he was suspended for a failed drug test, and he’s fought only three times in the past 33 months. At UFC 215, Melendez makes the drop to featherweight in the hope of making a title run.
Melendez’s opponent is another former lightweight, Jeremy Stephens. The vet made his drop in 2013. Since then, he’s gone 5-5, and he’s 2-3 in his past five outings.
Stephens (25-14 MMA, 12-13 UFC) is one of the more powerful punchers in the division, but as we saw in his recent loss to Renato Moicano, if his opponent stays in motion and out of range, Stephens can become ineffective and frustrated. Melendez (22-6 MMA, 1-4 UFC) could follow Moicano’s blueprint, but on the other hand, Melendez has never been afraid to brawl.
6. No takedowns allowed
Former women’s bantamweight title challenger Sara McMann is on the best run of her UFC career., She’s an accomplished wrestler who’s won three straight, with her two most recent wins being her first two submission victories with the UFC. Currently ranked No. 9 in the division, McMann looks to extend her winning streak against No. 15-ranked, and unbeaten, Ketlen Vieira.
McMann has opened up her striking and relied less on her wrestling as of late. That could come in handy; Vieira (8-0 MMA. 2-0 UFC), like McMann (11-3 MMA, 5-3 UFC), has defended all of her opponents’ takedown attempts.
Vieira is a black belt in judo. She also has an aggressive striking game that progressed exponentially between her first and second UFC fights.
If this one stays off the mat, it could be a barnburner of a striking battle.
7. Let’s see the second act
Gavin Tucker’s UFC debut against Sam Sicilia couldn’t have gone better. Tucker entered the fight with an unbeaten record, but there were questions about his ability to face UFC-level talent.
Tucker displayed fantastic speed, movement and footwork against Sicilia. On more than one occasion, UFC commentator Brian Stann compared Tucker to bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt. Tucker dominated Sicilia. In fact, by the third round, he was more or less clowning Sicilia.
Tucker (10-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC), who established himself as a featherweight to watch with that decision win, faces tough as nails Rick Glenn in Edmonton. Glenn (19-4 MMA, 1-1 UFC) is coming off a split-decision win over Phillipe Nover.
8. Turn it around
Mitch Clarke and Alex White both entered the UFC with unbeaten records. Clarke (11-4 MMA, 2-4 UFC) built a 9-0 record on the Canadian MMA circuit. White (11-3 MMA, 2-3 UFC) was 9-0, fighting almost exclusively in Missouri.
Since joining the UFC, the fortunes of these two lightweights have changed. Clarke’s UFC record stands at 2-4 while White is 2-3.
Fighting in one of the deepest divisions, these two need to get back in the win column in a bad way.
Clarke might be under more pressure in this fight. The matchup against White is an opportunity for him to fight in front of his hometown fans for the first time under the UFC banner. It also marks the first time he’s had the chance to compete in more than a year due to knee injuries.
9. The lone debut
Arjan Bhullar is the only fighter making his promotional debut at UFC 215. He represented Canada in freestyle wrestling at the 2012 Olympics. After his wrestling career ended, he transitioned to MMA. He captured the Battlefield Fight League heavyweight title in his third pro fight.
Bhullar was the first Indian to represent Canada in freestyle wrestling at the Olympics. He is now the first fighter of South Asian descent to fight in the UFC. It would be an understatement to say Bhullar (6-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) feels a sense of pride and responsibility heading into his bout against Luis Henrique (10-3 MMA, 2-2 UFC).
10. A big favorite
Adriano Martins enters his lightweight bout against Kajan Johnson as more than a 4-1 favorite. The former Jungle Fight champion is a tremendous striking threat. The problem with Martins is, though he has one-punch knockout power, he’s not very active. He lands just 1.85 significant strikes per minute. That inactivity might have been the reason he dropped a split decision to Leonardo Santos in his most recent fight.
If Martins (28-8 MMA, 4-2 UFC) wants to face higher level competition, as he did early in his UFC run, he needs to up his aggression or score a fourth fight-night bonus award. The latter might be a possibility because the active Johnson (21-12-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC) will provide Martins opportunities to land big counterstrikes.
Johnson has not fought since he earned a decision over Naoyuki Kotani in September 2015.