Today marks the start of a new era for the UFC as they host their first event on ESPN's streaming service ESPN+. As part of the $750 million deal they signed in 2018, the UFC will showcase upwards of 30 events on ESPN platforms over the next five years. This deal gives them the platform to reach new fans and gives their fighters the opportunity to become household names. The group of fighters get their chance to do just that tonight on a card that promises to be chaotic and exciting.
The main event will feature a 'superfight' between Flyweight champion Henry Cejudo and current Bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw. Dillashaw drops down to a weight class for this fight as he looks to become a two-division champion by defeating Cejudo. The big question is about Dillashaw’s ability to even make the brutal weight cut to 125 lbs; and if he can, how much will it affect his performance? It would be a disaster for the UFC to kick off 2019 with a cancelled title fight due to health concerns or a botched weight cut.
This card also features former NFL player Greg Hardy in the co-main event as he takes on challenger Allen Crowder. There are so many things to unpack in this co-main event that it could be an entirely separate article. Greg Hardy's placement in a co-main event as an unproven talent is an obvious issue on its own, but considering Hardy's domestic violence history it is tone deaf (at best) to have him share a card with a high profile domestic abuse survivor in Rachael Ostovich. One would think that with this new platform the UFC would put their best foot forward but instead we get a card filled with controversy and question marks that threaten to overshadow the positives that this card has going for itself.
Cejudo vs. Dillashaw is an intriguing matchup as the style of both fighters leaves everyone guessing as to the outcome of the bout.
Cejudo is coming off of the biggest win of his career after defeating Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson at UFC 227. At his best, Cejudo can utilize his elite wrestling pedigree to neutralize nearly anyone. While he lacks “one shot” knockout power, his striking is ability is the best that it's ever been. Cejudo seems to have a better understanding of how to use his talents more effectively. He can pressure his opponents, his counters are well timed, and his ability to execute a game plan was evident in his title winning performance. The skill set is there, but the question is will he be able to put it together against an opponent as crafty and skillful as Dillashaw?
Without question, Dillashaw is one of the most talented mixed martial artists walking the planet. He outclasses his opponents with impeccable footwork, unconventional striking angles, and the underrated ability to transition from striking to take downs seamlessly. The talent of Dillashaw is undeniable but no one knows how the weight cut to 125 lbs will affect his performance? Pictures have surfaced online of Dillashaw's weight cut and they are unsettling to say the least. Assuming that Dillashaw makes weight, it remains to be seen how much it could impact his performance. Will he still have the same power? How will this affect his cardio? Will he still be movement oriented or will the cut drain him of the energy he needs to execute his style of fighting? It's questions like these that make predicting this fight difficult.
Personally, I find it hard to get excited for Greg Hardy vs Allen Crowder. The UFC is clearly capitalizing off of Greg Hardy's name by throwing him in a co-main event for his UFC debut. Setting aside his domestic violence issues, Hardy has not proven that he's worthy of a co-main event such a prominent place on any card after just three professional fights. It's even more frustrating when you have a fight like Gregor Gillespie vs Yancy Medeiros on this card—which is far more deserving of that spotlight.
Inside the cage, Hardy is a devastatingly powerful heavyweight. It's hard to gauge his entire skill set since all of his professional fights have ended via first round stoppage. He doesn't possess the cleanest technique, but his athleticism and power can knock out anyone. He will likely look to pressure early and often to try and end this fight in the first round.
On the other side of the cage will be Allen Crowder. Against DonTale Mayes in his Dana White Contender Series fight, Crowder showcased some decent skills on the ground as he won via TKO stoppage. Crowder comes into this fight with some UFC experience, a defeat at the hands of Justin Willis in the first round. Having performed on the big stage once, Crowder has the experience edge that should keep his emotions in check and his confidence high. Crowder isn't the athlete that Hardy is, but he can win by executing his grappling and ground game. If he's able to get top control, Crowder should have the opportunity to pull this off via ground and pound or submission. Hardy's ground game is untested, but Crowder will have to overcome Hardy's strength and athleticism. The most likely outcomes of this match are an early stoppage from Hardy or a slow grind-it-out decision from Crowder. In my opinion the best placement for this fight at the event would be much lower on the preliminary card, but the UFC clearly has other plans and now we'll just have to see how it all turns out.
Excluding the co-main event there are some great matchups on this card that are worth watching. I would argue that some of the preliminary fights should have been placed on the main card strictly based off of their likely entertainment value. Overall, this card doesn't have a ton of star power but it makes up for it with quality fighters and matchups. It should be an entertaining night of fights throughout and for better or worse, the UFC will have an interesting start to 2019. We'll just have to wait and see what this new era brings.
Fights to look out for: Gregor Gillespie vs. Yancy Medeiros, Joanne Calderwood vs. Ariane Lipski, Donald Cerrone vs. Alexander Hernandez, Geoff Neal vs. Belal Muhammad.
Main Card: 10:00 PM on ESPN+
Preliminary Card: 8:00 PM on ESPN
Early Preliminary Card: 6:00 PM on ESPN
Michael "CerealSensei" Williams is the host of the Dojo Talk Podcast. He is an avid fight fan, author, hip hop enthusiast, and part-time gamer. You can find him roaming the Twitter streets at @CerealSensei and you can listen to the Dojo Talk Podcast on Soundcloud.