The UFC 215 fight card has experienced some shakeups, but the Edmonton, Alberta, crowd at Rogers Place will still be treated to the culmination of a bitter rivalry in the Amanda Nunes-Valentina Shevchenko main event.
The pay-per-view was supposed to be anchored by Demetrious Johnson going for an 11th consecutive title defense in the flyweight division. However, opponent Ray Borg was forced to withdraw from the bout due to illness, per Brett Okamoto of ESPN.
Add in the loss of the heavyweight clash between Francis Ngannou and Junior dos Santos due to a potential doping violation for JDS, and it's clear the card has taken a considerable hit.
There are still some fights worth getting excited about, though. The women's bantamweight title rematch should be a fun bout, former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos will continue his welterweight campaign and Gilbert Melendez will make his featherweight debut.
Here's a look at the main card, the latest odds from OddsShark and a closer dive into the biggest fights.
- Amanda Nunes (even) vs. Valentina Shevchenko (-130) for the women's bantamweight championship
- Rafael dos Anjos (-175) vs. Neil Magny (+145) welterweight bout
- Henry Cejudo (-325) vs. Wilson Reis (+250) flyweight bout
- Ilir Latifi (-105) vs. Tyson Pedro (-125) light heavyweight bout
- Jeremy Stephens (-115) vs. Gilbert Melendez (-115) featherweight bout
Note: All odds are in moneyline form. For instance, -900 means a bettor would have to bet $900 dollars to win $100.
Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko
The Nunes vs. Shevchenko matchup has high expectations. Carrying a card that has been through the ringer, the hope is they'll close out the night with an action-packed fight.
Gilbert Melendez—who knows a thing or two about exciting contests—feels the championship bout is his main competition for Fight of the Night.
"I believe Valentina will become stronger and more dominant as it goes along. Amanda Nunes really lets those hands go and I think she's getting very good at her striking," Melendez said, breaking down the fight for Dave Doyle of MMA Fighting. "I didn't give her that much credit earlier, but she's really blossomed, I have to say if [Melendez and opponent Jeremy Stephens] don't get Fight of the Night, they probably will."
It's hard to argue with Melendez's logic. Nunes is a quick starter and has ended 11 of her 14 wins inside the first round, so she'll look to press right away.
If Shevchenko can survive that initial onslaught, we are in for a war, though. In the first fight between the two, Nunes earned the first two rounds on the judges' scorecard despite tiring in the second.
By the third, however, she was hanging on to win the decision. Shevchenko dominated the final round in such a way that it's hard not to see her once again having similar success in the later rounds.
With title fights going five rounds, that leaves Shevchenko with plenty of time to complete the comeback this time around if she drops the first two to the champion again.
Prediction: Shevchenko via decision
Henry Cejudo vs. Wilson Reis
Because Demetrious Johnson's latest title defense was taken off the main card, a battle between two of the champion's former challengers was promoted to the pay-per-view. Henry Cejudo and Wilson Reis will square off in a fight that could determine who gets a shot at redemption.
Johnson has all but cleaned out the division, so rematches could be the next phase of his title reign. Cejudo figured to be one of Johnson's toughest outs, but Mighty Mouse ended the fight early with brutal knees in the clinch.
That performance was a bit of an aberration for both Johnson and Cejudo. The former doesn't generally the end fights in the first round, and Cejudo scored an early takedown but wasn't able to maintain top position.
Reis lasted longer in his bout with the champion but was more thoroughly dominated. Where Cejudo at least scored a takedown and showed glimpses of competing, Reis was outlanded 108-16 in significant strikes before succumbing to a third-round submission, per FightMetric.
Still, Reis feels that his grappling chops are in line with Cejudo and said it will be a big part of his game plan on Saturday night.
"I have an aggressive wrestling style, too," Reis said, per FloCombat. "I like to take people down. I'm looking for an opportunity all the time, so, just because he is an Olympic champion, I will not take that part of my game out of my strategy. I believe very much in my takedown abilities, so I will fully rely on my wrestling and jiu-jitsu against him."
That might not be the best idea. Cejudo is an Olympic wrestling gold medalist and has transitioned that discipline well into MMA.
Reis is an accomplished grappler, but he's been taken down in losses to Jussier Formiga and Iuri Alcantara. It should be more of the same here with Cejudo proving too powerful for the Brazilian.
Prediction: Cejudo via third-round TKO
Jeremy Stephens vs. Gilbert Melendez
The people's main event might just be the featherweight bout between division mainstay Jeremy Stephens and debutant Gilbert Melendez.
After a run at lightweight that included a Strikeforce championship and two shots at the UFC strap, El Nino will make the move down to 145 pounds. Greeting him will be a fighter who has taken on the best of the best in the division.
Stephens is far from elite at this stage in his career—he's just 2-5 in his last seven fights. But he's always a scrappy challenge and has three Knockout of the Night and Fight of the Night honors apiece to his name.
There'll be plenty of motivation to do well, too. After all, the man postponed his wedding to take the fight, per Dave Doyle of MMA Fighting.
Stephens' decision might just pay off in this case. Melendez hasn't been impressive of late either. He's on a three-fight losing streak and is just 1-4 since coming over to the UFC from Strikeforce in 2013.
This fight comes down to which fighter has more left of their prime. The 31-year-old Stephens might just have the advantage in that category over the 35-year-old Melendez.
Expect the motivated Stephens to edge out Melendez in a fight that should feature plenty of action.
Prediction: Stephens via decision