The Complete Guide to UFC 215: Nunes vs Shevchenko
*Note: This article was written before the cancellation of Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg in the main event. Henry Cejudo vs. Wilson Reis has been added to the main card.
Jon Jones may be inactive for the rest of his prime. Cris Cyborg may be a victim of her own formidability.
That leaves MMA's Iron Throne wide-open for flyweight champion Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson. He may not bring as much star power as others. Even so, the throne—you know, the one that's based on talent and accomplishments—may have already been his anyway.
Heading into UFC 215 Saturday in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Johnson tries to set what is arguably the most hallowed record in MMA: the number of consecutive UFC title defenses. If he defeats Ray Borg, as he is favored to do, it will be his 11th straight defense, breaking the mark held by Anderson Silva.
That is the unquestionable highlight of the evening, but this is a card dense with talent and intrigue. The co-main event pits women's bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes against a dynamic challenger in Valentina Shevchenko. And that's just one example.
Get yourself acquainted with the rest of the card. Lean but powerful, this is your complete guide to UFC 215.
The Fight Pass Prelims
Kajan Johnson (21-11-1) vs. Adriano Martins (28-8)
Johnson earned popularity as a cast member on The Ultimate Fighter Nations in 2014. He's a pretty undistinguished 2-1 since then, showing off nice grappling and a glass jaw in the process. The latter is particularly problematic given Johnson's penchant for the volume-striking game. Martins is a big step up, and while he won't match Johnson strike for strike, the ones he does through will count double. Martins will be in head-hunting mode, and he'll add a 14th knockout win to his professional resume.
Martins is a big step up, and while he won't match Johnson strike for strike, the ones he does through will count double. Martins will be in head-hunting mode, and he'll add a 14th knockout win to his professional resume.
Martins, KO, Rd. 2
Luis Henrique (10-3) vs. Arjan Bhullar (6-0)
Bhullar is a wrestling specialist, the kind of classic international-level wrestler who discovered (a) you need income to live, and (b) he had heavy hands. So here he is in his UFC debut after earning half his wins by knockout.
Henrique is 2-2 under the UFC banner. Both of his wins came by submission. Both of his losses came by knockout. Bhullar is going to be hard to submit, and Henrique's stats indicate he's easy to knock out. Sometimes the equation is uncomplicated.
Bhullar, KO, Rd. 2
Mitch Clarke (11-4) vs. Alex White (11-3)
White has shown flashes. In addition to a prototype physique (less so at lightweight than at featherweight, however) and an MMA native's skill set, he holds a win over Artem Lobov, the Conor McGregor training partner and one of the very greatest—and I am not joking or lying—featherweights in this solar system. So White can get it done, but he has shown a low fight IQ and a propensity to be grinded out.
Neither of those things bodes well against Clarke, who is fighting in front of countrymen. He's also been dormant for more than a year and is on a two-fight losing streak, but this matchup is just too tantalizing.
Clarke, unanimous decision
The Fox Sports 1 Prelims
Gavin Tucker (10-0) vs. Rick Glenn (19-4-1)
This is Glenn's first fight since relocating from Roufusport to Team Alpha Male. We'll see if it changes his tactical footprint against an undefeated but relatively inexperienced Canadian in Tucker. Glenn has a kickboxing base but has been shoring up his jiu-jitsu and wrestling. He'll need it all against Tucker, who has exactly two decisions in his career, most recently in a strong effort over Sam Sicilia in his UFC debut.
Tucker is more than a flash knockout artist, with four submission wins, four knockouts and several late-round stoppages. Still, Glenn is a hardened competitor, now with stints at two high-profile (if sometimes questionable) camps. He's also incredibly tough. He'll test Tucker and take a decision on striking volume. Sound the upset alarms.
Glenn, unanimous decision
Sarah Moras (4-2) vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith (5-2)
Moras has been out of action for more than two years. People probably remember her from The Ultimate Fighter 18, though, where she was fun to watch in and out of the cage. She's a grappler more than anything but tends to be aggressive in all phases. So far, though, she's been mediocre as a UFC fighter with a 1-1 record dating back to 2014.
Evans-Smith is pretty similar—relatively popular fighter, relatively tepid UFC results. She's 2-2 but would be 1-3 if she hadn't gotten gifted a decision over Marion Reneau. Evans-Smith has a wrestling base but she has flashes in her striking. This could be a fun brawl or it could be a stalemate smothered in staring contests. Either way, the larger, sharper, more active fighter should prevail.
Evans-Smith, unanimous decision
Henry Cejudo (10-2) vs. Wilson Reis (22-7)
Why is this not the undercard headliner? It's an ideal table-setter for the card's other 125-pound fight, that of course being the main event. Both of these guys are "wrestle boxers." Reis throws shots to set up takedown attempts and vice versa. Cejudo—whose two-fight losing streak isn't nearly as bad as it sounds—it came against the two best flyweights in the world, and the judges' decision in favor of Joseph Benavidez was a little shaky—is more of a stand-up fighter at this stage, using his wrestling as a backstop.
So Reis uses his wrestling more, but that doesn't bode well against a better wrestler. Cejudo is the better wrestler. His Olympic gold medal tells me that. He'll stonewall Reis' takedowns and then will have a clear advantage on the feet.
Cejudo, unanimous decision
Sara McMann (11-3) vs. Ketlen Vieira (8-0)
If McMann picks up the win, she's likely the next challenger to the title. She's a healthy -265 favorite (bet $265 to win $100) to do just that.
Vieira has acquitted herself well in her two-fight UFC career. She's a heady, opportunistic fighter. Her default seems to be pressure, but she knows when to be patient and when to attack. She's a little wild with her combinations, but when they land, they hurt.
McMann is herself an intelligent fighter, to which her Olympic silver medal in freestyle wrestling can attest. Her Achilles' heel may be fan perception. A reputation for dull, "control time" affairs have left her with fewer opportunities or signature moments than some of her fellow contenders. But she has turned that around in her last two, both arm-triangle choke victories. If she can use her skill and considerable strength to keep it rolling against Vieira, she's got herself a ticket to title town.
McMann, submission, Rd. 2
Jeremy Stephens vs. Gilbert Melendez
Jeremy Stephens (25-14) vs. Gilbert Melendez (22-6)
These are two veterans who really need a win. Stephens has dropped two straight. Melendez has lost three and hasn't competed in more than a year.
This is not a news flash to hardcore fans, but the bout will probably unfold mainly on the feet, even if both men don't have what you'd call impregnable takedown defense. Stephens will press forward in an attempt to ply his power-striking game; his wrestling is fine but it's not his primary skill.
Melendez is pretty firmly in the "stand and trade" camp, although he's more likely to shoot a takedown than Stephens. His tumbling punch combinations still land stiffly, even at the age of 35. He used to be a more nimble fighter but has slowed a bit, and that could spell trouble against a fighter with Stephens' striking power.
Stephens -110, Melendez -110
If Melendez is going to salvage and relaunch his UFC career, this match is a must-win. Melendez is not a dumb guy; he knows that. That will make the difference in a matchup that's very even both in terms of skill and technical approach. Melendez summons himself one last time, survives big exchanges, mixes in a few takedowns and outscores Stephens down the stretch.
Melendez, unanimous decision
Ilir Latifi vs. Tyson Pedro
Ilir Latifi (12-5) vs. Tyson Pedro (6-0)
Ah, yes. We all love Latifi, with his horse-riding meme and whatnot providing the MMA corner of the internet with endless reams of delight.
Part of the fun with Latifi is that he fights exactly the way he looks. He's built like a horse himself and likes to throw opponents around with his wrestling skills and pure corporeal power—power that extends to his striking, by the way. The downsides are also as you might imagine: He's not fast, he's not quick, he doesn't have the deepest gas tank, he needs to get inside where he can get the paws on you and maul you.
Pedro has impressed in his first two UFC bouts: a submission of Khalil Rountree and a TKO of Paul Craig, both of which occurred in the first round. This is a new level of competition for the Aussie. His clinch game is very good (ask Craig about that), but he may want to steer clear of that against Latifi. He'll probably want to keep Latifi on the perimeter, using his reach advantage and better speed to prevent the Swede from crashing inside and wreaking his signature havoc.
Latifi -125, Pedro +105
This is an interesting matchup between two interesting fighters. Pedro might be the most interesting light heavyweight prospect in the UFC right now. For all of his power and durability, it is possible to hurt Latifi—each of his last two losses came by knockout. Pedro may not get the stop but he can drop Latifi and keep that power wrestling under wraps. Sorry, superfans.
Pedro, unanimous decision
Neil Magny vs. Rafael Dos Anjos
Neil Magny (19-5) vs. Rafael Dos Anjos (26-9)
There's one thing you need to bear in mind about this matchup: Both of these guys are just so freaking good.
Magny is not unlike Demetrious Johnson. Obviously he doesn't have the same accomplishments, but his seamlessly blended skills, seemingly bottomless gas tank and remarkable in-fight smarts (not to mention the way he has flown under the radar for most of his career) do recall the Mighty Mouse brand.
Magny's 80-inch reach is pretty unique, though, and it's one of the longest in the UFC. He also has good strength to go along with that, and he uses it well with solid takedowns and top control, even though he can be bullied in the clinch.
Dos Anjos is similarly well-rounded. The former lightweight champ has lost two of three but looked terrific in his welterweight debut against Tarec Saffiedine. He's a pressure fighter through and through, methodically working his way in as mixes up his striking attack, firing punches, low kicks, high kicks and body kicks that he absolutely digs on. He has a thorny submission game as well. The only X-factor is his takedown defense; at 66 percent, per FightMetric, that's not amazing.
Dos Anjos -222, Magny +176
This may come down to whether Dos Anjos can ward off Magny's takedowns. Magny will get his share either way, but he won't get enough to control and win the contest. Dos Anjos plies his pressure game, gets inside Magny's reach and does damage with strikes.
Dos Anjos, unanimous decision
Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko
Women's Bantamweight (for the UFC championship)
Amanda Nunes (14-4) vs. Valentina Shevchenko (14-2)
This is just a terrific fight. Both of these women are skilled, both are accomplished and both can hit.
Nunes would appear to have the kind of game that doesn't bother itself with nuance. She gets in your face and bombards you with the heaviest leather in the division. And she does that until you figure something out or fall down. The clinch isn't always useful, either, because she can punish you with strikes inside or trip out of it. Gas-tank concerns are no longer as pointed as they once were, although they do remain. Her ground game is mainly as a frame to hold up her ground-and-pound, as we saw in their first encounter in March 2016 in favor of Nunes.
What makes this such a great matchup is Shevchenko's defense. Shevchenko was a world-class muay thai fighter before she reached the UFC, and that acumen shows in every exchange. She knows how to slip, check and avoid, both in space and against the fence. Then she counters with sharp kicks, knees and punches. There are no such gas-tank concerns for Shevchenko.
Nunes -146, Shevchenko +124
Their first bout saw Nunes use that ground-and-pound to control and tenderize the smaller Shevchenko. She may need to do that again. Given Shevchenko's defense, a flash knockout seems unlikely.
The first bout was also three rounds. If Shevchenko can use her defense, weather the storm, score with kicks and get this into the championship rounds, she should be able to win the belt. That's the prediction here. We have a new champion.
Shevchenko, unanimous decision