UFC 225 Preview: What Are the Biggest and Best Fights Set for Chicago?

Steven Rondina@srondinaFeatured ColumnistMay 13, 2018

UFC 225 Preview: What Are the Biggest and Best Fights Set for Chicago?

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    UFC 224 was an exciting card but was lacking in terms of name value or high-stakes contests. UFC 225, on the other hand, is easily the most thoroughly stacked card of 2018 to this point and could end up delivering an even greater night of fights.

    Just check out the full list of bouts slated for June 9 at the United Center in Chicago:

    Main Card (Pay-Per-View)

    • Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero
    • Rafael dos Anjos vs. Colby Covington
    • Alistair Overeem vs. Curtis Blaydes
    • Andrei Arlovski vs. Tai Tuivasa
    • CM Punk vs. Mike Jackson

    Preliminary Card (Bout Order TBA)

    • Holly Holm vs. Megan Anderson
    • Ricardo Lamas vs. Mirsad Bektic
    • Joseph Benavidez vs. Sergio Pettis
    • Clay Guida vs. Bobby Green
    • Claudia Gadelha vs. Carla Esparza
    • Rashad Evans vs. Anthony Smith
    • Rashad Coulter vs. Chris De La Rocha
    • Mike Santiago vs. Dan Ige

    Stacked from top to bottom with former champions and interesting contenders, there's a whole lot to talk about with UFC 225.

    But which fights are the biggest? And which are the best? Read on to find out!

The Main Event: Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero 2

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    Whittaker got the best of their UFC 213 bout, winning via convincing decision.
    Whittaker got the best of their UFC 213 bout, winning via convincing decision.Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Less than a year removed from their first bout, Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero are set to face off yet again for the middleweight title...but it's hard to complain about it too much. Even though this isn't a fresh matchup and even though other talented middleweights are left out in the cold contention-wise, these two make for a uniquely interesting bout that would be worth seeing 10 times over.

    Whittaker is one of the most-complete strikers in the UFC today, capable of keeping foes at a comfortable distance and picking them apart at range. Romero, meanwhile, owns a wrestling base but tends to win fights by slowly analyzing an opponent's habits, finding a weakness and capitalizing on it with a single terrifying blitz. It's one of the few true "don't blink" fights that can be made in MMA and should keep onlookers on the edge of their seats from start to finish.

    Though Whittaker won the first bout by staying disciplined and focused, and remains the favorite here for that reason, Romero's pure stopping power makes him impossible to dismiss.

The Co-Main Event: Rafael dos Anjos vs. Colby Covington

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    Rafael dos Anjos and Colby Covington will face off for an interim title that shouldn't really exist.
    Rafael dos Anjos and Colby Covington will face off for an interim title that shouldn't really exist.Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Is Colby Covington's pro wrestling heel shtick bad for MMA or standard fare? Is him spoiling Avengers: Infinity War on Twitter hilarious or just kind of a jerk move? Is him jeering Brazilian audiences problematic or fair play?

    There are discussions to be had about these topics...but regardless of how anyone answers, there is no question that the gimmick has paid off for him. Despite being a relatively unproven talent that most would regard as a "boring fighter," Covington has forced his way into the title picture and will challenge former champion Rafael dos Anjos for the interim welterweight title.

    Dos Anjos is a familiar name for fans. A former lightweight champion, he looked the part of an unstoppable force from 2012 to 2015. Back-to-back losses resulted in him ceding the title and leaving the division behind, but his career was rebooted in 2017 when he jumped up to the welterweight division and posted three consecutive convincing wins. During that stretch, he showed that he still possesses all the tools that once carried him to the gold—technically solid striking, strong cardio and genius-level fight IQ—and just as importantly, he showed that all those tools hold up against larger opponents.

    Though Covington talked his way into this bout, he isn't untalented. An NCAA Division I All-American, he has a smothering style that is difficult to handle for anyone who isn't similarly credentialed, up to and including a hardened former champ like dos Anjos. At the very least, he's a tricky draw. At most, a case can be made that Covington is dos Anjos' kryptonite.

    Despite that, dos Anjos is the safer bet, given his more extensive body of work and incredible savvy. If Covington manages to turn this into a slog, however, a decision win might just come to pass.

Fight to Keep an Eye On: CM Punk vs. Mike Jackson

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    CM Punk (below) returns at UFC 225 opposite Mike Jackson.
    CM Punk (below) returns at UFC 225 opposite Mike Jackson.Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

    In 2016, CM Punk debuted in the UFC. 37 years old, physically worn and minimally trained, the former WWE champion faced an uphill battle, even matched against a novice in the 2-0 Mickey Gall. When he finally made the walk, he looked as bad as anyone could have predicted, getting taken down, pounded out and submitted in unceremonious fashion.

    As it stands, he is the single worst fighter in UFC history by every conceivable measure, qualitative or quantitative. He has the chance to change that, however, by handing that moniker over to Mike Jackson at UFC 225.

    Jackson, like Punk, entered the UFC as a less-than-legitimate talent. Brought into the UFC with a 0-0 pro record (0-1 amateur), he was tasked with playing the role of "opponent" for Gall's debut and did just that by catching a quick, clean, first-round loss.

    That contest was likely meant to be a one-and-done affair, but when Punk labeled Jackson a "tomato can" in the buildup to his own fight with Gall, The Truth took issue with it and positioned himself for a grudge match, should Punk return. Whether that heat was legitimate or just a deft promotional move by Jackson, that long con is paying off here.

    From an X's and O's perspective, this one is impossible to break down. Both men have just one professional fight that ended inside the first round, and neither has an accomplished background in traditional combat sports. There is little film to work with and little references that can be made.

    Punk, somehow, is the pick here based simply on the fact that the money he made in pro wrestling has afforded him the ability to train full-time with a top-level camp in Roufusport. Still, don't expect anything impressive from him.

The Best of the Rest

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    Holly Holm is sticking around at 145 pounds after losing to Cris Cyborg in December.
    Holly Holm is sticking around at 145 pounds after losing to Cris Cyborg in December.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Holly Holm vs. Megan Anderson

    Holly Holm was unsuccessful in her return to the featherweight division, losing cleanly to seemingly unstoppable Cris Cyborg at UFC 219. It's unclear what the long-term future holds for her at 145 pounds...but in the short term, she's sticking around to serve as a measuring stick for Megan Anderson.

    Anderson has long stood apart from the rest of the women's MMA pack based on one simple fact; she's actually a legitimate featherweight. 6'0" tall with a 72.5" reach, she has a physical toolkit unlike anything else in women's MMA. More than a year removed from her last fight, there are questions abound about what strides she has made and whether she is now ready to start facing established foes.

    Holm, who famously captured UFC gold by knocking out Ronda Rousey in 2015, is a great test for her and, should she pass, could provide a golden ticket for a title shot. That said, it's easy to wonder if this bout is too much, too soon for the still-developing fighter.

         

    Alistair Overeem vs. Curtis Blaydes

    Much like Holm vs. Anderson, Alistair Overeem vs. Curtis Blaydes is a battle between a hardened vet who has fallen on hard times and an interesting up-and-coming talent looking to take their spot.

    Overeem stands as one of the most enduring names in combat sports, enjoying elite status 19 years deep into his career despite coming off a gruesome knockout loss in his last bout. Blaydes, meanwhile, has begun to pick up serious momentum in the heavyweight division, courtesy of convincing wins over established warhorses.

    This is a tough one to call because it's open to debate where either man is at in his career arc. In a three-rounder, though, the safer bet is likely Blaydes, who can lean on his wrestling base to grind out a decision.

         

    Andrei Arlovski vs. Tai Tuivasa

    There's a bit of a theme when it comes to the UFC 225 undercard. Andrei Arlovski is the former champion on shaky footing, and Tuivasa is the young knockout artist looking to step over him. Tuivasa is the pick, as Arlovski's chin remains incredibly suspect.

         

    Carla Esparza vs. Claudia Gadelha

    Back in 2013, this was the women's MMA fight. Carla Esparza was the unconquerable champion of Invicta FC. Claudia Gadelha was the unstoppable up-and-comer. Five years later, both women have lost some shine after tough losses, but both remain elite-level talents.

    This is a contest between two grappling-focused fighters, and it's difficult to pick who has the edge in this department, as Gadelha will enjoy a size advantage while Esparza is technically better. That said, Gadelha should be able to get the better of striking exchanges, and that should be able to carry her to a clean decision victory.