UFC 227 Early Preview: What Are the Biggest and Best Fights Set for Los Angeles?

Steven Rondina@srondinaFeatured ColumnistJuly 8, 2018

UFC 227 Early Preview: What Are the Biggest and Best Fights Set for Los Angeles?

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    Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    The pomp and circumstance of UFC 226 and International Fight Week is officially over.

    Normally, that is followed by the UFC's oft-weak summer schedule. UFC 227, however, bucks that trend with a strong lineup of bouts including two intriguing title fights. The full card currently stands as follows (bout order TBA):

    • TJ Dillashaw vs. Cody Garbrandt
    • Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo
    • Cub Swanson vs. Renato Moicano
    • Bethe Correia vs. Irene Aldana
    • Wuliji Buren vs. Bharat Khandare
    • Danielle Taylor vs. Zhang Weili
    • Ricardo Ramos vs. Kyung Ho Kang
    • Benito Lopez vs. Ricky Simon
    • Polyana Viana vs. JJ Aldrich
    • Pedro Munhoz vs. Brett Johns
    • Alexander Gustafsson vs. Volkan Oezdemir

    With the event less than a month away, it's worth taking the time to delve into some of the intriguing contests lined up for August 4. So what are the biggest and best fights set for the UFC's return to Los Angeles? Read on and find out!

The Main Event: TJ Dillahsaw vs. Cody Garbrandt 2

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    TJ Dillashaw smirks after scoring the comeback win in their first fight.
    TJ Dillashaw smirks after scoring the comeback win in their first fight.Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Cody Garbrandt vs. TJ Dillashaw was the biggest rivalry of 2017. 

    The storyline was strong, with a "friends-turned-enemies" angle stemming from their shared time at Team Alpha Male. The build-up was lengthy but compelling, highlighted by a tense season as rival coaches of The Ultimate Fighter. The crescendo, of course, was an excellent fight which saw Dillashaw rally from a first-round knockdown to reclaim the bantamweight title at UFC 217.

    Traditionally, that would have closed the book for these two, at least for a little while, as Dillashaw would face another challenger and Garbrandt would lick his wounds in the contendership queue. A scrapped superfight with flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson and a relatively shallow talent pool, however, resulted in an immediate rematch being booked...

    And it's hard to complain about that, frankly.

    From an X's and O's perspective, this remains an intriguing fight as Garbrandt's slick boxing and exceptional power is an interesting foil to Dillashaw's elusive style. What's more, even though this isn't an especially fresh matchup, the first fight was a close one. Dillashaw took the win in the second, but he was also saved by the bell in the opening round after being knocked down by a series of punches. His win certainly wasn't a fluke, but there are plenty of reasons to like Garbrandt's chances in the rematch.

    Because of that, it's very difficult to pick a winner. Dillashaw currently stands as an incredibly narrow favorite (via Oddsshark.com) but personally, this writer is leaning towards Garbrandt given his success in the early goings of their first bout. 

    Either way, expect fireworks at UFC 227.

The Co-Main Event: Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo 2

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    Demetrious Johnson thrashed Henry Cejudo when they faced off in 2016.
    Demetrious Johnson thrashed Henry Cejudo when they faced off in 2016.Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson is a known commodity at this point.

    He's excellent at range, excellent in the clinch and excellent on the ground. He's amazingly quick and physically powerful, but is still almost peerless in terms of fight IQ and and cage savvy. He is, quite simply, the best fighter in the game today and a solid case can be made that he is the best ever.

    That's been the perception for a few years now and, as a result, it's tough to try and sell anyone that happens to work their way into a fight with him.

    Henry Cejudo doesn't completely buck that trend ... but he does come close.

    In 2016, Cejudo earned the opportunity to face Johnson just three years after his professional MMA debut. Despite being an Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler, Mighty Mouse proved to be too much, too soon in every other area of the cage, which resulted in a first-round stoppage loss and a trip to the drawing board.

    The extra time to develop was a blessing in disguise, however, as he showed steady improvement in each consecutive outing. That was on full display in 2017, as his more-refined striking and clinchwork led him to convincing wins over top-10 opponents in Wilson Reis and Sergio Pettis, setting him up for a rematch with the champ.

    Though Johnson is well beyond the point where an opponent can be regarded as a serious threat to his title, Cejudo does stand as a legitimate challenge. He's a different fighter than he was in their first matchup and at the very least, it should be interesting to see how he can utilize those new tools against a familiar foe.

Fight to Keep an Eye On: Alexander Gustafsson vs. Volkan Oezdemir

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    Alexander Gustafsson (left) needs to fight to keep his spot near the top of the division.
    Alexander Gustafsson (left) needs to fight to keep his spot near the top of the division.Michael Campanella/Getty Images

    Very few fights at 205 pounds are important. That might sound bad, but the division is so short on talent, that almost anybody is just two or three wins away from getting a crack at the belt.

    UFC 227's Alexander Gustafsson vs. Volkan Oezdemir, though? That's a very, very important fight for both men.

    Gustafsson holds a special place in the hearts of UFC fans, courtesy of his back-and-forth battle with Jon Jones in 2013. While that war should’ve been a ticket to steady fame in the UFC, frequent injuries have completely killed his momentum, resulting in him fighting just five times in the five years since. He has maintained both his popularity and his contender status by winning most of those bouts, but neither of those things will stick around should he start losing.

    Oezdemir, on the other hand, is in the exact opposite position. The Swiss bruiser exploded into the light heavyweight division in 2017 with a shocking upset win over Ovince Saint Preux. From there, back-to-back opening-minute wins thrust him directly into a title fight with Daniel Cormier at UFC 220 but that jump to the top was met with a huge reality check, as Oezdemir struggled to find any kind of success against the champ. With the novelty of his explosive start worn off, he needs start racking up wins to ensure he isn't forgotten about in what is still an early phase of his career. 

    Both men walk into this fight in an awkward position that all but necessitates a win. There's a lot to lose at UFC 227 and that makes this one of the most compelling fights on the card, even without a belt on the line.

The Best of the Rest

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    Cub Swanson will look to reestablish himself at UFC 227.
    Cub Swanson will look to reestablish himself at UFC 227.Patrick Smith/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Cub Swanson vs. Renato Moicano

    Just a year ago, Cub Swanson was a legitimate contender at 145 pounds. Today? He's a bit-part player in the division coming off back-to-back ugly losses. That's a horrible spot for a 34-year-old and worse, the UFC seems to be looking to use whatever name value he has left to build up younger talents like Renato Moicano.

    Though Moicano hasn't set the world on fire, the Brazilian has done good work building up a resume, currently owning a 4-1 record in the Octagon and a 12-1-1 record overall, most notably defeating Jeremy Stephens by split decision in 2017. A convincing win over Swanson would thrust Moicano directly into title contention, but that's easier said than done.

    Moicano is capable of grinding out a win over the veteran, but Swanson is a wily foe with exceptional striking skills. If he can't bottle him up early, look for Swanson to score either a handy decision or a late stoppage. 

    Bethe Correia vs. Irene Aldana

    Bethe Correia has taken a year to recover from her brutal "bowling ball knockout" loss to Holly Holm, but there's no amount of time that could heal her from the drubbing she received from Ronda Rousey in 2015. She is, and likely always will be, damaged goods for the UFC. With no real signs of progress since then, she finds herself as a measuring stick for potential fringe top-10 players like Irene Aldana.

    The Invicta FC import had an inauspicious, 0-2 start to her UFC career but finally got into the win column in January at the expense of Talita Bernardo. Her ceiling may not be high, but she still has value to the UFC as one of their few Mexican-born fighters. Because of that, the promotion is likely hoping that Correia gives her a relatively easy win and there's little reason to expect any other outcome.