UFC 238: Previewing the Biggest and Best Fights Set for Chicago

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistMay 13, 2019

UFC 238: Previewing the Biggest and Best Fights Set for Chicago

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    The UFC returns to the United Center in Chicago on June 8 with a ridiculous card.

    Leading the charge will be two title fights. The vacant bantamweight championship will be up for grabs as Henry Cejudo tries to become another two-division champion when he meets Marlon Moraes, while Valentina Shevchenko defends her flyweight title for the first time against former world No. 1, Jessica Eye.

    Helping to round out the card will be three top-five ranked matchups: Tony Ferguson vs. Donald Cerrone, Tatiana Suarez vs. Nina Ansaroff, and Aljamain Sterling vs. Pedro Munhoz.

    Oh, should we also mention an additional two top-10 ranked bouts in Jimmie Rivera vs. Petr Yan and Katlyn Chookagian vs. Joanne Calderwood? And three more top-15 ranked matchups with Tai Tuivasa vs. Blagoy Ivanov, Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Alexa Grasso, and Ricardo Lamas vs. Calvin Kattar.

    Only two fights of 12 scheduled contests are not between ranked fighters. That is incredible. UFC 238 may be the Event of the Year.

    The MMA world is set for a big night with title implications littered throughout the card. It is a fan's dream card.


    UFC 238 Full Fight Card

    • UFC Bantamweight Championship: Henry Cejudo vs. Marlon Moraes
    • UFC Flyweight Championship: Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Eye
    • Tony Ferguson vs. Donald Cerrone
    • Tatiana Suarez vs. Nina Ansaroff
    • Jimmie Rivera vs. Petr Yan
    • Tai Tuivasa vs. Blagoy Ivanov
    • Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Alexa Grasso
    • Aljamain Sterling vs. Pedro Munhoz
    • Ricardo Lamas vs. Calvin Kattar
    • Katlyn Chookagian vs. Joanne Calderwood
    • Eddie Wineland vs. Grigory Popov
    • Xiaonan Yan vs. Angela Hill

The Main Event: Henry Cejudo vs. Marlon Moraes

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    Henry Cejudo kicked off the UFC's 2019 with a 32-second knockout of bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw to successfully defend his flyweight crown. After the swift KO, it looked like a rematch at 135, for Dillashaw's belt, was in order.

    Flyweight is an afterthought.

    That would not come to pass. In early April, Dillashaw was suspended for two years by USADA for testing positive for EPO (h/t ESPN.com's Brett Okamoto). He relinquished the title and put the division in a brief holding pattern as the UFC figured out which contenders would compete for the vacant title.

    Cejudo, by virtue of his earlier KO, was the clear choice for one-half of the bout; Marlon Moraes was selected as the other after reeling off four consecutive wins with three stoppages over elite competition.

    The bantamweight main event will be performed at warp speed. The two fighters are offering blazing speed and incredible technique, and they are both at the peak of their careers with incredible highlight packages.

    Cejudo has not fought at bantamweight since his UFC debut in 2014, but without putting his body through the rigors of a weight cut he will enter the Octagon more dangerous than ever. Moraes will enjoy a size advantage he rarely has and will need to use it to stop his opponent from getting inside.

    The stylistic matchup between the two is engrossing.

    Cejudo is an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling, but Moraes has some of the best jiu-jitsu in the division. On the feet, Cejudo's boxing is technically sound and Moraes' kickboxing is electric. It could be a five-round war between two of the pound-for-pound best fighters, or it could end in an instant.

    It is a fight that will put fans on the edge of their seat as they try to avoid missing a millisecond of action.

    A new era at bantamweight is upon us and it will keep the high level of title fights going, with a litany of incredible contenders waiting in the wings.

The Co-Main Event: Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Eye

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    Chicago will enjoy a second title fight with the co-main event's flyweight affair between Valentina Shevchenko and Jessica Eye.

    Shevchenko took the vacant title in a five-round victory over Joanna Jedrzejczyk. She was familiar with her foe having defeated her three previous times in kickboxing. It was much of the same size and technical supremacy at UFC 231.

    As the flyweight division begins, the UFC could not have hoped for a better contender than Eye.

    The American has had mixed results in the UFC, but that was largely due to fighting out of her natural weight class. Officially she was 1-5 (1 NC) in the bantamweight division. Once the UFC instituted the 125-pound weight class, she dropped back down and picked up three straight wins.

    Prior to joining the UFC in 2013, Eye was the No. 1-ranked flyweight in the world. She has not lost a flyweight bout since a 2011 fight against Aisling Daly in Cleveland. If you erase her UFC bantamweight record, she is 13-1 overall.

    It will be a very difficult fight for Eye. Shevchenko is superior in almost every facet. The champion has an edge in striking, jiu-jitsu and strength, but her opponent's style will still give her a chance at the upset.

    Eye continually comes forward and attempts to make a fight dirty. She will need to do that and force Shevchenko to make a mistake.

    Eye is no slouch, but it will be a fight of technical proficiency versus heart and determination. We have seen the latter overcome the former before, and Eye will go back to that well hoping the bucket rises to the surface with 12 pounds of gold.

    It's an all-action co-main event that will help the division keep moving forward as the UFC fosters its development.

Fight to Keep an Eye On: Tatiana Suarez vs. Nina Ansaroff

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    UFC 237 saw a new champion crowned with Jessica Andrade's knockout over Rose Namajunas. UFC 238 gives us a possible title eliminator as No. 3-ranked contender Tatiana Suarez meets No. 4-ranked Nina Ansaroff.

    When Suarez made her debut on The Ultimate Fighter and ran through the competition, she instantly looked the part of a future contender. Then she began to dominate talented fighters with her sensational wrestling and looked the part of future champion.

    With Namajunas' decisive loss, this seems to be the moment Suarez becomes the next title challenger.

    But Ansaroff will attempt to derail the hype train and claim her own title shot.

    The 33-year-old has a great story. She entered the UFC with a mixed record of 6-3 and immediately suffered back-to-back losses. She was more known as the partner of Amanda Nunes and nothing else. A lower-tier strawweight.

    But then a switch was flipped and Ansaroff began to realize her potential with a four-fight winning streak including a decision over former title challenger Claudia Gadelha.

    Her modus operandi has been overcoming the odds, and she'll have to continue that against Suarez.

    Ansaroff has the best training partners at American Top Team, but there is not another strawweight like Suarez in the UFC. She will need to stick to a game plan and curtail the rising contender's ascent. With a win, the American should punch her ticket to a fight against Andrade.

    This main card fight has great storylines and even better fighters. It is on par with the two title fights and will set the stage for a big strawweight title fight later in the year.

Best of the Rest

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    Tony Ferguson vs. Donald Cerrone

    Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dustin Poirier will fight later this year to unify the lightweight titles. Without question, Ferguson vs. Cerrone is a title eliminator, with the winner becoming the undoubted next title challenger.

    Cerrone has not lost since becoming a father in June 2018, and he has looked better than ever. He is on a three-fight streak that has each garnered him a post-fight bonus. Ferguson had his interim title stripped due to injury, but he returned in October with another excellent performance.

    Ferguson's creativity and penchant for violence mesh beautifully with Cerrone's style. This fight could main-event a Fight Night card, but instead, we get it to help stack UFC 238's main card.

    The bright lights and high stakes will not bother either man. In fact, it will only enhance their display as they perform best under pressure. This fight is right at the top of the list when looking for a potential Fight of the Night and could end up being the wildest one of the year.


    Jimmie Rivera vs. Petr Yan

    The bantamweight title will get sorted out in the main event, and this fight will help fix some of the muddy waters on the back end of the top 10. Rivera comes in as the No. 7-ranked contender while Yan checks in at No. 9.

    Yan is the prospect to watch in the division. A win could set him up for a title eliminator in the fall. Rivera is hoping to stop his rise, get back in the win column and make his own case for a title eliminator in the new, wide-open division.

    This scrap has big implications and could be a coming-out party for Yan.


    Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Alexa Grasso

    Two of the most well-liked strawweights will compete in an attempt to get back in the win column and march up the 115-pound ranks.

    Kowalkiewicz, a former title challenger, has suffered back-to-back losses to Jessica Andrade and Michelle Waterson. A win would keep her in the hunt and give her some momentum moving forward.

    Grasso has split her UFC appearances at 2-2 and is coming off a loss to Suarez. Both women need this win to regain favor in the division.

    Perhaps most importantly for fans, it should be a fun scrap. These are two volume strikers who get after it. Grasso was a highly touted prospect coming out of Invicta FC, but she has struggled to meet the expectations that surrounded her. Kowalkiewicz has already been to the top of the division, and she still has time to get another chance to wear gold.


    Aljamain Sterling vs. Pedro Munhoz

    This is the third potential title eliminator on the card. Sterling has passed by for a shot at the vacant title, but the No. 3-ranked contender is right on the doorstep. Another win and he will be undeniable. And Munhoz, ranked No. 4, made his claim with a knockout over Cody Garbrandt.

    Raphael Assuncao is the No. 3-ranked contender, but he was stopped by Moraes in February. Sterling and Munhoz are the only options for being the next title challenger. They know what is at stake. There isn't someone else waiting to leapfrog them with one big finish. This is it.

    Sterling has finally come into his own and lived up to the billing he entered the UFC with, while Munhoz has been the quiet storm building steadily over time.

    Two title fights, three title eliminators: UFC 238 is a can't-miss event with the most at stake.