It seems as if it were only yesterday that we saw Ronda Rousey take on Bethe Correia at UFC 190 in August. That’s probably because it realistically hasn’t been that long that Rousey sent her Brazilian opponent crashing toward the canvas in front of thousands of her own countrymen.
Saturday (or Sunday depending on your hemisphere), Rousey meets her toughest opponent to date in former boxing world champion Holly Holm. Toughest opponent or not, the champion is still widely expected to make her seventh title defense as the UFC’s women’s bantamweight titleholder.
Fighting in the co-main event is the lesser known of the promotion’s two female champions: Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Quickly climbing the ranks as a fan favorite amongst MMA diehards, the Polish kickboxer is also a heavy favorite when stepping into the cage against former bantamweight fighter Valerie Letourneau.
Those two championship bouts offer relatively safe predictions. The rest of the card doesn’t. Here’s how we see the card breaking down:
- Ryan Benoit def. Ben Nguyen via TKO
- Anton Zafir def. James Moontasri via decision
- Steve Kennedy def. Richard Walsh via submission
- Dan Kelly def. Steve Montgomery decision
- Danny Martinez def. Richie Vaculik via decision
- Gian Villante def. Anthony Perosh via TKO
- Kyle Noke def. Peter Sobotta via decision
- Jake Matthews def. Akbarh Arreola via decision
Stefan Struve vs. Jared Rosholt
With his height, reach, kickboxing background and BJJ abilities, one has to wonder why Stefan Struve hasn’t been more successful in his pro career. But with a majority of his defeats coming by way of knockout to some of the heaviest punchers the heavyweight division’s ever seen (Junior dos Santos, Roy Nelson, Mark Hunt, Alistair Overeem), it all starts to make sense. Struve, like many of his fellow big men, falls when hit really, really hard.
For obvious reasons, a large man like Jared Rosholt is certainly capable of hitting his opponent with great force, but he’s grown accustomed to grinding out his victories inside the Octagon of late. An runner-up in the 2010 NCAA freestyle championships, Rosholt’s background as an Oklahoma State University collegiate wrestler should help him push forward against the taller man looking to strike from the outside.
Problem for Rosholt is Struve’s perfectly capable of fighting off of his back. A brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu with 16 submission victories to his name, look for Struve to constantly be on the attack while Rosholt has him on the canvas.
Prediction: Struve def. Rosholt via submission
Uriah Hall vs. Robert Whittaker
Outside of Vitor Belfort on TRT, few middleweights possess more terrifying skills as a striker than Uriah Hall. With only one controversial split-decision loss to mar his otherwise unblemished record since receiving “the talk” from Dana White, Hall has slowly climbed in the ranks of the 185-pound division.
Ever since being told he didn’t want to be a fighter, Hall made it a point to prove his naysayers wrong. He used a careful approach to dismantle UFC newcomer Oluwale Bamgbose in August, and a rapid series of highlight-reel strikes to take out former PRIDE and Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi in September. Briefly considered an Ultimate Fighter bust, Hall is well on his way toward becoming a legitimate contender at 185.
But he faces Robert Whittaker Saturday, and the Australian knows a thing or two about landing damaging strikes. A black belt in karate and hapkido, Whittaker’s used his striking background to earn (T)KO wins over a dangerous Brad Tavares and former pro boxer Clint Hester.
Based on his performance against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, we know Whittaker struggles when he faces eclectic strikers. Couple that with the confidence in one’s striking, and you’re asking to be the next highlight on Hall’s resume.
Prediction: Hall def. Whittaker via KO
Mark Hunt vs. Antonio Silva
At this point, there’s really no way Mark Hunt vs. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva II lives up to the original five-round war that took place two years ago. That fight goes down in history as one of the greatest heavyweight bouts to ever take place inside of the Octagon. This one, well, doesn’t.
Since that fight took place in December 2013, Hunt and Silva are a combined 2-4, with all of their defeats coming by way of knockout or TKO. Now, they’re surely still capable of landing the clean knockout blow, but they both stand a greater chance of absorbing one as well.
That said, Silva’s more prone to the one-punch knockout, and there are few men other than better at delivering that sort of punch than the “Super Samoan.”
Prediction: Hunt def. Silva via KO
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Valerie Letourneau
Holding advantages in height, reach and weight (come fight night, at least), Valerie Letourneau brings a different threat to Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s strawweight crown. Formerly competing as a bantamweight, the French-Canadian is the largest opponent the champion will have faced since making her Octagon debut last December. With that size comes the potential to out-muscle Jedrzejczyk, which will need to happen if she’s to have any chance of leaving Melbourne, Australia with UFC gold.
The biggest problem here is Letourneau — as far as she’s been publicly open about — isn’t interested in grappling. As she sees it, she’s every bit as capable of holding her own in the striking department against the champion.
Yeah, about that…
Chances are, however, Joanna Champion takes her undefeated streak to 11. Boasting the best footwork and striking of any female strawweight out there, the former kickboxing champion is simply too much for any 115-pound UFC fighter to contend with. She’ll land handfuls of non-power shots, making a mess of Letourneau’s face in front of a potential record-setting amount of people during the opening act to the Ronda Rousey show.
Prediction: Jedrzejczyk def. Letourneau via TKO
Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm
Based on her footwork, her variety of strikes and the coaches in her corner, Holly Holm stands as good a chance as any female UFC fighter to beat the mythological figure that has taken over Ronda Rousey. If Holm can stand tall, stay on the outside and pepper Rousey with point-scoring strikes, she not only survives a few rounds, but might even win them. She’s the better striker, and that should go without any discussion.
Where Rousey reigns supreme, however, is in her ability to make strikers think twice about their gameplan when push comes to shove. While Holm may know she needs to stay on the outside and strike, the fear of having Rousey latch onto one of her exposed limbs may prevent her from doing so.
And in all reality, that’s probably what happens on Saturday night (or Sunday morning for you Aussies). Before you know it, Holm’s adjacent to one of Rousey’s Olympic-level hips en route to the canvas, where she’ll be met with restless attempts to hyper-extend the very arms that made Holm a world champion of a different combat sport.
Prediction: Rousey def. Holm via submission