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The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Boston for a rare Friday card, and given the history of the promotion's major cards in Beantown, this one's a bit of a disappointment. It's basically a two-fight card, and got blessed a bit to even be that; Chris Weidman's light heavyweight debut makes for an interesting headliner, and the aborted Yair Rodriguez-Jeremy Stephens main event from Mexico City was quickly re-booked as an excellent co-main here. Past that, it's mostly a dumping prospect for newcomers and Contender Series alumni; Maycee Barber and Deron Winn are legitimate blue-chippers on the main card, but nothing past that is particularly interesting. Surely there will be some standout performances, but even by the standards of recent UFC undercards, this looks like one of the less fun ones on paper, making it the perfect show to catch up on later without breaking your typical Friday night routine.
Now on to the preview for UFC on ESPN 6:
ESPN2 Main Card
Reyes (11-0) vs. Chris
Odds: Reyes (-150), Weidman (+130)
Old middleweights don't retire, they just become light heavyweights. Long Island's Weidman is the latest 185er to ply his trade up a weight class, and now's as good a time as any, since things have turned sour for "The All-American" ever since losing his middleweight crown. Once UFC 162 rolled around in 2013, a lot of people tabbed Weidman as the man to upend Anderson Silva's legendary title reign, and Weidman did just that with a second-round knockout. But rather than launching Weidman into superstar status, the fight became a valuable lesson that drawing power doesn't automatically transfer through results, as Weidman's title reign failed to truly capture the public's imagination. Part of that was that Weidman's two wins over Silva both came in strange circumstances; Weidman's title win came from a punch as Silva was taunting with his defenses down, giving the former champion's fans an easy out, while the rematch abruptly ended when Silva broke his leg in gruesome fashion. And once Weidman's title reign started in earnest, constant injuries kept the New Yorker out of sight and out of mind until he eventually lost the strap to Luke Rockhold in late 2015. Since then, it's been frustrating attempt after frustrating attempt to recapture middleweight glory; Weidman looked good in a hometown win over Kelvin Gastelum, but every other fight -- against Yoel Romero and Jacare Souza in particular -- had Weidman looking crisp before eventually suffering a late finish that saw him capture defeat from the jaws of victory. Given Weidman's constant suffering in Madison Square Garden, it's probably a good thing that this fight is taking place in Boston instead, but his light heavyweight debut will still have a distinctly New York flavor, as former Stony Brook defensive back Reyes is the man that will welcome Weidman to 205.
In a division full of flawed prospects, Reyes is a cause for cautious optimism, since "The Devastator" has passed every test thrown in front of him so far. After a head kick knockout of Jordan Powell went viral, Reyes figured to be signed by the UFC in short order -- and indeed, Reyes was called as an injury replacement less than four weeks later. His first few fights saw him run through his opposition without much difficulty, including a win over middleweight contender Jared Cannonier that continues to age well, but Reyes has spent the last year proving that he can hang in deeper waters. While Reyes's win over Ovince St. Preux was a one-sided decision, it did show that Reyes can continue pouring it onto an opponent that won't go away, and his March win over Volkan Oezdemir was another instructional performance, as Reyes was able to pick apart the constantly pressuring Oezdemir en route to a narrow decision win. That at least provides the start of a gameplan for Reyes's future opponents, but even if there are some stumbles in the short term, Reyes is still improving and looks firmly set to be a huge part of the light heavyweight division's future.
Given that Weidman's recent losses have all come via brutal finish, it's easy to draw a parallel between this fight and Luke Rockhold's unsuccessful light heavyweight debut against Jan Blachowicz; and given how that fight ended in a sudden knockout, it's also easy to write this off as an easy Reyes win over a past-his-prime foe. But Weidman has a path to victory, and it's up to him to follow it. Again, Oezdemir provided a bit of a blueprint, as his pressure kept Reyes from unleashing the kicks that are the most powerful part of his arsenal. And if Weidman commits to pressure and leans on his wrestling, he can likely have more success doing the same thing; he might be a bit more plodding than Oezdemir, but he's also a much stronger wrestler once he's actually able to get his hands on Reyes. While Weidman looked good on the feet against Souza in November, if he follows a similar gameplan here, he'll likely get smoked; a motion-heavy striking game is all well and good, but a range kickboxing match is exactly the type of fight where Reyes can earn a sudden finish. But if this looks more like Weidman's fight against Kelvin Gastelum, where the New Yorker is willing to get back to his roots and wear out a less physical opponent, Weidman should be able to win rounds if he doesn't open up a submission opportunity first. The main concern is that the Souza fight robbed Weidman of his last bit of durability; unlike Rockhold, who would get rocked with each hard shot at 185, Weidman's typically been able to absorb some damage first before going fully out. But as long as Weidman can wade through damage and make this his type of fight, he should be the man to stop Reyes' hype train; the pick is Weidman via third-round submission.
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