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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday will extend its reservation at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, as Amanda Nunes defends her women’s featherweight crown against Felicia Spencer in the UFC 250 main event. Stakes are high across the board.
WHO HAS THE MOST TO GAIN?
Felicia Spencer: In rebounding from her first career loss in the best way possible, Spencer recorded a first-round stoppage against Zarah Fairn dos Santos and, in the blink of an eye, re-established herself as the No. 1 contender at 145 pounds. Now, she faces Nunes—the consensus greatest female mixed martial artist of all-time. Just nine fights into her professional career, this will be a lot for Spencer to take in, though a path to victory exists for the “Feenom.” In order to score a monumental upset and leave Las Vegas with the women’s featherweight championship around her waist, Spencer needs to stick with what brought her to the dance, flex her grappling chops and do her best to drag Nunes to the floor as often as possible. From there, she can posture, apply her excellent ground-and-pound and perhaps open an opportunity for a submission.
Aljamain Sterling: With bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo’s decision to retire and vacate his 135-pound title, the division suddenly finds itself wide open for highly ranked contenders who have been itching for a shot at the throne. Enter Sterling, but he before he can finally realize his opportunity to fight for the bantamweight championship, he must get past Cory Sandhagen. While Sandhagen likely holds the advantage in the standup department, Sterling’s length and superior grappling prowess could shine on his way to becoming the top contender in the weight class. His key to success? Follow a plan similar to the one he employed against Pedro Munhoz: stay on the outside, use his length to stifle and confuse his opponent and grapple whenever possible.
Cory Sandhagen: Much like his aforementioned opponent, Sandhagen wants a crack at the vacant bantamweight championship, the opportunity seemingly within reach just five fights into his tenure with the promotion. The Elevation Fight Team export boasts a number of favorable attributes, including elite size and length for the division. At 5-foot-11, Sandhagen tends to be most dangerous in boxing range, but he certainly has the skills to finish fights on the mat, as well. Cardio remains a weapon, as the 28-year-old trains almost exclusively at altitude.
WHO HAS THE MOST TO LOSE?
Amanda Nunes: “The Lioness” returns to the featherweight division to defend her title for the first time; and while Spencer may seem like an underwhelming challenger, Nunes has all but cleared out the 135-pound weight class and pickings are even slimmer at 145 pounds. Name value or not, Spencer poses a tough challenge for the reigning champion as a legitimate featherweight and stifling grappler. Nunes would be best served to stick and move on the outside, attack with her long arms from boxing distance and prevent her counterpart from closing the distance. Expectations are high for the American Top Team standout, as she attempts to turn away a determined underdog.
Cody Garbrandt: It has been a tough fall from grace for the former UFC bantamweight champion. The Team Alpha Male representative has been finished in three consecutive bouts and now finds himself on the outside looking in at a division he once ruled. A fourth straight loss places Garbrandt in danger of becoming irrelevant, but a victory over a proven veteran like Raphael Assuncao in the co-main event could put him right back in the mix at 135 pounds. For that to happen, “No Love” must shelve his reckless style in favor of a more conservative approach. Garbrandt wields incredible speed and power for the division but too often engages in unnecessary brawls. If he can stay disciplined on the outside and not lose himself in the chaos, the Ohio native could add even more intrigue to a weight class already brimming with it.
Sean O’Malley: The UFC has been calculated with its buildup of the Dana White’s Contender Series alum. Despite a significant amount of hype surrounding O’Malley, the powers that be seem intent on easing the MMA Lab prospect along the path to contention. “Sugar Sean” now gets a chance to test his mettle against a respected veteran, as he meets former World Extreme Cagefighting champion Eddie Wineland in a bantamweight showcase with barnburner potential. O’Malley may be riding high following his rout of Jose Alberto Quinonez in March, but he would be wise to maintain clarity and not get ahead of himself against a seasoned boxer like Wineland. One mistake could be the difference between a continued climb on the bantamweight ladder or getting peeled off the canvas by medical personnel.
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