Kelvin Gastelum sports six finishes among his seven wins. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship has once again returned to take your hard-earned money with the promise of replacing it with cheap thrills by way of underwear-clad people punching the hell out of each other inside a steel cage.
Are you secure about your life choices, MMA fans? Well, you should be, because the UFC 171 lineup is stacked like few others these days.
Barring a rare, five-round draw or a disqualification, the event will end with a fighter other than Georges St. Pierre hoisting the UFC welterweight title for the first time since 2007. Aside from the Robbie Lawler-Johny Hendricks championship headliner, the pay-per-view bill will also see ex-interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit face Tyron Woodley, while Jake Shields and Hector Lombard do battle in another pivotal 170 pound headliner on Saturday the American Airlines Arena in Dallas.
However, before the main card broadcast lightens your pockets, you have the option to scope the preliminary draw live on Fox Sports 2 and UFC Fight Pass. I suggest you do not waste this opportunity. Here are five reasons to tune in:
UNDERDOG TO UNDENIABLE
Kelvin Gastelum is riding high these days, and for good reason.
Few picked “The Ultimate Fighter 18” winner to do much of anything against the bigger Uriah Hall at the live season finale, but Gastelum apparently did not read that memo, instead throwing on his hardhat and crowding the dangerous striker en route to a split decision win in April. Gastelum would not stop there, however, as he cut to welterweight in August and ran through Brian Melancon -- the man who had wrecked respected welterweight talent Seth Baczynski just seven weeks prior.
Now paired with Rick Story, another physical specimen known for his workmanlike demeanor and punching power, Gastelum hopes to keep his perfect professional record intact. Can he navigate past his more seasoned foe or will “The Horror” hand the 22-year old his first loss?
As times continue to change, women’s slugfests are becoming more and more common in MMA. It seems the number of women who are able to throw with true, natural power has increased significantly in the last several years, as evidenced by the emergence of talents like Jessica Andrade and Raquel Pennington. Both of these women can really let their hands go, and I have every reason to believe that their bantamweight showdown could contend for one of the post-fight bonuses.
Andrade was last seen in October, when she put a serious beating on Rosi Sexton, who had absolutely nothing for the Brazilian prospect. “Baca Estaca” struck the Brit virtually at will, using superior speed to continually beat Sexton to the punch on the way to a one-sided unanimous verdict at UFC Fight Night 38. This was a far cry from Andrade’s debut, in which former UFC title contender Liz Carmouche climbed atop the 22-year-old and roughed her up with ground-and-pound.
Pennington, meanwhile, has only gone 3-2 in her last five fights, but her losses came to top talents Leslie Smith and Cat Zingano. “Rocky” looked like one of the favorites to win the women’s bracket of “The Ultimate Fighter 18” after outpointing Jessamyn Duke in a wild quarterfinal bout, but she would then come up short against skilled boxer Jessica Rakoczy in the Round of 4. Pennington rebounded from the exhibition defeat, however, besting Roxanne Modafferi at “The Ultimate Fighter 18” Finale in November.
Andrade and Pennington are now on a collision course. Which of these women will take another step up the bantamweight ladder?
‘MENACE’ ON THE MOVE
You may or may not be aware, but Dennis Bermudez is riding a five-fight winning streak heading into his featherweight clash with Jim Hettes.
“The Menace” has not lost since submitting to a Diego Brandao armbar at “The Ultimate Fighter 14” Finale more than two years ago, and viewers with sharp memories will recall that he fell into that fight-ending armbar only after flooring Brandao in the standup.
Since that setback, the powerful 27-year-old has bested the likes of Pablo Garza, Max Holloway and, most recently, Steven Siler. If Bermudez continues winning at this clip, he will surely find himself in the top 10 before too long and perhaps even on deck for a title shot.
Those prospects will all evaporate, however, if submission specialist Hettes can grab ahold of Bermudez’s neck.
BUBBA AND ‘TARZAN’
Some might feel that Bubba McDaniel was fortunate to see onetime “Ultimate Fighter” castmate Tor Troeng withdraw from their middleweight showdown, but I think McDaniel could just as easily have his hands full with King of the Cage champion Sean Strickland.
“Tarzan” has never before tasted defeat, rattling off 13 consecutive victories and racking up 10 finishes in nearly six years as a pro. It also bears mentioning that Strickland is only 23 years old. Yes, considering the breadth of fresh-faced prospects competing on this card, I think it is entirely appropriate for those of us pushing 30 to take a moment to feel old and think hard about how we created these meaningless, solitary lives.
McDaniel must avoid one of his trademark slow starts if he hopes to stifle Strickland’s youthful audacity. The 30-year-old is also surely aware that a defeat would signal his second straight Octagon setback -- not a good look considering the newfound depth of the middleweight division.
Can McDaniel turn away this unbeaten upstart?
‘THE DOMINICAN NIGHTMARE’
Alex Garcia is another prospect to keep your eye on.
Just 26 years old, “The Dominican Nightmare” has not lost in nearly three years. Representing the vaunted Tristar Gym in Montreal, Garcia made his UFC debut om December on the heels of four consecutive victories, thrashing “The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes” alum Ben Wall with a series of violent uppercuts to earn a 43-second stoppage.
Such a result has been anything but rare for Garcia, who has finished nine of his 11 victims inside the first round. However, the Dominican-born welterweight could find Sean Spencer to be a much tougher out than any of his prior conquests.
Spencer is a capable boxer and unlikely to wing wild shots with his chin hanging out. “Black Magic” prefers to use his footwork to stay mostly out of harm’s way -- an intelligent strategy, but one that surely will not win him any post-fight bonuses. If anything, it would be nice to see him step on the accelerator and give the ol’ Magicmobile a little more gas. Unfortunately, Spencer’s cardio has looked suspect in both of his decision victories in the UFC -- a trend that could make the welterweight understandably reticent to put the pedal to the metal in the early going.