After the craziest lead up to an event since UFC® 200, we have finally arrived at UFC 230. Rumors have been spewed, fights have been cancelled and main events have been pulled, but the UFC is finally ready for its annual return to Madison Square Garden.
This is the UFC's third ever event in New York City, and MSG will play host to its 'biggest' main event — Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier defends his heavyweight gold against Derrick 'The Black Beast' Lewis.
Without further ado, let's dive deep into this card and figure out who will come out victorious on Saturday night in New York City.
Daniel Cormier (C) vs. Derrick Lewis
If you told anybody before UFC 229 that this fight would be headlining the MSG card, they would have called you crazy. But as it typically goes in the UFC, you can never say never.
Derrick Lewis skyrocketed into stardom after a last-second knockout of Russian heavyweight contender Alexander Volkov at UFC 229, but his meteoric rise to fame is equal parts due to his post-fight interview. After removing his shorts in The Octagon, Lewis gave one of the most memorable interviews in the promotion's history, transforming him into a social media darling. Take a look:
While this interview doubled the amount of followers that Lewis has on Instagram, it also opened up a new land of opportunity for the UFC veteran. With real name value to his credit now, the UFC had no problem with slotting the new star into the empty main event spot at Madison Square Garden to face Daniel Cormier.
After defeating Stipe Miocic at UFC 226, Cormier became the second fighter to hold two belts simultaneously — giving him a legit case for being one of the greatest fighters to ever step into the cage. And at 39 years old, the double-champ doesn't look like he's lost a step.
This fight is intriguing because on paper it's predictable, but we still have no clue what will happen. Cormier only has one loss on his record, and has won six of his last seven fights (one no contest). Outside of his rivalry with Jon Jones, DC looks truly unbeatable, and skill-wise he should be able to overwhelm Lewis.
Lewis, who enters the fight with a 21-5 record, is the heavy underdog for good reason. While his knockout power is the stuff of legends (86-percent of his wins come by KO), he just flat out hasn't looked good in his last two fights. His performance in a unanimous decision victory over Francis Ngannou had Dana White fuming mad, while his win against Volkov was 15 seconds away from being a unanimous decision loss.
Basically, it's knockout or bust for Lewis, and it's unlikely we'll see him land a clean shot on Cormier. Expect the champ to go to the ground early and try to empty Lewis' tank as quickly as possible.
Official Prediction: Cormier via Submission
Chris Weidman vs. Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza
The fight was originally a rematch between former middleweight champions Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold. However, Rockhold dropped out of the fight two weeks ago, citing multiple injuries.
Now Weidman will face Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza, who was moved up to this fight from his scheduled bout with David Branch.
While this contest would be highly touted on its own if it was originally scheduled, it's difficult to believe that either man is fully prepared for the other after the last-minute switch.
Both men's last fight is with Kelvin Gastelum, with Weidman getting a win and Jacare losing by split decision. So if you're going by recent performance, then Weidman takes the edge in this one.
But as most fights go, the science isn't that easy. Both men boast elite ground games, with Weidman edging Jacare out as the better striker. Jacare has a really strong takedown defense, so expect Weidman to try and keep this fight standing while he can.
Also, the winner of this fight is likely in line for a title shot.
Official Prediction: Weidman via Unanimous Decision
David Branch vs. Jared Cannonier
Poor, poor David Branch. After landing a huge top-10 fight with Jacare, Branch became the odd man left out when Rockhold dropped out of the event.
But alas, Jared Cannonier stepped up into Jacare's place to take on Branch. What started as a bout that would help Branch move up the rankings turned into a fight where he has little to gain and everything to lose.
Even with a lot to lose, Branch should be confident in his standing as the heavy favorite. He's won three of his four fights since returning to the UFC in 2017, while Cannonier is 3-4 in the UFC and is riding a two-fight losing streak.
This will also be Cannonier's first fight at 185 after fighting at heavyweight and light heavyweight since he entered the promotion in 2015.
Official Prediction: Branch via KO
Karl Roberson vs. Jack Marshman
Karl Roberson comes into this middleweight clash following a first round submission loss to Cezar Ferreira at UFC 224. As an alum of Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender series, Roberson has a lot of eyes on his young career.
Marshman, on the other hand, is still trying to gain his footing in the UFC. After a 2-2 start to his career in The Octagon, the Welsh fighter needs a win on the big stage to get his trajectory back on track.
This fight is a toss up, but I'd give the edge to Roberson to finish the fight on his feet.
Official Prediction: Roberson via KO
Derek Brunson vs. Israel Adesanya
For an event with so many big names at the top of the card, this fight holds the most animosity. Both Derek Brunson and Israel Adesanya have gone back and forth at each other in the lead up to this fight, with Brunson saying that Adesnaya is a step down in competition for him and Adesanya saying that Brunson fights like a senior citizen.
... and less than 2 weeks . If he dies , he dies 👊 #UFC230— Derek Brunson (@DerekBrunson) October 24, 2018
If you've ever seen Adesanya fight, you'll know why he's known as 'The Last Stylebender'. The Nigerian-New Zealander is one of the most innovative strikers in the UFC, and boasts a 14-0 record as a result of it. But this fight will be Adesanya's first against a top-ten opponent, and a true test of where is skill is at currently.
Brunson, on the other hand, needs a win to get back on track in the middleweight division. After getting quickly taken out by Jacare Souza in his last fight, Brunson could use a win over a top prospect to get some of his mojo back. With a wrestling and Brazilian Jui-Jitsu background, expect Brunson to try and take the lanky kickboxer to the ground early to set the pace.
Official Prediction: Brunson via TKO