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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Nashville: Thompson vs. Pettis - Main card preview

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Get the scoop on the main card action of UFC Nashville, including a pivotal heavyweight contest between Curtis Blaydes and Justin Willis.

Given there is a UFC card just about every weekend, it’s usually difficult for me to look too far ahead into the future. For instance, I was aware of the main and co-main event of UFC Nashville this upcoming weekend and was satisfied with what those contests had to offer for my viewing pleasure. I already voiced how the preliminary contests appear to be more hit than miss. The rest of the main card feel very much the same.

Way to sell me on this card. Within the first paragraph, you’ve already insinuated I should tune in only for the final hour of the card.

Whoa, it isn’t my fault. I’m trying to be honest! I’m your ally here!

Fair enough. You’re saying the UFC is the enemy?

I wouldn’t go that far, but keep in mind how far they spread themselves thin when they run a card almost every weekend. However, the UFC could be its own enemy as far as promoting this card. Outside of the co-main event, the contest with the highest level of competition has been sabotaged as there appears to be no future for flyweights. So even though Jussier Formiga and Deiveson Figueiredo looks like a hell of a scrap, there isn’t any indication they are fighting for anything.

Good enough of a scrap that there would be title implications should the flyweight division stick around?

Yes. Formiga would be a tougher sell than Figueiredo as the grappling ace already has a loss to Cejudo on his record. Nonetheless, the Formiga is probably the best flyweight to grace the UFC roster who has never received a title shot. His sticky wrestling and backpack style grappling that’s reminiscent of Demian Maia should prove to be the toughest test of Figueiredo’s career by a longshot. Part of that is Figueiredo has been able to overwhelm opponents with his physicality and power, but only the best of the best have done that to Formiga. Is Figueiredo amongst the best? I’d say he’s knocking on that door just a bit too early.

Hmm…. That does sound like a good scrap. And you say the co-main event is solid too. Why so down on the rest of the main card?

The rest of the main card all feature prospects the UFC is high on. However, the UFC also has a bad habit of pushing prospects they like too fast, too soon. Look at how they pushed Sage Northcutt and Paige VanZant. I agree that Maycee Barber and Luis Pena are talented, but they’ve also shown significant limitations. I would have placed Marlon Vera vs. Frankie Saenz and/or Alexis Davis vs. Jennifer Maia in their position instead. While any contest with Barber and Pena as preliminary contests would be worth highlighting, featuring them on the main card is a bit too much at this point of their careers.

So you’re saying they’re going to lose?

Actually, they are solid favorites in the betting odds and rightfully so. JJ Aldrich may be on a three-fight win streak, but she’s also severely limited athletically when measured up to Barber, often operating with a slim margin of error. Aldrich is a technical pressure fighter, but she’s going to have to fight the perfect fight to overcome Barber’s intense pressure and volume.

Pena was tall for a lightweight at 6’3”. He’s going to be an absolute monster now that he’s dropping down to featherweight. His 76” reach will be difficult for Steven Peterson to overcome, on the smaller side of 145 himself. However, if the weight cut proves too much, Peterson’s aggressive manner and incredible durability could overwhelm the man known as Violent Bob Ross. It’s not like Pena is impervious. He is coming off a dispirited loss to Mike Trizano and I struggle to see where he’s going to cut an extra 10 pounds.

Anything else?

Jesus Pinedo and John Makdessi clash in a curious piece of matchmaking, though it should be noted they were scheduled to meet different opponents before injuries to those said opponents resulted in the UFC pitting them against one another. Makdessi can still be a dangerous technical striker, but he’s also fairly weathered over a decade into his MMA career, his chin not being what it once was. Nonetheless, Pinedo is very raw, meaning the experienced Makdessi should be able to pick him apart.

That’s well and good, but I was trying to get you to speak on the co-main event. You haven’t said a word about that yet, not even who the participants are.

Touche my friend. I was merely trying to save the best for last. Last time we saw Curtis Blaydes, he was getting shellacked by Francis Ngannou in less than a minute. However, the same thing recently happened to Cain Velasquez at the hands of Ngannou, taking some of the sting off for Blaydes. Blaydes demolished Alistair Overeem in an incredibly violent manner prior to that, taking down the Dutch kickboxer and splattering blood across his face with vicious GnP. While it was illustrative of the malicious things he is capable of, Blaydes’ patience in waiting for the proper opening rather than rushing in to have his own block knocked off is what offers the most promise for his future. Given Velasquez can’t stay healthy, it feels safe to say Blaydes is the best wrestler in the division this side of the champion.

Willis is also a very patient fighter, almost to a fault. The AKA product is strictly a counter puncher, rarely putting himself in a precarious position. Thus, we’ve seen several tepid decisions in his four-fight UFC run thus far. That isn’t to say Willis doesn’t have any finishing ability. He disposed of Allen Crowder in half a round when Crowder didn’t show Willis the respect he deserves. Some may point out that Willis has yet to face a wrestling beast like Blaydes yet, though it should be noted that Willis trains with both Velasquez and the champ, Daniel Cormier. I’m sure his wrestling chops are up to snuff.

It sounds like neither are the most fun to watch. Are you sure I should be excited about this contest?

It’s fair to say there’s a strong chance this is a slow-paced slog, but the stakes are high. There finally appears to be a changing of the guard taking place at heavyweight. The winner of this contest could be at the forefront of the next era.

Wow. Those are strong words.

Hey, I said could. Things change rapidly in this sport. After all, we did enter this week with a bantamweight champion.

The main card begins on ESPN+ at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday.


Curtis Blaydes over Justin Willis via Decision

John Makdessi over Jesus Pinedo via Decision

Jussier Formiga over Deiveson Figueiredo via Submission of RD2

Luis Pena over Stephen Peterson via Decision

Maycee Barber over JJ Aldrich via TKO of RD3