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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Philadelphia: Barboza vs. Gaethje - Main card preview

Get the scoop on the main card action of UFC Philadelphia, including Michelle Waterson looking to continue her winning ways against former title contender Karolina Kowalkiewicz.

I’m not going to yank you around. The main event of UFC Philadelphia is one of the most stimulating contests in quite a while. Then again, just about every contest featuring Justin Gaethje falls under that category. However, before we get to his high anticipated scrap with Edson Barboza, we have five other main card contests to get through. No, they don’t compare to the main event, but that doesn’t mean skipping to the main event is needed.

I’ll admit I’m just here for Barboza and Gaethje. But you’ve got my attention. Start with the most interesting contest.

Sure. ESPN has been highlighting Michelle Waterson in one of their E:60 documentaries. Waterson is a long shot to rise up into title contender status as she hasn’t shown any significant growth from her losses to Tecia Torres and Rose Namajunas in 2017. Yes, she has picked up wins over Cortney Casey and Felice Herrig since then, but they were definitive steps down in competition. However, her personality and looks – she is known as the Karate Hottie for a reason – make her a very marketable commodity. She clashes with former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz who is looking to rebound from a dismantling at the hands of Jessica Andrade. Despite the karate in her nickname, Waterson has found more success with her slick grappling, relying on judo throws to get the fight into her world. That could prove to be a major issue as Kowalkiewicz has found most of her own success in the clinch. Plus, Kowalkiewicz’s losses have come against opponents who are physically stronger than her. That isn’t Waterson. I’m leaning towards the Pole, but it’s a tough contest to call.

Sounds like a hell of a contest, even worth a co-main event slot. However, I’m getting hot wings and they tend to tear up my insides. What bout would be best to take a bathroom/smoke break?

That’s too much information. Nonetheless, the contest right before it – featuring light heavyweights Paul Craig and Kennedy Nzechukwu – is probably the best option. Craig is as scrappy as they come and has a dangerous submission game. However, that’s about where the positives end. It could prove to be enough to top Nzechukwu given the inexperience of the native of Nigeria, who is just six fights into his career. However, couple Nzechukwu’s size at 6’5” – with an 83” reach – with the rapid improvements he’s shown in his last few fights and that could prove to be enough. So why would I say this might be worth passing on? As limited as Craig is, he’s easily the toughest opponent Nzechukwu has faced and youngsters typically struggle with the first major step up in competition. That may or may not be Craig.

That’s a long-winded breakdown of a fight I’m likely to care the least about.

Someone’s touchy. I’m just trying to explain myself. Besides, I did tell you this was a quality card.

That you did. And that doesn’t necessarily sound like a terrible contest either. If that’s the worst contest on the main card, what else does it have to offer?

Sheymon Moraes has been overlooked since coming into the UFC, in part to the UFC pitting him against Zabit Magomedsharipov in Moraes’ debut. The Brazilian striker has rebounded with two impressive wins over Matt Sayles and Julio Arce on the strength of his devastating striking power. There are many similarities in his opponent, Sodiq Yusuff, a product of the Contender Series. What separates the two rings familiar from the light heavyweight contest: Yusuff hasn’t faced much in terms of quality competition. However, I like the ability of the Nigerian transplant to put together greater volume with his combination punches than Moraes’ single strikes.

Another contest that is flying under the radar is Michael Johnson and Josh Emmett. The former 155ers turned featherweights both tend to start fast only to slow considerably before the second round is out. For Emmett, it’s because he puts everything into his heavy hooks looking for the KO. For Johnson, it’s because he fights at a furious pace heavy on volume. Johnson has seemingly learned somewhat from his past miscues, showing a more measured pace in his last two contests. As for Emmett, he is coming off a prolonged absence after being KO’d by Jeremy Stephens in a headlining contest, suffering from vertigo since that time. Given the extended absence, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll be the same given the violent nature of his loss.

Wait… that’s only four fights. Five if you count the main event and you’ve made it clear you aren’t covering that here. Shouldn’t there be six contests?

Just making sure you’re paying attention. It’s easy to overlook the co-main event. David Branch hasn’t ever gotten much respect from the casual fans despite being a two-division champion during his time in the WSOF. Given his prime years were spent in the lesser organization in combination with his KO loss to Jared Cannonier in his last appearance, it’s unlikely Branch will ever receive the universal recognition from fans for just how good he was at his peak. Nonetheless, he has a very winnable contest in front of him in the surging Jack Hermansson. The Swede has won four of his last five, all of them coming before the final bell. The well-rounded Hermansson generally goes after his opponent where they are weakest, meaning he’ll look to stand and trade rather than test Branch’s exceptional BJJ skills. While the odds are that Hermansson’s volume pocket boxing would make him the favorite strictly in a kickboxing contest, Branch has made opponents pay for underestimating his power before. Throw in the fact the Renzo Gracie product has shored up his wrestling over the years and he may not be the stepping stone many expect him to be for Hermansson.

Hold on. Branch-Hermansson is the co-main event? I thought you said Waterson-Kowalkiewicz was?

I never said that. You said it sounded like a co-main event contest.

Well that’s a bummer.

Lighten up. You were fine with the card up until you discovered a different contest was the co-main. Even if Branch and Hermansson isn’t a true co-main event, it doesn’t take away from the overall feel of the card. There should be solid action throughout the card.

The main card begins on ESPN at 7:00 PM ET/4:00 PM PT on Saturday.


David Branch over Jack Hermansson via submission of RD2

Michael Johnson over Josh Emmett via decision

Karolina Kowalkiewicz over Michelle Waterson via decision

Kennedy Nzechukwu over Paul Craig via TKO of RD1

Sodiq Yusuff over Sheymon Moraes via decision