The contests outside of the title fights on the main card are bookended by a pair of big boys. There isn’t anyone who wants to miss the contest between Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Two heavy-hitters with a penchant for KO’s should be awesome. However, most people would rather pass on any contest with Greg Hardy… unless they know for sure he’s going to be KO’d. Yorgan De Castro just might be the guy to do that. The other non-title bout on the main card is between a pair of featherweight’s known for their crowd-pleasing ways in Calvin Kattar and Jeremy Stephens. Yeah, this should be good.
Francis Ngannou (14-3) vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (10-0), Heavyweight
Before we get into the nitty gritty of this contest, let me remind you there’s a possibility of this being a major stinker. Ngannou’s dance with Derrick Lewis proved to be a cure for insomnia. I don’t anticipate something like that happening here – Ngannou has been adamant to never let anything like that happen again – but it’s wise to remind viewers that a KO isn’t always guaranteed when two behemoths collide.
Putting that cautionary aside, Ngannou has never been more intimidating since his embarrassing contest with Lewis. It took just 45 seconds to put away Curtis Blaydes. 26 seconds to dispose of former two-time heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez. 71 seconds to curl up another former champion in Junior dos Santos. It’s hard to think of another heavyweight that has had a similar stretch against the caliber of competition Ngannou has been facing. He’s been fighting like he can’t get hurt, stalking his opposition with zero regard. Either Ngannou is the master of no selling or no one has been able to hurt him, making him that much more dangerous. We still don’t know if the monstrous Cameroonian fixed his gas tank, but it’s unlikely Rozenstruik is the man to test his stamina.
What Rozenstruik would be the man to test is Ngannou’s indestructability. A former professional kickboxer, Rozenstruik’s past career has made him one of the most technical strikers in the division, perhaps the most technical heavyweight on the roster. It isn’t like he isn’t a naturally powerful striker either. Aside from being more technical that Ngannou, Rozenstruik is also a more diverse striker, utilizing kicks with regularity. That’s about where the diversity ends as Rozenstruik hasn’t shown anything in his grappling besides stuffing takedowns. Fortunately for him, that’s about the same that can be said of Ngannou.
What we don’t know about Rozenstruik is how durable he is. Nobody has been willing to stand in the pocket and trade with him, his reputation as a hard-hitter preceding his UFC career. There have been plenty of opportunities for that to happen as Rozenstruik’s defense has been terrible. Despite his recent willingness to go after his opponent’s Ngannou hasn’t been reckless either. Couple that with Ngannou being the bigger, stronger, and faster. I’m going with the favorite in this one. Ngannou via TKO of RD1
Jeremy Stephens (28-17, 1 NC) vs. Calvin Kattar (20-4), Featherweight
We’re creeping up on the 13-year anniversary of Stephens debut in the UFC. With that in mind, it’s shocking the longtime veteran is still just 33-years old. Despite the youth, it’s also an indication of how much mileage Stephens has put on his body… and Stephens hasn’t exactly been known to put a priority on avoiding damage.
Is Stephens’ age and mileage relevant? Hard to say. Stephens may be on a three-fight losing streak, but it isn’t because he appears to be slowing down. For the last six years, Stephens has consistently been facing the best competition featherweight has to offer and his last three opponents may have been the toughest stretch of his career. In those losses, Stephens has shown he’s still one of the best pure brawlers in the game, marching forward with his heavy hands as he has been known to do throughout his career.
Kattar’s reputation was that of a tactician when he entered the UFC in 2017. While he hasn’t done anything to dissuade that idea, he’s proven to be a finishing machine, scoring violent TKO’s in his last three wins. Much of that has to do with Kattar focusing more on his own career as opposed to coaching. An expert at utilizing his 5’11” frame and 72”, Kattar’s physical advantages typically come to an end there. However, only the very best athletes in the division have been able to squeak past the Boston Finisher, Kattar’s toughness and smarts allowing him to hang in there.
Stephens’ back is up against the wall. Having been in a similar situation before, Stephens tends to be disciplined. The problem is, taking that approach against Kattar seems counterproductive as he’s unlikely to outslick the lankier technician. It would be foolish to count out Stephens given his power and experience, but Kattar’s disciplined approach is the type of style Stephens has had problems with in the past. Kattar via TKO of RD3
Greg Hardy (5-2, 1 NC) vs. Yorgan De Castro (6-0), Heavyweight
Owner of one of the least imposing physiques amongst heavyweight fighters, De Castro has been able to remain undefeated thanks to his deceiving appearance. Standing just 6’0” tall with a 74” reach, the native of Cape Verde owns a frame that looks more suited for light heavyweight as he carries excess weight. However, he expertly knows how to use his simple skill set which is thudding low kicks, patience, and brilliant timing on his powerful counters, proving that small frame – by heavyweight standards – isn’t to be underestimated.
As for physical advantages, Hardy will have the edge in almost everything. Still young in the sport despite the UFC’s attempt to help him pick up as much experience as possible, Hardy’s flashes of brilliance have been fewer and further between as his competition has gotten stronger. Despite that, Hardy has shown a lot of growth, showing more patience, mobility, and stamina to allow him to fight effectively beyond the first round. There is still a lot the former NFL All-Pro has to learn, but he’s got a strong set of coaches to guide him out of ATT.
This is a difficult contest to call. Given an opponent he wasn’t supposed to bowl over for the first time, Hardy hung in there against Alexander Volkov despite the beating he received. However, Volkov hasn’t exactly been known for his power. De Castro is. On the other hand, De Castro isn’t nearly as rangy as Volkov. I can easily see Hardy using his athletic edge to outwork De Castro from the outside. What I would expect is for De Castro to catch him with just one shot at some point and give many fight fans an outcome they’ve been begging for since Hardy joined the organization. De Castro via TKO of RD2