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UFC 250: Nunes vs. Spencer main card preview

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Tim B takes a look at Saturday’s UFC 250 fight card in Vegas.

UFC 250 is upon us. The second major pay-per-view since the coronavirus hit will go down in front of no fans in the UFC Apex facility tomorrow night, and will be headlined by champ champ Amanda Nunes defending her featherweight title against Canadian Felicia Spencer. There are some other pretty interesting fights on the main card too, so I’m here to offer a brief preview of the top five matchups. Let’s go.

Amanda Nunes vs. Felicia Spencer

Nunes (19-4) holds belts at 135 and 145 and is unquestionably one of the top fighters in the game today. She has successfully defended her bantamweight title five times, but this will be her first defense of the featherweight title that she won by knocking out Cris Cyborg in under a minute back in December of 2018. After a loss to Cat Zingano back in 2014 (has it really been that long?) Nunes has completely dominated women’s MMA by racking up 10 straight spectacular wins. Seven of those came before the final horn, and five of those finishes earned The Lioness performance bonuses. She is head and shoulders ahead of everyone in her divisions, and has looked seemingly unbeatable over the last few years.

On the other side, Spencer (8-1) is relatively young in her career but has racked up an impressive set of accomplishments in a short amount of time. The former Invicta 145-pound champ was brought into the UFC shortly after she won that belt to face off with another former Invicta champ, Megan Anderson, and she picked up a dominating first-round submission win. That set her up for a fight with the vaunted Cris Cyborg, where she put in a valiant effort and went the distance, but suffered the first defeat of her career. Spencer rebounded with another dominant win over Zahra Fairn, and that was enough to get the shot at Nunes’ belt.

The style matchup here is pretty easy to sort out. Nunes is a ferocious striker and has power in both hands - just ask Cyborg. She’s a black belt in BJJ and has a few submission wins, but her run to the top of two divisions has primarily been fueled by her hands. Spencer, on the other hand, is a ground specialist and has an elite-level submission game. When she gets fighters down, she keeps them there and finishes them off. So, it’s the classic striker vs. grappler situation here.

How will this play out? Well I really like Spencer as a fighter and a person (she’s Canadian after all), but I can’t see any woman in the world other than Valentina Shevchenko being able to hang with Nunes on the feet. Nunes is very hard to take down, and that’s the only way Spencer can win this fight. Spencer proved her durability and toughness in the Cyborg fight, but Nunes is on another level. I don’t see this being a good night for the Feenom.

Prediction: Amanda Nunes by TKO, round 2

Raphael Assuncao vs. Cody Garbrandt

Garbrandt 11-3) has gone from bantamweight champion to getting knocked out three times in a row in a very short time. Injuries and a questionable fight IQ have brought him to the lowest point of his career to date, and now he has to get in there with one of the best guys in the world in Assuncao (27-7). Fortunately for him, Assuncao has never been known for devastating power, preferring to look for the submission or grind out a decision. The 37-year-old vet could catch Garbrandt and put him down, but that doesn’t seem very likely.

Like the headliner, this will play out as striker vs. grappler, and I like the striker here too. Garbrandt has stout takedown defense, and despite being extremely wild on the feet and keeping his chin straight up in the air when he brawls, he’s a brilliant technical fighter and should be able to piece Assuncao up. I think this will be the start of Garbrandt’s resurgence.

Prediction: Cody Garbrandt by decision

Aljamain Sterling vs. Cory Sandhagen

I absolutely love this fight, and it should have been the co-main. It’s a shame that it’s only three rounds, actually. Sterling (18-3) is as smooth as silk on the feet and has an amazing wrestling and grappling game. He’s not someone you want to mess with on the floor. Sandhagen (12-1) is very well-rounded and has virtually no weaknesses. He proved that by taking out Assuncao in his last fight, winning a wide decision.

This fight is extremely hard to predict. The books have it as a pick’em fight, with good reason. If Sterling is able to get takedowns and establish his game, he’s probably who I would side with if I was forced to make a pick (and I am). But no one has ever been able to get their game on with Sandhagen yet, so who the hell knows. This is a fascinating fight on paper and likely will be in the Octagon as well.

Prediction: Aljamain Sterling via split decision

Neil Magny vs. Anthony Rocco Martin

It’s crazy that Magny (22-7) is still only 32. He has seven years and 21 fights in the UFC, and he’s still going strong. After the longest layoff of his career, he came back and took a good decision win over Jingliang Li in March, and the durable vet will look to build on that with a win over Martin (17-5). Martin is no slouch in the experience department, having made the Octagon walk 14 times himself. Rocco had an uneven start to his UFC career, but has racked up wins in four of his last five fights, only coming up short against future Hall of Famer Demian Maia.

I’m guessing that this fight will not play out much on the feet. Both men like the ground game, with Magny using wrestling and control while Martin attempts to establish top base and strangle his opponent. Magny probably has the better striking overall, with a ridiculous 80-inch reach and the ability to keep his opponent out of range with his jab if he needs to. Magny just has more tools in the shed, and I believe he will grind out a 15-minute win in a fight that’s not all that exciting.

Prediction: Neil Magny via decision

Sean O’Malley vs. Eddie Wineland

Wooboy this should be fun. The undefeated and charismatic O’Malley (11-0) has brought a ton of entertainment to the Octagon in his short three-fight UFC career, famously doing a post-fight interview lying on his back after breaking his foot in a fight (that he won). His funky style and his height (5’11 for 135 is crazy) make him really hard to prepare for, and he’s proven to be worth his paycheck in the UFC already. On the other side of things, former WEC champ and wily veteran Wineland (24-13-1) never has a boring fight, and still has sick power for 135. He’s been in there with some of the best bantamweights of all time, and while he doesn’t always come out on top, he definitely isn’t handled easily.

With that being said, Wineland has fought once a year for the past four years due to maintaining his day job as a firefighter. O’Malley had been out of the cage for two years due to injuries and USADA woes, but he returned to the cage in March with a sweet finish of Jose Alberto Quinones in just over two minutes. Style-wise, this fight could be all over the place. Wineland is a classic throwback sprawl-and-brawler, while O’Malley can do pretty much anything in there. I’m leaning towards O’Malley here, based off of being a little more active and more versatile. But this should be a banger no matter what.

Prediction: Sean O’Malley via submission, round 3

Preliminary Card

Alex Caceres vs. Chase Hooper

Ian Heinisch vs. Gerald Meerschaert

Cody Stamann vs. Brian Kelleher

Charles Byrd vs. Maki Pitolo

Jussier Formiga vs. Alex Perez

Alonzo Menifield vs. Devin Clark

Evan Dunham vs. Herbert Burns