This Saturday night, the UFC returns to the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California for UFC 227. This card features some of the finest fighters from the smaller weight classes in the UFC. Ten out of eleven fights on this card will be contested at 135 pounds or less and there will be titles on the line at both bantamweight and flyweight. This card also marks the return of pound-for-pound kingpin and Pacific Northwest representative, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. There are some standout moments on this card and even a hint at what’s next for the winners of the night’s two title fights. Beyond that, UFC 227 marks a return to the Octagon for Gracie Barra Portland’s Ricky Simon, a local standout with a chip on his shoulder. Let’s dive a little deeper into this one.
Ricky Simon vs Montel Jackson
The last two weeks have most certainly been an emotional roller coaster for Vancouver, Washington’s Ricky Simon. Simon was originally set to face Benito Lopez on this card, a fighter with whom he has some history. Lopez and Simon have been scheduled to fight 3 times to date and Lopez has withdrawn on all occasions. After Lopez and Simon each had successful fights on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series (DWTNCS) last year, it seemed possible that their paths would eventually cross inside the UFC Octagon. As luck would have it, the stars aligned and the duo had their matchup on the books for a third time. The fighters and their fans traded barbs on twitter and as hype for the fight grew it seemed this budding rivalry was gaining some interest from those behind the scenes. Then following the announcement that Alexander Gustafsson was off the card with an injury, UFC officials announced Simon versus Lopez would be moved to the main card. For these two up and comers, this was a huge deal. However, not more than two hours later Lopez withdrew from the fight citing an ankle injury.
While Simon was likely very upset when Lopez withdrew, he was quickly offered a replacement opponent in Montel Jackson so he could remain on the card. Jackson, much like Simon, is a DWTNCS winner who was waiting for his shot following a victory that did not lead to an immediate contract on the show. White made it clear that he was impressed by Jackson and would keep an eye on him so it is not a huge surprise that he got the last minute call. Jackson is a very athletic striker with vicious knees and elbows. His Muay Thai is excellent and he uses it effectively in the clinch to ward off takedowns. His best weapon against a fighter with the aggression and wrestling of Simon will be his accuracy and speed. Look for Jackson to try and keep this one standing and for Simon to work his strikes to try and set up takedowns. With more than twice the fights of Jackson, Simon is the betting favorite (-130) and should be able to bring a win back to the Pacific Northwest. While this fight was not the rivalry match that many were looking for it still pits to very talented prospects against each other.
Demetrious Johnson vs Henry Cejudo
With eleven successful title defenses in a row and one already against Cejudo, this fight sort of feels like a redux that doesn’t need to happen for flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson. He is nearly a -500 betting favorite and it seems like that line would be much higher if he wasn’t coming off an injury. In fact, if there is a glimmer of hope for Cejudo, it is that Johnson has been on the shelf for nearly a year. 2018 will be the first time in his career that Johnson will only have only one fight in a year. There is a chance that in that time off the champion has gotten a little rusty, albeit a very small chance. Cejudo has recently shown some new looks in the striking department and he seems to have a found a good mix between that and his incredible wrestling. If Cejudo wants to get a win against Johnson he will have to hope his wrestling is at it’s best and that he will be able to time his shots against the elusive and speedy champion. Johnson on the other hand will need to win in spectacular fashion if he hopes to one-up his previous performance against the Olympic Gold Medalists. In their first fight Johnson stopped Cejudo in just under three minutes into round one. Johnson will need to do something really special if he hopes to shut the door on Cejudo for good. Additionally, this fight puts Johnson one step closer to signing on to fight the winner of the night’s main event in a super fight that could bring Mighty Mouse his greatest payday to date. He may play it safe with that in mind but with seven finishes in his last ten fights it’s hard to think that Johnson won’t be looking to add one more finish to his stat sheet.
TJ Dillashaw vs Cody Garbrandt
The UFC bantamweight title is on the line in this matchup that has Dillashaw and Garbrandt running back their last fight. The first bout did have some back and forth action that would warrant giving Garbrandt a chance to win back the title from Dillashaw. Garbrandt is not the developed striker Dillashaw is but his speed and precision did put Dillashaw on the canvas in their last meeting. The ability to finish a fight with one shot is what sets Garbrandt apart from most others in the division and he will undoubtedly be looking to finish this fight inside the distance. Dillashaw has the skill to dictate where the fight takes place and the power to finish with one shot as he showed stopping Garbrandt in their first meeting. One of the biggest differences in this fight is that the lead up doesn’t come on the heels of a season long feud on The Ultimate Fighter. This bodes well for Garbrandt who can be a bit hotheaded. Rivalry aside this fight is actually about a lot more than the feud between the two bantamweights. This fight is about who will have the chance to try and secure a super fight with Demetrious Johnson (assuming he wins his fight with Cejudo). Super fights are finally a realization for UFC champions and it would seem that both Dillashaw and Garbrandt want that fight. It’s the money fight so it makes a lot of sense for them to get it locked up. Will the potential for a major payout push these two into a brawl for it all? Or will they fight with caution as they count the money they hope it will bring?