The stark contrast between the two largest fight cards of the year is almost palpable. Just last weekend, fans witnessed the most marketed, expensive, and hyped billing that MMA has seen in its short history. Did it deliver? Most are saying no.
Of course I’m referring to UFC 200, the mammoth-sized, stacked -to-the-brim event that had more lean mass than Brock Lesnar himself. Unfortunately, all that size didn’t transfer very effectively as the card fell flat on several fronts. Obviously the fights had star power and most turned out well, but for a card with expectations built through the roof, turning out ‘well’ just doesn’t cut it.
The second of the two aforementioned fight cards is UFC 202. The tip-top show is scheduled to touch down in Las Vegas this August, and recent promotional surges have been building the momentum on what looks to be one of the best fight cards ever made.
In this list, we dive into five critical reasons that UFC 202 will out-do it’s over-hyped sibling and steal the show with some of the most incredible and well-strategized matchmaking the fight game has ever seen.
The UFC 200 undercard featured plenty of former champions and stars looking to stay in the win column or get back to their former glory. The issue, however, was that most of the bouts lacked strong ramifications in their divisions. A good example would be to analyze what a win over Thiago Santos does for Gegard Mousasi, or more over, where Gastelum goes with his win over Hendricks in a severely crowded division.
One could argue that the only bouts that created title-reaching waves were the performances put on by Cain Velasquez and Jose Aldo, with Julianna Pena and TJ Dillashaw coming in at a close second with their victories.
The headliner saw the women’s bantamweight title change hands yet again, further cementing the idea that a post-Rousey division lacks leadership. The other two featured bouts on the main card were simply super fights with no solid stance on what those results mean for their division, if anything.
In a refreshing change, UFC 202 provides nothing but relevance. From the Anthony Johnson vs. Glover Teixeira match to the Carlos Condit vs. Demian Maia scrap, title shots are looming in all directions this August. Additionally, the potential of a Neil Magny bout on the card leaves the door open for establishing a second contender for the welterweight crown. And that doesn’t even crack open the main event…
With a Nate Diaz win in the headliner, McGregor moves down to defend his featherweight crown and Diaz most likely goes on to challenge for the lightweight title. With a McGregor win, the Irishman finds his way into a title fight likely any weight class he chooses, and Diaz finds his way into another high profile bout.
Any way you slice it, UFC 202’s results have the ability to shift the tops of several divisions in many different, and crucial ways.
Joe Silva and Sean Shelby truly outdid themselves for this one, as UFC 202 appears to have a surplus of some of the most competitive high-profile fights in the company’s history. To add to that fact, the fights have a vintage heir about them in terms of styles. Thought-provoking match-ups were the cornerstone for the sport’s growth early on, and in a seeming ode to the company’s roots, the striker versus grappler match-up has resurfaced years later in the form of Demian Maia taking on Carlos Condit.
Other fights ask equally interesting questions, as outlined:
Can the smaller man get inside? (McGregor-Diaz)
Does skill or power reign supreme? (Cerrone-Story)
Will both power-punchers go head on, or a will we see a game of human chicken ensue? (Texeira-Johnson)
The secret ingredient in all these style-clashes is quality. When one compares the style match-ups from UFC 200, the difference is found in the level of each fighter in their division, based on what they do. Johnny Hendricks and Kelvin Gastelum both have great wrestling, good chins and solid power, but are they the best at what they do at 170 pounds ? No. The same can be said for match ups like Lesnar vs. Hunt.
Alternatively, that argument can be made for Demian Maia and Carlos Condit. Maia is, in fact, the best at what he does in his division, and he has the record – and medals – to prove it. Condit is also at the top of the conversation in the discussion of best striking at welterweight, with little competition outside of Stephen Thompson.
All along the card, when reading into the storyline of each fight, you will be hard pressed to find better examples of each problem that a fighter presents to his foe, within his division, than at UFC 202.
With the introduction of deeply intriguing style clashes, combined with top-notch talent, the margin for error at UFC 202 becomes razor thin. In addition to each fight presenting fans with unique puzzles constructed of speculation and unique variables, they also appear to be very competitive.
The previously mentioned quality that resonates through UFC 202 welcomes a tension to the mix in creating ideas for spectators of what could happen, while leaving most without solid theories on what will happen. UFC 200’s card, almost in it’s entirety, felt like a long list of foregone conclusions while sprinkling in the occasional close fight and gifting fans with a surprising upset at the show’s end.
In UFC 202 however, the night’s prominent bouts have the potential to end in dramatic, sudden fashion or turn into all-out war. Like any good drama-filled work of entertainment, UFC 202’s matchups are highly anticipated and leave us with a pleasantly foggy crystal ball.
Relevant, interesting, close fights equate to one thing for fight fans. A good time.
This card’s results may have the potential to move a lot of careers in the right direction, but with all the serious implications aside, this card boils down to a lot of fun. Speculation and a lack of preconceived outcomes stimulates our brains and invites the imagination to come out and play. When that imagination comes out, in the spirit of MMA, great things can happen. It’s how the sport itself was conceived.
Although imagination may seem like a given for spectators at a UFC event, surprisingly, it has been in short supply as of late. Luckily, this card drives enough excitement for the entire year and more than carries over the let downs from UFC 200.
Of the headliner, Dana White once said, “Conor makes fighting fun again”, and the fact that he is willing to rematch Nate Diaz in a fight that could see him drop two in a row speaks to that quality, along with his running mate, Diaz. Although Brock Lesnar’s return brought hype and excitement to the cage, the in-fight result was nothing to write home about. On the other hand, the Diaz-McGregor style clash almost guarantees a highly potent, violent clash.
That’s something also in short supply in today’s fight game.
The Conor McGregor Show
There is no denying that with the indefinite sabbatical Ronda Rousey seems to be on right now, the biggest star in the sport is currently Conor McGregor. And no, a one-off return for Brock Lesnar does not count. With that star power in mind, it makes every time Conor fights something special.
It’s well-documented in fight sports that the window of time that an athlete can compete (well) is fairly short. That puts a cap on each fighter’s career as to how many fights they have in their primes. McGregor remains one of the most unique figures ever to grace a ring or a cage, and each passing fight leaves us with one less McGregor-driven event in the future. Eventually, he will fade away, but this era of stardom is something fans should bask in, and truly appreciate, while they can. As we have seen with greats in the past, personalities matching world-class skill and bulletproof charisma come along once in a life time.
Fan or not, Conor has revitalized the fighting spirit of the sport and helped it’s elevation. No other fighter, aside from possibly Rousey, can claim as much contribution to the evolution of modern MMA culture as the featherweight king.
His dismissal from UFC 200 has, in a way, raised his stock even more. Win, lose, or draw, the hype train McGregor has been riding since this rematch was announced will be full steam ahead to UFC 202 this August.
To end with a quote “UFC 202 is the real 200”, and August’s stellar fight card may just prove the Irish featherweight champ from Dublin right.