We’ve made it to the final UFC event of 2018, and boy do we have a cracker of a card to round off the year. But, as is customary for a UFC event featuring Jon “Bones” Jones, we’ve had drama before a foot has been set inside the octagon.
Jones’ preliminary drug screening came back with an abnormality, with the former UFC champ – who has just come back from a 15-month anti-doping suspension – showing an element of turinabol in his system.
USADA, however, have cleared Jones, and other independent anti-doping experts agreed that “Bones” isn’t to blame for the trace amount of the drug still knocking around in his system, and determined his title fight with Alex Gustafsson can still go ahead. Good news.
But then the Nevada State Athletic Commission pumped the brakes on the whole affair, saying due process had to be completed and Jones, given his past anti-doping indiscretions, would need to face a hearing before being cleared to fight in the state.
No problem, said the UFC, who promptly switched the show from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Good news for the UFC, who get their pay-per-view money, and good news for Jones, who actually gets to fight.
But for the rest of the UFC fighters whose fight weeks have been turned upside down – and for the fans who paid up in advance to travel to Vegas for the show – it’s an absolute nightmare.
However, the show goes on, and it does so with a card more stacked than Floyd Mayweather’s Nikes in THAT McGregor presser last year, with top-drawer fighting talent on show all the way down the fight card.
Let’s leave the controversial venue switch to one side and take a look at the key matchups and offer a pick or two…
THE MAIN EVENT
Jon “Bones” Jones is back (again) after an anti-doping drama (again) but now he’s as clean as a whistle, cleared of any wrongdoing with his last test and ready to reclaim the title he never lost in the octagon.
And he’s returning in a rematch of one of the greatest title fights ever seen inside the UFC octagon.
Jones is facing old foe Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson, who himself is returning after a lengthy injury hiatus. We could see a little ring rust in the opening round or two, but there’s no reason to expect this to be anything other than another octagon classic.
The difference between the pair is while Gustafsson’s level seems to have remained largely the same over the years, Jones has been steadily getting better and better.
But Gustafsson pushed Jones harder than any man before, or since, in the octagon, so if the Swede arrives in Vegas in tip-top shape, we could have another classic on our hands.
But there’s one inescapable problem for the Swedish star. However good he is in the cage, Jones seems to be just that little bit better. And if JBJ is on form, expect him to walk away with the belt once again, possibly with a KO/TKO finish.
I’m expecting a virtuoso performance from Jones to round out 2018 before he moves up to heavyweight and wrecks shop to become “The Baddest Man on the Planet” in 2019.
Jon Jones vs Brock Lesnar in the second half of 2019? Don’t bet against it.
THE CO-MAIN EVENT
Joanna Jedrzejczyk tried, but couldn’t do it, and now Amanda “The Lioness” Nunes is bidding to become the first female “champ-champ” in UFC history.
The UFC women’s bantamweight world champion is stepping up to featherweight to challenge the most dominant force in women’s MMA of all time, fellow Brazilian Cris “Cyborg” Justino for her UFC women’s featherweight title.
The bout pits the two hardest-hitting female fighters in the world head to head in a matchup that promises fireworks from the very first bell.
Cyborg totally dominates her opponents with her sheer strength and power. But if there’s anyone on the UFC roster who can step up and give Justino a run for her money, it’s Nunes.
“The Lioness” defeated Miesha Tate to capture the UFC women’s bantamweight crown, then battered Ronda Rousey into retirement at UFC 207. In both those contests she took the initiative, came storming forward and earned decisive wins.
Nunes has looked vulnerable when she’s taken a more considered approach, though. She was fortunate to earn a split-decision win to retain her title against Valentina Shevchenko in September last year, and if she comes out like that against Cyborg, she’ll get smashed.
No, the only way for Nunes to win is to come out all guns blazing, catch Cyborg cold and get a quickfire stoppage win. Cyborg, of course, knows this too, and she’ll be ready to fight fire with fire from the very off.
It all means we could see the most spectacular women’s fight in a long time – perhaps of all time – or we could see Cyborg utterly dominate once again.
Either way, Cyborg is the clear pick here. Nunes has a puncher’s chance, but against Cyborg, she’ll have to get it done quick before she gets caught herself.
If you’re looking for a little bit of underdog value, let me introduce you to “The Extraordinary Gentleman” Bevon Lewis.
The undefeated middleweight prospect earned his spot on the UFC roster with a pair of TKO finishes on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, and he’s been given a notable name for his octagon debut.
Lewis takes on the enigmatic, but inconsistent, Uriah “Primetime” Hall, who has a reputation as a spectacular striker, but has also been in decidedly iffy form.
Hall has lost four of his last five, and has won just once since 2015, yet he’s the narrow betting favourite against undefeated prospect Lewis.
Lewis has all the momentum coming in, he’ll be fired up and looking to impress on his debut, and I think his even money odds make him well worth a peek.
Also keep an eye on the featherweight clash between former title challenger Chad Mendes and Alex Volkanovski.
Aussie Volkanovski called out Mendes after his last win, and the former rugby player might just give you a run for your money at 5/4 against his bigger-name opponent.
That one could be one of the bouts of the night at featherweight, and if Volkanovski can push the pace early and maintain his intensity through the second round, he may well outpace the American down the stretch to earn a huge decision victory.
YAN’S THE MAN
Former ACB bantamweight champion Petr Yan (2/7) is a star in the making at 135lbs, and he faces his toughest UFC assignment yet against Brazil’s Douglas Silva de Andrade on the preliminary card, but should have enough in his locker to secure another impressive victory.
Yan has been in a host of exciting tear-ups in his career, and his title-winning performance against Magomed Magomedov at ACB 57 was an absolute classic. If you haven’t seen much of Yan before, check out this five-round thriller and see for yourself.