This Saturday, we’ll be treated to what looks like, on paper, the best event of the year by far. We’ll see a UFC champion defend their belt for the first time in 2017, and a co-main event that can legitimately claim to be the greatest fight in UFC lightweight history.
In the night’s headliner, Tyron Woodley (16-3-1) takes on Stephen Thompson (13-1-1) in a rematch of their Fight of the Night winning bout from UFC 205, at Madison Square Garden last November. As that match was a draw, Woodley, as the reigning champion, kept his welterweight title. He’ll hope to retain that belt in a more convincing manner this Saturday.
In Saturday’s co-main event, Khabib Nurmagomedov (24-0) faces Tony Ferguson (22-3) for the interim lightweight title. Ferguson, who has picked up 6 fight night bonuses in his last 5 bouts, is currently riding a 9-fight winning streak, whilst Nurmagomedov has won all 8 of his UFC bouts to date. There has been a lot of criticism over the UFC’s willingness to introduce interim titles recently, but anything that turns this fight from a 3-rounder to a 5-rounder is a welcome move as far as I’m concerned.
Woodley, who has lost just once in his last 7 bouts, had been riding a 3-fight winning streak until his draw with Thompson last November, which was just the second time in UFC history that a title fight had ended in a stalemate.
For Thompson, that draw brought an end to a 7-fight winning streak, a streak bettered only by Georges St-Pierre and Jon Fitch in UFC welterweight history.
The two men share just one common opponent in their 35 combined fights; Rory MacDonald. Both men went to a judges’ decision with ‘The Red King,’ with Woodley losing a 3-round contest and Thompson winning a 5-round contest.
Now let’s take a look at the recent form of the two men competing for the interim lightweight title in the co-main event:
As good as UFC 209’s main event is, many fans are just as excited, if not more so, for the co-main. Ferguson is the only fighter in UFC history to reach 9 consecutive victories at lightweight; traditionally one of the UFC’s most talent-rich divisions, whilst only Donald Cerrone and Gray Maynard have equalled Nurmagomedov’s current record of 8.
Both men are unwaveringly confident in their ability to not only win this fight, but to go on and take the undisputed title from Conor McGregor. It’s a combination of this confidence, those winning runs, and the incredible talent of the two men that makes this bout so intriguing.
Nurmagomedov and Ferguson share four common opponents throughout their UFC careers; Rafael dos Anjos, Abel Trujillo, Michael Johnson and Gleison Tibau, with Ferguson’s loss to Johnson back in May 2012 the lone blemish amongst these results.
The Dwyer Score
Each event I calculate a ‘Dwyer Score’ for the card. It’s a simple way of assigning a numeric value to the momentum of any one event. I do this by assigning a figure to each fighter’s current streak. A fighter on a five-fight winning streak contributes +5 to an event’s score. A fighter on a two-fight losing streak contributes -2 to the score. No Contests, Draws, or bouts with other promotions reset your streak to 0. When you tally up the scores for every fighter on a card (only counting UFC fights), you get a total which gives you an idea of the combined momentum of fighters heading into a specific event.
UFC 209 posts a huge Dwyer Score of +33, which places itself firmly in the top-10 UFC events of all time.
This score positions UFC 209 in the top 2.5% of the 390 events in UFC history, and is the top-scoring event of 2017 by far.
This graph below shows how that score compares to average Dwyer Scores over the last 12 months:
This score is well above the +23.3 average for PPV events, and blows the +12.5 average for all events out of the water. It’s a score that is even more impressive considering the two men in the main event are both coming off a draw, and thus contribute nothing to the score themselves.
Here is a table that shows exactly what each fighter is contributing to this week’s Dwyer Score.
I’ve focused heavily on the top two fights on this card, and for good reason, though there’s much more to UFC 209 than those two bouts.
39-year old Dan Kelly has closed as an underdog with the bookmakers in all 6 of his UFC bouts thus far (and will again this week), yet is 5-1 in those fights. His opponent, The Ultimate Fighter 2 heavyweight winner, and former light-heavyweight champion Rashad Evans will be making his middleweight debut.
Jackson-Wink product Lando Vannata really put himself on the map in 2016. A thrilling loss to Tony Ferguson as a last-minute replacement was followed by a wheel kick KO of John Makdessi that earned multiple knockout of the year awards. His opponent, David Teymur, had a memorable 2016 of his own, winning 2 out of 2 via TKO/KO stoppage.
In Alistair Overeem and Mark Hunt, we have two striking-focused heavyweights with over 140 professional combat sports bouts between them. The two men have headlined multiple UFC events, including PPV shows, in the past, and yet we’ll be fortunate enough to see them opening the PPV card on Saturday.
And that’s just the main card. This is a fantastic event, and exactly what excites us as MMA fans, with title fights, fighters on huge winning streaks, highly-touted prospects, and legends of the sport all clashing on one card. This is precisely what a PPV event should feel like, and I can’t wait for this one.