Preview, Picks And Betting Tip – UFC Fight Night: MacDonald vs. Thompson

wonderboy

After the sheer insanity of UFC 199 two weeks ago, it’s somewhat back down to earth for the Ultimate Fighting Championship this Saturday night as the TD Place Arena in Ottawa, Canada plays host to UFC Fight Night 89.

On paper, this card could be described as mediocre at best if not for its extraordinary main event.

In that headlining slot, former UFC welterweight title challenger Rory MacDonald gets home country advantage in the last fight of his UFC contract as he takes on striking phenom Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson in one of the best possible match-ups in MMA today without a belt on the line.

Training out of the Tristar gym in Montreal, Canada, where incidentally his opponent also trained for a time, Rory MacDonald is one of the true modern breed of martial artists. Having made his debut as a 16 year-old in 2005, MacDonald won nine fights over a four year period to earn a UFC contract. In just his second fight, MacDonald lost his unbeaten record to Carlos Condit in the last 10 seconds of a fight he had been winning.

Wins over names like Nate Diaz and BJ Penn followed that before MacDonald again tasted defeat in a narrow split decision loss to Robbie Lawler who went on to pick up the welterweight title. MacDonald, however, forced himself into a rematch with three wins against Tarec Saffiedine, Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia, but again fell just short as Lawler got the finish in the last round with Rory ahead on the cards.

For Thompson, it has been a much shorter road to the top, at least as solely an MMA fighter. Entering MMA in 2010, he already had a much lauded combat career with multiple world titles in kickboxing having been tutored by his father Ray in Simpsonville, South Carolina’s Upstate Karate.

From his debut, it took Thompson just five wins and a day under two years to get himself a UFC spot. Dan Stittgen was the man to draw the short straw for that one and found himself on the wrong end of a picture perfect head kick KO.

Like MacDonald, Wonderboy went up against a grizzled veteran in just his second fight as Matt Brown pretty much schooled him in the clinch over three rounds. Since then, Thompson has dedicated himself to all aspects of MMA and has reaped the rewards. In his six consecutive wins, Thompson has taken out solid wrestlers in the shape of Patrick Côté, Jake Ellenberger and, last time out, former champion Johny Hendricks to prove himself a genuine threat to anyone at 170 lbs.

When looking at this fight it has ‘spectacular technical battle’ written all over it.

In general, Rory MacDonald is the type of guy who will take on opponents everywhere. He has a very good jab, follows it with hard combinations, gets in on takedowns well, has a good clinch game and is wonderful as a jiu-jitsu player when it hits the mat.

Against Wonderboy, though, will he employ the same ‘willing to fight anywhere’ strategy?

On the feet, Wonderboy is arguably the best in MMA today and has also gotten better with his takedown defence after the aforementioned problems early in his career. As a karate stylist he is naturally light on his toes as he darts around the Octagon from a long range which also keeps him out of the grappling realm. His various assortment of kicks to the legs, body and, especially, head are devastating, as is an ever-improving punching arsenal which he uses extremely well to fight off the cage when pressed.

If this fight goes for long periods on the feet expect a lot of pressured cage cutting from MacDonald and even more slick countering from Thompson. If that is the case, you couldn’t rule MacDonald out, but you would have to favour Thompson whose movement, accuracy and variety of over-elite level striking would just be too much for anyone.

The fact that they’ve trained together before will give MacDonald an advantage other opponents of Wonderboy don’t have but his changes as a fighter and extraordinary striking ability might nullify that.

MacDonald’s biggest advantage is obviously on the ground. Thompson has improved greatly both off of his back and at stopping it from going there, but this is whole different kettle of fish. MacDonald has nice trips and is crafty wrestling against the cage, with the high single leg something he goes to a lot. If he can get a hold of Thompson, and keep a hold of him, he’ll have a big chance of taking this fight.

Based on that, the winning and losing of this one is down to who can come out on top in those transitions between clinch, fence and floor. For me, I see Rory being able to get a takedown but I also think Thompson has improved enough in that area to not get taken down constantly over five rounds while also having enough of an advantage on the feet to get the job done in what might be limited opportunities. MacDonald will have to be near perfect defensively on the feet and even then that might not be enough to stop Wonderboy. Whatever happens, this will be one for the purists.

Before that, in the co-main event, MMA veterans are on show with another Canadian, Patrick Côté, taking on horse-riding, RV-driving fan-favourite Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in a welterweight attraction.

Cerrone, a career lightweight, is currently 29-7(1 no-contest) as a professional having started out back in 2006. A long and successful stint in the WEC was the bones of his early days before the UFC switch came in 2011. Over the years Cerrone has defeated people of the ilk of Edson Barboza, Jim Miller and Benson Henderson but gold has unfortunately eluded him having fought for both the WEC and UFC straps.

Côté (23-9) is even longer on the MMA map having first strapped on the gloves all the way back in 2002. In 2004, he made his UFC debut against Tito Ortiz before losing that and two subsequent fights which saw him cut from the organisation. It wasn’t long, though, before he returned as part of a TUF comeback season. Although he lost the chance to fight for the championship on the season finale, he did eventually get a shot at the belt – losing to Anderson Silva. Côté was again let go in 2010 but returned two years later and has an impressive 6-2 record since.

As a fight this one should be pretty good with not much on the line rankings wise with two well-rounded and experienced men at work.

Côté is a natural fighter from the outside when things are standing. He follows the movements of his opponent and takes opportunities when he sees fit. His jab, which he feints a lot, and big right hand are his best strikes but it’s as a grappler when he does his best work of late. Against the cage he is very strong and will take you down given half a chance. On the floor he isn’t the best in the transitions but once position settles he is offensively dangerous and defensively sound.

Cerrone, on the other hand, is more of a Muay Thai based action fighter. Despite his long frame, he likes to get inside and fight in the trenches. To do that, Cerrone uses his long limbs well for kicking heads and legs with regularity. Elbows, knees and short shots follow that. He won’t be looking for many takedowns but if he’s on the wrong end of some, off of his back he’s also extremely active and can submit you from anywhere.

With all that laid out, I see this match-up favouring Cerrone. As a striker he is much more varied and likely to find the finish while on the ground you could say the same. I’d never rule Côté out because of his power and wrestling ability but I think Cerrone should certainly have enough to take this one.

Outside of those there really isn’t too much to whet the appetite here. Elias Theodorou vs. Sam Alvey and the return of Tamdan McCrory are both somewhat interesting while the first ever women’s flyweight fight between Valérie Létourneau and Joanne Calderwood is worth keeping half an eye on.

FIGHT PICKS

Rory MacDonald vs. Stephen Thompson – Thompson leaves no doubt about his credentials
Donald Cerrone vs. Patrick Cote – Might see Cerrone pull a submission out here
Steve Bossé vs. Sean O’Connell – Not sure how this is on the main card. Sean
Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Thibault Gouti – OAM decision
Valérie Létourneau vs. Joanne Calderwood – Looking forward to this, close Létourneau decision

Jason Saggo vs. Leandro Silva – Saggo
Misha Cirkunov vs. Ion Cutelaba – Cirkunov
Tamdan McCrory vs. Krzysztof Jotko – McCrory
Chris Beal vs. Joe Soto – Soto

Elias Theodorou vs. Sam Alvey – Alvey
Randa Markos vs. Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger – Markos
Colby Covington vs. Jonathan Meunier – Colby
Ali Bagautinov vs. Geane Herrera – Ali Bags

BET OF THE WEEK

I’m going for a 4/1 treble of Cerrone, Covington and O’Connell

START TIMES

Early Prelims – 11.45pm on Fight Pass

Prelims – 1.30am on BT Sport 2

Main Card – 3.30am on BT Sport 2

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma