Five for Fighting – UFC Fight Night: Thompson vs. Neal

The UFC puts on it’s final show of the year this Saturday, December 19th as UFC Vegas 17 provides a six-fight main card to really look forward to. Amazingly, this will be the 25th week in a row that we have seen fighters inside the octagon compete on our TV screens. Finally, fans can take a breath directly after Saturday night’s scraps with a three week gap before the next event.

Here are the five fights that I am most looking forward to on the card.

Stephen Thompson vs. Geoff Neal

You would expect this welterweight bout to be a mouthwatering stand-up battle between two astute strikers. Thompson fights for the first time this year, the last we seen from the former title challenger, was a masterful performance when he fought Vicente Luque in November 2019.

“Wonderboy” took home a unanimous decision victory that night, and put on a phenomenal striking display. He will make the walk on Saturday to take on a seasoned striker in Geoff Neal. Neal brings a 7-fight win streak into the octagon on Saturday night. We last seen the 170-pounder when he fought and destroyed Mike Perry at UFC 245, and like Thompson he fights for the first time in 2020.

I’m excited to see this fight because there is nothing more than I enjoy other than watching two high level strikers go to battle. Neal will have the power advantage here but finding the target will be easier said than done, Wonderboy’s footwork and distance control inside the cage is exceptional.

I expect to see a fresh, hungry Stephen Thompson stepping into the cage on Saturday night. I believe he is a better striker than Neal, Thompson will need to be careful with his in/out style of striking in this fight, he will not want to step onto a big punch from Neal because “Handz of Steel” does carry big power and has a great killer instinct. A fantastic fight to finish off the year.

Quick Pick: Stephen Thompson

José Aldo vs. Marlon Vera

The move down to bantamweight, for former featherweight champion Jose Aldo, has not gone to plan as of yet for the Brazilian. He made the move last year when he took on Marlon Moraes, a fight which he lost by a razor close decision. That loss didn’t stop the UFC from sticking him in for a title shot against Petr Yan in his next fight, unfortunately it was more bad news for Aldo, as the Russian stopped the Brazilian from picking up a second world title at a different weight.

Aldo will find himself standing across from fellow South American, Marlon Vera who is riding the crest of a wave after his defeat of Sean O’Malley earlier this year. “Chito”, who hails from Ecuador, has six wins in seven fights coming into this scrap. Facing the former 145-pound champion will be a huge step up in class for Vera but only if we see Aldo at his absolute best.

At 34, old father time is slowly catching up on Jose Aldo, especially if you take into account how long he has been fighting and the amount of battles the Brazilian has been in. Aldo took on a nice bit of damage in his bout with Yan, it will be interesting to see if that took something out of him that can not be replaced. Only last weekend we seen the ghost of Tony Ferguson in his fight looking old and slow when he fought Charles Oliveira. It happens to all fighters eventually, will it happen to Aldo this weekend? Only time will tell.

Overall this fight is intriguing, it’s intriguing because of the point that I’ve just mentioned in the last paragraph, also it’s going to be interesting to see if Vera can step up to the challenge. On paper this is a favorable matchup for Aldo, given his past experience, but fights are not won or lost on paper. “Chito” Vera has been ever improving each time he has stepped into the octagon but only two fights ago he was beaten by Song Yadong.

We will never see Jose Aldo at his very best again, we can only remember how much of a killer he was in his prime. I feel that in this fight, if he shows us even a gilmour of the skills that he possess, he should have enough to get over the line. Vera’s style matches up really well with that of his South American counterpart and I expect this to be a very explosive fight.

Quick Pick: Jose Aldo

Michel Pereira vs. Khaos Williams

When I see somebody with the name “Khaos”, that is set to throw punches, I’m already invested to see what they are all about. We found out exactly what Khaos Williams was about when he fought Abdul Razak Alhassan last time out. Williams landed a straight left, down the pipe on Alhassan and the word was Alhassan lay unconscious for 10 minutes after the initial impact. Crazy power.

Michel Pereira is not chaos by name but he certainly chaos by nature. A boneafide madman once the cage door closes and the bell rings. Expect to see spinning attacks, cartwheels and somersaults, pretty much expect to see anything from the Brazilian welterweight. Pereira is exactly what this sport needs. He may never be a title holder but he will always bring top notch entertainment.

Pereira was a little subdued in his last fight against Zelim Imadaev, a fight that he won by submission in round three, that is in comparison to his previous bouts, and we may see the same here. When facing off with someone with power like Williams, you would think that Pereira won’t want to get too experimental on the feet. It’s always exciting when we get two powerful guys lock horns inside the octagon. I’m especially curious to see what happen if this fight goes into deep waters.

Quick Pick: Michel Pereira

Marlon Moraes vs. Rob Font

Marlon Moraes will be looking to bounce back from his disappointing defeat from the hand on Cory Sandhagen earlier this year. The Brazilian has a rock solid overall game and was favoured to win the Sandhagen bout, Sandhagen surprised many, including the former WSOF champion, with his performance and his stunning spinning wheel kick finish last October.

With title aspirations before that fight for Moraes it’s back to the drawing board for the Brazilian as he looks to mount another title run, standing in his way is Rob Font. We will see Font perform for only the first time this year. In 2019 he picked up a win in his only fight by beating Ricky Simon, the American also had an impressive victory over Sergio Pettis in 2018.

The last few years have been start/stop for Font, and I’m not sure that will benefit the bantamweight coming into this fight with Moreas. Moreas calibre of a fighter that is at an elite level, the Brazilian will be ever so hungry to get back to winning ways and stake his claim for another shot at Petr Yan’s title.

Moreas will need to take home a win on Saturday, and have a steller 2021 if he wants to find himself in a title shot once more. A win here for Font will help him take all that shine and move into title contention himself. This is a great matchup and a fight with huge implementations on the division for whoever take home the win.

Quick Pick: Marlon Moraes

Anthony Pettis vs. Alex Morono

Anthony “Showtime” Pettis will make the walk at 170-pounds once more this weekend. The former lightweight champion will take on Alex Morono, who we last seen fighting and beating Rhys McKee only last month. A short turnaround for Morono is exactly what the doctor ordered, the American will look to ride the wave of his impressive victory over McKee. If he were to pick up another win over a UFC veteran like Pettis, 2020 will be a very good year for “The Great White”.

Pettis has slipped into gatekeeper status it seems for this fight, he took out Cowboy Cerrone in what was in only win so far in 2020. Pettis hasn’t had a knockout victory since he stopped Wonderboy with a superman punch in early 2019. This fight, against a hungry up and comer, I feel that Pettis will have to find the motivation to get the job done or it could be a long night for the former 155-pound champion.

Mororo best route to victory will be to put Pettis on his back and try to get the submission victory. He has amassed 6 wins by way of submission so far in his career so he does have that in his locker. It would not be a good idea for Morono to use stand and bang game plan that he used against McKee, he will need to mix up his striking and grappling when he squares off here against Pettis. I feel that Pettis is too experienced and too crafty to get beat on the feet, even though Pettis is at the twilight of his career he is still a dangerous fighter.

Quick Pick: Anthony Pettis

OFFICIAL FIGHT CARD

Main Card (BT Sports 1, 12am)

Stephen Thompson (15-4-1) vs. Geoff Neal (13-2)

Jose Aldo (28-7) vs. Marlon Vera (18-6-1)

Khaos Williams (11-1) vs. Michel Pereira (24-11-1)

Marlon Moraes (23-7-1) vs. Rob Font (17-4)

Gillian Robertson (9-4) vs. Taila Santos (16-1)

Marcin Tybura (20-6) vs. Greg Hardy (7-2)

Preliminary Card (BT Sports, 10pm)

Anthony Pettis (23-10) vs. Alex Morono (18-6)

Sijara Eubanks (6-5) vs. Pannie Kianzad (13-5)

Deron Winn (6-2) vs. Antonio Arroyo (9-3)

Aiemann Zahabi (7-2) vs. Drako Rodriguez (7-1)

Tafon Nchukwi (4-0) vs. Jamie Pickett (11-4)

Cody Durden (11-2-1) vs. Jimmy Flick (15-5)

Rick Glenn (21-6-1) vs. Carlton Minus (10-2)

Ian O'Neill is a Kilkenny man living in Canada. You can catch him on Twitter most of the time talking all things MMA. Follow me on Twitter and on Instagram @ioneillmma.