Opinion: “Don’t Sleep On This” UFC 229 Edition

“Don’t Sleep On This” is our regular segment, produced in the lead up to every UFC card focusing on a fighter and/or match up that should not be missed (aka, slept on). This week we’re talking about and previewing an entire card, possibly the card of the year. 

Conor McGregor returns after nearly two years off to challenge for his former belt against Khabib Nurmagomedov. This fight has been in the making for a while now, and after what went down at UFC 223, these two are finally settling things in the octagon. UFC 229 also looks set to decide who could be next to challenge for the lightweight, heavyweight, women’s strawweight and flyweight titles.

Let’s take a look at those matchups and make our picks.

The last person to challenge reigning women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg was Russia’s Yana Kunitskaya way back in March. This time around, Kunitskaya will face the ‘Elbow Queen’ Lina Lansberg. Lansberg is coming off a unanimous decision win over Gina Mazany at UFC Fight Night 130 in Liverpool this past May. Both fighters have lost to champion Cyborg after drawing her as their debut UFC bout. That’s no easy task. Lansberg has alternated wins and losses in her four UFC bouts and Kunitskaya, the former Invicta FC bantamweight champion, was 10-3 before joining the promotion. My pick: Kunitskaya

Another challenger of Cris Cyborg in her first fight with the company, former Invicta FC bantamweight champion Tonya Evinger will finally be back in the cage this weekend to face Invicta FC vet Aspen Ladd. This will be Evinger‘s third opponent change since February of this year. The undefeated Ladd is coming off a TKO win of Lina Lansberg at UFC Fight Night 118. My pick: Evinger

Flyweight contenders Sergio Pettis and Jussier Formiga will close out the FS1 prelims. The younger Pettis has an impressive record during his UFC run, beating contenders Chris Cariaso, John Moraga and most recently Joseph Benavidez, but none of those wins have come by stoppage. With a win this weekend, Pettis can campaign for a rematch against the current flyweight champion Henry Cejudo. Formiga is on a 2-fight win streak with a pair of rear-naked choke victories against Ulka Sasaki and most recently Ben Nguyen, which earned him a performance of the night bonus. Formiga will look to use his ground game to counter Pettis’ striking, and look for a rematch of his own with the flyweight champ. My pick: Formiga

To kick off the main card, two of my favorite strawweights, Felice Herrig and Michelle Waterson will meet. Herrig was on a 4-fight win streak before dropping a split decision to former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Waterson was the former atomweight champion over at Invicta FC before joining the UFC. After winning her first two fights, Waterson dropped two in a row to Tecia Torres and current strawweight champ Rose Namajunas before picking up a split decision win at UFC on FOX 29 against Cortney Casey in April. These are two of the most exciting strawweights in the world both looking for a shot at the title. The Lil’ Bulldog‘s constant pressure could well be a problem for Waterson. My pick: Herrig

The next heavyweight title fight, if Daniel Cormier and Brock Lesnar never come to fruition, will most likely involve the winner of this bout. Alexander Volkov, the former Bellator heavyweight champion who is undefeated since joining the UFC in 2016, most recently took out former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum and was the backup plan at UFC 226 if something had happened to that title fight. His opponent Derrick Lewis is on a streak of his own, beating Marcin Tybura and former title challenger Francis Ngannou. ‘The Black Beast’ has won 8 of his last 9 fights, that lone loss coming to Mark Hunt. Lewis has been bothered by back problems throughout his run, but leading up to this fight is adamant that those days are behind him. We could be looking at a healthy Derrick Lewis for the first time in a while. The 6’7″ Volkov was able to keep knockout artist Roy Nelson at bay, is that something he will be able to do with LewisMy pick: Lewis

Ovince Saint Preux has show flashes of brilliance in the octagon over his UFC career. OSP is the only UFC fighter with three Von Flue choke victories, and because of that it has come to be known as the Von Preux choke in some circles. Since losing to Jon Jones in an interim light heavyweight title fight in 2016, OSP has gone 4-3, his last win coming against Tyson Pedro at UFC Fight Night 132 in June. Pedro looked to be winning the fight, battering OSP up against the cage before taking him down, and that’s not always the best strategy with Saint Preux. Dominick Reyes on the other hand is undefeated, with six knockouts to his name all coming in the first round. This is a big step up for Reyes, a future star the UFC appears to be looking to push. If OSP can avoid a slow start, the veteran can spoil the party for Reyes. My pick: Saint Preux

It was only six months ago Tony Ferguson was scheduled to face Khabib Nurmagomedov for the undisputed lightweight title, but on April Fools Day, that was put on hold. Ferguson tore his LCL during fight week, and was told he’d be out of action for a year. Here we are in October and Ferguson is ready to do battle with former champion Anthony Pettis as the co-main event to Khabib and McGregor. It must be a tough pill to swallow, winning the interim lightweight title and then losing it all only a week out. Ferguson will look to keep his 10-fight win streak going and show that his injury, as quick a turnaround as it is, is behind him. Anthony Pettis, who has alternated wins and losses in his last four bouts, is looking to get some consistency going. Since losing his title to Rafael dos Anjos in 2015, Pettis is 3-4; two of those losses coming against former and current champions. Pettis last submitted Michael Chiesa at UFC 226. Will Ferguson show any injury rust against the dynamic Pettis? My pick: Ferguson

Is this the biggest fight in UFC history? Will this be the biggest PPV in UFC history? That will all be determined in time. Khabib Nurmagomedov is 26-0, a hard feat in MMA, and McGregor’s toughest challenge to date. Khabib’s ground game was perfected in Dagestan, Russia and his team out of AKA is comprised of double champ Daniel Cormier, former heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez and former middleweight champ Luke Rockhold. A killer training with killers. Khabib has been calling for this fight, fully confident he can beat McGregor and further improve his legacy. We all know McGregor’s story. McGregor has been out of the MMA game for two years, saying he lost the drive for MMA after venturing into boxing… but now it’s back. The former double champ wants back what’s his, and has stayed active in training knowing what would be waiting for him when he made his return. Will the left hand be able to land and stop Khabib for the first time or will Khabib’s takedowns be too much for McGregor? Hear McGregor’s prediction below. My pick: McGregor

UFC 229: Khabib Vs. McGregor begins on UFC Fight Pass @ 6:30PM ET/3:30PM PT and continues with the prelims on Fox Sports 1 @ 8:00PM ET/5:00PM PT followed by the Pay-Per-View portion main card starting @ 10:00PM ET/7:00PM PT.

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