Amanda Nunes returns to the Octagon to defend her featherweight championship against Felicia Spencer this Saturday at UFC 250.
Despite dissenting votes from Ronda Rousey and Cris Cyborg, Nunes is the greatest female fighter of all time. She is also the reigning women’s bantamweight champion, and a win against Spencer will help further cement her brilliance in the cage, extending a reign of dominance over two divisions.
Nunes’ defense of her featherweight championship marks the lone women’s fight of the night and sole title bout. The remainder of the 250 card offers a lot of exciting fights, but this is more of a one-sided card to gauge whether the next crop of fighters will emerge as stars.
Will UFC 250 be a night where rising stars shine? That is a question which applies to Cody Garbrandt, Aljamain Sterling, Anthony Rocco Martin, Sean O’Malley, and even Spencer, all of whom have earned the opportunity to significantly raise their stock with a victory.
Here are the top five questions entering UFC 250:
1. Can Felicia Spencer upset Amanda Nunes?
The easy answer to this question is yes.
Spencer (8-1) obviously has an uphill battle against Amanda Nunes (19-4), who is riding a 10-fight win streak. But even the best fighters lose, and perhaps Spencer is catching Nunes at the right moment in time.
Win or lose, Nunes is one of the greatest to ever step in the Octagon. She can grapple and offers tremendous skills in jiu jitsu, which we don’t see too often because of her outrageous knockout power. Regardless of gender, Nunes is one of the hardest hitters currently operating in the UFC.
But at some point, every seemingly unbeatable champion meets that moment of vulnerability. With great cardio, strength, and skilled grappling, Spencer is the only threat in this weight class that comes close to rivaling Nunes. If anyone is capable of producing an upset, she is the one.
This fight likely goes in one of two directions. Either Nunes is her normal dominant self, or we see something similar to Nunes’ 2014 loss against Cat Zingano. Nunes lost that bout by TKO, and Zingano’s blueprint was to withstand the early punishment and then take advantage of an exhausted Nunes. The question then becomes whether Spencer can withstand Nunes’ offensive array, which I do not think she can.
Nunes brings too much power, too much size, and too much skill. Looking into my crystal ball, I see Nunes by TKO in the third round.
2. Will Cody Garbrandt get back on track?
The bantamweight fight pitting Cody Garbrandt against Raphael Assunção is a temperature check fight. Garbrandt (11-3) was a rising star for the UFC, reaching his peak with an outstanding performance against Dominick Cruz in his bantamweight championship victory in December 2016. Since then, however, Garbrandt has dropped three fights in a row. Still only 28, he needs to defeat Assunção (27-7) to show he is a still a major factor in the bantamweight division.
Assunção is an upper-echelon fighter and has been near the top of the division for years, though is approaching the back nine of his career at 37. But age alone won’t win the fight for Garbrandt, who is nine years younger. Garbrandt needs to fight smart. He is often too hot in the cage, and if Assunção is trades shots and connects with a clean one, Garbrandt cannot allow himself to put his hands down and charge forward. That is where he runs into problems.
Garbrandt has some of the best boxing in all of MMA, as well as footwork and intelligence. But that all dissipates the first time he is caught. Can he stay cool and calm against Assunção, moving well and cutting angles? That is the key to the fight.
A win by Garbrandt will allow him to move back up the ladder to title contention. He went from unknown to champion in a year’s time before, and he is capable of doing it again. But Assunção remains a gatekeeper for the division, providing a temperature check for where fighters fall in the division. And there is no doubt that a wild Garbrandt will be taken out by Assunção.
3. Is Aljamain Sterling next in line for a shot at the vacant bantamweight title?
A dominant victory should place Aljamain Sterling first in line for a shot at the vacant Bantamweight Championship.
Sterling (18-3) has won four in a row and earned his shot at the world title. But standing in his way is Cory Sandhagen, who has won his past seven fights, including his most recent victory last August against Assunção. The 28-year-old has a bright future, but this isn’t likely to be his night.
Sterling is a world-class fighter and dominant in so many positions. Sterling needs a dominant, impressive performance to get his ticket punched to fight for the title.
4. What else stands out on the 250 card?
The welterweight fight pitting Anthony Rocco Martin against Neil Magny is also a temperature check, giving a better read on the direction of Martin’s career. Martin (17-5) has emerged victorious in five out of his last six trips to the cage. He is matched up here against a consummate martial artist in Magny (22-7).
Magny is similar to Assunção, providing a temperature check for his opponent. In this case, it is Martin, who stumbled in his fight last June against Demian Maia before defeating Ramazan Emeev in November. Though he will be nowhere close to title contention, a solid win against Magny puts Martin back into the middle of a very deep division.
The main card also features a bantamweight fight pitting Eddie Wineland against the undefeated Sean O’Malley, a sleeper candidate for fight of the night.
Wineland (24-13-1) may be off the radar of a lot of UFC fans, but his success in the WEC showed his undeniable skill. He is fast, active, has great movement, and he is a knockout artist, almost a smaller version of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. Wineland puts on really exciting performances, though he rarely takes on more than one fight a year. Now 35, he has stepped back from fighting as often, making this fight ripe for a flashy O’Malley finish.
The UFC looks at O’Malley (11-0) as one of their future stars. He is only 25, extremely entertaining, and an incredible fighter. These two fighters were paired because it is likely to bring the best out of the undefeated O’Malley. Wineland could come in and finish this fight, but this is designed as a showcase for O’Malley.
On the prelims, another fighter with a shot at stardom is undefeated featherweight Chase Hooper (9-0-1). He fights Alex Caceres (15-12, 1 NC) on the prelims, a showcase fight to see if the 20-year-old Hooper can overcome a very difficult challenge. There are also high hopes for Ian Heinisch (13-3), who is coming off two losses, in his middleweight fight against Gerald Meerschaert (30-12), another gatekeeper-type in the division.
A clash of styles will also be on display between featherweights Cody Stamann and Brian Kelleher (21-10), who is always swinging for the fences, so he finishes opponents but also puts himself in danger of getting finished. Stamann (18-2-1) wants to be in title contention, a belief buttressed by some dominant performances. But his style, heavy on wrestling, has worked as a detriment. Stamann doesn’t wrestle in a dominating fashion like Khabib Nurmagomedov, instead offering a style more similar to Colby Covington where he stays on top of his opponents for three rounds. That juxtaposition makes this fight compelling, and we will see if Kelleher can keep Stamann off of him.
Another fight that is must-see is the early prelim light heavyweight bout pitting Alonzo Menifield against Devin Clark. The undefeated Menifield (10-0) came in off the Contender series, and Clark (11-4) remains a prospect with significant potential, so a win here is significant for either side.
5. What happens if Nunes wins?
If Nunes wins, that poses a unique problem for the UFC, as Spencer is the last serious challenger for Nunes. While Nunes surely likes being a double champion, there are no more challengers that pose a significant threat in either the women’s featherweight or bantamweight division. The possibility exists for a trilogy fight with Valentina Shevchenko coming up to 135, but Nunes has already defeated her on two separate occasions.
Who else can the UFC match against Nunes? Will it hurt pay per view buys when the audience knows Nunes is going to maul her opponents? Plenty of questions exist, but there is no doubt that Nunes is one of the greatest fighters of all-time. This Saturday’s card will only reinforce that fact.