UFC 248 viewers guide: Career-defining fights for four in Las Vegas

MMA

Truth be told, UFC 248 will not be the company’s biggest pay-per-view event of the year when it’s all said and done.

Not with Conor McGregor teasing the possibility of three fights, and 2019 breakout Jorge Masvidal on the cusp of his first UFC title shot. Not with a Stipe Miocic, Daniel Cormier trilogy hanging in the balance, or Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson (finally!!!!) on April 18.

But if you take a closer look at the main and co-main events of UFC 248, man, there’s a lot at stake this weekend in Las Vegas.

UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya has already made it known he’s coming for light heavyweight champion and all-time great Jon Jones in 2021. And his path to get there is pretty obvious. Beat Yoel Romero this weekend. Beat the undefeated Paulo Costa this summer. Then beat another middleweight challenger, maybe Darren Till, in late 2020.

Adesanya already has a belt. The next steps are to leave a legacy and cross over into a truly bonafide super star. A 3-0 run in 2020 that ultimately leads to Jones accomplishes that.

Romero, meanwhile, is likely looking at his last shot at a middleweight championship. He’s held off father time better than arguably anyone in the sport’s history, but at age 42, time is simply not on his side. He’s become a fan favorite on the way and he’s one of the best fighters (period) of the past decade. Now he needs the belt to go with it.

In the co-main event, newly crowned strawweight champion Zhang Weili will seek her first title defense against the most decorated strawweight of all time in Joanna Jedrzejczyk. It’s an instant test of greatness for Zhang. Yes, she’s already a 115-pound champion. But as of now, Jedrzejczyk is still this generation’s bar of excellence to be measured against.

Again, based on hype alone, no one can say UFC 248 is the blockbuster event of 2020. But there is no debating it will have a substantial impact on the careers of all four athletes involved in the top two fights.

Middleweight championship:
Israel Adesanya vs. Yoel Romero

By the numbers

2: Fighters to receive a UFC title shot coming off two nontitle fight losses. Aside from Romero, the only one was a short-notice booking. In 1997, Tank Abbott challenged heavyweight champ Maurice Smith on four days’ notice and quickly ran out of gas, losing by ground-and-pound TKO.

602: Days it took Adesanya to build a 7-0 UFC record, making him the fastest to do so in the promotion’s modern history. Anderson Silva (850 days) and Jon Fitch (880) are the two fastest to 8-0, and if Adesanya wins on Saturday, he will have done it in 755 days.

1: Fighter older than Romero who has won a UFC championship. Randy Couture was 43 years and 254 days old when he defeated Tim Sylvia in 2007 for the heavyweight title. Romero will be 42 years and 312 days old on Saturday.

66.7: Percentage of opponents’ significant strike attempts that Adesanya has successfully defended, the third-highest defensive percentage in UFC middleweight history. Adesanya has held four of his seven UFC opponents to a significant strike accuracy under 30%.

2: Athletes who have won an Olympic medal and UFC championship. Henry Cejudo won gold in freestyle wrestling and Ronda Rousey won bronze in judo, both representing the U.S. at the 2008 Games. Romero won a silver medal wrestling for Cuba at the 2000 Olympics.

Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats

A look back

Five vs. five

Israel Adesanya’s most recent results
Win: Robert Whittaker (KO2, Oct. 6, 2019; Watch on ESPN+)
Win: Kelvin Gastelum (UD, April 13, 2019; Watch on ESPN+)
Win: Anderson Silva (UD, Feb. 10, 2019; Watch on ESPN+)
Win: Derek Brunson (TKO3, Nov. 3, 2018)
Win: Brad Tavares (UD, July 6, 2018)

Yoel Romero’s most recent results
Loss: Paulo Costa (UD, Aug. 17, 2019; Watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Robert Whittaker (SD, June 9, 2018, Watch on ESPN+)
Win: Luke Rockhold (KO3, Feb. 11, 2018, Watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Robert Whittaker (UD, July 8, 2017; Watch on ESPN+)
Win: Chris Weidman (KO3, Nov. 12, 2016; Watch on ESPN+)

Fighting words

“It’s hard to do a backflip when you have 12 pounds of gold on your shoulder — something he’ll never have.” –Adesanya, speaking to ESPN about whether he felt one-upped by Romero’s backflip at their recent news conference dance-off

Dom & Gil’s film study

Cruz and Melendez break down Israel Adesanya’s footwork:

Brett Okamoto’s prediction

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think this is the one Romero looks his age. Wait, let me rephrase. Romero will probably never look his age, but this is the one he’ll look much older than his opponent. Could Romero challenge Adesanya with wrestling? It’s possible, but I don’t find it likely. The days of someone simply wrestling their way to a UFC title aren’t as common as they used to be — unless your name is Khabib Nurmagomedov. I think this one stays upright, and that’s Adesanya’s realm. Adesanya TKO in the fourth round.


Strawweight championship:
Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk

By the numbers

2,311: Days it will have been, on fight night, since Zhang lost a fight. Since dropping a decision to current One Championship fighter Meng Bo in a regional promotion in Xuchang, China, on Nov. 9, 2013, in her pro MMA debut, Zhang has reeled off 20 straight wins.

0-3: Record of former UFC women’s champions attempting to regain their titles. Among them is Jedrzejczyk, who in 2018 failed in her first bid for redemption.

1,525: Significant strikes landed by Jedrzejczyk, the most all time among female fighters in the UFC.

17: Finishes by Zhang among her 20 career victories. She has 10 KO/TKOs and seven submissions. In the UFC, Zhang is 4-0 with one TKO, one sub and two decisions.

10: UFC wins for Jedrzejczyk, the most in strawweight history and third-most among all UFC females (behind Amanda Nunes‘ 12 and Jessica Andrade‘s 11).

Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats

A look back

Five vs. five

Zhang Weili’s most recent results
Win: Jessica Andrade (TKO1, Aug. 31, 2019; Watch on ESPN+)
Win: Tecia Torres (UD, March 2, 2019; Watch on ESPN+)
Win: Jessica Aguilar (SUB2, Nov. 24, 2018)
Win: Danielle Taylor (UD, Aug. 4, 2018)
Win: Bianca Sattelmayer (SUB1, Oct. 3, 2017)

Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s most recent results
Win: Michelle Waterson (UD, Oct. 12, 2019; Watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Valentina Shevchenko (UD, Dec. 8, 2018; Watch on ESPN+)
Win: Tecia Torres (UD, July 28, 2018)
Loss: Rose Namajunas (UD, April 7, 2018)
Loss: Rose Namajunas (TKO1, Nov. 4, 2017)

Fighting words

“To make fun of tragedy is a true sign of ones character. People are dying, someones father, someones mother, someones child. Say what you want about me if it makes you feel stronger but do not joke about what’s happening here. I wish you good health until March 7th. I will see you soon.” –Zhang, in an Instagram post responding to a Jedrzejczyk social media post (since deleted) that made light of the coronavirus outbreak in China

Dom & Gil’s film study

Cruz and Melendez explain Zhang Weili’s striking pressure:

Brett Okamoto’s prediction

To me, Jedrzejczyk is still every bit the fighter she was during her title reign. She still comes in to every bout in phenomenal shape and with an indescribable will to win. Her skills have not deteriorated, technically or physically speaking. She is a champion caliber strawweight. But what we’ve seen is styles make a difference in her fights, and I do believe Zhang presents a challenging one. Zhang is a tough matchup with her physicality, pressure and boxing. And she has momentum on her side. I am split right down the middle on this one, but if I have to lean one way, Zhang by decision.

What else to look for … beyond the title fights

The rest of the card:
PPV (via ESPN+), 10 p.m. ET
Beneil Dariush vs. Drakkar Klose | Lightweight
Neil Magny vs. Li Jingliang | Welterweight
Alex Oliveira vs. Max Griffin | Welterweight
ESPN, 8 p.m.
Sean O’Malley vs. Jose Quinonez | Men’s bantamweight
Mark O. Madsen vs. Austin Hubbard | Lightweight
Rodolfo Vieira vs. Saparbek Safarov | Middleweight
Gerald Meerschaert vs. Deron Winn | Middleweight
ESPN+, 6:30 p.m.
Emily Whitmire vs. Polyana Viana | Strawweight
Jamall Emmers vs. Giga Chikadze | Women’s featherweight
Danaa Batgerel vs. Guido Cannetti | Men’s bantamweight

Medal-winning credentials on display

Yoel Romero will not be the only Olympic wrestling medalist competing at UFC 248. And definitely not the only elite grappler.

Mark O. Madsen (9-0), who faces Austin Hubbard in a lightweight prelim, won Greco-Roman silver competing for Denmark at the 2016 Games. Madsen, 35, also wrestled at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, finishing just out of the medal picture, in fourth place, in ’12. In addition, Madsen was a four-time medalist (three silver, one bronze) at the World Championships.

This will be Madsen’s second UFC fight. In a 72-second TKO of Danilo Belluardo last September, Madsen was dominant, landing 22 significant strikes and absorbing zero.

Competing right before Madsen on Saturday will be another undefeated fighter highly decorated in one of the disciplines of mixed martial arts. Rodolfo Vieira (6-0), who faces middleweight Saparbek Safarov, is a four-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion and a seven time World Cup champion.

The oddsmakers are apparently up on their grappling credentials, because despite being in just his second UFC fight, the 30-year-old Vieira is the biggest favorite on Saturday’s card, at -850.

Odds ‘n’ ends

Some undercard tidbits from ESPN Stats & Information:

  • When Beneil Dariush (17-4-1) and Drakkar Klose (11-1-1) meet in a lightweight bout, they both will be putting three-fight winning streaks on the line.

  • Neil Magny (21-8) will be returning from a career-high 476-day layoff when he takes on Li Jingliang (17-5), the winningest Chinese fighter in UFC history with a 9-3 mark in the promotion.

  • Alex Oliveira (19-8-1) will be looking to snap a three-fight losing streak when he faces welterweight Max Griffin (15-7), who has lost three of his last four fights.

  • Gerald Meerschaert (29-12) has lost three of his last four fights but does own five UFC victories — all finishes. He faces Deron Winn (6-1), who is coming off his first career loss. In his most recent victory, Winn landed a middleweight-record 169 significant strikes.

  • Polyana Viana (10-4), who faces Emily Whitmire (4-3), has lost each of her last three bouts and was submitted in her most recent one in just 1:09. It was the fastest submission in strawweight history.

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