Although this card may not be as attractive as UFC 202 to the mixed martial arts world, UFC 203 (Saturday, September 10, at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland) has had the attention of every WWE fan since it was announced, as former wrestler C.M. Punk will be making his UFC debut against Mickey Gall.
Punk’s fight might be the highlight of the main card for some, but it’s not the main event of the evening; after the erstwhile WWE star makes his foray into MMA, Stipe Miocic will put his heavyweight title on the line against Alistair Overeem.
Let’s take a look at the headlining bouts and make some predictions.
CM Punk (+250) vs. Mickey Gall (-300)
Following Punk’s retirement/termination from the WWE (early in 2014), the former champion needed some time to recover from injuries he suffered in the ring. But, by December of the same year, Punk was evidently feeling better; he signed a contract with the UFC and began his training a month later.
Punk has been training under Duke Roufus and sounds extremely confident entering his first fight. (Then again, what else is he going to say?) Punk’s debut has been prolonged a couple of times due to a shoulder injury and a herniated disc, but he is now healthy and ready to get his first taste of an actual fist to the face.
The man who will be looking to provide that fist is Mickey Gall (2-0-0), who is also relatively new to the UFC. Gall has ended both of his professional fights in the first round by submission via rear-naked choke.
Basically, this is a fight between a relative unknown a complete unknown. What we do know is that Gall has been training in MMA for the last five years, and possesses a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, as well as some boxing and Muay Thai experience.
Sorry, wrestling fans, I’m siding with the experience and the odds here. Unlike Brock Lesnar, Punk doesn’t have an (actual) wrestling background to call upon. Up to now, he’s purely been a showman.
Pick: Gall (-300)
Stipe Miocic (-130) vs. Alistair Overeem (+115)
Since losing to Junior Dos Santos by unanimous decision in December 2014, Miocic has bounced back with three very impressive finishes. The last two were both first-round stoppages, including a KO of former heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum at UFC 198. All told, Miocic has finished his opponent in 12 of his 15 wins, and eight of those came in the first round.
Miocic’s background as a Golden Gloves boxing champion and NCAA Division 1 wrestler helped make his transition to the UFC pretty seamless. But the heavyweight champion has yet to fight an opponent as disciplined as his challenger at UFC 203.
Alistair Overeem carries similar momentum into this fight, having won his last four bouts, three via knockout. The period before this current win streak was rough on the Dutchman, though; in 2012, he lost his chance at a title fight with Junior dos Santos due to a failed drug test and then lost three of his next four fights.
But victories over dos Santos (Dec. 2015) and Andrei Arlovski (May 2016) have revitalized Overeem’s credibility as a top heavyweight and he’s currently the third-ranked fighter in his weight class. He is considered one of the most well-rounded fighters in the division, possessing devastating kicks, gruesome knees from the clinch, and a solid takedown defense. Arguably the most important part of his game, though, is his discipline. Recently, he’s eschewed just trading punches with his opponents when it’s not to his advantage.
If Overeem wishes to leave Cleveland as the heavyweight champion, he will have to remain smart and not get involved in a boxing match with the champion. Instead, the challenger will want to take advantage of the extra 25 pounds he has on Miocic, as well as the extra five inches in leg reach. Overeem’s legs will be vital in this match, not only to strike with, but also keep Miocic out of striking distance.
Overeem is arguably the most talented fighter in the heavyweight class. His gameplan (or lack thereof) has held him back in the past, but he seems to be getting wiser with age. As long as he doesn’t settle for going punch-for-punch with Miocic, the champion will lose his belt in his home state.
Pick: Overeem (+115)
Photo Credit: Steve Wright Jr. [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.