International Fight Week in Las Vegas will all lead up to UFC 213 on Saturday night, when Amanda Nunes puts her women's bantamweight title on the line for a second time to face surging contender Valentina Shevchenko in the main event.
Nunes is still riding high from her first-round win over former champion Ronda Rousey, but she definitely has a tough test in front of her after going three hard rounds with Shevchenko in the past. Since losing the fight to Nunes, Shevchenko has put together a pair of impressive wins over former champion Holly Holm and Julianna Pena.
RELATED: Watch - UFC 213: Nunes vs Shevchenko 2 - Let's Do It Again
In the co-main event, a new interim middleweight champion will be crowned when Yoel Romero meets Robert Whittaker in a showdown between two of the fiercest fighters competing at 185 pounds.
The winner will move on to unify the title with current champion Michael Bisping, who is currently sidelined with a knee injury that's kept him out of action.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine these fights and several more to see who has the edge in these ultra-close matchups, as well as who might be primed for an upset at UFC 213: Nunes vs. Shevchenko 2.
These are the fights that are just too close to call, but a few minor differences between favorite and underdog could lead one fighter to victory and the other to defeat.
Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko
Amanda Nunes has a win over Valentina Shevchenko already, but the women’s bantamweight champion is also well aware of just how tough this challenge will be when the two fighters meet in a five-round rematch.
In the first fight, Nunes was able to dominate the early portion of the opening round after taking Shevchenko to the mat and absolutely punishing her with strikes. To her credit, Shevchenko survived the early onslaught and came back to win a decisive third round, although she ultimately came up short on the judges’ scorecards.
To win this rematch, Nunes will either have to get another signature finish in the early going of the fight or retool her game plan to adjust for a five-round fight. Nunes has been criticized in the past for her struggles with conditioning, but she has repeated numerous times that the issue was fixed prior to winning the belt against Miesha Tate last year. Nunes hasn't had the opportunity to show off her improved conditioning because she's finished her last two opponents inside the first round, and there's definitely a chance she could do it again at UFC 213.
Nunes is an incredibly fast starter with powerful hands and a brutal ground game to compliment her overall skill set. Nunes lands just under five significant strikes per minute with over 53 percent accuracy. Plus, Nunes also averages more than two takedowns per fight with a solid submission average as well. In other words, Nunes is very good no matter where this fight takes place.
Now the key for Shevchenko will be surviving that early storm and then pushing the pace on Nunes after the first round comes to an end. Shevchenko is a highly technical kickboxer with slick hands and nasty kicks. While she has struggled to defend takedowns at points during her UFC career, Shevchenko still has great grappling, as she showcased against Pena earlier this year when she won the fight with an armbar from the bottom. Make no mistake about it, Shevchenko wants to keep this fight standing, but she'll show no fear if Nunes is able to get this to the ground.
Nunes has been such a dominant finisher that it's nearly impossible to pick against her now that she's run through so many top contenders, including Tate and Rousey, in her recent fights. Still, Shevchenko went three rounds with Nunes before and her confidence was brimming in the latter half of that fight when she took control. If Shevchenko can survive the early onslaught, look for her to start putting together punishing striking combinations as the fight pushes into the championship rounds. While the fight remains an absolute toss-up, a slight edge goes to Shevchenko just based on her past performance against Nunes as she looks to avenge her prior loss with a better showing this time around.
Prediction: Valentina Shevchenko by unanimous decision
Alistair Overeem vs. Fabricio Werdum
Former heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum will look to settle the score with Alistair Overeem as the two decorated fighters meet for the third time. Werdum won the first fight with Overeem avenging his loss in the second showdown, but now the rubber match goes down on July 8.
Following a loss to current champ Stipe Miocic last year, Werdum returned to form with a lopsided win over Travis Browne this past September, while Overeem most recently decimated Mark Hunt with a nasty knockout when they met at UFC 209 in March. Werdum has worked tirelessly to improve his striking game over the past few years and he'll undoubtedly look to put that on display against Overeem while also still possessing arguably the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the heavyweight division.
On paper, Werdum matches up very evenly with Overeem in terms of striking statistics, including strikes landed and accuracy, but that's probably not a game he wants to play long term because that will play into his opponent's hands. Overeem is one of the best heavyweight strikers to ever fight in mixed martial arts and spending three rounds on the feet with him is no treat whatsoever. Overeem not only has punching power, but his kicks and knees are absolutely deadly. The more willing Werdum seems to stand and trade, the more confident Overeem will become as this fight moves forward.
On the flipside, if Werdum can drag this fight to the ground to put the threat of the takedown into Overeem's mind, he may negate one of the Dutch fighter's biggest weapons. Werdum doesn't necessarily have to stay on the ground, but just making Overeem hesitant to throw kicks or knees would be a huge benefit to him in this fight.
If Overeem can stuff the takedowns while possibly getting Werdum trapped against the cage wall in order to start unloading his patented knee strikes, he could do some real damage to the former heavyweight champion. This is another tough fight to pick, but Overeem has looked very solid over the past couple of years and this could be another marquee name to add to his resume. He may not get the finish, but Overeem should be able to do enough damage to get the win.
Prediction: Alistair Overeem by unanimous decision
Anthony Pettis vs. Jim Miller
Former champion Anthony Pettis returns to lightweight at UFC 213 for a showdown with the always-tough Jim Miller in a featured bout on the main card. Pettis has experienced more than a few ups and downs over the past few years, including a brief stint at featherweight, but now he moves back to a more natural 155 pounds as he looks to get his career back on track.
He'll have no easy task in front of him with Miller standing in his way. Miller is not only a true veteran of the sport, but he's built a skill set that allows him to fight anywhere the battle might go. Miller started his career as more of grappler with a wrestling base, but in recent years, he's improved his boxing tremendously as showcased in fights such as his win over Thiago Alves last year. Of course, with this particular matchup it would be easy to predict that Miller may look to out grapple Pettis, but the former champion is no slouch on the ground, with three submission victories to his credit in the UFC.
There's little doubt Pettis will look to keep this fight standing, where he can showcase his world class striking skills. Pettis is not only technically proficient as a kickboxer, but he also dazzles with flash and flair whenever he steps into the Octagon. As the inventor of the "Showtime" kick, Pettis has a wide array of strikes, not to mention the incredible creativity to come up with something new while in the middle of a combination.
For Miller to negate those highlight reel type strikes, he'll need to close the distance and not allow Pettis to pick him apart at range. Pettis is a sniper at distance, with lightning quick hands and feet, and he'll also enjoy a two-inch reach advantage. Thankfully for Miller, he's very good at finding a way inside his opponent's strikes and then unleashing his own brand of dirty boxing and grappling techniques.
If Miller mixes things up in this fight with an array of strikes and takedowns, he should be able to keep Pettis guessing round after round, and that ultimately adds up to a win.
Prediction: Jim Miller by unanimous decision
These are the fights that appear to be a little more one-sided, but remember that this is MMA, where anything can - and usually - does happen.
Curtis Blaydes vs. Daniel Omielanczuk
When two hard swinging heavyweights get into the Octagon together, sparks fly and it's nearly impossible to tell who will be left standing when it's all over. That may very well be the case when Curtis Blaydes meets Daniel Omielanczuk at UFC 213, but it still seems like one of these fighters maintains an edge over the other.
Blaydes has progressed into one of the more interesting prospects to watch in the heavyweight division, not only because he packs a serious punch, but he's also showcased incredible toughness throughout his short UFC career. Almost every heavyweight has knockout power, but sometimes it's that durability that serves as the difference between winning and losing when the night is over. Blaydes is a very active fighter while landing nearly five significant strikes per minute and, in return, he showcases 12 percent higher defense than Omielanczuk on the feet.
Add in Blaydes' wrestling skills, where he's landing takedowns with incredible 68 percent accuracy, and it's easy to see why he's making an impact this early in his career. Now don't underestimate Omielanczuk from delivering a knockout and also being able to take a punch, but after suffering two straight losses in recent fights he might be forced to play it a little safer to ensure he gets back on a winning track. Blaydes could take advantage if Omielanczuk is even the least bit trigger shy, and that could create an opening to get a big finish.
Prediction: Curtis Blaydes by TKO, Round 2
Rob Font vs. Douglas Silva de Andrade
Expect the fists to fly in this bantamweight matchup between Rob Font and Douglas Silva de Andrade. Both fighters are well versed in striking, with a slew of knockout finishes between the two of them. Of course, Font and Silva de Andrade both possess grappling skills as well, but chances are this will turn into a fight that will absolutely delight striking fans.
While both fighters are very skilled on the feet, there are a few areas where Font seems to have an advantage that could earn him the win. Font will enjoy a comfortable three-inch reach advantage, which will undoubtedly benefit him during those exchanges with Silva de Andrade on the feet. Add to that, Font lands more strikes per minute with far better accuracy, and that will allow him to crack his opponent with more regularity, which will certainly look good if this fight goes to the judges.
Now Silva de Andrade is only one good combination away from landing a knockout as well, but Font has shown real flashes of brilliance during his UFC career, and if he can unleash his hands in this fight he should be able to put on a show while walking away with another win.
Prediction: Rob Font by TKO, Round 3
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Travis Browne vs. Aleksei Oleinik
Noted striker and knockout artist Travis Browne will look to get back in the win column when he faces off with submission specialist Aleksei Oleinik in the FS1 featured prelim. Browne has suffered through a tough string of losses recently, but that just means he's going to be that much more motivated to get a win at UFC 213.
Oleinik will certainly present an interesting stylistic matchup because while he's best known as a grappler, he has pulled off some knockouts in the past, including his win over Jared Rosholt. Still, given Browne's tendency to head hunt while looking for the finish on the feet, Oleinik would be smart to try and drag this to the ground, where he is an absolute grappling wizard.
The problem might be getting Browne down to the mat, because he's showcased over 83 percent takedown defense throughout his UFC career. Browne not only stuffs takedowns, but if an opponent has the misfortune of pressing him against the cage, the 6-foot-7-inch Hawaiian has been known to unleash some of the most devastating elbow strikes in the sport. In a way, Browne might actually welcome that sort of takedown just as an opening to punish Oleinik for attempting to put him on the ground.
As far as his striking goes, Browne still has vicious knockout power and he'll tower over Oleinik with a five-inch height advantage. As long as Browne can establish his range early while shutting down Olienik's grappling exchanges, he should be able to land enough strikes to either get the TKO win or earn a decision on the judges' scorecards. Considering Oleinik hasn't been finished by strikes in six years, it might be tougher than expected, but Browne certainly has the weapons to do it.
Prediction: Travis Browne by TKO, Round 2
Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero
An interim middleweight champion will be crowned when Robert Whittaker faces off with Yoel Romero in the co-main event at UFC 213. Whittaker walks in with a seven-fight winning streak while Romero is undefeated in the UFC with eight consecutive victories in the middleweight division.
Romero came to the UFC with some of the most impressive wrestling credentials the sport has ever seen. As a former Olympic silver medalist, Romero was tested constantly on the international wrestling scene, but perhaps the most incredible part about his run in the UFC has been how he has now become a ferocious finisher on the feet as well. Romero is incredibly explosive with a variety of spinning back fists and flying knees, as he displayed in his win over former champion Chris Weidman last year. Romero isn't the type of fighter to outpoint anybody, but instead he always appears coiled like a snake, just waiting to unleash his own personal venom that seems to put everybody away.
It's that ability that may give Whittaker the opening he needs to earn a victory in this fight.
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Whittaker is an absolute monster when striking with an opponent because he not only lands with power but he's also on target with great accuracy during his exchanges. Whittaker is very active, landing more than five significant strikes per minute, but his greatest attribute may be putting together the kind of combinations that catch an opponent off guard before he puts them away. That's exactly what happened when Whittaker dished out a vicious knockout against "Jacare" Souza in his last fight, when he smelled blood in the water and then pounced for the kill. Of course, Whittaker has to be extremely wary of Romero's power, not to mention his wrestling skills, but if the New Zealand native can stay composed during those exchanges, he has a great chance of landing another dazzling knockout.
Don't be surprised whatsoever if Romero pulls this off with another spectacular finish, but when it comes to potential upsets on this card, Whittaker has a great chance to get the job done. He's surging right now and coming off his last win, Whittaker has all the confidence in the world that he can do it again when he faces Romero at UFC 213. If Whittaker continues to fight like he has in his most recent performances, he might walk out with a title around his waist.
Prediction: Robert Whittaker by TKO, Round 3