The UFC returns to Anaheim this weekend of the card of the year, if not the decade. This card is everything that UFC 200 should have been and then some. It has three title fights, the conclusion to the biggest grudge since Tito and Chuck and is literally stacked with violent goodness.

I’m going through the main card, top to bottom giving my thoughts on the fights and where to invest your money. As always, 5Dimes will be providing the odds.

Manuwa v Oezdemir:

Jimi Manuwa was a latecomer to professional MMA and wasted little time making a name for himself. Breakout performances in the UK at UCMMA and BAMMA brought him to the attention of UFC scouts. He declined them once to get more experience, at 11-0 he finally answered the cal. Three successive wins by retirement/injury (four if you count his BAMMA appearance) demonstrated the power in his hands. He was overmatched against Rumble and Gustafsson but returned with two highlight reel finishes of Corey Anderson and OSP to cement himself at #3.

Volkan Oezdemir is a fighter who has literally come from nowhere to #5 in the UFC Light Heavyweight rankings. In two appearances, he was given little to no chance against OSP and even less against the surging Misha Cirkunov. The Swiss fighter took a split decision from OSP but face planted Cirkunov inside 30 seconds to announce himself on the main stage.

In reality, this match was made to ensure that either DC or Jones has an opponent on Saturday night, with Manuwa first in line to step up or Oezdemir as a second reserve. It’s a dangerous fight for Manuwa with very little to gain and everything to lose. That’s why I am going for a small play on Oezdemir for a huge upset; it’s pretty much what he has spent his UFC career to date achieving. Both fighters like to bang so it’s almost certain that it ends early.

Recommendation: Volkan Oezdemir – 1 unit at +150 (6/4) @ 5Dimes

Lawler v Cerrone:

Robbie Lawler makes his return to the UFC almost a year to the day from being knocked out by Tyron Woodley. That loss, the first in two years, came in the third defence of the title that he took from Johny Hendricks at UFC181. Lawler had carved a reputation as a pure warrior, the type of fighter who appeases the blood lust of the fan, and encourages them to by whatever PPV he is on. His is a record that is a little misleading because it doesn’t tell the true story of what happened on the way. He holds wins over Carlos Condit and Rory MacDonald in his successful defences, this much is true. What it doesn’t tell you is how many people thought Condit won that fight (I did) and how far behind he was when he literally broke MacDonald’s face in the greatest fight I have ever watched. Two defences could easily have been none, and this fight wouldn’t have even been considered.

A short while before Weidman shocked the world, Kelvin Gastelum was doing some upsetting of his own when he beat heavy favourite Uriah Hall en route to winning TUF: 17. In that series all the highlights focused on Hall, allowing Gastelum to prepare for his fight his way. An impressive run at 170lbs was ended by Tyron Woodley in a split decision, it was the second time in three fights that Gastelum missed weight and a move to 185lbs was announced. After a single fight, and win, at 185lbs he returned to 170lbs. True to form, it was only a matter of time before he succumbed to the scales and again was forced back up to 185lbs; seemingly for good this time. It is a division that has allowed him to retain his power, despite being very small for the division, but Gastelum proved himself to be his own worst enemy as his recent win over Vitor Belfort was overturned due to a failed post fight drug test.

I favour Lawler quite heavily here. Cerrone is an all-time favourite of mine but he struggles against opponents with the output that Lawler has, combined with the power that they possess. For output, read Nate Diaz, for power, read Jorge Masvidal and neither of those were close. Combine this with the fact that Cerrone is not a natural 170lb’er and all roads point to a ‘Ruthless’ victory.

Recommendation: Robbie Lawler – 3 units at -155 (4/6) @ 5Dimes

Cyborg v Evinger:

Cyborg has had a rough road since signing for the UFC. Forced to fight at Catchweight as there was no 145lb division saw her compete in exhibition fights, even cutting to 140lbs nearly broke her on more than one occasion. When the UFC created the 145lb belt she was a shoe in for a title shot. Alas, an issue with USADA saw that honour go to Germaine de Randamie and Holly Holm. GDR won the fight but refused to face Cyborg resulting in the belt being vacated and Cyborg booked against Megan Anderson. Anderson then pulled out due to unknown reasons and was replaced by Tonya Evinger.

For a long time, it appeared as if Tonya Evinger would never get the call to step up to the UFC. The reigning Invicta Bantamweight Champion vacated her belt to face Cyborg when the promotional champion at Featherweight, Megan Anderson was forced to withdraw.

While Evinger is officially unbeaten in her last 11 bouts, I say officially as she successfully appealed a loss to Yana Kunitskaya, she has losses on her record to current UFC fighters Sara McMann and Alexis Davis (twice). Even with her experience this feels like a squash for Cyborg. She is priced out of a bet on the Outright and Inside the Distance markets, so I can only really recommend her to win by TKO/KO as this carries an 88% success rate for her. If Evinger were to pull off the victory it would be a bigger surprise than Holm beating Rousey.

Recommendation: Cyborg by TKO/KO – 2 units at -395 (1/4) @ 5Dimes

Woodley v Maia:

When Tyron Woodley came to the UFC from Strikeforce he came with little fanfare or expectation. It wasn’t until he finished Josh Koscheck in the first round that many fans started to take notice of him. When he beat Carlos Condit he started to call out everyone in the division and made himself available to fight whoever and whenever needed. Woodley took some negative press when opting to sit on the sidelines for nearly 18 months and claim his title shot when a planned bout with Johny Hendricks was pulled at the last minute when Hendricks was hospitalized. Although he is the reigning champion, Woodley still has a lot to prove after two lacklustre performances against Stephen Thompson failed to win over fans.

Demian Maia has been such a revelation at 170lbs that, when he reflects on his career, he will regret ever starting out at 185lbs. While he did work his way to a title shot in that division, it was one of the most forgettable main events in history, and the thought of it may have lingered long in the mind of the matchmakers when planning this event. Maia at 170 has won seven in a row including wins over Neil Magny and Gunnar Nelson with some of the highest level BJJ on display that has ever been seen in the octagon. What he has achieved at 39 is remarkable, more so as it seems he has done it without ever really throwing a punch in anger.

Many see this as a tough fight to call, but I don’t. Maia is otherworldly when dictating the takedowns and controlling his opponent, but against top drawer wrestlers he has come undone. If Woodley can instigate the takedown and put Maia on the bottom then this ends very quickly for the champion. If Maia can get anywhere near the back of Woodley then this will be his one chance to end his career holding the belt. As Woodley has never tapped in his career I don’t see that happening and I think that Woodley wins this comfortably inside the distance as an ageing Maia tires out.

Recommendation: Tyron Woodley wins Inside the Distance – 2 units at +124 (4/5) @ 5Dimes

Cormier v Jones:

Daniel Cormier has been forced to defend his title reign against constant criticism that he is more than just a paper champ, a placeholder until the rightful owner returns to take back his belt. An Olympian, Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Champion as well as the UFC 205lb belt and still he is reminded of the one loss in his career, to Jon Jones, as he gets his opportunity for revenge. Since taking the belt DC has beaten Anthony Johnson, twice, narrowly held on to his belt with a split decision win over Alex Gustafsson and beat Anderson Silva in a veritable exhibition match at UFC 200. It is a belt that has been defended three times in the two years he has held it. At UFC 200 he lost the chance to face his nemesis when Jones tested positive and it has haunted him ever since.

Jon Jones is the biggest enigma in all of MMA. His talent is as unquestionable as his ability but he remains possessed by enough demons to occupy all seven levels of hell. He has dominated all his opponents, never really coming close to losing except to one man; his reflection. Whether it be DUI, hit and run, cocaine metabolites or suspect ‘sex pills’ these four opponents have done more to damage the legacy of Jon Jones than 1000 defeats would achieve. Jones has been on the shelf now for 15 months, having been benched for 15 months prior to that and history dictates that inactivity is the biggest opponent that a fighter can face. The game moves on, the sport evolves and Jones must prove that he has been able to evolve with it, while not being able to test himself in the ring.

No matter how this fight ends, I think that it would be good for the sport to see both fighters squash the animosity in public. It’s unlikely they’ll ever be friends, but this beef doesn’t need to become more distasteful. Personally, I think that Jones wins, takes the title and then moves up to Heavyweight for bigger challenges. DC, win or lose, probably retires back to the commentary booth.

Recommendation: Jon Jones – 2 units at -255 (2/5) @ 5Dimes