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UFC 215 Observer Panel Picks: Nunes vs Shevchenko II

UFC 215

Credit: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa

UFC returns to PPV tonight, but instead of Demetrious Johnson attempting to set the record for consecutive UFC title defenses, we’ve got a women’s bantamweight title fight that was originally scheduled to headline July's UFC 213.

Champion Amanda Nunes will defend against Valentina Shevchenko in a rematch of their 2016 fight which Nunes won by decision. Nunes was fading in the third round of that fight and most observers feel that in a five round fight, Shevchenko may have gotten the best of her. Nunes went on to win the title and Shevchenko defeated former champion Holly Holm and TUF winner Julianna Pena to earn this title shot.

After the main event that was elevated due to the Johnson-Borg fight being scrapped, the card really thins out in terms of marquee value. In the co-main event, former lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos continues his run toward a welterweight title shot as he faces perennial top 10 contender Neil Magny. This will be a good test for RDA as Magny is more or less a gatekeeper in the division.

Former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez moves down to featherweight against tough veteran Jeremy Stephens. Melendez will fight for the first time in a year after a suspension due to PEDs, but with a win here, he could enter the title mix.

Originally scheduled for the FS1 prelims, past flyweight title challengers Wilson Reis and Henry Cejudo has been bumped up to the main card. Either guy is at least two wins away from another shot after having been easily dispatched by Johnson.

Rounding out our panel picks is Canadian veteran Mitch Clarke vs. Alex White in what could be a loser leaves town fight. White has lost three of his last four coming into this one and Clarke has not won since 2014 although that win was an impressive one over Al Iaquinta.

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Our year-long panel picks are listed below and listed alongside the fighter's names are their worldwide FightMatrix rankings, as well as BestFightOdds.com betting odds. The panelist's 2017 records is in parentheses, along with panel consensus picks and a line where we show how the betting favorites did:

  • John Pollock (43-18; .705) -- Fight Network analyst, Live Audio Wrestling co-host, MMA Report co-host
  • Favorites (41-20; .672)
  • Dave Meltzer (41-20; .672) -- Wrestling Observer publisher
  • Consensus Picks (39-21; .650)
  • Tom Lawlor (15-9; .625) – Filthy Four Daily co-host, budding pro wrestling star, UFC enhancement talent currently suspended due to wellness violation
  • David Bixenspan (38-23; .623) – Deadspin pro wrestling columnist; Between the Sheets podcast host
  • Mike Sempervive (37-24; .607) -- Wrestling Observer Live and Big Audio Nightmare co-host
  • Steve Juon (37-24; .607) -- MMA Mania writer, Angry Marks publisher
  • Josh Nason (37-24; .607) -- Host of Josh Nason’s Punch Out, WrestlingObserver.com assistant editor
  • Mike Sawyer (36-25; .590) -- Tough Talk MMA publisher
  • Ryan Frederick (34-27; .557) -- WrestlingObserver.com UFC writer
  • Paul Fontaine (34-27; .557) -- MMADraws.com publisher, WrestlingObserver.com writer
  • Front Row Brian (31-30; .508) -- MMA newsbreaker, beloved internet personality, podcast host

> UFC women's bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes (14-4) vs Valentina Shevchenko (14-2) II

Nunes pulled out hours before this fight was originally scheduled in July, leading to UFC immediately rebooked the fight for September. Despite the greater mainstream appeal of former champion Ronda Rousey, Nunes’ run in UFC has been almost as impressive. She has won seven of her eight UFC fights with all but one of those victories being first round stoppages.

Shevchenko’s three UFC wins have come against two former world champions and a TUF winner and her only loss came to Nunes in a very close fight. Her only other career loss early in her career came at the hands of Liz Carmouche, a former world title challenger.

Most feel that Shevchenko is the only fighter in the division with a realistic shot at beating the champion and it’s tough to see who is next for Nunes should she win. She has talked of wanting a run at the featherweight title, but we'll see how that plays out.

  • Nunes #1; +110 betting underdog: FRB, Juon, Bix, Nason
  • Shevchenko #2; -120 betting favorite: Frederick, Sawyer, Lawlor, Pollock, Fontaine, Meltzer, Sempervive

> Neil Magny (19-5) vs Rafael Dos Anjos (26-9)
Welterweights

Since losing to the very tough Demian Maia in a short notice fight, Magny has rebounded to win four of his last five fights with wins over former champion Johny Hendricks and former TUF middleweight winner Kelvin Gastelum highlighting that stretch. He doesn’t jump to the top of the list when you think of title contenders, but a win here could change that perception.

Dos Anjos is the former lightweight champion who moved up a weight class after losing his title and a followup fight against future interim lightweight title challenger Tony Ferguson. He beat former Strikeforce champion Tarec Saffiedine in his welterweight debut and a second straight win here might leave him one win short of a title shot.

  • Magny #9; +170 betting underdog: Juon, Lawlor, Pollock, Fontaine
  • Dos Anjos #6; -155 betting favorite: FRB, Frederick, Sawyer, Meltzer, Bix, Nason, Sempervive

> Henry Cejudo (12-2) vs Wilson Reis (22-7)
Flyweights

Cejudo was destroyed in his title challenge in the first round against Johnson and went on to suffer his second career loss at the hands of #1 contender Joseph Benavidez. He needs a win here badly to stay relevant in this division.

Reis’ title challenge came in his last fight and he lost via third round submission to the champ which snapped a three-fight win streak for the Brazilian. This could be very interesting as Cejudo’s game is wrestling-based but with Reis being a submission expert, he may not want to go to the ground. A third straight loss may have Cejudo contemplate a move to bantamweight as he has had weight cutting issues in the past.

  • Cejudo #3; -325 betting favorite: FRB, Frederick, Sawyer, Juon, Lawlor, Pollock, Fontaine, Meltzer, Bix, Nason, Sempervive

> Jeremy Stephens (25-14) vs Gilbert Melendez (22-6)
Featherweights

Stephens has recently passed the ten year mark in his UFC career and with a recent win over former champion Renan Barao, he’s still relevant in the divison. He has lost three of his last four, but two of those were against current champion Max Holloway and former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. Like Magny in the co-main, he’s very much a divisional gatekeeper.

Melendez has had a rough start to his UFC career. The former Strikeforce lightweight champion has lost three in a row and four of his five promotional bouts. However, three of those losses were against former champions in Eddie Alvarez, Benson Henderson, and Anthony Pettis. He always seemed to be the smaller guy in his lightweight fights so perhaps a move down to 145 will be good for him. With his name value, he could enter the list of title contenders with a win over Stephens.

  • Stephens #14; +110 betting underdog: Sawyer, Juon, Lawlor, Meltzer
  • Melendez #46 at lightweight; -110 betting favorite: FRB, Frederick, Pollock, Fontaine, Bix, Nason, Sempervive

> Mitch Clarke (11-4) vs Alex White (11-3)
Lightweights

This fight was originally scheduled as the featured Fight Pass prelim, but was bumped up to the FS1 prelims when the Cejudo-Reis fight was moved to the main card. Clarke, the Canadian, should be the hometown hero and he’ll need that extra support as he’s just 2-4 in his UFC career and hasn’t had a win in over three years.

White has been slightly better with a 2-3 record in UFC. He originally started as a featherweight but moved up to lightweight for his last fight, a loss against the unheralded Tony Martin. They’re not billing this as loser leaves town, but it probably is.

  • Clarke #384; +188 betting underdog: FRB, Frederick, Juon, Pollock, Fontaine, Bix
  • White #343; -195 betting favorite: Sawyer, Lawlor, Meltzer, Nason, Sempervive

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The rest of the card:

> Ilir Latifi (12-5) vs Tyson Pedro (6-0)
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHTS

  • Latifi #19; +125 betting underdog
  • Pedro #26; -125 betting favorite

> Sara McMann (11-3) vs Ketlen Vieira (8-0)
WOMEN’S BANTAMWEIGHTS

  • McMann #5; -205 betting favorite
  • Vieira #20; +205 betting underdog

> Sarah Moras (4-2) vs Ashlee Evans-Smith (5-2)
WOMEN’S BANTAMWEIGHTS

  • Moras NR; +240 betting underdog
  • Evans-Smith #28; -227 betting favorite

> Rick Glenn (19-4) vs Gavin Tucker (10-0)

FEATHERWEIGHTS

  • Glenn #40; +240 betting underdog
  • Tucker #121; -230 betting favorite

> Luis Henrique (10-3) vs Arjan Bhullar (6-0) HEAVYWEIGHTS

  • Henrique #108; +185 betting underdog
  • Bhullar #86; -200 betting favorite

> Kajan Johnson (21-12-1) vs Adriano Martins (28-8)
LIGHTWEIGHTS

  • Johnson NR; +450 betting underdog
  • Martins #34; -475 betting favorite

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Action begins with the Fight Pass prelims at 7 PM EST and moves over to FS1 at 8 PM EST. The main card airs on PPV at 10 PM EST and our own Ryan Pike will be cageside covering the show.

UFC 215 discussion on the Board, including Ryan Frederick’s extensive preview of the card, along with fighter notes