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UFC debuts on ESPN+: Our questions, answers and predictions

The UFC on ESPN era kicks off in just a few hours, a five year ride to help us better understand where everything we once knew as television is going. Will this marriage be a big success, a meaningless failure or somewhere in between? We get our first data point Saturday night with a pretty fun looking card, at least near the top of it.

For the fun of it, here's a look at the August 2013 Boston FS1 debut vs. tonight's lineup.

Helping me preview tonight's show is one of our MMA writers and MMADraws.com head Paul Fontaine and traveling event writer Ryan Frederick. For more content on tonight's show, check out our full picks at MMA Draws and my talk with Jack Encarnacao from this week's JNPO.

The card (ESPN+ and ESPN):

  • UFC flyweight champion Henry Cejudo vs. TJ Dillashaw
  • Greg Hardy vs. Allen Crowder
  • Gregor Gillespie vs. Yancy Medeiros
  • Joe Benavidez vs. Dustin Ortiz
  • Paige Van Zant vs. Rachel Ostovich
  • Glover Teixeira vs. Karl Roberson
  • Donald Cerrone vs. Alexander Hernandez
  • Joanne Calderwood vs. Ariane Lipski
  • Alonzo Menifield vs. Vincius Moreira
  • Mario Bautista vs. Cory Sandhagen
  • Dennis Bermudez vs. Te Edwards
  • Belal Muhammad vs. Geoff Neal
  • Chance Recountre vs. Kyle Stewart

What are you most looking forward to?

Paul: Honestly, I’m looking forward to seeing if anything changes with the presentation of the sport with the move to ESPN. There’s a few good fights here but the card is pretty top heavy. With a lot of unknown fighters, it will be interesting to see how UFC and ESPN introduce them. Also, with things like graphics and stats and various little extras that ESPN has with other sports, how will they be incorporated into their UFC broadcasts?

Josh: On Ariel Helwani's new ESPN audio show 'The MMA Reporters', he mentioned how he thought the card could be more impressive given the circumstances with the show and the canceled PPV next week. You know, I think this show is pretty solid overall. The early prelims on + will be a good way for last minute subscribers to get in, but I don't forsee any major streaming or buying problems tonight. The main event is great, the Gillespie-Medeiros tilt is really interesting, and suddenly, I cannot wait for Cerrone vs. Hernandez. I'm really excited for the action and, to Paul's point, how it's presented.

Ryan: Like Paul, I’m looking to see how the presentation on ESPN goes. I’ve been enjoying how much ESPN has put into this show, and I know it’s the first event, but if they treat every major event like this, and treat the smaller events a fraction of this way, this deal is going to be a home run for the UFC. There is also a fantastic and intriguing main event here between Cejudo and Dillashaw, and that one I’m really looking forward to.

Anything being slept on?

Paul: I feel like Josh is going to say the Cerrone fight after listening to his conversation with Jack Encarnacao on Punch-Out earlier this week and I would’ve said that as well, so I’ll go with Gregor Gillespie vs. Yancy Medeiros. I’d wager money that this fight will steal the show. Medeiros almost always has exciting fights while Gillespie is the most unknown 12-0 fighter (5-0 in UFC) and tonight is the biggest platform of his fighting career. He’s got four stoppages in those five UFC wins, which is pretty impressive in a tough division.

Josh: Wrong! The Gillespie-Medeiros fight. I love when prospects are allowed to quietly advance their career without getting shot to the moon too soon and ol' GG has done just that. It's a nice step up in competition with a tough and exciting fighter heading back to lightweight. With a win here, Gillespie will be elevated even more in a division that gets deeper by the month. Due to the hype that now surrounds Cerrone-Hernandez, I couldn't go with that one.

Ryan: I’m going with a fight very early in the card between Muhammad and Neal, maybe the best matchup outside of the main event. They are both action fighters with violent sides, and Neal is coming off a spectacular head kick knockout win. This one should be fireworks.

Anything not doing it for you?

Paul: Greg Hardy in the co-main. I know why they’re doing it and on some level, I may even agree with it but it still rubs me the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong: he’s been very impressive early in his MMA career and even moreso when you consider the combined record of his three opponents was 7-1 going into those fights. But putting this on the same card as Rachael Ostovich, still recovering from her own domestic violence incident, is just too much for me.

Josh: The Hardy placement is weird, but at this point, I'm over it. It is what it is and UFC's decision to stand their ground on this so firmly is an interesting one. I'm surprised there hasn't been more negative coverage this week, but I guess we overthought that when this all broke. What really isn't doing it for me these days is Dana White's attitude. Can you imagine a more angry and upset multi-multi millionaire when they get confronted with criticism? It's clear he has utter disdain for native MMA media and really, anyone else who dares push back on their decisions, but it's exhausting. This whole exchange on First Take was just...yeah. I wish the likeable White would come back, but I think that guy is dead.

Ryan: The whole Hardy situation really rubs me the wrong way, and the less I say and think about it, the better. I’ll just leave it at that.

What will be people talking about most after the show is done?

Paul: Whether or not the flyweight division is done after Cejudo either defeats the bantamweight champion or Dillashaw becomes champ-champ. And speaking of which: why couldn’t this be for both belts? Both guys weighed in under the bantamweight limit.

Josh: From what I heard today, I believe it's because fighters would have to weigh in at 126 or above in order to qualify for the next weight limit. Anyway, I think if Dillashaw wins, we're going to get more champ-champ-champ talk from Dillashaw which would be the worst. It's bad enough two divisions get tied up when they do these champ vs. champ fights but the potential for three divisions to get tied up due to one guy might put me in a grave. Well, maybe not, but I would be mad about it for five minutes. Another one: that tonight was a big success for ESPN+ but the new subscriber numbers aren't where they should be.

Ryan: Unfortunately, I think we will be talking about the official end of the flyweight division. I see another double champion coming out of this show, and no way does Dillashaw defend that title, or even entertain the idea of going back down to 125 pounds. He looked horrid on the scale and this is one and done for him.

What is your hope for the ESPN era?

Paul: I hope the fighters make more money, that the sport becomes even more mainstream than it became in the Fox era and that somehow the glut of shows results in a reduction in the amount of PPVs. For the last one, not just because it’s easier on the walle but I feel like PPVs should feel like big events and, for the most part, they really don’t.

Josh: That the promotion improves its TV product to be more viewer friendly (pacing for example) and that ESPN pushes them to be better. The UFC's control over production has some benefits but some drawbacks when it comes to innovation that comes from actually listening to suggestions from outside parties. White seemingly hates change, so maybe my hope is he becomes less and less involved so we get some new voices in the room. I won't hold my breath.

Ryan: I hope it works out for everyone involved. It certainly seems like ESPN is 100 percent behind the UFC right now, and this does feel like a big show. I hope it keeps up because if it does, this is going to take the company further than Fox ever could have. It’s a good move for them. I want this to work out for everyone, especially the fighters.

Who wins these five fights?

- Cejudo vs. Dillashaw

Cejudo: Paul
Dillashaw: Ryan, Josh

- Hardy vs. Crowder

Hardy: Paul, Ryan, Josh

- Gillespie vs. Yancy

Gillespie: Paul, Ryan, Josh

- PVZ vs. Ostovich

PVZ: Paul, Ryan, Josh

- Cerrone vs. Hernandez

Cerrone: Paul, Ryan
Hernandez: Josh