By Raphael Garcia
After a week off from mixed martial arts, UFC 202 welcomes the fight community back into the Octagon with a huge card. While all eyes are focused on the top of the docket, where Conor McGregor attempts to get revenge against Nate Diaz, there are a number of other reasons to be excited for this event. UFC 202 is yet another display of critical matchmaking from the minds behind the UFC, as the fans have a lot to look forward to on Saturday.
From a rankings and contenders perspective, three fights stand out as key contests for the parties involved: Anthony Johnson faces Glover Teixeira in the co-main event, Donald Cerrone and Rick Story meet at welterweight, and Cody Garbrandt is due to fight Takeya Mizugaki.
Then there’s Donald Cerrone and Rick Story. This fight doesn’t immediately impact the top five contenders in the weight class, but the winner could have the opportunity to leap into the Top Ten at a time in which the welterweight division is going through change. A new champion in Tyron Woodley creates a number of interesting title scenarios, and intriguing matchups will await the winner of this fight.
From a stylistic view, this is a sleeper fight that can steal the show. Story’s ground and pound style has helped him to a resurgence of sorts after many wondered if he would remain on the UFC roster. Against Cerrone he faces not only a striker unafraid to mix it up on the feet, but an opponent with a very dangerous guard. Cerrone’s triangle choke win over Alex Oliveira at UFC Fight Night 83 reminded everyone that he’s a threat off of his back.
Dominick Cruz. While talking a big game has helped some men work their way into the title picture, all fighters still need to perform when the cage door shuts. If Garbrandt doesn’t find a way to get by Mizugaki on Saturday, he can push those dreams of a title shot out of his head.
Mizugaki may not be a name that immediately draws attention, but there’s a reason why he’s hung around the 135-pound title picture for an extended period of time. Even though he’s dropped fights to the likes of Cruz, Urijah Faber, and Aljamain Sterling, he’s not someone that should be overlooked. It will be interesting to see if Garbrandt can find the answers for Mizugaki’s vast experience in big fights such as this. If he gets through the fight, then Garbrandt may be considered a true challenger to the belt. If not, his hype train will be stopped.
UFC 202 is all about Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz. Fans are looking forward to the moment these two men step into the Octagon for a second time. However, before that fight takes place, there will be a lot of compelling action going down before that. These three fights stand out as offering the kind of intrigue that the main event doesn’t bring to the event, and while the promotional coverage may have overlooked them, fans shouldn’t miss any of these matchups.
UFC 202: Diaz vs. McGregor 2 takes place on August 20, 2016 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.