UFC 229 has an incredibly stacked card beneath the headlining grudge match between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nuragomedov. Though, unless you’ve been paying close attention, you might not know it.
Somewhere lost among promo after promo featuring Conor McGregor trying out for the Olympic luggage cart toss back in Brooklyn is the fact that UFC 229 has a very, very promising undercard. The type of undercard that, while not quite a PPV in itself (since apparently you can’t have one of those without a title fight anymore), would get MMA fans hot and bothered were it a FOX card. Or ESPN card, in a few more months. In fact if you slapped an interim title on the Tony Ferguson vs. Anthony Pettis bout (please, for the love of God, don’t), you could pass it off as a decent mid-tier PPV card.
Let’s take a closer look, shall we? Tony Ferguson vs. Anthony Pettis isn’t exactly the fight we wanted. We wanted Ferguson vs. Khabib, but it’s been made so many times, it feels like there’s a better chance of B.J. Penn fighting Ferguson in 2018 than there is of Khabib. Still, Ferguson vs. Pettis is the type of fight that should excite fans. Ferguson likes to walk forward, and he tends to get hit. Pettis has struggled since losing the lightweight title to Rafael dos Anjos years ago, but you can usually count on him to pull off some sort of flashy attack.
At the worst, this fight leads to the UFC booking Khabib against Tony for the eleventy-first time. It could also create an interesting situation at lightweight if Pettis were to win, especially depending on how Dustin Poirier vs. Nate Diaz goes next month in New York.
Drop down a couple fights on the main card. Now you’ve got a heavyweight title eliminator in a division dying for contenders. Sure, fine, “title eliminator” might be a stretch with Derrick Lewis coming off the worst heavyweight fight of all time. Still, he won it. Then there’s Alexander Volkov. It would be hard, at this point, to argue that the former Bellator heavyweight champion isn’t deserving of a title shot. He’s knocked out former champ Fabricio Werdum. Took Roy Nelson to decision. Finished off Stefan Struve. Like Struve, he has the physical attributes to give his opponents fits. Unlike Struve, he actually uses his length well. Six straight wins, four in the UFC, undefeated since 2015.
What more does a guy have to do? This would be the perfect time for the UFC to really get behind Volkov, but with the return of McGregor overshadowing everything, he seems to be lost in the shuffle.
Then over on the women’s side, there’ Michelle Waterson vs. Felice Herrig. The UFC took a little bit of flack in the past when it booked ‘The Karate Hottie’ against other pretty faces: Angela Magana certainly used sex appeal to her advantage (see her very NSFW twitter), then there was Paige VanZant, but the reality is she’s getting fights against legit fighters, and the story line here, regardless of Herrig being another attractive strawweight, should be about rebuilding. Waterson hit a wall against Rose Namajunas and Tecia Torres, and just barely edged past Cortney Casey.
Herrig, on the other hand, was on the best run of her career until she dropped a split decision to former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz. That leaves both fighters in similar places, but Herrig, 4-1 in her last five, has a lot to gain with a win here. Not only that, but at thirty-four, she’s coming to the end of her prime as an athlete, and should be plenty motivated to make one last run.
Lower on the card? Tonya Evinger returns, in her first fight since being thrown to the lions against Cris Cyborg. Evinger’s a tough customer and made what might otherwise have been a slaughter respectable, but expect a much better outing at UFC 229, when she faces Aspen Ladd. As for Ladd, she’s undefeated at 6-0, and Evinger will mark her biggest test yet.
Another former Cyborg victim, Yana Kunitskaya, is on the card. Sergio Pettis is as well. There’s a lot to love about UFC 229, once you get past the main event. Which is a must-see fight — but the rest of the card deserves its due.