This article is part of our MMA Barometer series.
The weekend is finally upon us! For the first time since 1995, a UFC event will take place in New York. Mixed Martial Arts was finally legalized in the state on April 14, 2016. That set up UFC 205 which will take place in Madison Square Garden on Saturday. The initial event in New York is one of the most stacked cards in UFC history, boasting three title fights. On top of that, almost all fights have title implications. For this reason, none of the competing fighters will be on the falling list this week, outside of Kelvin Gastelum, who missed weight Friday morning. However, this will be an all-UFC 205 MMA barometer. This major event, culminating with Conor McGregor's attempt to become a simultaneous belt holder in two UFC weight classes, warranted its own exclusive barometer. Unfortunately, two big fights have been cancelled: a preliminary contest between Tim Kennedy and Rashad Evans (rescheduled for UFC 206) and a main card bout between Donald Cerrone and Kelvin Gastelum. Even in the absence of those two fights, this is still one of the best cards in UFC history.
The most exciting part about UFC 205 is the importance of each fight. Three title fights is exciting enough, but there are also title implications in most of the fights and, at the very least, the opportunity for the victors to break into the upper echelon of their divisions. Hopefully this event can live up to its hype.
As always, below is your MMA barometer with rising, falling, and check status fighters.
Khabib Nurmagomedov, Lightweight
The two-time world Sambo champion will look to continue his undefeated streak as a professional mixed martial artist. Nurmagomedov is currently the No. 2-ranked UFC lightweight and would likely already be a UFC champion were it not for injuries. He has destroyed the competition in his seven trips to the Octagon, including a three-round destruction of former UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos. Nurmagomedov uses his Sambo background to take advantage of opponents both on the ground and in the clinch. Once he clinches with an opponent, it is only a matter of time before he gets a takedown. An example of this is the fight with dos Anjos where Nurmagomedov secured an early takedown and was able to stay engaged in the clinch with dos Anjos for the majority of the first round. Nurmagomedov went on to rag doll dos Anjos for the remainder of the fight.
If Nurmagomedov can avoid Michael Johnson's unorthodox striking on Saturday night, and employ that same strategy against Johnson, it will be a long (or potentially very short) night for Johnson. Nurmagomedov is more than able to strike with Johnson, but his best chance is in the clinch and on the ground. Johnson has lost six professional fights by submission, and Khabib is one of the best grapplers in the world.
Nurmagomedov has a good chance of continuing his undefeated streak. As long as he is able to stay healthy, he should get a title shot in the near future. I expect him to be a UFC champion within the next year.
Stephen Thompson, Welterweight
One of the best strikers in any division of the UFC, Thompson has reeled off a seven-fight winning streak. Four of those wins have been by KO/TKO. Even more impressive than his highlight reel knockouts of Jake Ellenberger and Johny Hendricks was his five-round, unanimous-decision victory over Rory MacDonald. MacDonald, fresh off a fight-of-the-year caliber matchup against then-UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler, was picked apart by Thompson's striking. MacDonald is one of the best all-around mixed martial artists on the planet, but he gave Thompson no problems. Thompson has not really had a close fight since his 2012 loss to Matt Brown.
On Saturday, Thompson faces a stiff challenge in UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley. Woodley is coming off of a first-round TKO of Robbie Lawler, and on top of his powerful strikes, is an accomplished wrestler. That being said, Woodley has the stigma of having cardio issues. This has not really been tested, as Woodley has only went beyond the second round three times in his eight-fight UFC career. He lost two of those contests. Furthermore, Woodley is a very similar fighter to Johny Hendricks, a power puncher and a dominant wrestler. Woodley is more athletic, but Thompson finished Hendricks in the first round. Due to Woodley's performance against Lawler, Thompson will probably be more patient this weekend. If he uses his footwork and length, which is increased by his kickboxing and karate style, he should be able to drag Woodley into deep water and take advantage of a more tired fighter. If Thompson can survive the initial round or two, he has a good chance of being the new UFC welterweight champion.
Katlyn Chookagian, Bantamweight
Chookagian enters Saturday's contest with a perfect 8-0 record as a professional mixed martial artist. In her last fight with Lauren Murphy, she showcased great footwork and boxing in securing a unanimous-decision win. Chookagian did a great job of working her jab in the first and third rounds, and her high work rate helped to stymy Murphy's striking. "Blonde Fighter" also holds a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, so that allows her to strike more freely because she is not afraid to be taken down. However, her confidence in her BJJ can cause Chookagian to be content with her back being on the mat instead of working back to her feet where she can use her strength: her boxing. In the second round of her fight with Murphy it seemed as if Chookagian fell into this trap and absorbed a lot of punishment on the ground while she was attempting submissions from the bottom.
On Saturday, Chookagian will need to keep the fight standing. Liz Carmouche is a proven grappler and a ground-and-pound specialist. If Chookagian has trouble defending the takedown it could be a long night based on her second round performance against Murphy. However, if Chookagian is able to keep the fight standing she has a good chance against many fighters because of the great footwork she showed against Murphy. If Chookagian is able to beat Carmouche this weekend she will likely break into the top ten of the UFC Women's Bantamweight division.
Chris Weidman and Yoel Romero, Middleweights
Both Chris Weidman and Yoel Romero have not been in the Octagon since December 2015. Fittingly, they will fight each other Saturday at Madison Square Garden. Weidman took time off after losing his title and then having neck surgery, and Romero was suspended for testing positive for performance enhancing substances.
After a nearly two-and-a-half-year reign as UFC middleweight champion, Weidman suffered a loss to Luke Rockhold. Since that time, the No. 2-ranked UFC middleweight Weidman has not returned to the Octagon. His absence will end on Saturday when he faces No.4-ranked UFC middleweight Romero. Weidman has not fought since he was outclassed by Rockhold in December 2015, but it is hard to imagine he has lost a step in that time. Weidman is a complete mixed martial artist with impressive power, as evidenced in his knockout victory over Anderson Silva. He also posesses a suffocating top game, which he showcased in his first round domination of Vitor Belfort. Weidman also has the luxury of having experienced a five-round fight, when he defended his title against Lyoto Machida.
Romero has been a dominant force in the UFC middleweight division since 2013. He is a perfect 7-0 in the Octagon, with five victories coming by KO/TKO. With the exception of his most recent victory (a split decision against "Jacare" Souza) and "Stoolgate," Romero has never really been in trouble in his UFC fights. He is a world-class freestyle wrestler and one of the most physically imposing fighters on the roster. Romero is a powerhouse wrestler who can throw opponents around at will, and he has power in his hands too. However, it will be interesting to see if these attributes remain after his positive test for performance enhancing substances. The only knock on Romero is his cardio, which will almost surely be tested against Weidman.
On Saturday, something will have to give for these two dominant middleweights. Weidman probably has the advantage standing which will be important in this fight. Both fighters are such skilled wrestlers that they will probably cancel each other out in that category. On UFC Tonight, Weidman said he can outwrestle Romero in college wrestling but not in freestyle wrestling. Furthermore, he said initiating wrestling situations has a big impact on cardio which is where Romero is weakest. This could be foreshadowing for Saturday night as Weidman's best strategy would be to diminish Romero's gas tank and finish him in later rounds. If Romero is able to land takedowns early, however, it could be a bad night for Weidman. In his loss to Luke Rockhold he struggled from the bottom, and Romero's top pressure is even more than that of Rockhold. If Weidman and Romero's wrestling abilities cancel each other out, it will give the advantage to Weidman. If he can make the fight a grind for Romero and keep up pressure it should lead to even more success on the feet in later rounds. This fight could easily go either way, and after a long layoff both fighters are in check status.
Kelvin Gastelum, Welterweight
UFC 205 is such a stacked card that no fighters deserve to be on the falling list. However, one way to end up here is by missing weight for the biggest event in UFC history. This is exactly what happened Friday when Kelvin Gastelum failed to even show up for weigh-ins because he would not make weight. That caused his fight with Donald Cerrone to be cancelled. This is the third time in his UFC career that Gastelum has missed weight. He is a skilled fighter, but missing weight is one of the worst things you can do after signing a contract to fight at a certain weight. Today, after Gastelum missed weight, Dana White said he will never again fight at welterweight in the UFC. Gastelum may struggle at middleweight, as he is a little small for the class, but that is his only option if he wants to continue to fight under the UFC banner.