This article is part of our MMA Barometer series.
After a two-week layoff, the UFC is back in action at UFC 209 in Las Vegas. Though it was originally supposed to feature two title fights prior to Khabib Nurmagomedov's withdrawal, UFC fans will still get to see a welterweight championship rematch of a fight between Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson that took home Fight of the Night honors at UFC 205.
The card kicks off with two of the best strikers in the heavyweight division, where Mark Hunt will return from his controversial loss to Brock Lesnar to square off against former title challenger Alistair Overeem. Former light heavyweight king Rashad Evans makes his middleweight debut on the card, and David Teymur vs. Lando Vannata in a sneaky candidate for Fight of the Night.
As always, below is your MMA barometer with rising, falling, and check status fighters.
Derrick Lewis (UFC - Heavyweight)
Derrick Lewis is undoubtedly one of the hottest heavyweights in the UFC. He has won six straight fights, with five wins coming by way of KO/TKO. His latest outing was a second round knockout victory over Travis Browne. Browne seemed to be hurting Lewis to the body, but Lewis showed his toughness and survived with a brutal knockout of Browne. Even though Lewis seemed vulnerable to Browne's movement and low kicks, losing the first round, he showed championship grit to come back and win the fight.
Moving forward, Lewis should get a top-five opponent, as he is currently the No.7-ranked UFC heavyweight. This presents significant problems for Lewis, as he would fight the likes of Fabrico Werdum, Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem, who are superior to Travis Browne in skills, particularly movement. However, Lewis showed that even when he gets hurt he is a dangerous fighter. Lewis has arguably the most power in the heavyweight division and is a threat to any fighter, especially if the fight turns into a brawl. "The Black Beast" represents a challenge for any fellow heavyweight, as he has a chance to finish any opponent at any second of the fight.
Next Fight: TBA
David Teymur (UFC - Lightweight)
Teymur has burst on to the UFC scene with two consecutive victories, both by way of second round finish. The Swedish standup artist is both a four-time Swedish Muay Thai champion and won a K1 event in Holland. He likes to use low kicks that keep his opponent guessing, which sets up Teymur to get knockouts. Coupled with his power, Teymur has displayed excellent defense throughout his UFC career, although it is a small sample size. He has 100 percent takedown defense and has avoided 66 percent of the strikes thrown his way. His striking defense will be particularly important in this weekend's showdown with Lando Vannata.
Vannata has had an impressive UFC career as he took Tony Ferguson into the second round in his UFC debut. This was certainly too much, too soon for Vannata, but he was still competitive before eventually being submitted by the man who was originally set to compete for the interim UFC lightweight champion on this card. Vannata followed up his performance against Ferguson with a crazy first round knockout victory over John Makdessi via wheel kick. This power will make it important for Teymur to be on point with his footwork and head movement to stay out of the range of Vannata. So far, Vannata has not attempted a takedown in the UFC, but it is likely he will attempt a takedown against the Swedish Muay Thai fighter. I expect Teymur's takedown defense to hold up, and his stand-up experience will be the difference against Vannata.
Next Fight: Lando Vannata, UFC 209: Thompson vs. Woodley (March 4th, 2017)
Felice Herrig (UFC - Strawweight)
After a year-plus layoff between 2015 and 2016, "Lil' Bulldog" has won two in a row. Herrig was the No. 12-ranked UFC women's strawweight before her latest victory. Her last fight was an impressive unanimous decision victory against formerly-undefeated Alexis Grasso. Herrig suffered a tough unanimous decision loss to Paige VanZant before her hiatus, but Herrig has improved her overall skills in her time away from the octagon. Her grappling has visibly improved under the tutelage of Jeff Curran, helped Herrig achieve a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Along with her ever-improving ground game, Herrig boasts a 23-5 professional kickboxing record. Her well-rounded approach to mixed martial arts seems to be paying off.
In her next fight, Herrig will undoubtedly be looking for a top-ten competitor. An intriguing matchup would be with Tecia Torres, a fighter who defeated Herrig in Invicta. Both are well-rounded and would make for a competitive matchup. Herrig seems to be improving her game with each fight, and a showdown with Torres would be a good way to show her continuing growth.
Next Fight: TBA
Check StatusRashad Evans (UFC - Middleweight)
After a long layoff, former light heavyweight champion is ready to make his return to the UFC. However, this time Evans will make his debut in the middleweight division. He was slated to return at UFC 205 in New York, but got scratched by the New York State Athletic Commission after an MRI showed "irregular findings." Evan's claimed he was healthy, and is set to return at UFC 209 in his middleweight debut against Daniel Kelly.
Evans is fighting in a new division, but that doesn't deny the fact he has lost both of his last two fights and hasn't won a fight since 2013. He faces a stiff test in Kelly, who has a 5-1 record in the UFC. Kelly is good at everything, as he has avoided 66 percent of strikes and 80 percent of takedowns. Even though Kelly has an impressive defensive record, Evans is still a former Division I wrestler from Michigan State and has impressive boxing. Along with his championship skills, Evans should have a size advantage at middleweight. Evans could certainly return to his old form in a new division.
Next Fight: Daniel Kelly, UFC 209: Thompson vs. Woodley (March 4th, 2017)
Khabib Nurmagomedov (UFC - Lightweight)
Nurmagomedov was scheduled to take on Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight championship in the co-main event of UFC 209 on Saturday, but the fight unfortunately had to be removed from the card after Khabib did not show up for weigh-ins Friday morning. He reportedly checked in to the hospital Thursday evening due to weight management issues, and although he was discharged, Khabib was not medically cleared to fight. With the news coming less than 36 hours in advance of the scheduled bout, it was ultimately scrapped from the card entirely.
Nurmagomedov is regarded by many as one of the best, if not the best, lightweight fighters in the world. He is so well thought of that some sportsbooks had him at nearly a (-200) favorite prior to his withdrawal, which is an amazing margin for an opponent the caliber of Ferguson. All of that being said, he's starting to become a bit of a reliability concern for the promotion. He's had to undergo various extended layoffs due to injury in his career, and Friday wasn't the first time he was responsible for a late cancellation. Fight fans of long called for Khabib to meet Conor McGregor in the octagon, but given Khabib's track record, it would be understandable if McGregor were hesitant to accept this fight.
Next Fight: TBA
Hector Lombard (UFC - Middleweight)
Even though he is still a dangerous fighter, Lombard has been struggling in his latest fights. He hasn't won a fight in four tries, with three losses and one fight overturned to a no-contest after a failed drug test. It goes without saying, but Lombard's previous dominance may have been with a little bit of an unfair advantage. After the playing field has been leveled, Lombard looks human and has lost in two of his last fights. One was to an aging Dan Henderson, and the other to Johny Hendricks, who seemed to be on his way out of the sport.
In his next fight, Lombard must win if he is looking to keep his job with the UFC. Middleweight is probably the best spot for him, even if he is somewhat short for the division. Welterweight is a big cut for Lombard at 39 years of age. Additionally, Lombard was only a .500 fighter at welterweight, so there isn't much promise if he decides to move back down. Some would even say it might be best for Lombard to simply hang it up. He is 39, got suspended for PEDs, and has suffered KO/TKO losses in two of his last three fights. It is obvious that Lombard can't compete in the upper echelon of the UFC at either welterweight or middleweight. He still has dangerous knockout power, but was unable to catch Johny Hendricks, and showed both his chin and conditioning are suspect against Henderson and Magny, respectively.
Next Fight: TBA