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UFC 205: Alvarez vs McGregor Breakdown

Dan Tom

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Conor McGregor UFC 205

 

Eddie Alvarez (27-4)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’9″ Age: 32 Weight: 155 lbs Reach: 69″
  • Last Fight: TKO win / Rafael Dos Anjos (7-7-16)
  • Camp: Mark Henry & Co. (New Jersey/Philly)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   UFC Lightweight Champion
+   Former Bellator Lightweight Champ
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   17 KO victories
+   5 Submission wins
+   14 first round finishes
+   Good cardio & conditioning
^   Excellent recoverability
+   Solid footwork & lateral movement
^   Good outside foot awareness
+   Accurate right hand/uppercut
^   Often setup with darts & crouches
+   Underrated wrestling ability
^   Favors takedown attempts off cage
+   Scrambles/transitions well
+/-Aggressive in exchanges
^   Traditionally takes damage
–    Dropped/stunned in 7 of last 10 fights
+   6-1 against southpaws (last 10 years)

 

Conor McGregor (20-3)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’9″ Age: 28 Weight: 155 lbs Reach: 74″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Nate Diaz (8-20-16)
  • Camp: SBG Ireland (Dublin, IE)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   UFC Featherweight Champion
+   Cage Warriors LW & FW Titles
+   Brown Belt BJJ
+   17 KO victories
+   1 Submission win
+   13 first round finishes
+   KO Power
+   Agile & athletic mover
+   Excellent footwork
^   Deceptively dictates distance
+   Accurate & deadly left cross
^   Adjusts attack angles nicely
+   Diverse kicking attacks
+/-Heavily reliant on trunk movement
^   Low hands/head upright
+   Improved wrestling/takedown defense
^   Solid base & balance
+   Underrated grappler
?    Questionable gas tank under pressure

Summary:

The main event for Madison Square Garden is a historic battle of champions as Eddie Alvarez puts his lightweight title on the line against the featherweight kingpin, Conor McGregor. After upsetting the oddsmakers with his dethroning of Rafael Dos Anjos last summer, Eddie Alvarez wasted little time in calling out Conor McGregor as he was clearly in the hunt for a big-money fight. Getting his wish granted at the eleventh hour, Alvarez will now get a well-deserved payday to go along with the honor of this showcase spot.

Originally slated to have his turn at the lightweight title earlier this year, Conor McGregor will attempt the same feat BJ Penn did at UFC 94–when the lightweight legend moved up mid-reign to regain his welterweight strap against then-champion, Georges St. Pierre. Being the only fighter to truly shift the spotlight on the lighter divisions since the Hawaiian’s prime, it is only fitting that McGregor is the next man to earn a shot at the history books.

In looking at how these two champions line up, I feel that most of the question marks reside within the striking realm. Essentially, we have a counter-fighter in McGregor who uses pressure to put you into his kill zone–and a more traditional pressure-fighter in Eddie Alvarez who looks to create chaos and capitalize inside of small spaces. Embracing his boxing background, Alvarez usually operates out of a crouch variation in regards to his striking stance.

Throwing his crosses and uppercuts with accuracy, Alvarez can use the crouch to counter on the inside–or dart to the outside with his cross for cover. That said, Eddie tends to heavily lean to his right as he usually stays loaded for these options. Even though Eddie can slip punches from here, leaning toward that side tends to put him in line for a left power kick. Despite a majority of McGregor’s kicking arsenal having misdirectional intents, the kicks from his left side pack some real power as he variates them between the head and body.

Another weapon that I feel may have a presence against Alvarez is the front kick thrown by McGregor. Snapping it like a Karate kick as opposed to pushing like a teep kick, this strike has little telegraph and can deceptively disrupt an opponent’s breathing rhythms. Unless Alvarez can catch it and threaten with a takedown, then I expect Conor to try and even out any potential gas tank advantages with front kicks to the solar plexus.

Even though Alvarez has some head and body kicks of his own, I am not sure how much he will lean on them given the potential left-cross counters of McGregor. That said, I suspect we may see Alvarez prod with inside leg kicks as these can potentially hurt or debase the Irishmen, while still maintaining an outside range. Kicking repertoires aside, I believe that the striking stanzas will be decided inside the pocket as this is where each man makes his money.

Although Alvarez is no slouch when it comes to trading inside, I feel that McGregor will be the more potent striker in these exchanges. Although Conor is supposed to be the smaller man as the featherweight champion, he is longer and arguably carries more stopping power than Alvarez. Couple that with the fact that Alvarez has been dropped or stunned in seven of his last eleven fights, and the countering capabilities of Conor become a live and looming threat throughout this contest.

Having a preternatural sense of range, it is the distance management of McGregor that ties in his on-paper advantages. Conor displays the fleet-of-foot instincts to get out of harm’s way, but can also utilize his footwork and trunk movements to angle-off and come back with counters. Although Alvarez’s hands are not as low as McGregor’s, Eddie’s inherent aggression makes him more hittable as he will sometimes overstay his welcome inside the pocket. That said, Alvarez has other tendencies that may even out his chances inside the exchanges, as he has the propensity to move to his left when darting off of his right hand.

Moving to the left will help Alvarez avoid the power side of McGregor as well as minimize the impact of said attacks. In looking back at Eddie’s history against southpaw opposition, his footwork has been a constant theme as the lightweight champ demonstrates consistent outside-foot-awareness. Whether he is using it to attack or walk his opponents into traps, Alvarez shows a surprising knack for dealing with the southpaw stance. In fact, when facing a lefty–Alvarez will often use his darting right-hand to setup shifting attacks that will allow him to follow up with hooks from alternate angles and stances.

Although Eddie’s propensity to move left has often run him into right hands, McGregor lacks a strong presence from that side as most his punches are pawing jabs or slapping hooks from a Dutch hand trap. Conor does throw a nice lead uppercut from his right, but like most of his arsenal–it’s primary purpose is to set up the left hand. McGregor also lacks a kicking presence from his right side, as he favors spinning wheel kicks from his left to help his corralling efforts. With that in mind, I suspect we may see Eddie look to abuse this angle of attack throughout the fight.

That said, Alvarez may still be in danger despite moving off to the proper side. Even though power typically does not translate well when punching across the body, Conor displays unique body mechanics that allow him to adjust his cross. As we saw in his fight with Chad Mendes, McGregor was able to catch Chad as he was moving away from his power side. Pivoting heavily on his lead foot, Conor threw his cross like he was a baseball pitcher from the 1930’s as the Irishman was able to change the trajectory on his punch. A master at taking the inside angle, McGregor also has a gift for hitting counter crosses in close as this punch will be potent anytime that Alvarez throws an uppercut.

Where this road potentially begins to part for me, is when looking at the prospects of possible grappling scenarios. Although Alvarez is arguably the better grappler and certainly the better wrestler, I feel that many of us are too quick to write off the ground skills of McGregor. That said, I do not blame anyone for doing so as Conor’s sample size here is small and skewed. In his fight with Chad Mendes, McGregor was facing one of the best wrestlers in the division on a compromised knee. Even if Chad were to have taken down a healthy Conor, I would still not condemn the Irishman’s wrestling given the strength of opposition. Never the less, McGregor was able to have moments of successful shot defense in that fight due to his agility and athleticism.

Conor’s grappling would once again come under fire after losing his first encounter with Nathan Diaz. Taking on another short-notice replacement, McGregor would find himself in unfamiliar territory both physically and mentally as he was rocked and eventually submitted in the second round. Despite many elite fighters failing in a similar fashion to a Diaz brother, the majority pointed to the result rather than the reasonings for it. Now, I am not going to pretend to know the extent of McGregor’s ground skills, but I do believe the man has a preternatural ability for picking up technical details. Whether we are talking about the leg weave pass he hit on Dennis Siver or the Curu-Curu sweep that was successful against Diaz, I feel that McGregor’s ground skills are better than what we have been able to see thus far.

That said, it is in the wrestling department where the Irishman’s success may live and die. Luckily for McGregor, Alvarez prefers his takedown attempts in the same place Conor seems to defend best from—the cage. Despite Nate Diaz not being the best sample size for takedown artists, Conor was able to thwart his attempts in their rematch using defensive fundamentals accompanied with a solid base and balance. However, Alvarez is a much better wrestler than Diaz and should have his healthiest advantage of the fight in this realm. I do not mean to discount either man, but all you have to do is watch Alvarez’s wars with Michael Chandler to see the extents of his wrestling ability, as he was able to hold his own with one of the best in the division.

Although Eddie can likely ground McGregor in a multitude of ways, the big question will be if he can keep the Irishman down. Throughout most of his career, the aggression that got Alvarez dropped on the feet was the same culprit that cost him control positions on the floor. Unlike many wrestlers who enter MMA, Eddie had no hesitations when it came to putting hooks in or advancing position. The problem was that he would transition too aggressively and give way scrambles that would often spark the chaos in his fights outside of the organization. However, since making it to the big show, Alvarez has shown to finally mature as he will stay much more attune to the discipline of a gameplan.

As impressive as Alvarez’s late-career adjustments are, McGregor showed his ability to adjust in his last outing. So often do we glance over the concept of correcting mistakes, and seldom do we ever do so in our actions. Not Conor McGregor. A man who never emphasized heavily on road work would now get on a bike like his life depended on it. A man who never threw a single Thai-style leg kick in his previous 22-fights would now sharpen his shins like they were feeding his family. And despite all that focus and preparation, McGregor still found himself tired and in trouble against Diaz come the end of the second round. Although science will tell you that you can’t just turn yourself into a 5-round fighter, McGregor was able to overcome this and finish the fight by adjusting.

Unless you grew up watching 12 or 15-round wars in boxing(depending on the era), it is hard to state just how impressive it is to see a fighter in MMA use scare-tactics and bluffs to maintain his presence inside a contest. Loosening up his arms to conserve energy, Conor was able to throw his combinations more fluidly as he would mix in the occasional power shot to keep up appearances. Resetting when he needed to, McGregor also showed the ability to stall safely inside the clinch in moments of recovery. That said, I do not think that Alvarez’s style will allow for such an environment for Conor to navigate. Despite coming from a boxing base as well, Eddie brings a multi-dimensional attack that he employs through breakneck pressure.

If Conor cannot counter or capitalize on Eddie’s aggression early, then he will likely find himself deep in the furnace of a five round war. Even though I give Conor more credit than most in regards to his tactical efforts, there are certain limits when comes to changing fight styles and weight classes. Although Alvarez’s durability is the other big question in this fight, I am not certain his is any worse for wear considering Conor’s recent battle history. Even though part of me cannot get around the potency of Conor’s counter-cross inside pocket, I ultimately feel that Alvarez has more ways to win until proven otherwise. And although part of me is rooting for McGregor to make history as I once rooted for Penn, I suspect that a multi-divisional reign will remain the Moby Dick of the UFC.

Official Pick: Alvarez – Inside the distance

 

Tyron Woodley (16-3)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’9″ Age: 34 Weight: 170 lbs Reach: 74″
  • Last Fight: KO win / Robbie Lawler (7-30-16)
  • Camp: ATT Evolution/Roufusport (Missouri)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   UFC Welterweight Champion
+   2x All-American Wrestler
+   Brown Belt BJJ
+   7 KO victories
+   4 Submission wins
+   8 first round finishes
+   KO Power
+   Fast-twitch athlete
^   Closes distance quickly
+   Devastating right hand
^   Offensively & off the counter
+   Heavy right leg kicks
+/-Strong but inactive inside the clinch
^   91% takedown defense
+   Solid reactive shot
^   Favors power double takedown
+/-Often fights with back to the fence
–    Offensive in short bursts
^   Gas tank bares watching
–    2 fights in 28 months

 

Stephen Thompson (13-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’0″ Age: 33 Weight: 170 lbs Reach: 75″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Rory MacDonald (6-18-16)
  • Camp: Upstate Karate (South Carolina)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Switch-stance / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Black Belt Kempo Karate (5th degree)
+   5x Kickboxing World Champion (57-0)
+   Purple Belt BJJ
+   7 KO victories
+   1 Submission win
+   5 first round finishes
+   KO Power
^   Knocked down 5 of last 6 opponents
+   Excellent footwork/range management
^   Plays in & out of striking lanes
+   Accurate shot selection
^   Instinctually intercepts with punches
+   Well-disguised kick variety
^   Favors right-legged attacks
+   Improved wrestling (81% takedown defense)
^   Intelligently scrambles & gets up
+   Underrated clinch game
^   Good head positioning/strikes off breaks
+   Superb outside foot awareness
–    Low-handed standing guard

Summary:

In a classic styles match for the welterweight title, Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley defends his strap against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. Coming off a crushing first round victory over recent welterweight warlord, Robbie Lawler, Tyron Woodley has wasted no time in his efforts to combat his recent inactivity. Looking to take the newly minted champion’s title is Stephen Thompson. A renown Karate fighter and kickboxer, Thompson will now receive the ultimate the honor in combat sports as he gets a chance to compete for a championship in Madison Square Garden.

Even though the evolution of Stephen Thompson’s game has often been the underlying intangible in recent performances, I feel the potential improvements of Tyron Woodley will be the question for this fight. With only two fights in the last 28-months, we have not had a lot to sample from in regards to any tools or upgrades to Tyron’s game. Although I am sure he is getting a lot more of the looks and techniques that he needs training with Roufusport, I doubt will see any drastic changes to his overall style as Tyron is 20-fights into his career at 34-years of age. That said, Tyron has a smart camp behind him fueled by the mastermind, Din Thomas, who I am sure has a solid gameplan for Woodley.

None the less, I will be presenting my take, as usual, off of the information shown inside of the cage. Despite being one of the most gifted athletes to compete in the wrestling room or Octagon, Woodley tends to lean on a small set of tools to get the job done. Although that can be one of his criticisms, those tools are more than enough to put away Stephen Thompson or anyone else in the division’s Top-10. The same explosive athleticism that made him so difficult to deal with as a wrestler translates well to his striking, as Woodley has developed a devastating right hand. Although Tyron is dangerous when coming forward with his attacks, he is also effective with his right-hand off the counter as I see that being his best shot to catch Stephen.

Going all the way back to his fight with Nate Marquardt, Woodley has shown the ability to counter effectively as this was a key in his victories over Josh Koscheck and Kelvin Gastelum. Even though the low-handed nature of Thompson’s standing guard seems inviting, Wonderboy has a preternatural sense of range as this has kept him safe thus far. However, Thompson has a tendency to sometimes exit exchanges awfully close to his opponent’s power hand. We saw Wonderboy dropped by Jake Ellenberger in this fashion, as well as tagged by Rory MacDonald despite the warnings from his cornerman, Chris Weidman. Although Woodley will likely be looking for this, the champion’s emphasis on his right hand could get him into trouble if Thompson takes it away.

In fact, if any fighter in this division is equipped to take away a right hand, it’s Thompson. Not only does Wonderboy’s Karate base allow him to operate from unique angles effectively, but his boxing influence ties everything together as we saw this come to fruition in his last contest. Facing one of the most technically-sound welterweight strikers in Rory MacDonald, we saw Wonderboy take away Rory’s jab using superb outside-foot-awareness. Keeping his lead-foot just outside of MacDonald’s lead-foot, Thompson was able to shut down the traditional striking lanes leaving Rory looking hesitant. Though this is a small detail, it was an impressive one as Thompson was able to consistently set or re-place his foot to that position throughout the entire 25-minutes.

Thompson’s foot placement inherently gives him an edge in exchanges, as his wide-array of attack angles and options often overwhelm his opposition. Even though Johny Hendricks is a southpaw, I feel that the footwork Stephen used in that fight holds keys to how he can evade Woodley’s right hand. Operating out of the southpaw stance, Stephen would utilize a shift referred to in traditional martial arts as opening the gate. Swinging his lead foot back at a 45-degree angle, Thompson will slip out of harm’s way as he shifts to an orthodox stance. From here, Wonderboy is well in-line to land a right cross of his own as this angle usually allows him to see into his opponent’s ear. If Wonderboy was able to successfully do this through the danger of Hendrick’s power side, then we may see him do similar to Tyron as this style would force the champ to fight from his weak side.

Although I give Wonderboy the striking advantage on paper, Woodley’s power will be the ultimate equalizer through the early portions of this fight. Where Woodley will have his clear on-paper edges is in the grappling department. As his wrestling credentials would suggest, Tyron is capable of grounding almost anyone on the UFC’s roster. That said, we have seldom seen Woodley rely on it in some time as he has only recorded 5-official takedown attempts in his 4-year UFC tenor. Though this can be accredited this to your usual wrestler turned striker argument, I believe that it may have to do more with output management. Apart from his fight with Carlos Condit, Woodley has mainly used his wrestling to combat arduous or unfavorable fight-conditions.

Despite being near impossible to score on, Tyron can be inactive inside the clinch when it comes to striking or wrestling. Although he will have more than enough motive to try and ground Thompson, Woodley has still yet to show us that his ground skills are in game-over territory. Aside from finishing off an already hurt Dong Hyun Kim, Tyron has seemingly used ground stanzas in a stalling fashion rather than a means for advancement. Favoring an all-the-way-in type of pressure from inside the guard(where he will sometimes utilize his shoulder), Seldom will you see Woodley posture up for the devastating ground strikes that you would expect from someone with his skillsets. Tyron also attempts a majority of his takedowns against the cage, which seems like a good thing considering that Thompson tends to play inside of those spaces.

However, I feel that Thompson likes to hang out near the fence when facing wrestlers for strategic purposes. If his plan-A of playing Matador doesn’t work out, then Wonderboy shows to use the cage to assist his already strong balance when defending shots(as we saw this against Johny Hendricks). Should Woodley fail against the fence, the champion will need to be careful exiting the clinch as Thompson consistently strikes off breaks. But if Tryon flips the script of his trends and makes grappling a big part of the gameplan, then this fight could get interesting as there is still a lot we have not seen from Wonderboy on the floor. However, If Tyron cannot show any advancing or offensive acumen on the ground, then I see an on-paper advantage quickly turning into diminishing returns given the gas tank of The Chosen One.

I do not mean to discount or discredit Woodley with that statement as he is a hard working athlete that puts in a ton of sacrifice for his craft. However, there is a lot of scientific facts and sample sizes to pull from that will tell you that muscles need fuel, and Tyron is no exception with his build. Often fighting in bursts, Woodley will revert to circling the outside should he not make a strong impact in the opening frame. Using his aforementioned-clinch game or an occasional right-handed explosion, Tyron has shown he can stall or scare off his opposition when necessary. That said, fading toward the end of rounds is never a good habit, especially when facing a range and rhythm fighter like Wonderboy who tends to come on stronger as time wears on.

Despite Tyron showing improvements to his energy management in his decision win over Kelvin Gastelum, he was still reluctant to pull the trigger against an opponent who was sick and hospitalized the day of the fight. With that bout taking place almost 2-years ago, we have only seen 2-minutes & change of cage time since then as Woodley would once again score a knockout with his right hand. Even though this lack of information can be advantageous for Tyron coming in, it does not make me confident in betting him as an underdog. Although Woodley only needs but one shot to retain his title, I feel that Wonderboy’s alternate system of operating will take over if the fight goes past the first. Ultimately, I will be siding with the more active fighter who also has more options as I see welterweight having a new warlord before the final bell.

Official Pick: Thompson – Inside the distance

 

Joanna Jedrzejczyk (12-0)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’6″ Age: 38 Weight: 115 lbs Reach: 65.5″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Claudia Gadelha (7-8-16)
  • Camp: American Top Team (Florida)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Good

Supplemental info:
+   UFC Strawweight Champion
+   5x Muay Thai World Champ
+   4 KO victories
+   1 Submission win
+   1 first round finish
+   Consistent pace & pressure
^   Well-conditioned
+   Excellent footwork
^   Shifts, half-steps, & pivots
+   Technical & heavy-handed striker
^   Rarely throws self out of position
+   Accurate & active jab
+   Hard teep & leg kicks
+   Superb defensive & offensive clinch
^   Solid head positioning & forearm framing
+   Underrated grappling IQ
+   Good getup technique/urgency
^   Effectively uses the cage
–    Head often on-center
^   Counter availabilities

 

Karolina Kowalkiewicz (10-0)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’3″ Age: 31 Weight: 115 lbs Reach: 65″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Rose Namajunas (7-30-16)
  • Camp: Gracie Barra Lodz (Poland)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   KSW Strawweight Title
+   Muay Thai Accolades
+   1 KO victory
+   2 Submission wins
+   3 first round finishes
+   Active footwork
^   Good shifts & lateral movement
+   High-volume striker
^   Fluid with combinations
+   Effective right hand
^   Doubles-up/variates attack angles
+   Accurate knees & elbows in clinch
^   Strikes well off breaks
+   Improved takedown defense
^   Cage & under-hook awareness
+   Underrated grappling ability
^   Floats & rides well on top
+/-Sometimes starts slow
+/-Aggressive in exchanges
^   Counter availabilities

Summary:

In an all-Polish affair for the strawweight title, Joanna Jedrzejczyk defends her belt against Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Not only are both ladies Polish, but they are also both undefeated fighters as this will only add to the intrigue. Coming off of her third title defense, Joanna Jedrzejczyk has looked nothing short of stellar as she continues to help write the history books for her division. Seeking to stop her reign is Karolina Kowalkiewicz, a soft-spoken Pole who has repeatedly gone to war and made many fans along the way.

These two fighters have met before in their amateur careers, but that bout took place back in March of 2012–as each have grown immensely since then. That said, Jedrzejczyk won the match by armbar as I suspect that will only add to her swagger. The champion’s confidence aside, Karolina will not be easily shaken despite her demeanor. Though she may appear lackadaisical or listless during her introductions, Kowalkiewicz will probably be the most active and technical-striker that Jedrzejczyk has had to deal with in her MMA career.

Although both women have a healthy amount of Muay Thai experience, they apply their craft in two completely different ways. Consistently circling and resetting her position, Kowalkiewicz will enter into combinations like she is an incoming aircraft on a bombing run. However, once inside–she does a great job of shifting her stance with her punches as she favors doubling-up on her right-hand when going to southpaw. For me, these type of technical intricacies speaks volumes to a fighter’s abilities and understanding.

Kowalkiewicz’s background in other martial arts also shines through when she throws her kicks. Often punctuating her combinations with leg kicks, Karolina will cleverly parlay missed Thai kicks into side kicks off the same foot. Even though this flow of shifting offense can be difficult to deal with, Karolina’s style is not without its consequences. As is the case with many shifters, this type of offense typically opens you up to shots on the way inside. Considering that Karolina tends to lower her hands and strike retractions, she may get more than she bargains for when trading with the champion. For this reason, I feel that Jedrzejczyk’s jab will play a key factor in this fight.

Throwing it actively and accurately, Joanna’s development of her jab dates back to the beginning of her career as this has been a crucial tool for her success. Like many Muay Thai strikers transitioning into MMA, Jedrzejczyk also feared the takedown as she would subsequently avoid throwing kicks comfortably until her very first title defense. Now that she has shown competency and confidence in her anti-grappling abilities, Joanna will now use her jab more for setups rather than safety as I see it having success against Karolina. Joanna’s right-hand could also be more live than usual in this matchup. Compensating for her low-hands with head movement, Kowalkiewicz has a tendency to lean heavily to her left as this has commonly run her into right-hands.

I also see the leg kicks thrown off Jedrzejczyk’s jab playing a tactical role given Kowalkiewicz’s stance. With Karolina’s footwork and movement being the most challenging part of her game, expect the champion to start attempting to take it away early. Although Kowalkiewicz moves well laterally, it comes at the cost of keeping an unusually narrow stance. Not only will Joanna’s hard leg kicks challenge Karolina’s standing foundation, but the champion’s accuracy of assault in her last two outings tells me that this will be a looming threat throughout the contest. Whether she is timing her opponent’s proactive movements forward or retractive movements backward, Jedrzejczyk displays the reactive efficiency to contend with her fleet-of-foot foe.

Jedrzejczyk also has an effective teep-kick which could aide her in distancing or disrupting Karolina’s efforts. That said, Joanna will need to be careful as Kowalkiewicz is no slouch when it comes to catching kicks and countering. In my opinion, I believe that the key-junction in this fight will take place inside the clinch. Whether these ladies are defensively thwarting or offensively damaging, most of their opponents tend to break within this realm of the fight. Though they both utilize knees and elbows with effect, I feel that Kowalkiewicz is the quicker and more abundant attacker. The question, though, is will it be enough to overwhelm the more positionally sound champion?

Whether she is inside the clinch or free to operate on the feet, seldom will you see Jedrzejczyk out of position or off balance. The champion is particularly diligent when it comes to head position, as that not only helps her disrupt grappling efforts but also makes her difficult to hit. Assisting in this defensive wall is her subtle, but effective forearm framing. When getting ready to break off and strike, Jedrzejczyk will replace her forehead position with her forearms as devasting short-elbows tend to follow. That said, she will not be dealing with a willing dance partner as Karolina is persistent and dangerous when it comes to striking off the break.

Although there is not a huge sample size for either girl on the ground, their strengths and tendencies tell me that this department will likely be a wash. However, I do believe that both fighter’s grappling skills are far better than what we have seen. Kowalkiewicz, for example, shows a solid understanding of floats and transitions as she uses intricacies like shoulder-pressure pins to help her pass. Though she may have more of a motive to take this fight to the floor, Karolina has yet to show any serious tools or intent to do so. Couple that with the fact that Jedrzejczyk excels at defending takedowns and getting back to her feet(utilizing superb single-leg getups), we will likely be looking at a fight that is decided standing.

Another narrative I see playing a role in this match is the conditioning factor. We have seen Jedrzejczyk’s gas tank deep into the fight and under pressure, but I wonder what Kowalkiewicz will look like come the championship rounds. I am not questioning Karolina’s work ethic as she seems like a well-conditioned athlete, but her high-output style often leaves her gasping for breaths in between rounds and after fights. Even if she gets the jump on a sometimes slow-starting Jedrzejczyk, she may experience the same diminishing returns that Claudia Gadelha did in her second battle with the champ. Although I am a big fan of Kowalkiewicz, I ultimately feel that we will see Jedrzejczyk take a competitive decision in a Jose Aldo-like fashion.

Official Pick: Jedrzejczyk – Decision

 

Chris Weidman (13-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’2″ Age: 32 Weight: 185 lbs Reach: 78″
  • Last Fight: TKO loss / Luke Rockhold (12-12-15)
  • Camp: Serra-Longo Fight Team (New York)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Former UFC Middleweight Champ
+   2x Div. 1 All-American Wrestler
+   6 KO victories
+   3 Submission wins
+   6 first round finishes
+   KO Power
+   Accurate left hook
+   Hard body & leg kicks
+   Manages distance well
+   Excellent reactive shot
^   Times & adjusts well
+   Superb top game/transitions
^   26 passes in past 10 fights
+   Effective ground striker
^   Dangerous elbows
+/-Aggressive in exchanges
^   Counter availabilities

 

Yoel Romero (11-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’10” Age: 39 Weight: 185 lbs Reach: 73″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Jacare Souza (12-12-15)
  • Camp: American Top Team (Florida)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Decorated Olympic Wrestler (Cuba)
+   Multiple Wrestling Accolades
+   9 KO victories
+   4 first round finishes
+   KO power
+   Incredibly athletic & agile
^   Closes distance quickly
+   Deceptive tempo changes
^   Explodes into entries
+   Variates attack levels
^   Favors flying knees
+/-Sometimes wild in exchanges
^   Counter availabilities
+   Superb takedown & scramble ability
+   Devastating ground striker
–    Inconsistent output & pace
^   Gas tank bares watching

Summary:

In a main event worthy middleweight affair, the former champion Chris Weidman takes on Yoel Romero. One of the few New York natives to be scheduled on this card, Chris Weidman will be looking to bounce back from the first loss of his career. Losing his title to Luke Rockhold last December, the All-American has no easy path as he makes his way back to the top. Standing in his way is Yoel Romero, the most accoladed wrestler to compete in the UFC as he currently holds the number four ranking. Still yet to taste defeat inside the Octagon, Romero will look to cement his claim as a contender by spoiling the homecoming of Chris Weidman.

Although I do not pay too much attention to my early leans on a matchup, there are many instances where I initially favor one fighter coming in–only to end up picking the other upon further analysis. This fight is one of those matchups. Even though I do not disagree with Weidman being the favorite, there are a few things that worry me about his chances as I feel this is more of a pick-em fight. With both men coming off of poor and or uncharacteristic performances, it can be tricky to forecast exactly where they are one year later. That said, I laid out a few technical trends that may help paint a perspective for this fight.

Although Chris Weidman has seen the southpaw stylings of Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida, Yoel Romero is a unique look that can be hard to imitate. Looking like a Ninja Turtle without its shell, Romero not only carries the physique of a superhero but can move like one too. Utilizing springboard-like aerial assaults to misdirect his opponent’s attention, Yoel will explode immediately upon touchdown as he is one of the most deceptive distance closers in the game. Using changes in tempo to lure his opposition into a false sense of security, Romero can close in at the drop of a dime, which is probably why most of his opponents are typically more gunshy when facing him.

Much more crafty than he leads on to be, Romero will often get in on a takedown, only to abandon ship at the last second. Often, this will shake-up an opponent’s defensive radar as the takedown becomes a real threat and focus. As soon as Romero gets his opponents dropping their level in anticipation for a shot, the Cuban will then fake low and explode upwards with flying knees. Although his athleticism and agility allow him to conduct himself like a video game character, Romero makes his money like most southpaws as he packs a powerful left cross and right hook. Coupled with an ever-improving left body kick, and Romero has all tools that have typically found a home on Weidman in his gauntlet of southpaw opposition.

Although Chris has always done a good job of blocking head kicks as well as leg kicks(post the 1st Silva fight), the All-American has had a tendency to take body kicks. Even though that could be something worth looking out for, I worry more about Weidman’s punching defenses. Despite improvements to his head movement and hand positioning, Weidman tends to get a little too comfortable exchanging inside as his attitude and confidence has consistently got him caught here. Even in his victories over Machida and Belfort, we saw Weidman wave on his opposition’s attacks and eventually win. However, if you look closely to his post-fight behavior and speech, you can see and hear just how hurt Chris may have been.

That said, Weidman will not be the only one who is playing with fire on the feet as Romero has some liabilities of his own. Despite having the inherent edge exploding forward, Yoel tends to get wild in his follow-ups as this has often cost him counter right-hands. Considering that Weidman has a solid counter-cross, this could be something worth looking for throughout the contest. Another punch worth looking for is Weidman’s left hook. Similar to Anderson Silva, Romero tends to be a bit too reliant on head & trunk movements in the heat of exchanges. If Chris finds his rhythm early and throws left hook follow-ups, we could the Cuban suffer a similar fate as The Spider.

Given the grappling credentials of each fighter, I expect the ground stanzas to be exciting for as long as they last. Although Romero is the most accoladed wrestler, he is not beyond being taken down in MMA as we have seen this throughout his UFC ascension. That said, Romero’s spring translates to his get-up ability as he will immediately fight grips and get back to his feet. However, in his last fight with Jacare Souza, we saw a tired Romero taken down and controlled late into the match. Although Souza is no slouch and Yoel had an inconsistent performance, it will be interesting to see if Weidman forces the issue and returns to his grappling game.

Arguably the more technical grappler, Weidman should have an advantage in transitions and submissions when on top. However, if Chris can get him down, I am not certain of how well he can control Romero. Even when fighters have gotten into dominant positions like side control or mount, we have seen Yoel use his freakish bridge to reverse position or create scrambles. Whether he is explosively re-swimming for arm position or disrupting advancements through grip-fighting, Romero is a nightmare to try and control on the floor. That said, if Weidman can pressure Romero regardless of success, we may once again see a drop off in the Cuban’s suspect gas tank.

Despite potential cardio issues, Romero owns the second most third round stoppages(5) next to Randy Couture, as this only makes it harder to get a beat on Yoel. The biggest intangible I see coming into this fight is each man’s physical health. Even though Romero is an athletic outlier, he is 39-years of age and has recently gone through controversy in regards to his supplementation. Weidman, on the other hand, has seemingly compounded his injuries due to his toughness over the past few years, as his health is the big question coming in. Although I will be admittedly rooting for Weidman to win here, I feel his reliance on distance control may cost him against the quickest closer in the division.

Official Pick: Romero – Inside the distance

 

Kelvin Gastelum (12-2)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’9″ Age: 25 Weight: 170 lbs Reach: N72″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Johny Hendricks (7-9-16)
  • Camp: Kings MMA (California)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   TUF 17 Alum
+   State Champ Wrestler
+   5 KO victories
+   3 Submission wins
+   5 first round finishes
+   KO Power
+   High pressure approach
^   Good volume & combinations
+   Improved Boxing
^   Accurate R. hook L. cross
+   Hard left body kick
+   Takedowns scored in 6 of last 8 fights
+   Solid scrambling abilities
^   Always looks for back
+/-Willingness to trade
^   Counter availabilities

 

Donald Cerrone (31-7)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’1″ Age: 33 Weight: 170 lbs Reach: 73″
  • Last Fight: TKO win / Rick Story (8-20-16)
  • Camp: Jackson-Wink MMA (New Mexico)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Multiple Muay Thai Accolades
+   28-0 as a pro kickboxer
+   7 KO victories
+   16 Submission wins
+   14 first round finishes
+   KO Power
+   Intelligent strike setups
^   Feints, reads, and reacts
+   Devastating head kicks
+   Accurate & intercepting knees
+   Most leg kicks landed in the UFC
+   Underrated wrestling ability
+   Excellent transitional grappler
+   Dangerous triangle chokes
–    Head often upright
^   Counter availabilities

Summary:

In a potential welterweight war, Kelvin Gastelum takes on Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. Coming off a win over the former champion Johny Hendricks at UFC 200, Kelvin Gastelum will look to continue his rise up the rankings as he steps in to face Cowboy Cerrone. Originally slated to face Robbie Lawler, Cerrone will now meet a Top-5 contender as he maintains his spot on a stacked main card. Earning all his wins via stoppage since debuting in the weight class earlier this year, Cowboy has seemingly fast-tracked himself to the top of the division as he seeks to cement his status.

Given the basic breakdown of each style in this matchup, this is usually a fight where I would fade Cerrone due to his traditional struggles with pressuring southpaws. However, Cerrone has not only seemed more durable at this weight class, but he has also made measurable improvements to his hands and head movement under the tutelage of Brandon Gibson. Moving his head and torso offline and at angles, Cowboy will unload his punches with different mechanics than before–as he now has more of a presence inside the pocket. Often punching his way out of exchanges with his left-hook, Cerrone will feed his newfound flow it into his patent head kicks as his arsenal is much more symbiotic.

Even though Donald is showing a solid technical renaissance, he will still need to mind the areas that have traditionally plagued him. Despite Cowboy’s improvements to his head movement, he still tends to get upright as this will typically open him up to right hands over the top. Considering that Gastelum has an accurate right-hook, this could be a punch worth watching for. Not only is Kelvin proficient in moving forward and backward with his hook, but we have also seen him throw it as a check(off of a lead-foot pivot), as his boxing looks to continually improve. This will also be Kelvin’s third camp at Kings MMA, which is more than relevant considering their approach and that camp’s history against Cowboy.

Under the tutelage of Rafael Cordeiro, we have seen many southpaw grapplers turn into proficient, pressure-fighting strikers. No matter what the stance is, Rafael Cordeiro will still tool his fighters with devastating liver kicks as this will likely be the strike to look out for from Gastelum. Not only did we see this in Rafael Dos Anjos’ battles with Cowboy(given his aforementioned upright posture), but we also saw Jake Ellenberger implement this same tool as he became the first man to stop Matt Brown. With Cordeiro seemingly looking for any excuse to slide that kick into the repertoire, do not be surprised to see it here. However, Cerrone and his team are no slouches in the strategy department as I imagine they will be planning for the liver kick and more.

Where things start to get interesting is when looking at the prospects of ground-fighting in this matchup. Although Gastelum has an on-paper edge in wrestling, Donald is not as easy to takedown as he once was. Displaying marked improvements to his hip-awareness in recent fights, Cerrone has made himself much harder to take down as this only fuels his clinch striking. If Gastelum does manage to get Cowboy down, he will have to mind his hand-positioning given Cerrone’s renown guard game. That said, Kelvin seems to have a solid awareness of his posture as I suspect he will be looking to get upright and bomb, rather than stay and play on the floor.

Even though I feel Cerrone will have an advantage on the ground, he will need to be careful when getting back to his feet. Often rolling out to a turtle position to stand, Cowboy will risk giving his back to Kelvin, who is always looking for opportunities there. Unlike his last opponent in Rick Story, Kelvin is a wrestler who does not mind putting his hooks in and looking for a choke. In fact, all of Gastelum’s submission wins are in this fashion. However, Kelvin will not be without back-take vulnerabilities of his own as he often elects to turtle out and stand. A common carry-over for wrestlers, we saw Neil Magny take advantage of this in their fight, as Neil was able to score multiple back-takes this way. Despite not being known for his wrestling, Magny was also able to take Kelvin down as this will be something to look for in this fight given Cowboy’s underrated wrestling ability.

Ultimately, I feel that Cerrone is the justified favorite as he is the more technical man with a bigger arsenal. However, despite officially siding with Cerrone, I recommend caution in playing this fight as Gastelum is one of the most liveliest dogs on the card. Instead, I suggest you sit back, crack open a drink, and enjoy the gunfight.

Official Pick: Cerrone – Decision

 

Miesha Tate (18-6)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’6″ Age: 30 Weight: 135 lbs Reach: 66.5″
  • Last Fight: Submission loss / Amanda Nunes (7-9-16)
  • Camp: Xtreme Couture MMA (Las Vegas, NV)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: N/A

Supplemental info:
+   Former UFC Bantamweight Champ
+   Strikeforce Bantamweight Title
+   Multiple Grappling Accolades
+   3 KO victories
+   7 Submission wins
+   4 first round finishes

 

Raquel Pennington (8-5)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’7″ Age: 28 Weight: 135 lbs Reach: 67″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Elizabeth Phillips (8-20-16)
  • Camp: Altitude MMA (Denver, CO)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: N/A

Supplemental info:
+   TUF 18 Alum
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   Amateur MMA Accolades
+   1 KO victory
+   3 Submission wins
+   2 first round finishes

Summary:

Due to my affiliation with Xtreme Couture MMA, I have opted to not breakdown this matchup.

Official Pick: No pick

 

Frankie Edgar (20-5-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’6″ Age: 35 Weight: 145 lbs Reach: 72″
  • Last Fight: Decision loss / Jose Aldo (7-9-16)
  • Camp: Ricardo Almeida BJJ (New Jersey)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Good

Supplemental info:
+   Former UFC Lightweight Champ
+   4x Div. 1 All-American Wrestler
+   Black Belt BJJ
+   6 KO victories
+   4 Submission wins
+   6 first round finishes
+   Consistent pace & pressure
^   High-volume striker
+   Excellent footwork
^   Enters & exits off angles
+   Superb timing & transitions
+   Effective chain wrestling
+   Relentless top pressure
^   Busy ground striker
–    Traditionally takes damage
^   Recovers well

 

Jeremy Stephens (25-12)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’9″ Age: 30 Weight: 145 lbs Reach: 71″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Renan Barao (5-29-16)
  • Camp: Alliance MMA (San Diego, CA)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   17 KO victories
+   2 Submission wins
+   13 first round finishes
+   KO Power
+   Devastating right hand
^   Uppercuts & overhands
+   Catches kicks & counters
+   Dangerous late into fights
+   Hard kicks & knees
+   Underrated wrestling ability
+   Improved submission defense
^   Good grip & hand-fighting
+/-Often turtles to stand
+/-Propensity to brawl
^   Counter availabilities

Summary:

Headlining the prelims for Fox Sports 1 is a fun featherweight fight between Frankie Edgar and Jeremy Stephens. Coming off a disappointing loss in his rematch with Jose Aldo at UFC 200, Frankie Edgar will now get a chance to bounce back in his backyard. Looking to spoil Edgar’s homecoming is Jeremy Stephens, who is riding high off of his recent battle with former champion, Renan Barao.

Like many Frankie Edgar fights, I see this one coming down to how well his opponents can combat his footwork. Consistently circling and forcing his opposition to follow, Edgar will work his way in behind punches once finding an angle of approach to his liking. Exiting exchanges at angles that are different in which he came, Edgar has proven increasingly difficult to hit. Subsequently, the more effort Edgar’s opposition exerts in trying to counter, the more available they make themselves to be taken down.

Owning one of the best transition games in the business, Edgar seamlessly mixes in takedowns with his approach. Implementing the weapons of constant volume, variety, and angles, Frankie often breaks his opposition down the longer the fight goes. However, Despite displaying disciplined head movement, Edgar has the propensity to take damage in his fights due to the nature of his in-and-out approach.

Enter Jeremy Stephens, a quintessential underdog who carries power deep into a fight. Never shy to exchange, we have seen technical improvements in Stephen’s game since moving to Alliance MMA. Incorporating feints and setups, Jeremy has added to the effectiveness of his pressuring approach. Although Stephens is known for his heavy hands, I feel that his knees may play a factor in this fight.

As Jeremy brilliantly stated after his victory over Dennis Bermudez, Stephens will look for his opposition to heavily put their weight on their front foot, as this opens up knees and uppercuts. Considering that Frankie has a more boxing-centric stance in which he will often change levels in-close, this could be something worth looking for as Edgar comes forward. Although Frankie was caught by counter crosses in his last fight, Stephens is not on the same level as Aldo in regards to fast-twitch technics.

In fact, Stephens throws with so much power that he tends to almost preemptively plot coming forward, as we saw Max Holloway pick up on this and evade his big blows. I suspect we will see a similar result with Frankie, given the fact that frustrating fighters falls nicely in line with his game plan. Should Stephens get frustrated and throw from desperation, then he will likely open himself up further to Edgar’s transitionary takedowns. Although Stephens is no scrub in the wrestling department, Edgar’s takedown chains have been able to best legends like BJ Penn and Urijah Faber.

Jeremy also tends to turtle out when looking to get back to his feet, which could be troublesome in this matchup. Even though Edgar is a not an aggressive back-taker, he will use these opportunities to re-wrestle for a double and dump his opponents back down(seen repeatedly in his fight with Faber). Even though I do not see Stephens getting subbed by Edgar, I still see Frankie dictating the terms of what should be an exciting fight.

Official Pick: Edgar – Decision

 

Khabib Nurmagomedov (23-0)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’10” Age: 28 Weight: 155 lbs Reach: 70″
  • Last Fight: TKO win / Darrell Horcher (4-16-16)
  • Camp: AKA/Fight Spirit Team (Russia/CA)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   2x Russian Combat Sambo Champion
+   2x World Combat Sambo Champion
+   8 KO victories
+   7 Submission wins
+   10 first round finishes
+   Developing striking game
^   Often strikes in combinations
+   Strong & relentless in clinch
^   Chains throws, trips, & takedowns
+   Superb transition game
^   28 passes in 7 fights
+   Technically sound grappler
^   Devastating ground striker
+   3-0 against UFC southpaws
+/-Aggressive entries
^   Counter availabilities

 

Michael Johnson (17-10)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’10” Age: 30 Weight: 155 lbs Reach: 74″
  • Last Fight: KO win / Dustin Poirier (9-17-16)
  • Camp: Blackzilians (Florida)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Good

Supplemental info:
+   TUF 12 Finalist
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   8 KO victories
+   2 Submission wins
+   8 first round finishes
+   KO Power
+   Aggressive pace & pressure
^   High volume striker
+   Superb footwork & distance management
^   Pivots, angles, sticks & moves
+   Accurate L. cross R. hook
^   Dangerous off the counter
+   Solid wrestling base
^   81% takedown defense
–    Struggles shown from bottom
^   Submission defense & getups

Summary:

In an important lightweight affair, Khabib Nurmagomedov meets Michael Johnson. A long-hailed title challenger who has struggled to stay healthy these past few years, Nurmagomedov will get a chance to cement his status as the number-one ranked lightweight in the UFC. Seeking to spoil this party is Michael Johnson, who is fresh off a big win in September as he looks to crack the Top-5.

With even fathoming a fighter defeating Nurmagomedov being a form of blasphemy to some, let me first state that I agree with him being the favorite to win this fight. However, I feel that the narrative of Nurmagomedov has been a bit inflated over the past few years, which is ironically the same time that the Dagestani has been the most inactive, and provided the least amount of sample-size. Even though Khabib arguably has a grappling advantage over everyone on the roster south of 170-lbs., that still does not make him exempt from the inevitable difficulty of some style matchups.

Although Johnson has had his most noted career troubles on the floor, I feel that he is potentially a bad matchup for Nurmagomedov at this particular point in their careers. Despite Johnson thwarting every takedown attempt that has come his way in the past 3-years(7 opponents straight), I have no doubts that Khabib can break this streak should he get a hold of him. However, I do not believe that it will be as easy as many may think. Steadily, has the MMA game evolved out of its old tropes, where “wrestlers” would automatically have the advantage both on paper and with the oddsmakers.

With more fighters showing the technics to competently defend takedowns, some of today’s most successful shot defenders are those who limit their availability through footwork. Embracing his stick & move stylings, I believe it is Johnson’s movement that plays the x-factor in his takedown defense. We saw this start to come to fruition in his fights with Joe Lauzon and Gleison Tibau, two fighters who had intentions of getting Johnson down. Demonstrating good distance management and lateral footwork, Michael will step off to an angle or pivot quickly as he counters with immediacy. We saw this style frustrate the likes of Lauzon and Tibau, as good footwork can often force an opponent to take bad or desperate shots.

Considering that Johnson has excellent under-hook reactions and fast-acting hips, Khabib will either have to be impeccable with his strike setups or corral Michael to the cage to score. Although I can see him having success with the latter of those two options, it is the development of Nurmagomedov’s striking and defense that worries me. Despite only seeing 8-minutes of fight time in the past 30-months, Khabib’s striking against the southpaw Darrell Horcher did not look that different than it did 2-years ago against Rafael Dos Anjos. Even though Nurmagomedov does a good job of throwing 2-to-3 strikes at a time, his aggressive style screams of potential flags to me.

Despite Nurmagomedov’s nature being what makes him so special, the aggression that fuels his success in grappling can potentially cost Khabib in striking exchanges. Similarly to his Dagestani counterpart Islam Makhachev, Nurmagomedov’s blitzing entries although effective, leave him susceptible to counters. In fact, if you look at Makhachev’s fight with Adriano Martins, you can see why I believe that the check right-hook may be a key factor in this fight. A strike that was missing from Johnson’s arsenal early on, the Blackzilian will now attach a check hook to his lead foot pivots as this came into play perfectly in his last fight.

The check hook has also traditionally troubled Khabib as Gleison Tibau and Rafael Dos Anjos would find this strike on him repeatedly(despite eventually losing). Although Darrell Horcher was not able to capitalize on this, Nurmagomedov still showed to drop his left hand when throwing his right. However, Horcher was able to catch Khabib with multiple counter left crosses, as I suspect this may be worth watching for considering it is Johnson’s best punch. I also doubt we will see many kicks from Michael, as he tends to smartly limit those strikes when facing grapplers.

With that all being said, I am sure that AKA will have Nurmagomedov well-prepared as they are an amazing camp. The Dagestani has also not given us a reason to doubt his chin, as he has seldom been seen stunned or hurt. Regardless of Johnson’s chances striking, expect a relentless wave of takedown chains from Khabib should he get into the clinch. Whether it is his trips and tosses from the body-lock or his single-leg repertoire of high-crotches & pipe-running, Nurmagomedov can do it all. As a grappling enthusiast and student of the game, I am in near awe of Khabib’s ability to dominate opposition almost effortlessly.

Although it will be interesting to see what improvements Johnson will have to offer from the floor, grappling with Khabib is not necessarily the easiest environment to showcase advancements. Despite the outcome of this fight likely resembling the bear scene in The Revenant, the question marks I have about Khabib coupled with this styles matchup smells like a trap fight. I do not blame you if you are sold on Khabib here, but I do caution large plays on either man as this fight is closer than the line reads.

Official Pick: Johnson – Inside the distance

 

Rafael Natal (21-7-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’0″ Age: 33 Weight: 185 lbs Reach: 76″
  • Last Fight: Decision loss / Robert Whitaker (4-23-16)
  • Camp: Renzo Gracie BJJ (New York)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   BJJ Black Belt
+   Multiple Grappling Accolades
+   3 KO victories
+   8 Submission wins
+   9 first round finishes
+   Consistent pace & pressure
+   Will switch stances
^   Hard kicks from each side
+   Underrated wrestling
^   Improved shots & takedowns
+   Excellent top game
^   38 passes in 15 fights
+   Aggressive entries
^   Counter availabilities

 

Tim Boetsch (19-10)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’11” Age: 35 Weight: 185 lbs Reach: 74″
  • Last Fight: TKO win / Josh Samman (7-13-16)
  • Camp: Team Irish (Maine)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   NCAA Div. 1 Wrestler (LHU)
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   11 KO victories
+   3 Submission wins
+   7 first round finishes
+   KO Power
+   Strong inside the clinch
^   Dangerous dirty boxer
+   Underrated grappling
+   Solid top game
^   Devastating ground striker
–    Low standing guard
^   Counter availabilities
–    Dropped/stunned in last 3/5 fights

Summary:

In a middleweight matchup, Rafael “Sapo” Natal meets Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch. Previously on a four-fight win streak, Rafael Natal will look to get some momentum back after dropping a decision to Robert Whitaker earlier this year. Coming off of a win over the late Josh Samman this past summer, Tim Boetsch will also be looking to reestablish himself on the right side of the division.

Starting off on the feet, I feel that the Brazilian will have a slight edge standing. Although Natal is aggressive in nature, he has shown a tendency to run his offense with an outside circling curriculum. Coupled with the occasional switch-of-stance, Rafael has made himself harder to hit while encouraging exchanges to take place more toward his terms.

With improved straight punches and hard kicks from both sides serving as the bulk of Sapo’s attacks, it is his ability to read and play with range that keeps him afloat in the striking realm. Despite the Brazilian’s improvements, Natal will need to mind his entries as he still shows to retract his hands low off strikes. Although his senses inside have often kept him safe, these habits could be costly against someone like Boetsch, who throws almost all of his strikes with conviction.

Don’t let Boetsch’s physique fool you as he can move deceptively well. Electing to stay light on his feet when playing at a distance, Tim has no problem planting himself in the pocket to deliver destructive shots. Favoring to work himself into clinch spaces, Boetsch is an effective dirty boxer as he will unleash uppercuts with impunity. Although Natal does not usually stagnate in these spots, the Brazilian will still need to be careful when exiting the clinch as Tim strikes well off the break.

Although the Barbarian is an underrated grappler, he is most effective when topside as there seems to be a skill disparity in his bottom game. Since the Brazilian is the more skillful grappler on paper, I doubt that Tim will be able to submit a sober Sapo. However, should Boetsch find himself on top, he has shown the ground striking that can sway a fight’s momentum. That said, I feel that Natal will be the one dictating ground stanzas, especially the later this goes. In a fight that I suspect will get ugly fast, I can see Natal’s pace wearing Tim down as his volume will likely win him rounds.

Official Pick: Natal – Decision

 

Vicente Luque (10-5-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’11” Age: 24 Weight: 170 lbs Reach: 76″
  • Last Fight: KO win / Hector Urbina (9-24-16)
  • Camp: Blackzilians (Florida)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Good

Supplemental info:
+   Brown Belt BJJ
+   Purple Belt Luta Livre
+   Amateur Kickboxing Accolades
+   4 KO victories
+   5 Submission wins
+   7 first round finishes
+   Good distance management
+   Solid striking arsenal
^   Puts together combinations well
+   Improved wrestling ability
+   Scrambles well to feet
+   Intelligent grip fighting
+   Dangerous from font-headlock
^   Superb choke acumen

 

Belal Muhammad (10-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’10” Age: 28 Weight: 170 lbs Reach: 71″
  • Last Fight: TKO win / Augusto Montano (9-13-16)
  • Camp: Roufusport (Chicago, IL)</li
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Good

Supplemental info:
+   Titan FC Welterweight Title
+   Blue Belt BJJ
+   4 KO victories
+   1 first round finishes
+   Good feints & footwork
^   Manages distance well
+   Consistent cardio & conditioning
+   Puts together combos well
^   Variates to the body
+   Solid double-leg takedown
+   Strong inside the clinch
+   Good transitional grappler
^   Maintains positional awareness
+   Effective ground striker

Summary:

In a fun welterweight fight, Vicente Luque squares off with Belal Muhammad. Coming off of two stoppage victories within the last 4-months, Vicente Luque will look to step in on short notice and impress once again. Standing in the Brazilian’s path is Belal Muhammad, who is a welterweight on the rise and seeking to cement his status in the division.

Although I feel that Muhammad is the justified favorite in this fight, there is a lot to like about Vincente Luque. At just 24-years old, Luque is already on the fast track and under the care of the Blackzilians coaching staff. With Henri Hooft helping his striking, Luque is displaying fight-to-fight improvements in his punching mechanics and process. The Brazilian also moves somewhat uniquely as he shows signs of a Karate influence in the way in which he manages range. Where Vicente’s ceiling seems most promising is in his grappling acumen.

With Luta Livre having a lot of similarities to catch wrestling, Luque’s work with Neil Melanson in Florida has shown be a solid fit. Favoring head-and-arm based chokes from a front headlock, Vicente has sharpened his positional flows and grappling fundamentals under the tutelage of Melanson. In fact, anytime Muhammad fails on a shot, he will need to mind his head and neck as Vicente hits most of his submissions in this fashion. That said, one of Belal’s grappling strengths is his positional awareness as he will be no easy task to submit.

Coming from a wrestling base, Belal has shown consistent fight-to-fight improvements in all areas of his game, particularly his striking. Doing a great job of keeping his feet underneath him, Muhammad can stalk or counter with nearly equal effectiveness. Coupling his abilities to manage distance with his fight IQ, Muhammad intelligently works with what his opponent gives him as he steadily takes the steering wheel late into his fights. Although Belal displays excellent transitional grappling, I suspect we may see Muhammad employ this approach as opposed to wrestling with Luque, given the threats he possesses.

Ultimately, I see this fight breaking down in one of two ways: Either Luque can stun Muhammad with his improved striking and find the submission off a failed shot, or Belal will wear down the Brazilian with his consistent pressure and durability en route to a decision win. Although I am slightly leaning toward the latter, I would stay way from playing Belal as this could potentially be a coming out party for Luque.

Official Pick: Muhammad – Decision

 

Jim Miller (27-8)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’8″ Age: 33 Weight: 155 lbs Reach: 75.5″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Joe Lauzon (8-27-16)
  • Camp: Miller Bros MMA (New Jersey)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   Black Belt BJJ
+   4 KO victories
+   14 Submission wins
+   10 first round finishes
+   Aggressive pace & pressure
+   Accurate L. hand R. hook
+   Dangerous short elbows
+   Solid leg/inside leg kicks
+   Underrated takedowns
+   Deadly submissions in transit
+/-Willingness to fight from bottom
^   Active & attacking guard
–    Gas tank bares watching
+/-3-4 in last 7 fights

 

Thiago Alves (21-0)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’9″ Age: 33 Weight: 155 lbs Reach: 70″
  • Last Fight: TKO loss / Carlos Condit (5-30-15)
  • Camp: American Top Team (Florida)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Muay Thai Accolades
+   Brown Belt BJJ
+   13 KO victories
+   1 Submission win
+   6 first round finishes
+   KO Power
+   Technical Muay Thai arsenal
^   Devastating knees & leg kicks
+/- Comfortable in the clinch & pocket
^   Traditionally takes damage
+   Consistent pace & pressure
+   Improved wrestling
^   Underrated takedown ability
+/-1 fight in 22 months
+/-3-1 against UFC southpaws

Summary:

Headlining the UFC Fight Pass portion of UFC 205 is a fantastic fight as Jim Miller welcomes Thiago Alves to the lightweight division. As one of the most exciting and experienced fighters in the organization, it is only right that Jersey’s own Jim Miller gets to fight at Madison Square Garden. However, Miller has no easy task as he draws a dangerous veteran in Thiago Alves. A longtime welterweight warrior in the UFC’s ranks, Alves has decided to drop some muscle as he looks to compete in a division more suitable for his frame.

Considering that both men have struggled with health issues during the past few years, their physical states will likely be the intangibles of this fight. That said, their mental status and fighting spirit is without question, as these two always come to put on a show. When first hearing of this matchup, my initial thoughts were with the oddsmakers as I favored Alves stylistically. However, upon closer review, I see a surprising amount of pathways that Miller may exploit as I feel he is a live dog. Although Alves has the on-paper advantage in striking due to his superior firepower and technique, I do not feel that Jim will be far behind in that department.

A southpaw with a Muay Thai arsenal of his own, Miller favors the striking tools that have traditionally troubled Thiago. Whether you look his rematch with Derrick Noble at UFC 59 or his battle with Papy Abedi at UFC 138, Alves has had a susceptibility to left hands from southpaws. Even against his last two opponents, we saw Thiago tagged by left crosses and elbows repeatedly. In fact, I feel that Alves has shown a trend to be more hittable in recent years due to his comfortability inside the pocket. Although being comfortable in-range is not a bad thing, Thiago tends to rely on a shell defense which could play directly into Miller’s offense.

Whether he is throwing uppercuts, body shots, or crosses down the center, Miller thrives when his opponents shell up on him. In both of his battles with Joe Lauzon, we saw Jim abuse the inside angle to land counter lefts and upward elbows anytime Joe shelled-up. Given the success of Thiago’s most recent opponents with elbows, I would not be surprised to see Miller start slicing like he is Bill the Butcher from Gangs of New York. Jim’s body kick will also be worth watching for as we have seen drastic weight cuts diminish a fighters ability to absorb those types of blows.

Despite the intangibles of Thiago’s first cut to lightweight, Miller will be the fighter who has the suspect gas tank. Although a lot of his recent poor performances can be attributed to his previously undiagnosed condition, Miller has shown a propensity to fade before. That said, those performances came against opponents who were intent on using their size to ground out Jim on the floor. Given that the ground is Miller’s most potent path to victory, I doubt that Thiago will employ that gameplan here. Even though Alves’ grappling ability is underrated(and likely improved), he may be in for a rude awakening should this fight hit the floor.

Although size advantages count for a lot in MMA, there are overlooked disadvantages that size discrepancies can also bring about. Smaller opponents, for example, are often faster on the feet as I suspect Jim will present a slight speed advantage. On the floor, dealing with the smaller man can also be difficult as they tend to scramble more, which can ultimately make the bigger man work harder to establish control. Despite Miller’s submission thirst often getting him into trouble, I believe that this is the type of fight where Jim’s desperate attempts will not necessarily hurt him.

Ultimately, I feel this fight is a tricky one to call as I am suggesting avoidance in regards to plays. Even though Alves has the power to put away Miller, I see Jersey’s own capitalizing inside the chaos to score the upset.

Official Pick: Miller – Inside the distance

 

Liz Carmouche (10-5)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’6″ Age: 32 Weight: 135 lbs Reach: 66″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Lauren Murphy (4-4-15)
  • Camp: Team Hurricane Awesome (San Diego, CA)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Good

Supplemental info:
+   Purple Belt BJJ
+   6 KO victories
+   2 Submission wins
+   2 first round finishes
+   Improved striking
^   Accurate shot selection
+/-Favors countering
^   Lacks volume
+   Solid takedown ability
^   Favors attempts off fence
+   Physically strong in clinch
+   Excellent top game
^   Strikes & transitions well
–    1 fight in 2 years

 

Katlyn Chookagian (8-0)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’9″ Age: 27 Weight: 135 lbs Reach: 66″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Lauren Murphy (7-13-16)
  • Camp: Team Renzo Gracie (New Jersey)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Good

Supplemental info:
+   Brown Belt BJJ
+   Boxing & Karate background
+   Experienced in Amateur ranks
+   2 KO victories
+   1 Submission wins
+   2 first round finishes
+   Good footwork & movement
+   High-volume striker
^   Puts together punches well
+   Dangerous knees
+   Competent takedown defenses
^   Solid fundamentals in the clinch
+/-Willingness to fight from back
^   Sneaky triangle-armbar setups

Summary:

Kicking off UFC 205 is a female fight in the bantamweight division as Liz Carmouche faces Katlyn Chookagian. The first fighter to challenge Ronda Rousey for UFC gold, Liz Carmouche will once again be a part of history as she opens up this card. Looking to steal the spotlight is Katlyn Chookagian, an undefeated fighter who is on the rise.

As the accolades would suggest, Chookagian should have an advantage over Carmouche in the striking department. Not only does Katlyn carry Golden Glove credentials, but she has also spent her career training in New Jersey with Mark Henry & company. Employing excellent footwork and movement, Chookagian displays the high-volume approach you would expect coming from that camp. Often punctuating her combinations with jabs, Katlyn has a knack for frustrating her opposition as she keeps counters at the ready.

With this in mind, Carmouche will have to be extra vigilant in her pursuit if she means to catch or contend with Chookagian. However, Liz traditionally tends to sit back and counter, as I see that potentially costing her rounds. Sometimes complacent with her developing a striking game, we have seen Liz experiment with stances throughout her UFC tenor. Since Carmouche has fought only once in the past 30-months, it will be interesting to see what improvements have been made to her game.

I believe that Liz’s best shot at winning will come on the floor. Possessing a solid takedown ability, Carmouche possesses a decent reactive-shot but makes most of her attempts against the fence. Defending well from the cage, Chookagian demonstrates good defensive fundamentals as she also will unleash dangerous knees in close. That said, Katlyn could give away rounds should she allow Liz to ground her. Despite displaying some nice triangle-armbar setups, Chookagian still shows to be a bit too content to fight from her back.

Although I usually avoid playing most female fights, I feel pretty good about my read on this one as Chookagian earns a spot as a recommended parlay piece. I like seeing fighters who grew up with a background in martial arts and spent the proper amount of time in the amateur ranks, as Katlyn looks to have a lot of promise. Despite Carmouche’s heart and toughness keeping her alive in fights, I ultimately feel that the volume of Chookagian will secure her the scorecards in a decision win.

Official Pick: Chookagian- Decision

Recommended Plays:

Draft Kings recommended rosters:

 

Team #1: $49,800.00

-Joanna Jedrzejczyk ($9,300.00)
-Frankie Edgar ($9,200.00)
-Stephen Thompson ($8,800.00)
-Yoel Romero ($7,700.00)
-Eddie Alvarez ($7,600.00)
-Michael Johnson ($7,200.00)

Team Summary:

With so many selections for your UFC 205 rosters, I elected to stick to my guns in regards to my analysis above. For my high-tier favorites, I elected to go with Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Stephen Thompson, and Frankie Edgar. As the biggest betting favorite on the card, Joanna Jedrzejczyk is a solid choice given that she is a participant in a 5-round affair. Even if Joanna cannot secure a finish, she is a consistent scorer as she carries 3rd highest point average on the card.

Next, I went with Stephen Thompson as he is also the favored fighter in a 5-round affair. Not only do I feel good about him taking this fight, but he will likely do so in an exciting fashion as he is this card’s 4th highest earner. Lastly, I went with Frankie Edgar as I feel is a solid pick if you’re looking for a winning party. Although Stephens is difficult to finish as a live dog, I feel this is a stylistically favorable fight for Frankie as I believe he is worth the asking price.

For my lower tier dog picks, I decided to go with Yoel Romero, Eddie Alvarez, and Michael Johnson. As one of the liveliest dogs on the card, Yoel Romero can finish from the first round to the last. Against a fighter like Weidman who doesn’t mind playing with fire, Romero could potentially payout big should he score an upset. I also stuck with my dog pick of Alvarez, despite how dangerous his Irish foe has shown to be. Even though McGregor is the one more likely to score a first round finish, I feel that Eddie has more paths to victory as I favor him in the main event.

Finally, I elected to go with Michael Johnson as I officially sided with him to score the big upset. Despite the renown grappling skills of Nurmagomedov, the Dagestani shows little defensive improvements to his aggressive striking entries. Should Khabib get reckless in trying to catch the consistently moving Johnson, we could see Michael counter Nurmagomedov with great effect. Considering that very few fantasy players will be on this pick, I feel that Johnson could potentially payout big and put you ahead in the standings. Given the extra mile I went for my analysis on this card, I decided to keep this section short as I encourage you to read the breakdowns above. Thanks for the love, and good luck with your fantasy picks!

Props worth looking at(5Dimes.eu):

-Jedrzejczyk by Decision: -118 (1 Unit)
-Thompson by TKO/KO: +160 (1 Unit)
-Chookagian by Decision: +135 (1 Unit)

Playable favorites for your parlays:

-Joanna Jedrzejczyk
-Frankie Edgar
-Katlyn Chookagian

Fights to avoid:

-Kelvin Gastelum vs Donald Cerrone
-Jim Miller vs Thiago Alves
-Vincente Luque vs Belal Muhammad

For the complete analysis of future & past UFC events visit MixedMartialAnalyst.com and for future breakdowns & your latest in world-wide MMA news, stay tuned & follow @MMALatestnws MMALatestNews.com

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GLORY: Redemption – Breakdown and Predictions

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Glory returns to pay-per-view today with a stacked card, featuring some of their greatest fighters. Among them are reigning champions Rico Verhoeven and Alex Pereira, as well as the return of former title holder Nieky Holzken.

In the main event, Rico puts his heavyweight title on the line against the very dangerous Jamal Ben Saddik, who defeated him 6 years ago. Rico comes into the fight riding an impressive 14-fight Glory winning streak.

The co-main event features a rematch of the 2016 Fight of the Year between light heavyweight veterans Michael ‘The Dreamcrusher’ Duut and Danyo ‘Dibuba’ Ilunga. The card is a must-see for kickboxing fans, as well as those who just love a good scrap. And with that out of the way, here’s a breakdown of some of the more interesting fight’s on Saturday’s super-card. Enjoy.

Nieky ‘The Natural’ Holzken – Credit: GLORY Kickboxing

Nieky Holzken vs Alim Nabiyev

Nabiyev came into Glory with a decent amount of steam behind him, but following his bout against short-notice opponent Jimmy Veinot, I honestly don’t see it. Nieky’s reign as champion was one of the best, and despite two close losses to the equally talented Cédric Doumbé, he’s still one of the best welterweights in the world today. With wins over Raymond Daniels, Joseph Valtellini, and current champion Murthel Groenhart, it’s hard to imagine Nieky having much of a problem with Nabiyev.

Expect plenty of pressure from Holzken early on. Coming off two straight losses Nieky will want to make a statement, and prove that he’s still the man to beat at 170. The liver shot will do it. Holzken will just be too much for Alim. Nabiyev has  potential and could be a contender in the future, but right now Holzken is on a whole ‘nother level. Nieky is back, and he wants that title.

Prediction: Nieky Holzken by 1st Round TKO

 

Alex 'Po Atan' Pereira

Alex ‘Po Atan’ Pereira – Credit: GLORY Kickboxing

Alex Pereira vs Yousri Belgaroui

Pereira’s win back at Glory 46 came as a shock to me. Simon Marcus has proven himself to be one of the best fighters in the division, and while Pereira is a solid kickboxer in his own right, I fully expected Marcus to win that one pretty easy. I was wrong. Pereira was the better man, and is now the Glory middleweight champion. But don’t expect it to last. Yousri completely shut Pereira down in there last meeting at Glory 40. And based on his last performance, a first round TKO over former champ Jason Wilnis, he’s only getting better.

Pereira’s path to victory is pretty simple, strike hard and strike early. The deep waters are not a place where Alex thrives. His cardio has been questionable in the past and his vaunted knockout power diminishes as the fight goes on. If Pereira can’t put Yousri on the back foot early it’s hard to see him taking this one.

The last fight was a fairly decisive win for Belgaroui. Alex was unable to score on Yousri and was picked apart after gassing out late into the fight. Pereira is a talented striker with some serious power, but Belgaroui’s well-rounded game and superior cardio should be enough to win him the championship.

Prediction: Yousri Belgaroui by Unanimous Decision

 

Michael Dreamcrusher Duut

Michael ‘Dreamcrusher’ Duut – Credit: GLORY Kickboxing

Michael Duut vs Danyo Ilunga

Last year these two stole the show, putting on one of the greatest fights of the year, maybe of all-time. But can they do it again? It’s hard to say. Consistency is not a strong suit for either of these men. Following his thriller with Ilunga, Duut went on to lose his next Glory contest by disqualification due to excessive clinching, then later won a contender tournament in less than a minute (48 seconds to be exact).

Duut’s incredible power and brawler style make him a dangerous fight for just about anyone in the light heavyweight division, but his lack of defence make him an easy target. Unfortunately, Ilunga hasn’t hit a bullsye in quite some time.

Danyo comes into this fight on a whopping 7 fight losing streak, and hasn’t won a fight in Glory since 2014. On the bright side, all 7 losses have come by decision so his chin has held up. Plus Duut isn’t the most durable guy in the world, so it’s possible that Ilunga could knock him out. But I don’t see that happening. Duut is just too powerful and Ilunga isn’t the same fighter he used to be. Hopefully the fight is as great as the last one was, but don’t expect it to go to a 4th round this time. Ilunga’s on a slippery slope, and Duut’s about to cause an avalanche.

Prediciton: Michael Duut by 3rd Round KO

 

Rico The King of Kickboxing Verhoeven

Rico ‘The King of Kickboxing’ Verhoeven – Credit: GLORY Kickboxing

Rico Verhoeven vs Jamal Ben Saddik

Despite being the main event this was one of the easier fights to pick. Rico has looked unstoppable lately, and as much as people hate to give him credit for anything, he really is the best heavyweight in the world right now. That doesn’t mean a whole lot considering how weak the division is at the moment, but Rico is champion for a reason.

The rest of the heavyweights just aren’t on his level. ‘Big Ben’ included. Jamal’s last fight against Guto Inocente was a total snoozefest, and if not for his rivalry with Rico he probably wouldn’t even be in the title picture. Badr Hari better get his act together cause Rico’s running out of opponents.

The only advantage I see Jamal having is his power. Rico is faster, more precise, and his striking is more diverse. Again, this is a heavyweight contest so anything can happen, but Jamal hasn’t KO’d a world-class opponent since he fought ‘Braddock’ 2 years ago. Since then, Rico has knocked-out Benjamin Adegbuyi, ‘Braddock’, Bigfoot Silva, and broke Badr’s arm earning him a TKO victory. Rico’s the better fighter, simple as that. And no amount of chest hair is going to change that.

Prediction: Rico Verhoeven by 5th Round KO

All images used in this article are accredited to GLORY Kickboxing

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UFC 218: Holloway vs Aldo 2 Main Card Predictions and Analysis

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Image result for holloway vs aldo

The passing of the torch. A usual occurrence in combat sports. There comes a time when the old guard has to step down and let the new generation take its place. UFC 218 is all about the passing of the torch. Holloway-Aldo 2, Overeem-Ngannou, Alvarez-Gaethje, the card is chock full of young hungry fighters looking to make a statement against their aging counterparts. But don’t expect the old lions to give up without a fight. Aldo is still a world-class striker and Eddie’s still got some tread on the tires. And at the age of 37, Overeem is still one of the most dangerous heavyweights in the world today.

Max Holloway is a perfect representative of the new generation. He’s scrappy, well-rounded, and will fight whoever you put in front of him. He’s got the fire. So do Ngannou, Gaethje, and the rest of the young guys. Aldo hasn’t had that fire in a long time. Sure he’s still a great fighter,‌ but in his last few fights, he’s lacked that burning passion he used to have. Aldo has all the tools to beat Holloway, but does he have the drive? Does the fire still burn, or was it put out long ago? That’s what we’re going to find out come Saturday.

 

Tecia Torres vs Michelle Waterson

This is such a weird fight. Torres’ climb to the top has been impressively mediocre. She has wins over quality opponents like Angela Hill, Felice Herrig, and Paige VanZant. However, with just a single finish to her credit, Tecia hasn’t given the fans a reason to pay attention to her. Waterson is the complete opposite. She has only gone to decision twice and is one of the more popular fighters in the division. However, injuries and losses have prevented Waterson from gaining any real momentum.

As far as the fight goes I really don’t know what to expect. Waterson is fairly inconsistent and Torres is so consistent it hurts. My assumption would be that Waterson has the better ground game, so if anyone’s going to take it to the mat it will be her. Torres has the better overall stand-up game but doesn’t possess the same finishing ability of the Karate Hottie. My guess is that this one stays on the feet with Torres pushing the pace early, then getting caught by a powerful strike from Waterson that puts her down for good.

Prediction: Michelle Waterson by 2nd Round TKO

 

Eddie Alvarez vs Justin Gaethje

How the hell did Cejudo-Pettis get billed higher than this? Alvarez vs Gaethje has the potential to be the Forrest-Bonnar of the modern era. Both men are aggressive brawlers on the feet and strong wrestlers on the mat. I’d give the submission edge to Eddie, but that’s about it. Gaethje’s striking game is more diverse than Eddie’s is, and his youth is definitely something to consider. With 34 fights to his credit, Alvarez is certainly no spring chicken. He’s not nearly as durable as he used to be, and against a dangerous scrapper like Gaethje, that’s not a great quality.

I really wanted to go with Alvarez on this one, but facts are facts. Gaethje is younger, tougher, and most importantly, better for business. Eddie already lost to the biggest draw in the game. Money-wise he doesn’t have much to offer. Gaethje, however, is a promoters wet dream. He’s durable, dangerous, and damn fun to watch. Basically, everything Eddie used to be. Why does any of this matter? Because the judges work for the UFC. If the UFC brass wants Gaethje to win, then he will. Simple as that. Is it right? No, but business is business. And Justin Gaethje is good for business.

Prediction: Justin Gaethje by Split Decision

 

Henry Cejudo vs Sergio Pettis

This feels like too big a step up for Sergio, which is weird considering he’s ranked #4 and Cejudo is ranked #2. After Cejudo’s fight with Mighty Mouse, I wrote him off as nothing more than a sacrifice to the flyweight king. But his close fight with perennial #1 contender Joseph Benavidez and his vicious knockout over veteran submission artist Wilson Reis have shown me that Cejudo is more than just a big-headed wrestler. Henry is one of the best. If anyone in the division is taking the belt off Mighty Mouse it’s him.

Sergio is a talented kid, no doubt. Give him a few more years to develop and he could be champion one day. Unfortunately for him, the UFC doesn’t have time for that. They need flyweight contenders. If that means a few prospects have to bite the dust then so be it. I just hope Sergio doesn’t get completely outclassed and is able to make a good showing, but against a guy like Cejudo, I’m not holding my breath.

Prediction: Henry Cejudo by Unanimous Decision

 

Alistair Overeem vs Francis Ngannou

Call me crazy, but I’m still not completely sold on Cheick Kongo with dreadlocks. His only quality win is a knockout over what’s left of Andrei Arlovski. Overeem, on the other hand, has fought nothing but quality contenders in his climb back to the top, with his only loss coming against reigning champion Stipe Miocic (although some would argue they saw the tap). On paper, this is Overeem’s fight to win. Unfortunately, paper is what Overeem’s chin is made of.

Ngannou may not be as technically sound as Overeem is, but he hits just as hard, maybe harder. One good shot from the Predator and Overeem could drop like a sack of horse meat. Combine that with Overeem’s uber-cockiness and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Picking Overeem is always a gamble, but I’m willing to roll the dice on this one. It’s not gonna be pretty but Overeem’s in-and-out kickboxing and “run like hell” defensive style should be just enough to win this.

Prediction: Alistair Overeem by Unanimous Decision

 

 Max Holloway vs Jose Aldo 2

Holloway TKO’d Aldo about 6 months ago. Max is in the best form of his career. Aldo is taking the fight on short notice. I really can’t think of a good reason to pick Aldo on this one. Sure his striking is still some of the best in the division, but at this point, he’s writing checks his body can’t cash anymore. His chin has degraded significantly and his patented leg kicks are nowhere to be found. It pains me to say this because Aldo is an incredible fighter, but it’s starting to feel as though the sport is passing him by. Aldo is the past, Max is the future.

Despite just winning the title this summer, Holloway has effectively cleaned out the division. Swanson, Lamas, Stephens, Pettis, all fell to the young Hawaiian. Hell, since his loss to McGregor nobody’s even come close to beating Holloway. This doesn’t mean Max is invincible though. Frankie is still a huge threat to Max’s title, and those who sleep on Aldo are often put to sleep themselves. The road ahead of him is not an easy one, but something tells me Max is going to do just fine. It is what it is.

Prediction: Max Holloway by 2nd Round TKO

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GSP vs Robert Whittaker is Easily the Best Fight to Make at Middleweight

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GSP became the new middleweight champion of the UFC this past weekend, and many questions have been asked his way. Is he officially the greatest of all time? Who does he fight next? Does he stay at middleweight?

The G.O.A.T. conversation will never be settled completely. There will always be separation in opinions between Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, GSP, Demetrious Johnson, Fedor Emelianenko, and some even say Conor McGregor is the greatest, simply due to the fact that he is the first ever UFC champion to hold two belts simultaneously. Regardless of how that conversation is driven, the biggest question that should be the only concern at this point is the immediate plans for the new middleweight champion.

Where does GSP go next, and who does he fight?

Well, the fact of the matter is, it would not make sense for GSP to go down to the welterweight division again. 170-pounds is alive and kicking at the moment, with new stars emerging such as Darren Till and Mike Perry, to return of veterans like Carlos Condit, and also new additions to the division like Rafael dos Anjos. St-Pierre would have to stay extremely active in order to keep the division flowing.

At the age of 36 and having just returned to MMA last weekend, St-Pierre is unlikely to stay as active as he used to be when he was the king of the welterweight division. Plus, would it really make much sense for him to get on his old diet again in order to make the welterweight weight limit? He looked massive last night, all bulked up, and even seemed like the bigger fighter against Bisping, who used to fight at 205-pounds.

On the other hand, if he decides to stay at middleweight, which is what UFC president Dana White stated would happen yesterday, then there is one clear path for him to take and based on his statements on his contract, will be forced to take: Robert Whittaker.

Whittaker won the interim middleweight belt earlier this year against Yoel Romero at UFC 213, which was a razor close fight that went to Whittaker at the end of 5 rounds. Since then, Whittaker has been sidelined due to the injury he suffered during the fight, damaging his ligament in the left knee.

4 months later, he has seemed to have healed up perfectly, as he was in the arena for the madness last night and even answered a few questions from the media, stating that he is healthy now. The fight against Whittaker would be the best that the UFC could put on at this point in 185-pounds division on a few different levels.

GSP and Whittaker have a lot in common. Starting with the most obvious, they both used to fight at welterweight. Which means that neither fighter will have a massive size advantage. This brings the match up nearly even as far as physicality is concerned.

Then comes the match up itself. St-Pierre and Whittaker both represent the very definition of being ‘well-rounded’. Whittaker, although not an offensive wrestler, proved that his defensive wrestling was second to none in his fight against Romero, a former Olympic wrestler. And while GSP is not necessarily the best wrestler in pure wrestling, his ability to wrestle in MMA is phenomenal due to his timing and fight IQ, which makes this fight even more intriguing to find out whether Whittaker can defend GSP’s takedown attempts.

This fight also represents the UFC an opportunity to see a birth of a superstar. Whittaker, while not a huge talker, is a very marketable fighter especially over in Australia and New Zealand. If he is able to defeat GSP, who’s arguably the biggest draw in the history of the company, it would boost Whittaker’s popularity up an extraordinary amount. And being only 26 years old, Whittaker has the tools and potential to be a dominant champion, much like St-Pierre in his “prime”.

Booking this fight would also clear up the confusing state of the middleweight division. With Bisping’s reign as the champion coming to an end, some hope was born for other contenders in the division. Fighters like Luke Rockhold, Chris Weidman, Yoel Romero, Jacare Souza were having an extremely hard time getting a hold of Michael Bisping during his reign, and with a new champion now and possible unification of the belts soon, the contenders will have a goal to work for again.

The fight is one of the best fights that UFC could put on for the fans right now and one that can happen as early as February of 2018, which is when the UFC returns to Australia with a PPV. If it can come to fruition, then it will easily be one of the best fights of the year and one that all the fans can count the days down to.

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