After a handful of smaller Fight Night events, the world’s biggest mixed martial arts promotion returns to our screens with UFC 218.
Headlined by an unlikely immediate rematch, Max Holloway defends his newly won UFC featherweight championship from the man he toppled for the title just six months ago.
Holloway was originally slated to defend his title against Frankie Edgar, but after Edgar was forced to withdraw from the contest Aldo stepped up. It might be an immediate rematch that nobody asked for, but that doesn’t mean it’s not interesting.
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UFC Featherweight Championship: Max Holloway vs. Jose Aldo
It’s easy to hinge your bet on a previous outcome, but it’s also important to understand that this is a game of inches. However, when looking back at Holloway and Aldo’s previous encounter, it’s difficult to see what adjustments Aldo could make to change the outcome.
There’s a chance, of course. Aldo, who is probably the greatest featherweight of all time, had Holloway on the defensive on a few occasions, but Holloway never looked in trouble. While there’s not much to the notion that he allowed Aldo to land shots – nobody wants to get punched in the face – those first two rounds acted as a primer for what Holloway wanted to accomplish later in the fight.
Once Holloway read Aldo’s offense and had his timing, he came alive.
It resulted in the biggest beatdown of the Brazilian’s career. McGregor finished him in 13 seconds, sure, but Holloway beat him up. It was an extended beating. That kind of loss can change a fighter, and, for Aldo, who has arguably lost much of that famous mystique, it’s a tough road back.
Pick: Max Holloway
Alastair Overeem vs. Francis Ngannou
While MMA is a naturally chaotic sport, the beauty of heavyweight fighting is that anything can happen. When two fighters of such physical stature are throwing shots it only takes one to land to change the narrative of a contest.
Ngannou might be the most terrifying heavyweight prospect we’ve ever seen, and Alastair Overeem is a world class striker with buckets of experience.
While Overeem is an impressive striker, Ngannou brings a level of physicality that may surprise his opponent.
Ngannou’s quickness, especially his hand-speed, doesn’t seem relative to his size. He moves like a much smaller guy, but still holds incredible power (he smashed the world record for the World’s Hardest Punch recently).
With Overeem being a savvy veteran, his most likely path to victory may be using that experience and showing us something we don’t yet know about Ngannou’s skillset. However, what’s more likely is Ngannou continuing his rise in the rankings with a knockout victory over ‘The Reem’ who has lost consciousness a few times in the past.
Pick: Francis Ngannou
Henry Cejudo vs. Sergio Pettis
Isn’t it infuriating when fights are cancelled? This is a fight that was supposed to happen back in May, but Cejudo injured his hand. They went their separate ways, won a fight apiece, and now find themselves matched-up again.
And you know what? It’s good that the fight was cancelled when it was, because it’s now infinitely more appetising.
Cejudo looked far better in his previous contest.
His striking was improved so much that it was like a video-game where you buy upgrades for character to make them exponentially more impressive. Pettis, meanwhile, has made big improvements in his own right.
Given Cejudo’s improved striking and his ability to mix in his elite grappling, it’s hard not to side with the Olympian. Pettis has been guilty of playing the Jiu Jitsu guard game from his back in previous outings, and losing rounds, and I could see a similar thread happen here.
Pick: Henry Cejudo
Eddie Alvarez vs. Justin Gaethje
Remember how we said MMA is chaotic by nature? These two guys epitomize that. It also makes for possibly the toughest pick on this card. Gaethje, a former WSOF champion, thrives in chaos – but so does Alvarez. However, Alvarez can temper his aggression when needed (see his victories over Melendez and Pettis), while Gaethje is all-in, pretty much all the time.
If Alvarez fights smart and uses his good boxing fundamentals he can get the job done, but it’s perhaps more likely that the Underground King will be drawn into a brawl. In that scenario, Gaethje might be slightly favoured. Although he has taken a lot of damage in his 18 wins, he has better recovery and will be able to outlast Alvarez in aggressive scrap.
Pick: Justin Gaethje
Tecia Torres vs. Michelle Waterson
From a matchmaking point of view, this is a strange fight. Torres is coming off her best performance to date in the UFC and Waterson is arguably coming off her worst. Both women have a common loss on their records in Rose Namajunas, with Torres putting on the better display. However, MMA math doesn’t work and Torres probably ran into Namajunas at a better time, with Namajunas being a way better fighter when she fought Waterson.
Based on form, Torres is the favourite, but she has a habit of getting into closely contested decisions. Waterson, while physically smaller, will have the reach advantage going in, and she uses her reach quite well. Waterson may be able to keep Torres at the end of her punches and kicks en route to a decision.
Pick: Michelle Waterson
Pick of the Props: Francis Ngannou KO & Round 1 – 13/8
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Odds correct at time of posting.Grab the latest UFC/MMA odds by the scruff of the neck over at PaddyPower.com