What a week to be a MMA fan! UFC 194 has received most of the attention, and understandable with Conor McGregor headlining. But with the UFC Fight Night on Fight Pass on Thursday and The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale on Friday, there is an MMA fix for all of you addicts out there. I am not a big fan of clichés, but this could be the most important week in UFC history.
The future of the company depends on the next two weeks.
Featherweights (145lbs): Max Holloway (14-3; 10-3 UFC) vs. Jeremy Stephens (24-11; 11-10 UFC)
This undervalued, hidden gem of a matchup pits the very durable Stephens against the elite Hawaiian Max Holloway. Stephens is coming off a spectacular TKO win against Dennis Bermudez in July, while Holloway is fresh off his bizarre win against Charles Olivera (let’s just forget about that one), but completely mauled Cub Swanson in April. This is a very important fight for the future of the featherweight division. For Stephens, a win would place him on the “Fighters to look for in 2016” list. However, if Holloway wins, he will likely just to the No. 1 contenders list in the division…with a caveat: Frankie Edgar. If Frankie Edgar loses to Chad Mendes, Holloway is likely next up for a title shot; if Edgar wins, will likely have to win another fight to stake his claim; most likely against Chad Mendes.
Stephens is a meat and potatoes guy and a very straight forward fighter. He likes to punch you in the face. That’s it. Seriously, that’s all I have to say about his game. Holloway is an exciting young fighter. He is very agile, circles the cage, and has a very diverse striking arsenal. He can hit you at any angle, from any position, and has a furious pace that can tire opponents in a hurry. Last time Stephens fought, he missed weight by almost 5lbs; this can play huge role in this fight.
My pick is Holloway via 3rd round TKO.
Welterweights (170lbs): Demian Maia (21-6; 15-6 UFC) vs. Gunnar Nelson (14-1-1; 5-1 UFC)
Two elite grapplers match up in another marquee matchup in the 170lbs division. Gunnar Nelson is a Goju-Ryu Karate practitioner that added Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to his arsenal that makes him an intriguing fighter. He is a counter-striker by nature, and always looks to counter his opponents that get within his range. The problem with Nelson is that if he doesn’t have an opponent that with be aggressive in the striking game, he won’t throw anything. With that said, he is a magician with his grappling. If he gets you on the ground, he is quick to find a dominant position to lock in a submission. Other than that, he has the propensity to be a very boring fighter. And as much as Nelson is a magician on the ground, Demian Maia is the equivalent to Jesus.
Maia uses his striking as a means to get his hands on you. And once he does that: game over. He only looks to transition to an advantageous position and rarely strikes while doing it. These two are pretty similar but without an opponent that will be aggressive, which Nelson is not, Maia will have the advantage. Maia has a conditioning issue, so even with the inevitable non-action, he has the propensity to gas.
I am going with Gunnar Nelson via unanimous decision.
Middleweights (185lbs) Jacare Souza (22-3, 1 N/C; 5-0 UFC) vs. Yoel Romero (10-1; 6-0 UFC)
This will be an extraordinary matchup, and the winner will emerge as a deserving challenger for either Luke Rockhold or Chris Weidman. Aggression and explosion are both fighters game as they stalk forward into a hard punching combination or takedowns. Souza is a very technical striker and constantly moves his head off of the centerline which makes him very hard to hit. With that said, he is only looking for a takedown from clinch range. And unlike Damian Maia, he is very violent once he gets the opponent to the ground. Romero is a freakish athlete with a ridiculous amount of power and speed for his size. He probably has the best takedowns in MMA and is vicious in the clinch and on the ground. With the grappling strengths of these two, this is likely to be a standup battle. Both fighters are on a tear, but you cannot go against the sheer power and violent potential of Romero.
I’m going with Romero via 3rd round TKO.
Middleweight Championship Chris Weidman (13-0; 9-0 UFC) vs. Luke Rockhold (14-2; 4-1 UFC)
I am having a tough time with picking this fight. I have never seen a title fight between to juggernauts so evenly matched up. This will be Weidman’s fourth title defense and his toughest. These two were destined to cross paths so there is no way for this fight to be anything but an incredible matchup with two of the best middleweights in history. This will be epic. Both are pressure fighter, but what differentiates the two is that Weidman will look for the takedown, whereas Rockhold would prefer to strike. Both are excellent grapplers as well. These two are essentially fighting against themselves. Rockhold uses more kicks-that is the only difference between the two. This will be super close and will likely cause some controversy as to who won. In razor-thin decisions in title fights, the judges tend to give the decision to the incumbent champion.
I am going with Chris Weidman via super close split decision.
Featherweight Championship Jose Aldo (25-1; 7-0 UFC) vs. Conor McGregor (18-2; 6-0 UFC)
History typically dictates that when two championship fights appear on the same card, the heavier weight class takes top billing. However, UFC had no choice but to let Aldo and McGregor take the main event slot, mostly due to Conor McGregor being such a charismatic figure hyping the fight by talking alone. Let’s not get it twisted: Conor can back up his intense bravado with his smooth/violent game. Jose Aldo, however, is possible the G.O.A.T. –he hasn’t lost in 10 years.
This is probably the biggest fight in UFC history.
Like the middleweight title fight, these two were destined to meet up in the cage. Ever since McGregor snatched Aldo’s title from his hand in a faceoff in April, the anticipation is killing me. Everything about McGregor’s game revolves around aggressive forward movement and pushing his opponent toward the cage. The one aspect that sets the Irishman apart from the rest is his masterful fight IQ. His fighting mind works like a computer, constantly adjusting to whatever he sees in the octagon. If he throws his straight left hand and you move your head to your left, next time he’ll faint the straight left and lead you straight into his uppercut. He is that good. One thing about Jose Aldo, he tends to get nastier the harder he is pushed; he can turn vicious. With that said, Aldo’s gas tank has always been a question. And with the pace McGregor goes at, typically throwing about 40 strikes per minute, I don’t think this is going past the 3rd round. I am going with
McGregor via 3rd round TKO.