I always find it interesting when the UFC brings in a relatively unknown newcomer to face one of its highly-ranked, established fighters. Sure, the practice happened in PRIDE all the time, but the UFC usually is careful to have a newcomer fight either another newcomer, or a veteran who has had some struggles. In this fight, Papy Abedi is making his UFC debut, and he’s doing it against none other than Thiago Alves. What motivated this?
This reminds me of when Paulo Thiago made his debut in the UFC against Josh Koscheck. I have no doubt that my voice was one of many when I said “who is this guy and why is he fighting Josh Koscheck?” As it turns out, Thiago won by first-round KO, and has gone on to be one of the better welterweight fighters in the UFC.
So I’ll grant that, in many cases, the UFC may know something I don’t. Perhaps the UFC knows exactly what it’s doing by placing Abedi against Alves. There’s no doubt that Abedi appears to be a strong fighter: at 8-0, he’s a legitimate prospect, and as much as I hate to say this, he looks like an absolute tank.
Of course, fighters like Fedor Emelianenko didn’t become great because they looked like bodybuilders; they became great because of a superior skill set. With Abedi, the skill set appears to be there. Abedi has an extensive background in judo, so he should be very good in the takedown game, and with five of his eight wins coming by TKO, the striking appears to be there in full force as well.
What Abedi is lacking is a tremendous fight history. Of the eight opponents Abedi has fought, only four have enough experience to be considered by Victory Score, and of those four, only two are rated as above-average fighters: Alan Carlos and Nathan Schouteren. Now, just because Abedi hasn’t fought highly-rated opponents doesn’t mean he’s capable of beating them, but when the opponent in question in Thiago Alves, I want to see a little more substance on Abedi’s record.
We know all about Alves. He’s a very good UFC welterweight who has fallen short only against the very best the division has to offer, losing to Georges St-Pierre, Jon Fitch, and the underrated Rick Story. Alves has decent punches, but the best feature of his game is his kicks, specifically leg kicks. The game plan for Alves is simple: keep the opponent at distance, unload straight punches and leg kicks, and pick the opponent apart.
As a judoka, Abedi might have the kind of style necessary to counter that. Where Alves struggles is when opponents get physical with him. Georges St-Pierre beat Alves by taking him down repeatedly and controlling him on the ground. Jon Fitch beat Alves by taking him down, stuffing him against the fence, and controlling position. Rick Story beat Alves by pressing him against the fence and beating him up there. If Abedi can close distance, and either clinch with Alves or take him down, he’ll be the one in control.
SILVA PREDICTION: THIAGO ALVES (75.83) OVER PAPY ABEDI (48.93)
The biggest difference between Alves and Abedi is that Alves has shown he can compete with some of the best fighters in the world. Abedi hasn’t yet had such an opportunity, but he’ll get it in his UFC debut this Saturday. And while Paulo Thiago may have shown that it’s very possible for a debuting UFC fighter to score a win against one of the better welterweights in the world, that’s not the kind of thing that I would count on happening with any regularity. I like Abedi as a prospect, but I have to take Alves to win this fight.