UFC featherweight championship match: Jose Aldo (21-1, 3-0 UFC) vs. Frankie Edgar (15-3-1, 9-3-1 UFC)
Jose Aldo is a truly dominant champion in the UFC. Not only is he a champion who has defended his belt a few times, he’s done it in a way that causes people to question how he could possibly be defeated. Aldo has very good technical kickboxing with a lot of KO power, a terrific wrestling game with world-class takedown defense, and if he’s taken down, he’s a very skilled Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter as well.
I’m convinced that the best way to beat Aldo is to out-point him standing. As I’ve pointed out before, according to Fight Metric statistics, Aldo has been out-struck by his opponent in five rounds out of 11. I wouldn’t call it a weakness, but perhaps it’s fair to say that Aldo is “less good” at striking defense than he is at any other aspect of MMA.
Enter Frankie Edgar, a fighter who wins fights primarily by out-pointing his opponent. Edgar also has excellent conditioning, and I don’t expect that to be compromised by Edgar’s drop to 145 pounds. If this fight is a boxing match, I would have to favor Edgar, as I feel he has better hands than Aldo does.
Unfortunately for Edgar, I think Aldo will make this a kickboxing match, as opposed to a boxing match. We all saw how effective Benson Henderson’s kicks were against Edgar, and few fighters have kicks as good as Aldo. And not only does Aldo have devastating kicks, he has a lot more KO power than Edgar as well. If this fight goes the distance, I think it could go either way, but Edgar needs to make it there first, and Aldo has a much better chance of finishing the fight.
As far as outcomes are concerned, I think Edgar by decision might be more likely than either Aldo by decision or Aldo by KO. But combine the ways in which Aldo can win, and I think he’s the more likely winner than Edgar here. My official pick is Aldo by decision.
205 lbs: Rashad Evans (17-2-1, 12-2-1 UFC) vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (20-5, 3-2 UFC)
At first glance, I think this fight is a bit more competitive than it’s getting credit for. The reason is that I think Nogueira is probably the more technical striker than Evans. Evans has a proven skill set in MMA – he’s a fighter with a wrestling base and power punching. It’s a blueprint that’s worked for quite a few fighters in the sport, and it’s worked for Evans as well. When Evans faces a striker, he’s able to take the fight to the ground. When he faces a grappler, he keeps it standing and scores the knockout.
Against Nogueira, there are a few things that can happen. One is that Evans simply wins by KO, which is a distinct possibility. Another is that Nogueira proves unable to stop Evans’s takedown attempt, and Evans picks up a clear unanimous decision victory. But I do want to submit the possibility that Nogueira out-points Evans with strikes here. Is it enough to pick Nogueira? Absolutely not. Evans really should find a way to win this fight, but I’m not sure he’ll breeze through like some expect. Evans by decision.
265 lbs: Alistair Overeem (36-11, 1-0 UFC) vs. Antonio Silva (17-4, 1-1 UFC)
I have gone on record as saying that Alistair Overeem is overrated before, and I still feel that way to an extent. In this fight, however, Overeem really should be able to win. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva is a top ten heavyweight for a simple reason – he has a well-rounded skill set. Like it or not, in the heavyweight division, simply being skilled in all areas is enough to make a fighter a highly ranked guy, especially if he’s as big as Silva is. The problem here is that it’s hard to see where Silva has an advantage against Overeem.
Obviously, I think Overeem has the better and more dangerous striking, and if this fight stays standing, Overeem should be able to punish Silva with big punches and knees, and probably can get a TKO stoppage win. Overeem also has very good takedown defense, and a very good submission game as well. Theoretically, Silva’s best situation in this fight would be with top control on the ground, but it won’t be easy for him to take the fight there at all. Ultimately, I think it’s just far too likely that Overeem can keep this fight standing and land “the big kibosh.” Overeem by TKO.
170 lbs: Jon Fitch (24-4-1, 14-2-1 UFC) vs. Demian Maia (17-4, 11-4 UFC)
Like everybody else, I’m very intrigued by this fight. The reason is that Demian Maia has a skill set that should be able to counter what Jon Fitch does extremely well. Under normal circumstances, Fitch is very consistent. He moves forward, takes his opponent to the ground, and engages in a relentless ground and pound assault. It’s very hard to see Fitch succeeding with that fighting style against Maia, who has arguably the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in MMA. One thing is for sure – Maia is not going to let Fitch just grind him out on the ground.
The question is one of whether Fitch can win anyway. I do think Fitch is the slightly better striker, and should prove to be the better wrestler as well, although Maia has very good trips and foot sweeps. If Fitch can keep the fight at standing distance, I think he can skate by with a decision, and if Fitch can land takedowns, I do think he can avoid submissions just enough to win on points. But if Maia is able to catch Fitch in a choke or submission attempt, as has happened in some of Fitch’s fights, I side with Maia’s ability to finish over Fitch’s ability to survive. I’ll very slightly favor Fitch to win by decision, but I certainly don’t think Fitch is a 2-1 favorite like the betting lines would indicate.
125 lbs: Joseph Benavidez (16-3, 3-1 UFC) vs. Ian McCall (11-3-1, 0-1-1 UFC)
While Benavidez has the reputation of being a wrestler, he hasn’t been able to apply his wrestling very effectively at a high level in MMA. Against Dominick Cruz and Demetrious Johnson, the two best wrestlers Benavidez has faced, Benavidez was very clearly out-wrestled by both men. Believe it or not, Ian McCall was able to win the wrestling battle against both Cruz and Johnson. I know this is an “MMA math” type of analysis, but I anticipate that McCall will actually be able to take Benavidez down without being taken down himself.
Where I favor Benavidez in this fight is the striking game. Benavidez is very good at being able to strike his opponent without being hit back; he showcased this skill in his bantamweight match against Eddie Wineland in particular. By contrast, McCall is a skilled striker, but a fighter who tends to get hit a lot more. While I give McCall a slight wrestling advantage, I give Benavidez a substantial striking advantage, enough that I feel Benavidez should be able to win on the judges’ scorecards. Benavidez by decision.
155 lbs: Evan Dunham (13-3, 6-3 UFC) vs. Gleison Tibau (26-8, 11-6 UFC)
This fight is a serious contrast in styles. Dunham is a very high-volume striker with poor striking defense and good grappling. Tibau is a very low-volume striker who relies on his takedowns and physical strength to out-point his opponents. But even if Tibau is able to get Dunham to the ground, I have a hard time envisioning him winning here. Dunham is very good at scrambling after he gets taken down, and on the feet, I expect Dunham to be able to easily out-strike Tibau. But the judges love takedowns and top control, so the chance Tibau wins a decision that way is very high. Overall, I’ll take Dunham by decision, but you just never know with the judges.
170 lbs: Jay Hieron (23-6, 0-3 UFC) vs. Tyron Woodley (10-1, 0-0 UFC)
This is a tough fight to call. Jay Hieron is a well-rounded fighter who should be the better striker than the unpolished Tyron Woodley. Where Woodley has the advantage is in the wrestling department, and I do think he’ll be able to get Hieron to the ground. I don’t think Hieron will go down easily, and Hieron is no slouch on the ground, but I’m just not sure Hieron has what it takes to stay standing in this one. Overall, I slightly favor Woodley to win a decision.
155 lbs: Yves Edwards (42-18-1, 10-6 UFC) vs. Isaac Vallie-Flagg (13-3-1, 0-0 UFC)
If the winner of a fight was always the fighter with superior skill, this would be no contest. Yves Edwards is the much better technical striker, has a better submission game, and probably has better KO power as well. By contrast, Isaac Vallie-Flagg is more of a scrapper, a fighter who will want to make this fight ugly. Normally, I’d be very comfortable siding with Edwards, but his chin is very suspect, and he’s been fighting in the sport for far longer than I’m comfortable with. I still have to pick Edwards, because he really is the better fighter, but I won’t be surprised at all if Vallie-Flagg is able to stop him with strikes. Edwards by decision.
155 lbs: Bobby Green (19-5, 0-0 UFC) vs. Jacob Volkmann (15-3, 6-3 UFC)
Jacob Volkmann fights are very easy to break down. Question #1: can Volkmann’s opponent stop his takedown? In the case of Bobby Green, I don’t believe he can. Question #2: given that the fighter in question cannot stop Volkmann’s takedown, is he a serious threat to submit Volkmann? Once again, I really doubt it. Green is not a bad fighter at all; he has good, dangerous striking and isn’t a bad wrestler either, but I just don’t think he matches up well with Volkmann at all here. I’ll pick Volkmann to win, and I’ll actually take Volkmann to win by submission.
135 lbs: Chico Camus (12-3, 1-0 UFC) vs. Dustin Kimura (9-0, 0-0 UFC)
Camus looked fairly good in his UFC debut, using his wrestling to control Dustin Pague and pick up a decision. Against the debuting Dustin Kimura, it’s easy to see Camus succeeding in much the same way, but I’m not so sure. Kimura does have a good submission game, and after looking at each man’s record, I think Kimura is the better prospect. So because I’ve been too much of a weenie with picking favorites recently, I’ll take the underdog in this one and pick Kimura to win by submission.
135 lbs: Edwin Figueroa (9-1, 2-1 UFC) vs. Francisco Rivera (8-2, 1-1 UFC)
Most people are picking Francisco Rivera to win this fight relatively easily, and I mostly agree. Rivera is the more dangerous and aggressive striker, and his pressure is likely to be more than Figueroa can handle. At the same time, I think Figueroa can put up a fight, and make it a fairly competitive match. Figueroa is not a slouch; he does have a win over Johnny Bedford on his record, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. But I do think Rivera is just a little better than Figueroa in all areas, and I have to take Rivera to win by decision.