UFC 218 - The Main Card Breakdown
Date: Saturday 2nd December
Location: Detroit, Michigan
Venue: Little Caesars Arena
Max Holloway vs José Aldo - The Rematch
Arguably the best featherweight of all time was toppled by the young prodigy at UFC 212 earlier this year and the new king of the division, Max Holloway, was scheduled for his first title defence against Frankie Edgar. Unfortunately, the legend suffered an injury in training that will require surgery and in desperate need of an opponent, José Aldo has stepped up to the plate seeking vengeance over the man who took his throne.
Many have questioned the motivation of the Brazilian but slotting in late notice against a man that frankly dominated him six months ago puts those questions to rest. Aldo still believes he is the best in the world but he will have to adapt in this rematch. The first fight did not end quickly with one mistake as it did in his loss to Conor McGregor, but he was outclassed by the third round and beat down until the referee put an end to his suffering.
Aldo earned success in the first two rounds with his usual destructive striking but Holloway prepared for the early onslaught to figure out his patterns. It was a masterful game plan which required a ton of confidence up against proven knockout power but the Hawaiian looked like a veteran that night and added to his reputation of improving with every fight.
So we should fully expect Holloway to be an even further improved and finely tuned fighter with new skills come UFC 218, which is a dangerous prospect for Aldo. The former champion built a legacy of success based on impeccable reactions and timing with ferocious combinations but has not evolved like his foe so will have to arrive to the octagon with a new game plan to derail the new champion, who is creating a legacy of his own.
With ability to end the fight with one strike, Aldo’s easiest route to victory will come in the form of a knockout but in their first meeting, Holloway looked as if he could end the fight however he decided and these are the stats highlighted in the statistical breakdown. He grew into the fight and eventually earned the respect of Aldo on the feet and that is likely to be where the fight is won and lost again in the rematch.
Alistair Overeem vs Francis Ngannou
The most decorated striker vs the most powerful striker. Two heavyweight behemoths grace the co-main event featuring the legend Alistair Overeem and rising star Francis Ngannou.
Fighting since he was 14 years old, Overeem has seen and achieved it all accept the coveted UFC heavyweight title. Ngannou on the other hand – despite being 31 – only started MMA five years ago and has copious amounts of potential. From a very humble background in Cameroon, the natural powerhouse has dedicated his life to MMA and has surged through top competition in a frightening way and is being touted as the next superstar, which is exactly what the heavyweight division needs right now.
Ngannou’s record speaks for itself with 10 finishes in his 10 wins – six knockouts and four submissions. His power is terrifying, putting opponents to sleep with just a touch of leather. He truly lived up to his reputation in his last fight which was his biggest test on paper – Andrei Arlovski who was virtually sent airborne with an uppercut off balance. He now takes on Overeem who is not a gatekeeper, he is the number one contender for a reason with wins over the very best in the world.
It is hoped this fight doesn’t end in a flash as it will be enthralling to see seasoned technique vs brute force. Since his drug test ban in 2012, Overeem has evolved into a more considered and intelligent fighter and this is exactly the approach required for Ngannou.
The Predator likes to press forward in search for openings so we should expect Overeem to be measured with thunderous chopping leg kicks and knees in the clinch. However, we know Ngannou doesn’t have to search long for these openings with murderous punching power, in particular his uppercut – he is a severe threat from any distance.
With the skills and attributes on display, a knockout is more than likely but how we get there could depend on the experience of these juggernauts. Will Overeem’s decades of elite experience be enough to slay The Predator?
Henry Cejudo vs Sergio Pettis
These two contenders are extremely talented but are fighting in a division with a dimmed spotlight. This is partly thanks to Demetrious Johnson who has cleaned out the division with relative ease, earning his tag of the best ‘pound-for-pound’ fighter in the world. With fans only seemingly interested in Johnson and super fights, contenders are starving for attention but the winner should be in line for a shot at the flyweight king.
For Cejudo, that would be his second chance after losing convincingly at UFC 197. The former Olympic wrestler was truly humbled as Johnson out-grappled him and ended the fight with a flurry of strikes, delivering Cejudo’s first professional loss. He then went on to lose a narrow decision against Joseph Benavidez but put on his best career performance in his last outing, knocking out Wilson Reis.
Sergio Pettis has quietly gone about his business, collecting wins with four on the trot going into this fight. He has evolved from a tremendous Taekwondo and Kickboxing base and his exciting style along with being a new opponent for Johnson would be more appealing for the fans.
The key stat in this one is the takedown accuracy of Cejudo and takedown defence of Pettis. Although Cejudo looked superb on the feet against Reis, Pettis’ stand-up skills are a level up and so he may have to call upon his wrestling in order to take him down. The grappling exchange could easily be where this bout is won or lost.
Eddie Alvarez vs Justin Gaethje
A mouth-watering match-up in the lightweight division. These two were born to fight; true sluggers who share an unhealthy habit of engaging in wars and exchanging damage. After coaching The Ultimate Fighter 26, Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje will duke it out at UFC 218 and rejiggle the queue of contenders for Conor McGregor’s lightweight championship.
Alvarez, who lost his belt to McGregor, is not just interested in putting on shows for the fans, he is desperate to reclaim his belt but has stuttered in his journey back after a no-contest in his last fight against Dustin Poirier. For his return, he has been matched up with Gaethje to set off fireworks but Alvarez will certainly go into this fight with a game plan.
So he should, as even though Gaethje has a reputation of being a reckless fighter, astoundingly he is unbeaten with 18 wins which is extremely rare at this level of the game. Making his name in the World Series of Fighting promotion, he starched contender after contender, defending his belt five times before moving to the UFC.
So can we expect to see a brawl in Detroit? With a combined 30 knockouts in their 46 wins, the writing may be on the wall but they are both very strong grapplers with accomplished backgrounds in wrestling which may be utilised in their game plans. Shots will be thrown and they will land which is why their ‘significant strikes landed per minute’ is highlighted as the key stat.
Tecia Torres vs Michelle Waterson
The UFC 218 main card kicks off with two petit yet violent ladies in the strawweight division with hopes of marching towards the number one contender spot.
The decision queen (AKA ‘The Tiny Tornado’) Tecia Torres earned her first finish in her last outing against Juliana Lima with a superb rear-naked choke. All of Torres’ previous nine fights have ended via unanimous decisions, including her sole loss to the current champion, Rose Namajunas. Namajunas’ recent win over the dominant former champion, Jedrzejczyk, will have given Torres motivation as they were both contestants on The Ultimate Fighter back in 2014 and knows she has also improved drastically since.
‘The Karate Hottie’ will be a stern test and although she lost her last fight in brutal fashion – also at the hands of Namajunas - she also has hopes of earning a title shot. The popular Waterson was brought up as a striker learning Karate since she was just 10 years old and has evolved into a terrific grappler with dangerous ground skills.
Waterson has submitted 10 of her opponents from her 15 wins and has never been taken down in the UFC, highlighted in the statistical breakdown, so Torres will have to call upon all of her well-rounded skills in preparation for this fight as she knows Waterson is just as effective on the feet as she is on the mat.