Fight fans rarely get weekends as loaded as tonight. There are not one, but three, marquee fights this weekend: two in MMA and one in boxing. A 1a or 1b for this weekend is the top fight of tonight’s UFC PPV when Max Holloway defends his featherweight championship against number one contender Brian Ortega. The third best fight this weekend is in the co-main event, a bout for the vacant flyweight title between Valentina Shevchenko and Joanna Jedrzejczyk. These are the fights that any fan can get excited about.
Men’s Featherweight Championship
This fight gives me all sorts of anxiety because of how close both of these fighters are in skill and because I have to pick a winner. I enjoy watching both of these fighters ply their trade and both have very distinct and dominant skillsets that make them the very best in the division. I truly cannot wait to watch this fight.
Max “Blessed” Holloway is the reigning champion in the featherweight division, having won the interim belt in a fight with former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. He later unified the belt by knocking out longtime champion, Jose Aldo, and then knocked him out again in a rematch six months later. That was December of 2017. Since then, there have been several factors that Holloway has had to deal with that have not allowed him to defend his belt, or even fight for that matter. All those seem to be in the past, and we finally get to see the featherweight champion get tested against a tough opponent.
Holloway uses his long frame to pick apart opponents for the duration of a fight. He also uses his world class cardio to gradually increase his output and put pressure on his opponents to keep the pace. These two strategies, along with his excellent use of space and timing, have allowed Holloway to beat the very top of the featherweight division and go on a 12-fight win streak culminating in winning and defending the championship. He also has an underrated ground game (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Purple belt) that he uses to get the fight back to standing or finish the fight if his opponent makes a mistake.
Brian Ortega will not make a mistake on the ground. He is a very high level Jiu Jitsu practitioner with his black belt lineage going straight back to Carlos Gracie. Ortega compliments his ground game by using slick striking to beat down opponents. Much like Holloway, Ortega is more of a volume striker vs a pure power puncher. In his last fight against Frankie Edgar, Ortega used his high fight IQ and continually improving striking to land an intuitive elbow in the clinch which led to a barrage of punches and finally a massive uppercut that turned the lights out on Edgar. Being the first man to stop Frankie Edgar is a huge feather in Ortega’s cap and lends credibility to his underrated striking.
Holloway’s path to victory is to keep the fight standing and use his length to slowly beat down Ortega over the course of five rounds. If he continues to increase the pressure, there is a chance Ortega makes a mistake and Holloway capitalizes. He can win via decision or TKO.
Ortega’s path to victory is to get in close to Holloway and use a dirty boxing and clinch game to beat up Holloway and maybe land a knee or elbow that Holloway doesn’t see coming to begin the finishing sequence of a fight. He can also try to apply pressure and get takedowns to wear Holloway out and try to catch him in a submission on the ground. His Jiu Jitsu is better than Holloway’s and could be a huge factor if he can get the fight to the ground.
Ortega loses too many rounds for my liking and because of that I have Holloway winning via decision.
Women’s Flyweight Championship
The co-main event features a high level striking bout between perennial contender and all around badass, Valentina Shevchenko, and former Straw-weight champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Both of these women are championship-caliber fighters and I expect a great fight.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk is coming off of a win in the Straw-weight division against Tecia Torres after losing two championship fights to Rose Namajunas: the first she lost her belt via TKO, and the rematch she lost a unanimous decision. She is moving up from the 115lb division to the 125lb division.
Jedrzejczyk uses volume striking, along with pin point precision accuracy, to slowly and methodically pick apart her opponents. She defended her straw-weight championship five times before being dethroned. She has experience in big fights.
Shevchenko’s only losses in the UFC are to Bantamweight champion, Amanda Nunes. She is coming down from mainly fighting in the 135lb division to the 125lb division and will be the bigger, stronger fighter tonight. Much like Jedrzejczyk, Shevchenko has a kickboxing and Muay Thai background.
Jedrzejczyk’s path to victory will be to use her speed and timing to counter Shevchenko and keep her opponent frustrated. She will need to avoid Shevchenko’s pressure and power to see the fight through to a decision victory as Shevchenko has never been stopped in MMA (her TKO in 2010 was a doctors stoppage.)
Shevchenko’s path to victory is to keep the pressure on Jedrzejczyk and use that pressure to land power strikes. Jedrzejczyk was knocked out by Namajunas and has not looked the same since that fight.
I have Shevchenko winning by Decision to claim the Women’s Featherweight Championship.
The undercard has several great fights on paper, including knockout artist #7 light heavyweight Jimi Manuwa taking on #15 Thiago Santos, and the return of #14 ranked welterweight, Gunnar Nelson, taking on fan favorite and #13 ranked Alex Oliveira. The early prelims have great fights as well, and the fights I am interested in are #3 Claudia Gadelha taking on rising prospect and #11 ranked Nina Ansaroff, Olivier Aubin-Mercer taking on Gilbert Burns in a lightweight bout and #14 Welterweight Elias Theodorou taking on unranked Eryk Anders.
This fight card has exciting bouts and I’ll have to roll out my trusty two-screen setup to watch the boxing matches at the same time. Fight overload, yes please!
What: UFC 231 Holloway vs Ortega
Where to watch: Prelims FS1 - Main Card Pay Per View
When: Saturday December 8th, 2018
Time: Prelims- 7:00 PM CST– Main Card- 9:00 PM CST