Detroit is getting a good one, as the Octagon takes up residence in the Motor City for UFC 218 on December 2. The main event is a rematch between featherweight champion Max Holloway and Jose Aldo, who owned the division for nearly a decade.
However, this card is a lot more than just the main event. The PPV portion of the card also features a banger of a heavyweight fight between Alistair Overeem and Francis Ngannou, as well as a bout between Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez to determine who is the most brutal fighter in the company.
Max Holloway vs Jose Aldo
Max Holloway (-300) has a game plan built on great fundamentals and footwork. “Blessed” is constantly angling and moving his feet to find the best opportunity to strike, working a pressure-based style. That being said, Holloway is also plenty capable of using his height and reach advantage that he typically holds to stick-and-move. The Hawaiian loves bullying his opponent against the cage where he can set his feet and throw wicked combinations.
Grappling isn’t something that Holloway partakes in voluntarily and his amazing takedown defense – he has not been taken down in his past eight fights – means that his opposition rarely has the opportunity to. His size generally leads to Holloway having a huge leverage advantage if the fight goes to the clinch, which allows him to break easily and get back into space.
Jose Aldo’s (+230) game is built around defense and timing. Though that doesn’t sound the sexiest, it has allowed “Scarface” to methodically dismantle nearly every opponent in his way. He is more of a counter-striker who will wait on his opponent to commit before angling off, with some of the best footwork in MMA, to land a stinging punch or trademark low kick. However, this didn’t happen in the first fight. Aldo ended up throwing first – and leaving himself open – and not throwing leg kicks, which was a massive issue.
In terms of grappling, it’s largely used defensively for Aldo. The Brazilian has some of the best defensive wrestling ever seen in MMA and, on the rare occasion when he does get taken down, he has the grappling ability to cause a scramble and get back to his feet. Though he rarely uses it offensively, Aldo is a solid wrestler in his own right. Again, he combines good technical skills with his amazing timing to explode into takedowns. Once on top, Aldo’s rarely seen BJJ black belt takes over and he passes with ease.
I simply don’t think much has changed since the first fight. Holloway will enter confident and will still have a decided advantage in terms of size. If Aldo is more patient and gets back to his leg-kicking ways, then this could be a tight fight. But, I don’t think there is an obvious path to victory for Aldo.
Prediction: Max Holloway (-300)
Alistair Overeem vs Francis Ngannou
Alistair Overeem (+190) has always been one of the deadliest strikers in the heavyweight division. He has a wide array of attacks from every distance and has power in all eight limbs. ’Reem is dangerous in the clinch, as his tight grip and power cause problems for opponents – if you get tied up in the clinch with Overeem, then massive knees are incoming. He has done a good job at becoming more measured in the Octagon, which has helped him pick his spots and hide his aging chin. Overeem is a surprisingly solid grappler, though many don’t talk too much about it. If he does take the fight to the mat, he is more likely to look to pound on his opponent rather than go for the submission.
Francis Ngannou (-240) is a monster of a human being who, despite his infancy in the sport, has dominated his opposition. “The Predator” has an 84-inch reach and his natural power means every strike is thrown with fight-ending intentions. That being said, he is not just a bomber, as Ngannou works a nice stiff jab and has some of the better footwork in the heavyweight division. His grappling is still lagging behind his striking but Ngannou has made huge strides with every Octagon appearance.
Overeem has a massive experience edge and when you couple that with working at Jackson Wink, he is coming into this fight with a smart game plan. However, you can’t avoid Ngannou’s power for 15 minutes.
Prediction: Francis Ngannou (-240)
Henry Cejudo vs Sergio Pettis
You have surely heard about Henry Cejudo’s (-275) Olympic gold medal in freestyle wrestling – the UFC will never let you forget that. But he has shown to be more of a striker through his tenure with the organization. “The Messenger” is a solid boxer who measures distance well with his lead hand. Once he finds that range, he tends to jump in quickly and throw his powerful hands. We know that Cejudo is a fantastic freestyle amateur wrestler but he has rarely used it offensively during his time in the UFC. He only has a 31 percent takedown accuracy and has landed more than two takedowns in a fight once during his six fights with the organization. His wrestling has made him impossible to take down, though.
Sergio Pettis (+215) is a technical marvel on the feet. He has great footwork, takes fantastic angles and has a patience one can only gain from years of striking experience. Sergio doesn’t have the flashy techniques that his brother does, but his refined, technical approach means he can competently throw crisp combos. Pettis will throw in the occasional takedown and he does a solid job once he gains top control. Mostly, offensive wrestling is used as a way to keep his opponent honest, as Pettis certainly prefers to be on his feet. He has gotten better in his defensive wrestling and is now at a point where only some of the higher-end grapplers in the division can take him down consistently.
Cejudo is determined to be a striker and I think that he does so at great risk. Pettis is calm and well-refined in the striking game, which I believe means Cejudo gets slowly pieced up if this fight stays standing.
Prediction: Sergio Pettis (+215)
Eddie Alvarez vs Justin Gaethje
Eddie Alvarez (+150) has found his groove in the striking game since joining Mark Henry’s camp, as the renowned striking coach has crafted Eddie’s game perfectly for his strengths. He has become more calculated in his strikes, as opposed to just going out and brawling as he did earlier in his career. However, as you can see in his Rafael dos Anjos fight, Alvarez will empty the gas tank if he senses the finish. Eddie loves to push forward and force his opponent against the cage so he can go after the takedown. His grappling is solid technically, but it’s more about strength and tenacity. If Alvarez gets his opponent on the cage and his hands locked, he will pursue the takedown until it works.
Justin Gaethje (-185) is basically violence personified. It’s not always the prettiest, but “The Highlight” forces his opponents into brawls and he thrives in chaos. Gaethje is going to move forward in the striking game and try to beat you mentally and overwhelm you physically with a barrage of strikes – specifically his leg kick, which is one of the most deadly in the sport. All that being said, he gets hit a lot due to his style of fighting. The former WSOF champion was a collegiate all-American wrestler who also grappled with some of MMA’s best to test their skills. These skills are also more used to demoralize his opponent, as Gaethje loves to slam his opponents even if it doesn’t put him in the best position on the ground.
If you want to see some absurd, action-packed brawl, then this is the fight for you. Either one of these dudes can overwhelm and brutalize their opponent. However, I ultimately side with Gaethje thanks to his more diverse striking and his recent history of knockouts.
Prediction: Justin Gaethje (-185)
Tecia Torres vs Michelle Waterson
Despite being dubbed “The Tiny Tornado,” Tecia Torres (-225) has the style of a much bigger fighter. Torres prefers to fight from the outside and does so thanks to her kick-heavy striking style and athleticism. Her striking is built on good footwork and volume. Torres is strong, which makes her a competent fighter in the clinch but she is not exactly a world-class grappler. When Torres lands a takedown – a rarity – she doesn’t tend to do much with it.
Michelle Waterson (+175) likes to push the pace on the feet and works good combinations with her hands and her feet. Her kicks are the most dangerous part of her striking – which is to be expected considering she has a black belt in American freestyle karate – as she uses them often and with a confidence you only get from years of experience. In the clinch, Waterson is capable of pulling off takedowns, with a special ability to land the hip toss. Once on top, she is fast, and she hunts for submissions. Waterson is smaller for the division; she used to fight at atomweight and can be bullied by a bigger fighter.
I think Torres is a good fighter but I don’t expect her kick-heavy striking to cause much of an issue for a fighter with Waterson’s karate experience. “The Karate Hottie” has an edge in all facets of grappling and I expect that to come into play.
Prediction: Michelle Waterson (+175)