The first free fights of 2016 take place at the TD Garden on January 17 and it will feature a bantamweight title fight between T.J. Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz. The headlining fight is a pseudo-title unification belt after Cruz never lost the belt but surrendered it after dealing with a cavalcade of injuries. The co-main event features Anthony Pettis making his return to the Octagon after losing his lightweight title to Rafael dos Anjos when he faces Eddie Alvarez.
Main Event: T.J. Dillashaw vs Dominick Cruz
Dillashaw shocked the world by winning the bantamweight belt against Renan Barao in 2014 and has looked good ever since. Cruz was the UFC’s first bantamweight champion but surrendered the title after a numerous injuries forced him to fight just once in the past four years.
Dillashaw and Cruz share a lot of similarities in their stand up game and you can see some of The Dominator’s influence on the Elevation Fight Team member. Both fighters combine amazing boxing skills with the use of ridiculous angles and footwork to attack their opponents. Despite their striking skills, both Cruz and Dillashaw are more likely to fight the distance than knockout their opponents with Cruz holding seven T/KO victories and Dillashaw six.
Dillashaw lands more punches per minute than Cruz and uses his lateral quickness and stance switching to find holes in his opponents’ defense. Cruz takes a more methodical approach to striking, using feints and jabs to disrupt his opponents timing.
Dillashaw is a former Division 1 wrestler who predominantly uses his skills defensively to keep a fight standing. However, when Dillashaw takes the fight to the ground, he is just as active there as on his feet. Cruz, though sporting no formal wrestling background, has learned to use his fluidity of motion to land successful takedown attempts. The Dominator is unlikely to go for a submission finish, as he would rather smother a fighter and land punches.
Sportsbook has Dillashaw listed at -145 with Cruz coming back at +115. It would not surprise me if this fight basically ends up being a pick’em with both fighters so similar in style. Expect a war when these two enter to octagon.
Co Main-Event: Anthony Pettis vs Eddie Alvarez
The Sportsbook between Anthony Pettis and Eddie Alvarez is likely next in line to get a UFC lightweight title fight, after Conor McGregor. Pettis was the champion and on a five-fight winning streak before dropping the belt to Rafael dos Anjos in his last fight. Alvarez continues to look to become a big time player in the UFC since coming from Bellator.
RDA showed the world the blueprint to beating Pettis, which was basically to be a great pressure grappler. Pettis has one of the deepest repertoires of offensive manoeuvres MMA has ever seen, with Showtime sporting numerous ways to knock out his opponents. Pettis has improved his grappling as his career has gone on, but has still yet to show major skills in that aspect.
Alvarez is a brawler when it comes to the stand up game and he has been to war on numerous occasions. Though his wild exchanges get the headlines, Alvarez is a solid offensive wrestler and works best when he can force his opponent into the cage.
Sportsbook has Pettis as a heavy -335 favorite with Alvarez coming back at +255. Pettis was looked at as one of the UFC’s best and brightest only a few months ago, but a loss to RDA has shown the holes in his game. Alvarez is not typically the fighter that would expose Pettis’ weaknesses, but his experience could lead him to try to suffocate Showtime for a win.
The Rest of the Main Card
You can expect fireworks when Travis Browne and Matt Mitrione meet in Boston. Only one of Browne’s past eight fights have made it out of the first round and Mitrione has not seen the second round since 2012. These are two guys that are going to be throwing bombs, but Mr. Ronda Rousey enters the fight as a -155 favorite according to Sportsbook.
Two well-rounded lightweights open the main card when Ross Pearson and Francisco Trinaldo throw down. Ever since a no contest against Melvin Guillard in 2013, Pearson has alternated wins and losses. Trinaldo has gone relatively unnoticed by casual fans, but the Brazilian has 11 fights (8-3) in the UFC since joining the company in 2012. The Real Deal enters this fight as a -155 favorite according to Sportsbook.