The bantamweights take center stage when the UFC invades the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada on May 29. Two undefeated prospects meet in the main event as Thomas Almeida and Cody Garbrandt clash in a battle for the future of the 135-lbs division.
The present of the bantamweight division is also up for grabs when Aljamain Sterling and Bryan Caraway meet on the Fight Pass main event. The Sportsbook of the bout will put himself in good position to challenge for the bantamweight title in 2017.
Thomas Almeida vs Cody Garbrandt
If you’re looking for violence personified, then you should tune into Almeida vs Garbrandt. Between Almeida and Garbrandt’s combined 29 professional fights, the judges have only been called on three times. Almeida has won 16 of his 20 bouts via KO/TKO while Garbrandt has won seven of his via punches.
Almeida has a black belt in Muay Thai and may be the most lethal practitioner of the discipline at 135 lbs. The Brazilian’s ability to knock opponents out with punches, knees and elbows makes standing with him a dangerous proposition.
Though not always on display, Almeida can hold his own on the ground. His submission game is solid — Almeida has a brown belt in BJJ — but it is his scrambling ability that is most impressive. Almeida’s ability to work from his back and get the fight standing is exceptional.
That all being said, Almeida is not an overly good wrestler. He can be taken down, but keeping him there is not nearly as simple. Almeida is also quite hittable at times as we’ve seen his face pretty beaten up against both Brad Pickett and Tom Gorman.
Garbrandt has been competing in combat sports most of his life, as the Uhrichsville, Ohio native boxed and wrestled throughout high school and beyond. ‘No Love’ compiled a 32-1 record as an amateur boxer before turning his attention fully to MMA.
Garbrandt is predominantly a striker with his boxing history clearly influencing his style. Though he does favor punches, Garbrandt has also learned to utilize the kicking game more throughout his young career.
With a state high school wrestling pedigree, Garbrandt has the ability to implement takedowns — or defend them — very well. This skill is usually used defensively in order to keep the fight standing, but mixing in more offensive wrestling could be part of the game plan against Almeida.
Much like Almeida, Garbrandt is hittable. He has a tendency to drop his hands low in fights and take some unnecessary shots to the head, but that stems from his confidence in his chin.
This fight could be one of the most exciting of the year, but it will likely be over sooner rather than later. Both men have good cardio, however, it has rarely been necessary as stoppages are commonplace when they enter the cage.
Aljamain Sterling vs Bryan Caraway
Undefeated Aljamain Sterling has a new UFC contract and is one of the most promising bantamweights in the world. Long-tenured UFC fighter Bryan Caraway will aim to get past the gatekeeper status and climb towards a title shot.
Sterling was a wrestler before getting into the world of MMA, with the ‘Funk Master’ being named a Division III All-American twice. His wrestling game is on par with the best in the division and he has a submission game to end the fight once he gets the fight to the ground.
The Serra-Longo Fight Team has done wonders for Sterling, as the relatively green fighter — he’s only been in MMA for five years — has become a solid striker. Each fight he gets better on his feet and he’s getting close to being one of the best all-around fighters in the world.
Sterling hasn’t shown many flaws in his career. The New York native can win in almost any facet of the game. The only true challenge of his career came against Takeya Mizugaki, which he ultimately won by submission.
Caraway is one of the best grapplers the 135-lbs division has to offer. Seventeen of his 20 career victories have come via submission — with the rear naked choke accounting for 11 of those W’s. Caraway will aggressively work his transition game on the ground and – if he can gain top control – has a good chance of taking the back.
The area that Caraway falters at is striking. His kickboxing is rather rudimentary and ‘Kid Lightning’ relies on his chin a bit too much to make up for flaws in the standup game.
Sterling will enter the Octagon as a big favorite and holds the advantage in most aspects of the game. The only thing that could seemingly cause problems for Sterling is if he allows Caraway to gain ground control.