By: S. Davis
With all my heart, I love New York City.
No setting the table here, let’s gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!
UFC Strawweight Championship: Joanna Jedrzejczyk (c) vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz
Joanna Jedrzejczyk wins if her volume remains at the levels she’s shown thus far in her ascent to the top of the sport. There’s no doubt that she’s one of the most complete fighters in the entire world and she’s gifted in every facet of mixed martial arts. While she hasn’t shown an inclination to use offensive wrestling as a large part of her attack she does, however, employ impressive footwork, balance, and hip positioning for her takedown defense. Her main objective is to keep the fight upright as there are few fighters as adept, polished, accurate and punishing at pure striking. I’m going to pay close attention to see if elbows come into play if Kowalkiewicz is able to pull the champion into her clinch; knees too.
Jedrzejczyk overwhelms opponents to such a degree that it seems unfair. She stalks opponents to dole out the pain whether the subject of said torture is hurting or not. Her fearlessness in pursuit is noteworthy as well when you consider she will enter close quarters – unafraid of surrendering a takedown – in order to launch a barrage of symphonic violence.
Kowalkiewicz wins if she can find a safe way to engage her underrated, yet ferocious, clinch without eating two hooks, three uppercuts and four stiff jabs. I don’t feel the outcome will be a massacre by any means unless Kowalkiewicz spends ample time with her back pressed against the cage. Her pace is even higher than that of the champion – but she lacks power – and she might need to turbocharge it just to increase her chances of making it a contest, which I feel she will do.
She will need to keep Jedrzejczyk guessing and it can’t hurt if she pulls a rabbit out of the hat and goes for some wrestling. It might prove futile but if she can foster just a kernel of doubt it might open up an opportunity to score points in the clinch. It’s interesting because her best path to victory will be her work in the clinch. To that end, the champion is phenomenal at keeping her opponents exactly where she wants them to be. If they’re tied up in the clinch they can both impose their respective wills, though I slightly favor Kowalkiewicz’s knees if she can hit flesh. She should look to score with head kicks on the right side of the champion’s head. Any head kick might catch her off-guard as she rarely has to defend them. That could be a small little wrinkle to watch for. If she isn’t making forward progress I don’t like her chances if she as to spend 75-85% of the fight backpedaling; compared to her opponents Jedrzejczyk has landed 575 to 195 in significant strikes, take that in for a second. She keeps her foot pressed to the gas and doesn’t yield.
Kowalkiewicz is up for a tall order but she’ll wink at the camera during the fight introductions as if she’s taking a stroll to buy some ice cream. The underdog role is a familiar one for her as she was in the same position – ridiculously – in her previous visit to the cage. Her best bet is to clinch and make sure those knees sap the champion’s gas tank.
UFC Welterweight Championship: Tyron Woodley (c) vs. Stephen Thompson
Stephen Thompson wins if he can maintain the distance. While he’s a threat in tight, boxing range, he’s overwhelmingly more lethal when he forces his opponent to remain in kicking range. The variety of kicks he has to choose from in his arsenal are just about limitless. Fighting in his optimal comfort zone will be advantageous which goes without saying really. At distance he dissects his opponents until they feel the need to rush in to launch some return offense.
If Thompson fails, Woodley will be primed to wrestle him to the ground and/or end the fight with either hand in a flash. The game of when to strike or elect for patience will lie solely on the shoulders of the welterweight champion. Having viewed both fighters extensively, Thompson would be completely fine in his element scoring points, comfortably, from distance until Woodley decided in venture into tighter space. His fighting stance makes him a difficult target to hit as he never squares up with his opponent and he floats on his feet so his defense is sound. One thing: He’s going to have to be cautious when he bounces forward to (possibly) launch an attack and it would be in his best interests to change angles so that he doesn’t give his timing away.
Woodley wins if he’s successful at getting into boxing range where his tremendous punching power and wrestling can be utilized to its fullest extent. As an athlete with a myriad of skills, he can win the fight with any of his tools but if both men stay on their feet for the duration of the bout…I would favor the challenger. Woodley needs to use his powerful kicking to limit Thompson’s movement – and score points where he can. Of the two, he’s going wear the burden of being the one coming forward. Thompson could utilize a very similar style that Rory MacDonald found success with although I believe Woodley is much smarter now. The explosiveness, power and speed are undeniable and Woodley will position himself to make Wonderboy as uncomfortable as he was in his only UFC loss to Matt Brown. What a chess match!
I don’t understand the hate that he receives. He’s intelligent, he interviews well, loves and cherishes his family and doesn’t spew a bunch of nonsense for the camera. He got destroyed by having the nerve to call for a fight against Georges St-Pierre – only the greatest welterweight and maybe the best fighter, ever – and Nick Diaz, who isn’t a gimme fight by any means. The gall of him to ask for a…money fight! He hasn’t even defended his championship, he can’t get away with calling his own bouts. What a jerk! There isn’t a single person that can get away with asking for the fight he wants, oh wait…
UFC Lightweight Championship: Eddie Alvarez (c) vs. Conor McGregor
Alvarez wins if he uses every tool at his disposal, every single one that he has available to him. He has more ways to make a successful title defense than his opponent does to take the gold strap. Alvarez excels when he’s disciplined and dedicated to cage control. Cage control is defined in a few ways but one of the most critical elements to it is cage pressure; it’s controlling the opponent as it pertains to their posture and such. For the uninformed, think of someone wrapping you in an enveloping hug and having all the power in the direction in which your body moves. Hand control, wizards, hip placement and driving and/or distribution of body weight are all included. This is a clear plus for the defending champion and he has to use it to his advantage.
Now Alvarez does have a tendency to engage blindly – and welcome a brawl. That type of fight could cost him greatly this evening. There’s a clear path for title retention: Wrestling. He doesn’t have to resort to lay-and-pray, although if he does, it’s on the challenger to defend it. Keep in mind, a FIGHT is about imposing your will upon your opponent before it’s the other way around; you exploit weaknesses in combat of any type and this is no different. Alvarez can set up a reservoir of possibilities if the Irishman has to fight off the mat. Ultimately, he can decide where the fight will be contested. Will he?
The Underground King can win by TKO/KO, submission or decision – like all MMA contests – but in this main event, of the two, only the champion has all those possibilities at this disposal. He’s fearless, he has no problem getting tagged a few times – and has stated numerous times that he likes to get hit to “feel” the fight. Too many strikes could end it all. What choice will he make? I think he’ll look to threaten with the takedown to stay in his desired boxing range. McGregor has serviceable takedown defense but Alvarez should test it, and if he does, I think he succeeds a few times. Truth be told he can’t elect to grapple for the majority of the contest, he’ll get tired; any fighter would.
What about the trash talk? I’m not an internet psychologist but I think both men are strong there. Will he allow McGregor to goad him into oblivion by fighting reckless and easily presenting the opportunity for a clean shot “Hit Me Here!” sign?
McGregor wins if he manages to make it a striking match. By no means is he safe if it’s a pure striking clinic for however long the fight lasts. Alvarez possesses elite power and speed in his hands; the challenger isn’t the only fighter of the two that’s armed with power. A grappling exhibition puts the challenger head-on with the biggest question of his career when you take an OBJECTIVE view of his resume. He has to keep it standing, he has to avoid biting down on his mouthpiece, tightening his jaw and allowing the opponent to land, cleanly, and shake his head in response as an act of bravado. His striking defense is abhorrent. For all the noise about his movement, he is not a good defensive fighter – and the same can be said for the champion.
Putting the men side-by-side, I judge the striking as even. McGregor is more accurate in his attacks while Alvarez has more speed. McGregor has the straight left while Alvarez has hooks from both hands and uppercuts. They both enter the cage with the ability to end the contest. Wrestling and submissions are squarely in the champion’s favor and it’s not close. The challenger also has a terrible habit of relying on the left hand, primarily, as his first, second and third method of victory. (See UFC 196 and where that strategy led him.)
Cardio? Alvarez is proven in five round fights but has lost steam when he’s used a wrestle-heavy style throughout his career. It’s a plus that he knows how to battle when his body is exhausted. He’s done that and has that key in spades over the challenger. Meanwhile McGregor showed a great deal of heart in adapting in the rematch with Nate Diaz. He pushed hard when his body was feeling heavy and his lungs were spent; he knows how to cope. Can he do that again if the fight goes long?
Alvarez’s pressure style can give McGregor the same trouble that Diaz and Chad Mendes were able to. McGregor wants to counter fight and doesn’t like moving backward but again, as a counter striker, he wants to utilize his footwork to set up the left hand shot. Alvarez will want to wade in close but he’s going to get hit more due to the five-inch reach differential – and like I said earlier, he will accept the heat in a firefight in order to get tight and unleash a barrage of hooks and uppercuts…just ask Rafael dos Anjos.
This is going to be a great night of fights and I’m heartbroken that Donald Cerrone couldn’t compete.
Picks: All champions win; Chris Weidman, Miesha Tate, Frankie Edgar, Nurmagomedov, Rafael Natal, Belal Muhammad, Thiago Alves and Liz Carmouche.
El Cucuy is lurking…