By: S. Davis
Interim Featherweight Championship: Max Holloway vs. Anthony Pettis
Holloway wins if he brings his volume striking to the cage. While being a stellar martial artist in every wrinkle of the sport, his ability to overwhelm opponents stands out the most. He averages just under six significant strikes per minute so the pressure on will be on Pettis to bring an exceptional defensive performance on fight night. Holloway can win by backing up the former lightweight champion who isn’t the same dangerous fighter when he’s spending ample amounts of time in retreat mode.
A huge key will be endurance. Holloway is the rare fighter that seems organically relaxed and energized no matter how long the fight stretches. He fights in the later rounds as if they were the opening ones. He can take advantage in this area and make it an uphill climb for his opponent, who displays a tendency to slow down the longer a fight progresses, and he had a brutal weight cut and didn’t make the limit for the contest.
Pettis wins if he can keep the fight in kicking range. It’s clear that he wants to engage on his terms – which is when his opponents are at the end of this lethal body kicks; any of his kicks, really. He wants to keep the opposition a good distance away to calculate timing and unleash from unorthodox launching points. He aims to strike at his pace which is at about half the pace of Holloway. Pettis is an efficient counter-striker with sneaky, efficient, stinging hands. The former lightweight champion will need to use his opponents’ aggression against him by cutting a myriad of angles before, during and after attacks to stun Holloway with a flesh shaking kick that can present an opportunity for a quick submission attempt.
I’m aware of this narrative surrounding Pettis but the fact that a lot of the noise centers around his “slide” is humorous. He lost to three killers in a division where no one can have a bad evening and expect to leave with their faculties intact. He made it to the scorecards in each of those losses and didn’t quit at any time while he was trying to find a way to win. He’s not a fighter on the downturn, at least I don’t see it.
Donald Cerrone vs. Matt Brown
Cerrone wins if the great footwork he’s mastered as a welterweight hasn’t fallen from his arsenal. All the tools are there for the Cowboy but with all the distractions he’s had this week I do wonder what version is stepping into the cage. His ability to seamlessly mix kickboxing, wrestling and jiu-jitsu all in one fluid sequence makes him a threat as long as he’s still in the fight. He’s been able to set up his striking flurries faster than his opponents can plan a method of defense and that can serve him well against Brown who is very stationary, especially when the contest switches into a brawl. I like Cerrone to continue his winning ways if he can keep himself of out Brown’s lethal clinch and mix in some wrestling and trips to find a rear naked choke.
Brown wins if he can pull Cerrone into his clinch where he can unleash his elbows and use his weight advantage to sap the Cowboy’s gas tank. The pace should be high when three rounds is all they have to utilize but I see a slow start for both men as a sign of respect…and caution. Brown will need to make the fight dirty and he has to hope that Cowboy will meet him for that type of dance. Brown should look to fire those sharp elbows and keep his opponent on his heels.
Cub Swanson vs. Dooho Choi
Swanson wins if he can express veteran guile and smarts to reign in Choi and win on points. Swanson is a phenomenal offensive talent and he knows how dangerous he can be when striking; which serves as a double-edged sword at times. Defensively is where Swanson hurts his own chances of climbing back into the contenders queue. Too often he keeps his head up and his chin forward without utilizing movement off the center line. If he goes out to make a statement he could find himself waking up under the lights and seeing Choi run jubilantly across the cage in a matter of one careless exchange. He has to be deliberate, he must use leg kicks and efficient boxing to frustrate Choi to the point of desperation. He’s as dangerous a fighter there is on the entire roster but he often gives his opponents too many opportunities to inflict their own measure of damage – and that recipe doesn’t translate to successful longevity in such a violent sport.
Choi wins if he can score when Swanson leaves that chin in the air. The hype around the Korean Superboy is well-deserved and this is a massive test for him going forward. The UFC matchmakers put this one together to measure where he’ll be slotted in the division. Choi probably has the power advantage while I think Swanson is a tad quicker but the speed differential won’t likely factor into the fight if Swanson abandons defense. This fight should remain a striking affair and I think Choi can force Swanson into a battle and make him throw caution to the wind…which can lead to his demise. If the Superboy marches forward for most of the encounter, I like his chances as Swanson does have a tendency to abandon discretion and engage anywhere.
Tim Kennedy vs. Kelvin Gastelum
Kennedy wins if his two-year hiatus hasn’t eroded his abilities. Size is going to be a factor and Kennedy is a mountain. If he can push Gastelum against the cage and earn the takedown – or just make the naturally smaller fighter carry his weight it will make for an interesting outcome in the later rounds.
Gastelum wins if he can stuff the takedown attempts and use his youth, speed advantage and striking to wear Kennedy down.
Picks: Pettis, Brown, Choi, Kennedy and Mein.