The penultimate pay-per-view of the 2018 UFC features two highly anticipated title fights.
Featherweight champion Max Holloway and No. 1 contender Brian Ortega will complete unfinished business on Saturday at the UFC 231 main event, after spoiling their first booking in July with Holloway's medical problems that remain somewhat mysterious to this day. Does Holloway go 100 percent into the first fight of a year? Is it important against the unbeaten Ortega, who was a finishing machine in the UFC? Could this be the beginning of an emerging rivalry between two fighters in the prime of their athletic career?
This final question could also be asked after the co-main event, in which former world weight-loss champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk fights Valentina Shevchenko's No. 1 flyweights for a free 125-pound title. This title has been since its debut as a trophy for the winner of The ultimate fighter 26, which turned out to be Nicco Montano. Montano was unable to defend the title for a variety of reasons, notably because he said goodbye to a planned title defense against Shevchenko in September, after weight-reduced problems had taken her to the hospital. An impressive victory by Jedrzejczyk or Shevchenko will give the division the necessary stability.
In another major card action, Gunnar Nelson appears for the first time in over 500 days when he faces Alex Oliveira in a welterweight fight. The featherweights of Hakeem Dawodu and Kyle Bochniak, who are equipped with all actions, will be dropped, and Jimi Manuwa will give another striker Thiago Santos his next light heavyweight test.
What: UFC 231
From where: Scotiabank Arena in Toronto
When: Saturday, 8th of December. The provisional card with four fights of the UFC Fight Pass starts at 18:00. ET begins the preliminary card with four fights FOX Sports 1 at 20 o'clock. ET and the 5-fight pay-per-view main card will start at 22:00. ET.
Max Holloway against Brian Ortega
It's time to crown a new featherweight king.
Max Holloway has been almost unbeatable in the last five years, but do not confuse it with the Unhappable. If anything, part of what "blessed" has made such a favorite among the hard hordes is its inclination to do it as well as it gives. The defending champion embodies the Hawaiian fighting spirit, and in his last twelve games, it has always been his opponents who first withered.
Enter Brian Ortega.
T-City also proved vulnerable during its UFC run; However, thanks to his uncanny ability to reach the final rounds of the third round, he has managed to defeat himself at least a couple of times. That was not even necessary in his last fight when he devastated former UFC champion Frankie Edgar (considered a superior striker) in a single round.
Make no mistake, Ortega can succeed with Holloway. Gracie's Jiu Jitsu student will undoubtedly have the edge on the floor, but when it comes down to it, he will not fall out of his element in the face of Holloway's outstanding striking arsenal.
I would be lying if I said that Holloway's recent health concerns did not affect my choice here. In the arguably most competitive featherweight fight in the history of the MMA, even the tiniest crack could cause a fighter to fall. In this situation, it is Holloway who comes to the Octagon and asks questions about how he will work after a busy year.
That does not mean that Ortega will only win because Holloway gets less. Even at full strength, Holloway was always in danger of becoming a challenger in his vicinity with the same invincible aura as himself. Ortega is this challenger and after UFC 231 he will be the champion.
Valentina Shevchenko against Joanna Jedrzejczyk
Betting against arguably the greatest fighter of all time seems foolish, but what else can you do when she plays against an opponent who has proven to be the better striker three times?
Their muay thai days have been a lifetime for Valentina Shevchenko and Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and although Jedrzejczyk has already established itself as a force in the MMA, it is fair to use Shevchenko's previous victories against Jedrzejczyk as a benchmark. Saturday's co-main event is likely to be a stand-up affair, so it's obvious the outcome could be a well-known one.
Shevchenko has a slight size advantage on the night of the fight, and although some try to sell this as Shevchenko's power against the speed of Jedrzejcyk, "Bullet" is not a problem in terms of speed either. The stir that Jedrzejczyk showed during her run as queen-weight queen looked more dynamic, but that's just because Shevchenko tends to show more of her mat skills than she did in the victories over Priscila Cachoeira and Julianna Pena.
This gives Shevchenko another chance to win the fight, even though Jedrzejczyk's defensive and defense defense has always been great. In reality, this will primarily be a stand-up fight that should be methodical rather than furious. Shevchenko will consistently hit Jedrzejczyk to eventually reach the women's flyweight UFC title.
Alex Oliveira against Gunnar Nelson
It is a difficult thing to find in MMA, although Alex "Cowboy" Oliveira seems to have had no problems in his last fights. The rounded-up Brazilian struggles with an infectious enjoyment of life this will be in stark contrast to the always stoic Gunnar Nelson at night. Oliveira is happiest when he works and has won six wins in the last seven fights (with the exception of no competition), while Nelson has been limited to three matches since December 2015.
Nelson is a talented fighter who can implement an unorthodox karate style in addition to his high-level floor play. He is only lost to fighters who could surprise him (or knock him out of the eye), so it's fascinating to see if Oliveira decides to put his jiu-jitsu abilities against Nelson. Oliveira has good skills, but Nelson is an excellent control and position fighter on the mat.
But the rhythm has to be taken into account, and competing against a high-performing fighter like Oliveira after such a long dismissal is a huge challenge for everyone. Nelson should be able to avoid being included in Oliveira's impressive list of placements, but Oliveira's more active offense should be enough to convince the judges.
Hakeem Dawodu vs. Kyle Bochniak
Hakeem Dawodu's first UFC win in July showed a glimpse of the talent that called him the next big thing in the Canadian MMA scene. Kyle Bochniak has dealt with this hype before.
"Crash" did almost exactly what Zabit Magomedsharipov's party in Brooklyn was when they fought at UFC 223. For two rounds, Magomedsharipov usually won an overwhelming victory at Bochniak, but unanimously decided. Bochniak kept on advancing until he forced Magomedsharipov to trade in a wild exchange with him. There Bochniak is best when he can convince a technically superior opponent to lose his mind and throw along.
I think he can do that against Dawodu. The native Calgaryer does not yet have to show his true potential in the Octagon, but if he feels comfortable, Dawodu can be deadly, be it with a timed counter strike or a sudden, quick combination. He is also very skilled in dealing with kicks, the perfect weapon to make a thug like Bochniak think twice about his approach.
If Bochniak can start faster than usual and maintain pressure, it will be frustrating for Dawodu, and Dawodu will have no choice but to return the fire in less than ideal circumstances. This is a candidate for the fight of the night that Bochniak will play on the scorecards.
Jimi Manuwa against Thiago Santos
Jimi Manuwa himself said in the media scrubs on Thursday that he does not expect the size to make any difference here as he takes on Thiago Santos' recent middleweight graft. In fact, this could turn out to be the downfall of the British thug.
When it comes to speed, "Marreta" has overshadowed that, and he has always been a horror of 185 pounds when it comes to beating. Add to that the inclination to precise turns, and this could be one of the toughest matchups Manuwa has ever experienced. Still, he was always a smart stand-up fighter himself, so it's not like he's just dipping into Santos's prison.
Manuwa is on his way out of his heyday, but at 38, he is only four years older than Santos, so it's not as if he's paired with a spring chicken. Athletics should be fairly balanced and Santos will not be able to play Manuwa as he does against lower middleweights.
This should either end in an early knockout or develop into a fan-friendly slugfest, and I tend to think that Manuwa is the one who will eventually catch Santos unprepared and cause the annoyance.
Claudia Gadelha def. Nina Ansaroff
Jessica Eye def. Katlyn Chookagian
Eryk Anders def. Elias Theodorou
Olivier Aubin-Mercier def. Gilbert Burns
Aleksandar Rakic def. Devin Clark
Brad Katona def. Matthew Lopez
Diego Ferreira def. Kyle Nelson