The biggest week in MMA history culminates with the biggest PPV of the year.
Two title fights, at least one of them a highly anticipated grudge match for the ages, is what we have to look forward to and I cannot wait. Like a kid at Christmas I’ll be reviewing each fight on the main card and 5Dimes can provide the odds.
Holloway v Stephens:
Max Holloway continues his ascent to the upper echelons of the 145lb rankings, with the Hawaiian standout looking to make it eight UFC wins in a row; a run only bettered at Featherweight by Jose Aldo. His last loss was to current challenger Conor McGregor, a fight in which the Irishman sustained an ACL injury, while Holloway admits his performance was one of the worst of his career. His current trajectory surely gives him an opportunity in the near future to erase that black mark.
After back to back losses put him against the fence, Jeremy Stephens handed rising talent Dennis Bermudez his second consecutive loss in July of this year. The UFC veteran has traditionally struggled when putting any sort of run together and is as capable of losing three on the bounce as he is of winning them. Although still only 29 he seems to be perpetually on the bubble and victory over rising star Holloway would be a real statement of intent as he looks to get going on a title run.
It is impossible for me to look beyond Holloway here. His recent record is as outstanding as his performances and this is a fighter who is genuinely improving with each passing fight. He can finish on the feet or off the back and is happy to mix things up when needed. It’s not certain that he stops Stephens; if he does it’s likely by submission but inside the distance represents the most value for a small play.
Recommendation: Holloway wins inside distance – 1 unit at +162 (8/5) @ 5Dimes
Maia v Nelson:
This is a fight for the purists as high level BJJ practitioner faces high level BJJ practitioner. Demian Maia returns to the octagon after becoming the only man in 10 fights to best Neil Magny. Although the official verdict was a Rear Naked Choke it should go down as a victory by smothering as Maia turned himself into a blanket and wrapped himself around his opponent. It’s probably the thing that Maia does better than anyone else, even now.
Gunnar Nelson took his first career loss to Rick Story on the chin and faced off against Brandon Thatch at UFC 189. Thatch was expected to tear into the cool Icelander but Nelson flipped the script, firstly stunning Thatch on his feet and then slipping on the choke to the end the night early. If Maia is the best at the moment, Nelson will be the future.
It is impossible to see this playing out like anything other than an ADCC matchup. I don’t expect either fighter to look to engage on the feet and most of this will be on the mat as Nelson tries to out-Maia, Maia and Maia tries to out-Nelson, Nelson. In a rare prop pick I’m taking Maia by close, but clear decision.
Recommendation: Maia wins by 3 round decision – 1 unit at +158 (8/5) @ 5Dimes
Souza v Romero:
No disrespect to anyone fighting on this card but this is where things get serious, for me anyway. Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza could easily have headlined this card and nobody would complain. Even with tonight’s opponent, nobody would complain. It is a fight that has been booked twice and a year in the making. It is also the collision of the clear number 3 and 4 in the division and all eyes will eagerly turn to the following bout for who the winner will surely face. Souza has ploughed his way through his last eight opponents, slowly working his way up the food chain towards Weidman. In order to get there he must face one of his oldest opponents but a man with very few miles on the clock.
Yoel Romero is a freak of nature, at 38 years old and a physical specimen to put most in their early 20’s to shame he is a latecomer to MMA but has managed to make his mark with a string of stunning performances. A former World and Olympic wrestling champion he is a fighter who seems to have a level of endurance that kicks into overdrive somewhere in the third round and as testament to that he has stopped four of his last five when taken into deep waters. He is a very, very dangerous man.
Time is on the side of neither fighter but that shouldn’t mean that it will end early. Romero has an enormous tank and comes alive in the later stages, and while Jacare has gone the distance a few times he does prefer to finish things nice and early. When reviewing recent history the most problematic fighter that Jacare has faced is Francis Carmont, purely due to his wrestling and ability to avoid the clinch. Romero is better than Carmont in almost every area and is taken to wrestle his way to a narrow victory.
Recommendation: Yoel Romero – 1 unit at +115 (23/20) @ 5Dimes
Weidman v Rockhold:
Unbeaten Chris Weidman faces arguably his biggest test to date, and clearly the biggest of his short reign as champion. After dethroning an ageing Anderson Silva, the All American repeated the action before taking a decision over Lyoto Machida and eviscerating Vitor Belfort inside three minutes. With a number of injuries to contend with it was just his third defence in 18 months but he picked up where he left off, where he always leaves off, with another victory in the bag and on the march to cleaning up his division.
After a rocky start in the UFC, losing by first round head kick to Vitor Belfort, it’s impossible not to have been impressed with Luke Rockhold since. Four consecutive stoppages, including three submissions in a row, the last of which was an utter domination of a previously resolute Machida has made him the clear number one to face the champion. As a former Strikeforce titleholder he knows how it feels to hold the gold and what it takes to obtain it.
This was a fight I had very strong feelings about even before it was announced. Both fighters are BJJ Black Belts, although this is something that Rockhold seems to use better. Both are excellent wrestlers, but the edge here goes to Weidman. Both have a champion’s mentality. I am going to opt for Rockhold though, for me he is the most dangerous man in the division and he has the tools to finish this wherever he likes. I am not ruling out Weidman, but feel that this will be the first ‘And New’ of the night.
Recommendation: Luke Rockhold – 2 units at +115 (23/20) @ 5Dimes
Aldo v McGregor:
Finally, we reach the big one. The protracted Fight of the Year and the first time that Jose Aldo is free to let his hands and feet do the talking for him. After being pulled from UFC 189 with a rib injury Aldo suffered yet more taunts and verbal abuse at the hands of Conor McGregor, who now holds a version of the belt; his belt. After all, he is the only man in the UFC to have held it at any time. With all the talk and hype over McGregor, it seems to be forgotten that Aldo hasn’t lost in 10 years, is on a run of 18 consecutive wins with most of them being as a champion in the WEC and UFC. He has faced, and beaten a murderers row of 145lbers including Chad Mendes (twice), Frankie Edgar, Cub Swanson and Urijah Faber. He’s beaten them all so soundly that it almost seems odd that he is somehow an underdog.
Conor McGregor is the brash breakout star for Mixed Martial Arts and has transcended into the public consciousness in a similar manner to Ronda Rousey. Non-MMA fans are aware of who he is and he has an entire nation standing behind him as he looks to trade his interim belt for the real thing. Physically he stands about his counterparts and has an extremely unorthodox style that has elevated him above his peers. When he steps into the octagon it will be interesting to see whether he can back up the endless trash talk or whether he has simply stepped in front of a freight train.
I’ve been back and forth on this for a long time. On one hand you have Aldo; he is the champion and hasn’t shown any real weaknesses during his reign. He has soundly beaten everyone he has faced and presently sits atop the MMA P4P rankings. On the other hand, is this McGregor’s time? Over the last few years we have seen the demise of Renan Barao and Anderson Silva, the latter being the most dramatic. Every champion has to lose eventually and it is conceivable that this could be McGregor’s time. I don’t know who wins and when I am unsure I revert to a safer option. Aldo has gone 5 rounds in six of his last nine fights, and unless one fighter obliterates the other the Over 2.5 rounds line is a steal at -120.
Recommendation: Over 2.5 Rounds – 2 units at -120 (4/5) @ 5Dimes