Written by: Remi Se
UFC 211 feels like an outlier for the WME era. It doesn’t feature any of the most popular draws in the sport but in many ways it feels like a super card. The main card boasts two of the most entertaining champions in the UFC defending their titles; two more fights that should decide number one contenders; and a Pay Per View opener that features one of the most promising prospects at 125 lbs against a fighter who fought for the flyweight title just two opponents ago. Any one of these fights could be fight of the night and none of the results are guaranteed. This quality even bleeds into the free portion of the event where a man one fight removed from being the champion of the UFC’s toughest division faces a long time top ten talent. There are only 2 or 3 cards in any year that feel like must-see events; this is one of those cards even though it doesn’t have a McGregor, Diaz, Jones or Rousey closing out the night.
David Branch vs Krzysztof Jotko
To start the card, David Branch re-enters the UFC on a 10 fight win streak that includes victories over Vinny Maghalhaes and Yushin Okami. His success has come with crisp striking that helps him get inside for takedowns. His opponent, Krzysztof Jotko enters the bout with a 5 fight win streak of his own via a similar style that mixes sharp strikes with takedowns to win. Neither fighters’ finishing skills have stood out, but both men have proven to be consistent winners. There’s a threat that this fight comes down to who scores a takedown and keeps position, but the similarities in style could turn this into a battle of cardio and heart to take the W.
Yair Rodriguez vs Frankie Edgar:
Frankie Edgar is an undersized 145 lbs competitor but his technical striking and grappling was good enough to crown him the 155 lbs champion for a span years ago. In the past 4 years; the only man to best Frankie is Jose Aldo. That’s a span of time in which Edgar faced the likes of Uriah Faber, Cub Swanson, Chad Mendes and BJ Penn. He is fast, elusive and tough enough to recover from tough situations. In that same four-year span, Yair Rodriguez has been undefeated. He faced lesser competition, mostly up and comers like himself; but Rodriguez has been one of the most exciting fighters to watch since his success on TUF. Rodriguez is similarly well rounded but his striking takes advantage of physical gifts rather than pure technique. Tact has failed Rodriguez at times, but his size and athletic advantages have been overwhelming enough to make up for any reckless maneuvers he tries. That is where the intrigue lies with this match-up. Frankie is crafty, a fighter who baits opponents with constant feints to create openings for takedowns and counters. Rodriguez is gifted, utilizing an array of spinning and leaping attacks that could get him into trouble if he weren’t such a freak of nature. Whether Frankie can pick out an opening isn’t a question, but whether he can exploit the openings he finds will decide the result here.
Jorge Masvidal vs Demian Maia:
In a fight with Demian Maia, the floor is no man’s land. If he can get the fight to the ground, he becomes a bear trap. Opponents can survive beaten up and tired from his consistent pressure or they can tap. Maia has made the likes of Carlos Condit and Matt Brown look pedestrian before they could showoff striking. Grappling aces like Gunnar Nelson and Neil Magny have offered little to deny Maia on the ground either. So what makes Jorge Masvidal a threat where others have failed? He’s got the best takedown defense rate of any man Maia has faced since Rory MacDonald, the last man to defeat Maia. Masvidal is a fighter’s fighter; with striking that made Donald Cerrone and Jake Ellenberger look second rate and an obsession with wrestling that has keeps almost every fight upright. Masvidal’s wrestling ability, elusiveness and striking acumen make him similar Robert Whitaker entering the Souza fight. If Masvidal can keep the fight standing, it’s difficult to picture him losing but Maia’s array of trips and takedowns have steadily improved to make that a tall order. Maia is finally on the verge of a title shot but he faces his most dangerous possible match-up in Masvidal.
Jessica Andrade vs Joanna Jerdrzejczyk:
The only woman in the top ten pound for pound rankings is the second most dominant champion according to title defenses. JJ has had some tough challenges from Claudia Gadelha but besides a momentary scare against Karolina Kowalkiewicz, no one else in her division has been competitive. She is tough to take down, arguably the best female striker in any division and she has great cardio as well. Jessica Andrade has catapulted into the title picture by overpowering every opponent she’s faced since dropping 20 lbs to the strawweight division. Andrade was an undersized 135 lbs. competitor; but at 115, she looks like the strongest fighter in the division. On top of that, she’s being hit with strikes that have 20 lbs. less force behind them and it shows. Andrade storms forward and throws for power whereas Joanna is a volume and precision striker. Technically speaking Joanna has an edge and her ability to weave in and out of the pocket will test Andrade’s ring cutting which has never stood out. Andrade’s ability to wade through strikes and deliver for power hasn’t been quelled by any strawweight. JJ while dominant, has been hurt by strikers who hit for less power than Andrade. Can JJ wear Andrade out before Andrade catches her? How well will JJ handle situations when her back hits the cage. Both fighters would do well to switch levels for takedown attempts (both already switch levels with their combination striking well), but the champion will likely be decided by footwork even as their fists deliver the real show.
Junior Dos Santos vs Stipe Miocic:
In their first fight, Stipe Miocic and Junior Dos Santos went blow for blow over 5 rounds in one of the greatest heavyweight matches ever and there wasn’t even a belt on the line. In that first fight, Miocic seemed to employ the Cain Velasquez strategy of pressing JDS to the cage and then mixing takedown threats with flurry. As Miocic tired out, JDS took momentum from the to win the very close fight. This time around, both fighters enter the octagon with subtle but key improvements. Miocic hasn’t left another fight in the hands of the judges since; finishing the likes of Mark Hunt, Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem. JDS meanwhile proved much tougher to trap against the fence in his fight with Ben Rothwell. These improvements are going to force both fighters to bring new gameplans to the mix.
Strategically, both fighters would be wise to avoid plodding forward to force exchanges. Chasing Overeem got JDS hit repeatedly and eventually KO’ed. Miocic almost suffered the same fate by pressing forward into a well times punch from Overeem. Miocic recovered and won, but the fact remains that both men got themselves caught due to recklessness. Cigano added some elusiveness to his approach with Ben Rothwell and would be wise to employ similar movement and countering in this match-up. Miocic has never been the type to fight with caution, but he could avoid easy counters with more focus on changing levels by feinting takedowns even in space.
Another consideration going into this fight is the rarity of title defenses from heavyweight champions. No heavyweight has defended the belt more than two times consecutively. At the top of the heavyweight ladder, anyone can get caught (Stipe Miocic has been knocked out by Stefan Struve before, let that simmer). With a title defense, Miocic will have tied the record for consecutive title defenses from a heavyweight. Stipe has a chance to avenge a tough loss, tie a title defense record and set up a shot to set himself apart from every other Heavyweight in UFC history. Dos Santos meanwhile has spent five years chasing after a belt that he once held.
The Free Fight Sleeper:
It’s clear as day that the FX portion of fights has a standout in former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez facing Dustin Poirier. So choosing up and comers instead; Chas Skelly vs Jason Knight is also worthy of attention. Knight has bounced back from a debut loss to Tatsuya Kawajri with a three fight win streak that includes an impressive performance against Bruce Leeroy himself, Alex Caceres. Skelly is promising as well, bringing a tough pace and strong submission game. Skelly could try to control the fight with takedowns and ground work, a great test for someone whose only UFC loss came from a master of pressure and wrestling.