Written by: Remi Se
After a series of mishaps and disappointments early in the year, the UFC seems to be hitting a nice stride. UFC 211 was thoroughly entertaining and UFC Stockholm was filled with highlights. This momentum looks to continue with a card that lacks big name power in the early going, but is loaded with strikers that match-up well against each other. The hype for the card has centered heavily on the main events but the fights beneath will include a legend’s last step into the UFC octagon and a pair of match-ups almost guaranteed to be explosive. While the event may be light on big future implication bouts, it should be full of finishes and entertainment.
Erick Silva vs Yancy Medeiros:
A fight of the night contender in waiting; Silva vs Medeiros pits two extremely aggressive fighters against each other. Medeiros is a high paced striker who can turn knock downs into choke finishes with lightning speed. This is a fighter who just two years ago worked his way up to a fight with Dustin Poirier but has never gotten over the hump and beaten a top class lightweight. His ability to mix up striking and attack the body at a relentless pace means any fight that runs long will be a true test of stamina. Erick Silva is similarly aggressive, throwing caution to the wind with a style that has left him on both ends of exciting finishes. Silva is known for coming out and looking to explode early and often, but that has left him in a position to both get caught and run out of gas as fights run long. These are two veterans who are known for exciting fights even if they haven’t climbed the ranks of their divisions. The fight could be a flash knockout or an absolute war, but it’s doubtful that these guys make it to the final bell with the don’t blink pace that both men set.
Paulo Borrachina vs Oluwale Bamgbose:
This is an intriguing test between an extremely promising Brazilian prospect and a man who made it into the UFC by knocking all of his opponents out in the first round. Borrachina enters the bout 9-0 after mowing down the always tough Garreth Mclellan in his debut. Paulo showed patience and precision striking, backing Mclellan to the cage and picking him apart with speed but not having to show much besides great hands. Bamgbose has 6 wins, all by first round KO and 2 losses in which his grappling failed him. His stance switching style is more similar to bantamweight in and out fighters than typical middleweights but with explosive power that sees him knock opponents down even through their guards. So far Bamgbose’s weakness has been that his explosions forward leave him susceptible to takedowns but even the vaunted Uriah Hall was in no rush to stand and bang with the Holy War Angel. This is a hard fight to call with Borrachina’s limited exposure. His striking is a thing of beauty but he hasn’t been tested in the octagon at all whereas Bamgbose has fought two high level opponents albeit in losses. The chance to see two great strikers test each other is exciting though Borrachina may be wise to try and time a takedown early to wear his opponent out.
Vitor Belfort vs Nate Marquardt:
An all time great meets a former title contender as both men look for a win in the twilight of their careers. Vitor Belfort has given indications that this will be his last UFC fight and the legend will do so in front of a home crowd. He has faced championship caliber fighters across three weight classes in his career and will be remembered for insane hand speed and explosiveness. His opponent Nate Marquardt has victories over the likes of Demian Maia and Tyron Woodley and fought Anderson Silva among other great opponents. While he’s clearly lost a step, he’s one fight removed from an impressive KO over Tamdan Mcrory. For both of these men there is striking pedigree and KO power but a chin that is well worse for wear at this point. A swan song for Belfort would be a beautiful thing and like the two fights before it; there’s a great chance for this to be a fight that ends with a highlight reel knock out one way or the other.
Claudia Gadelha vs Karolina Kowalkiewicz:
The first co-main event of the evening pits striker vs grappler between the best two female strawweights not named Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Gadelha is the best wrestler in the division and showed as much in taking JJ down multiple times in two fights. She has been the toughest title contender to date but failed twice to beat the champion. Karolina is a striker who beat Rose Namajunas to get a title shot of her own but was also bested despite coming close to a head kick finish in match with JJ. Karolina’s striking is pure, crisp and clean; keeping opponents at distance and helping her to a 87% takedown defense rate. Claudia meanwhile has never had less than 4 takedowns in a given fight. Something’s got to give between these two women. Look for Claudia’s aggression to test Karolina early but if Gadelha hasn’t improved her stamina and striking, Karolina’s elusiveness may steal the day. This is another tough call but the wrestler fared best against JJ and Karolina’s similarities to the champion mean Gadelha should be well prepared to continue her role as the clear number two in the division.
Jose Aldo vs Max Holloway:
After the chaos left behind when Conor McGregor left the division, the UFC Featherweight division will once again have an undisputed champion. Jose Aldo is not just a legend, he belongs on the short list for all-time greatness with over 10 years of dominance in a division where his only loss came against McGregor. The man finished Cub Swanson at light speed; made Frankie Edgar’s striking look pedestrian; and turned Ricardo Lamas into a squeamish fighter, just to name a few of the great opponents that he has absolutely steamrolled. Max Holloway does not match the long run of dominance of Aldo, but has proven to be the new breed and looked similarly dominant over a 3 year span since his own loss to McGregor. Holloway’s ten fight run to an interim title is marked with wins over Anthony Pettis, Cub Swanson and Charles Oliveira. His trademark toughness was highlighted in his fight with Ricardo Lamas when he pointed at the center of the octagon and traded hands with a killer striker while refusing to move his feet! This is a meeting of orthodox, clean striking versus movement based and stance switching talent. Picking against Aldo in any fight seems like a tall order, but Holloway is the one name outside of Conor McGregor that should cause anyone to pause and think hard about how this match will go. Max has a 4 inch height advantage and similar reach which means Aldo is punching up against an in and out fighter but Jose’s never had a problem slowing opponents down with his legendary leg kicks.
An additional story has emerged as Joe Rogan said that Aldo’s legacy is forever tarnished by his knockout loss to Conor McGregor. Taken out of context, the comment looks foolish at best. Aldo’s resume speaks for itself and being the best fighter in a division for 10 years by a large margin cements the man as an all time great. However, Rogan appeared to be implying that Aldo’s biggest exposure to the world at large came in a one punch KO loss to McGregor and within that context he has more of a point. Roberto Duran’s greatness is unquestionable but his legacy is still continually tied to “no mas.”
The Sleeper Fight:
Antonio Carlos Junior vs Eric Spicely:
With a main card loaded with strikers, the undercard boasts this match-up between two amazing grapplers for the fans of the submission game. Antonio Carlos Junior has had an up and down run in the UFC but he’s had 11 takedowns in his past two fights, both wins and has looked truly impressive at work on the ground. Spicely is on a similar two fight win streak in which his submission game has been absolutely eye opening. Expect a game of chess once this fight hits the ground which is all but guaranteed.