Written by: Remi Se
International Fight Week usually boasts the UFC’s biggest stars. Unfortunately, between Jon Jones’ suspension, Ronda Rousey’s retirement and Conor McGregor’s boxing venture; the UFC didn’t have any mega stars to headline this event. In response to a lack of star power however, the UFC put together a collection of compelling match-ups between elite UFC fighters. These fights are tough to call and include top ranked fighters almost the whole way through.
Curtis Blaydes and Daniel Omielanczuk kick things off:
Curtis Blaydes and Daniel Omielanczuk are two fighters moving in different directions. Omielanczuk has struggled in grappling exchanges with Stefan Struve and Timothy Johnson in his past two bouts, taking losses in both. Curtis Blaydes would be on a two fight win streak, both by TKO, if not for marijuana in his system. Omielanczuk has some sharp striking with nice leg kicks, but in closed quarters he struggles to stop pressure and takedowns. Blaydes is high level wrestler with strength that helped him hang with Francis Ngannou for a while in his one and only loss. After seeing Omielanczuk struggle on the ground with Stefan Struve and Timothy Johnson; it’s hard to imagine him keeping a fight with Blaydes standing. Blaydes has the edge in this one, expect takedowns from the relentless up and comer who might be due for a top 15 ranking.
Anthony Pettis returns against Jim Miller:
Anthony Pettis is back in the lightweight division after losing a featherweight title match with Max Holloway. Showtime never seemed to get comfortable at 145 so this is a welcome change. He faces Jim Miller, a man who has fought more top notch lightweights than a lot of people could name. Miller is scrappy on his feet, but susceptible to high level striking which is exactly what Pettis has. The gameplan against Pettis at this point is pretty well known, try to pressure him back to the cage and smother him there. Miller has the grappling and toughness to make it happen, but only great wrestlers have managed to pull the strategy off. From distance, Pettis is likely to have a big advantage. Miller is a fun fighter to watch, but it’s difficult to picture him keeping the pressure on an athlete like Pettis without getting caught.
Fabricio Werdum seeks vengeance on Alistair Overeem:
6 years ago, Alistair Overeem won a clear decision over Fabricio Werdum who seemed completely unwilling to stand with the knockout artist. Werdum repeatedly tried to pull guard in that bout and at times Overeem openly mocked the Brazilian. Since then both men have gone on successful runs and shown growth. Werdum is a much more comfortable striker with the threat of his takedowns setting up knockout opportunities. Overeem meanwhile has shown maturity that means more measured aggression and less risk taking. For Werdum is a bad match-up. Reem is incredibly strong and tough to take down; even worse, at grappling distance Alistair can land his most dangerous strikes through knees. Werdum has improved as a striker especially using kicks but Overeem is one of the best strikers in the division. Werdum needs to avoid the reckless flurries that got him clipped by Stipe Miocic but also has to put pressure on Overeem to secure a takedown. It will be a long night for Werdum if the fight stays standing as Reem has all but erased the concentration lapses that were getting him knocked out.
Yoel Romero and Robert Whitaker meet for a title:
It’s not the title, because Michael Bisping is the champion. Robert Whitaker and Yoel Romero will fight for an interim belt but many fans believe these two to be the best Middleweights in the world. Whitaker is fresh off of absolutely starching Jacare Souza. He combines excellent striking with some of the best takedown defense in all of MMA. Romero meanwhile brings Olympic level wrestling and devastating explosiveness to the table. The Soldier of God is on an incredible run with victories over Jacare, Lyoto Machida and Chris Weidman capping an 8 fight win streak so far. Whitaker utilizes a great mix of kicks and sharp hands, but against Romero he may need to practice extra caution. Any kick can turn into a takedown. Romero meanwhile can be patient to a fault, waiting for the perfect chance to explode. Before KO’ing Chris Weidman, Romero was losing the fight despite looking comfortable and not taking much serious damage.
With two world class skillsets that counter each other, the strategies for both fighters may come down to wrestling. Romero seems to takedown everybody he faces, including elite wrestlers like Weidman. That threat means opponents can’t open up with their striking like they normally would and allows him to set up for his explosions. Against a wrestler that could counter him, Romero was dragged into deep water and gassed. Whitaker will need to avoid takedowns while keeping pressure on Romero to try and wear him down. If Whitaker can stand comfortably, he can let his precision carry the day. Romero strikes an overwhelming presence in the octagon however. Many people are looking at Whitaker’s dismantling of Jacare and expecting similar results, but I’m skeptical. Styles make fights and Whitaker’s was custom made for Jacare’s; Romero has beaten nothing but elite opposition since he set foot in the UFC and should not be underestimated.
Amanda Nunes rematches Valentina Shevchenko for gold:
Just over a year ago, Amanda Nunes defeated Valentino Shevchenko and earned a shot at the UFC title. She went on to win the belt and defend it by demolishing two of the greatest female fighters of all time in Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey. She hits incredibly hard, has strong takedowns and powerful ground and pound. The one criticism of her game is that she loses explosiveness as fights wear on and becomes susceptible to opponents. This manifested itself in her first bout with Shevchenko. Bullet lost the first two rounds clearly, being taken down in both. But in the third round, Shevchenko turned it on and nearly finished a visibly slowed Nunes. Even in the losing rounds, Shevchenko had an edge in stand up exchanges. Nunes relied on takedowns and ground and pound to do her damage.
The first fight seems like a decent map for the second. Shevchenko has an advantage standing but has to be mindful of level changes and takedowns. She showed that she’s a threat off of her back when submitted Juliana Pena but had no luck with Nunes in their first bout. She should avoid close range as much as possible and punish the champ with counters on shot attempts; a knee was effective last time. Nunes meanwhile needs to time her takedowns but also conserve some energy. She gassed in the three round fight and was nearly stopped. In the five round championship fight, she needs to be wise about how she uses her energy. If the champ can’t get the fight finished early which is a true task against a striker the caliber of Shevchenko; patience will and fight IQ will be crucial. Shevchenko hasn’t proven she can avoid takedowns, but she has shown that she can survive from her guard and remain an elite striker even when fatigued. She will be in a position to finish the fight in latter rounds but she’ll have to survive the early bursts of a champion that has looked unstoppable in title fights.
Gerald Meerschaert and Thiago Santos are the Undercard Highlight:
Gerald Meerschaert fought 32 times before beginning his career with back to back first round submissions. These weren’t flukes; he set up an anaconda against Joe Gigliotti from top position and an arm bar on Ryan Janes from bottom. The man has slick submissions and jumps on openings rapidly. He has submitted 19 opponents in his career. Thiago Santos represents a serious step up in competition. He’s beaten the likes of Elias Theodorou and Nate Marquardt utilizing great leg kicks and devastating striking. He utilizes his length to chop opponents down and set up his attacks high by keeping their focus low. Ironically, Santos’ last loss was a submission to Eric Spicely. Meerschaert hasn’t been tested against this caliber of striker yet but he’s looked competent on his feet and incredible on the ground. This could be an arrival of sorts that sets Meerschaert up for a ranked opponent or re-establishes Santos in the division after some recent struggles.