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UFC 218 predictions

Max Holloway and Jose Aldo
Max Holloway will try to defeat Jose Aldo for a second straight time at UFC 218 on Saturday.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It’s unfortunate that this UFC event is not getting a lot of buzz. UFC 218 is one of the best pay-per-view cards of the year because is filled with fun match-ups that are also meaningful for their respective divisions. At the top of the card, UFC featherweight champ Max Holloway defends his belt in an immediate rematch with former king Jose Aldo. Apart from the great main event, UFC 218 also features three fun and likely title-eliminator bouts in Alistair Overeem vs. Francis Ngannou, Henry Cejudo vs. Sergio Pettis, Tecia Torres vs. Michelle Waterson, and a solid Fight of the Year candidate involving top-5 lightweights Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje.

What: UFC 218

Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Michigan.

When: Saturday, Dec. 2. The four-fight UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begins at 6:15 p.m. ET, the four-fight FOX Sports 1 preliminary card begins at 8 p.m. ET, and the five-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view.

Max Holloway vs. Jose Aldo

I wasn’t too stoked when I heard that Jose Aldo was going to replace an injured Frankie Edgar and fight Max Holloway in an immediate rematch. But now that the fight is here, I‘ve switched gears on the featherweight title bout, and I’m actually excited to see it.

Jose Aldo is still a dangerous man. Although the Brazilian fighter doesn’t carry the same aura of invincibility that he once did, Aldo is still a world-class fighter. The 31-year-old has an accurate, explosive, technical striking game that’s a handful for anyone. On top of that, Aldo has one of the best takedown defenses in the game paired with very solid grappling fundamentals. Aldo might not be as durable as he used to, but he’s still very tough.

The champ Max Holloway seems to be carrying one of the best momentums in MMA. Since his loss to Conor McGregor in 2013, Holloway has picked up 11 straight wins, positioning himself at the top of the featherweight mountain. Holloway is quick, can adapt well during fights, and has very slick striking. The Hawaiian has a solid takedown defense and a granite chin.

I’m not sure this fight will go much different than the first one. I don’t think Aldo is at a stage in his career where he can make drastic changes to his fighting style and add many new weapons to his arsenal. Aldo is who he is. Meanwhile, Holloway is still evolving and improving his fighting game. I actually expect a better Holloway, and a more dominant performance from his part. Aldo is always game so it would be stupid to count him out. Yet, this is Holloway’s time.

Pick: Holloway

Alistair Overeem vs. Francis Ngannou

Man, this fight is a much-needed breath of fresh air. For years, the heavyweight division has felt stale due to the lack of of new blood. But finally, we have a young contender that brings something new to the table.

Francis Ngannou is a beast. The man has incredible knockout power, has plenty of speed for a heavyweight, and is not afraid to let his hands go. Ngannou might not be super technical on the feet, but he has good movement and solid boxing skills. His physical abilities make up in great manner for his lack of experience and technique compared to other top heavyweights.

In front of Ngannou stands Alistair Overeem, a seasoned veteran that’s still in top physical shape and remains sharp in his fighting abilities. Overeem is very clever in the way he approaches fights. The former Strikeforce heavyweight champ has dangerous kickboxing skills, solid takedowns, heavy ground-and-pound, and a fairly advanced grappling game. Overeem’s only knock has been his questionable chin, and that’s not a good problem to have when fighting a guy like Ngannou. Yet, Overeem is careful and smart with his movement, making him a difficult person to put away.

This is a tough fight to pick, but I’m going to go with Ngannou. Sticking and moving is a tough strategy to pull off against Ngannou because you’ll have to avoid his power and explosiveness for 15 minutes (Ngannou is not a slow heavyweight). Overeem could possibly look to fight in the clinch, where he’s light years ahead of Ngannou, or maybe even look to take the fight to the ground. I think Overeem has the skills to pull off one of those two strategies against Ngannou, but not the physical abilities. Ngannou is far too powerful, and I see him shutting down Overeem in any kind of grappling exchange. And on the feet, I find Ngannou to be far to agile to have many issues finding Overeem’s chin over the course of 15 minutes.

Pick: N’Gannou

Henry Cejudo vs. Sergio Pettis

This is a good test to see how Sergio Pettis fares against the elites of the flyweight division.

Pettis has had a very successful career in the UFC, putting together a winning record of 7-2 in the promotion and positioning himself fourth in the flyweight rankings. Although this sounds great on paper, Pettis has done most of his work in the Octagon off the backs of middle-tier flyweights, which is expected for someone climbing the ladder. Pettis’ time to prove to the world that he’s an elite flyweight (that Demetrious Johnson, Henry Cejudo, Joseph Benavidez level) is finally here, and it feels to be happening at an appropriate timing.

Henry Cejudo is probably the best contender in the 125-pound weight class. You can make a strong case that Joseph Benavidez tops Cejudo, since he has a victory over him, but I saw something different than the judges saw that night at the TUF 24 Finale. Either way, Cejudo is elite. The Olympic wrestling gold medalist is extremely strong and explosive, and is always evolving in his striking. Cejudo doesn't have any major holes in his game, and utilizes his strengths and attributes well in his fights.

Despite Pettis looking to have the better momentum here, I don't think he tops the former title challenger. I think Cejudo has the skills to avoid getting controlled against the cage or taken down, and I see his new striking skills and pace to overwhelming the more conservative Pettis.

Pick: Cejudo

Eddie Alvarez vs. Justin Gaethje

Thank you, MMA Gods, for this booking and for keeping both Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje from pulling out of this key lightweight bout. Ok, with that out of the way, let’s break down this fantastic matchup.

Eddie Alvarez is a very well-rounded fighter. The former UFC champ has very solid striking, good movement, and a good chin. Alvarez can also take the fight to the ground, as his wrestling is very strong and his pressure is high.

On the other hand, Justin Gaethje is perhaps the most wild striker at 155 pounds. Gaethje is careless and often leaves his chin exposed. This is never a good thing to do, but Gaethje has managed to get away with it because of his solid chin and fantastic survival instincts. Despite being known for a brawler, Gaethje actually has a very technical striking offense and mixes things well with leg kicks, and punches to the head and body. The former WSOF champ possess good wrestling, but he mainly uses that skill set to keep the fight on the feet rather thank taking it to the ground.

I think Alvarez is a little better on the feet than Gaethje, but I don’t find that gap in skill to be significant. Alvarez has really good takedowns and grappling, but not good enough to keep Gaethje on the ground for long. Since this isn’t five rounds, and I find both fighters to be evenly matched, I think this will come down to gas tank, durability, and grit. This should be a competitive bout, but I see Gaethje outlasting Alvarez in a chaotic brawl.

Pick: Gaethje

Tecia Torres vs. Michelle Waterson

This is a very important fight for the women’s strawweight division, and likely a title eliminator bout for Tecia Torres.

Torres is a very athletic fighter for the division that likes to push the pace. “The Tiny Tornado” has very good footwork and technical kick boxing. Torres also has a very strong wrestling base and likes to grapple from top control.

Waterson is a very similar fighter. “The Karate Hottie” is very well-rounded just like Torres. Waterson possesses very accurate striking, and I would say she’s more dangerous and fluid on the feet than Torres. Waterson is also a good grappler with a wrestling oriented style, but I find Torres to be more dominant in that department.

This should be a very competitive bout. These two women are elite in their weight class and they both posses the skills to beat each other. Because they’re so evenly matched, I don’t foresee a finish. This strawweight bout will likely go the distance, and I think Torres’ strength and grappling advantage will get her the win.

Pick: Torres


Paul Felder def. Charles Oliveira

Alex Oliveira def. Yancy Medeiros

David Teymur def. Drakkar Klose

Felice Herrig def. Cortney Casey

Amanda Cooper def. Angela Magaña

Abdul Razak Alhassan def. Sabah Homasi

Dominick Reyes def. Jeremy Kimball

Justin Willis def. Allen Crowder

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