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UFC 211 is by far the best UFC pay-per-view of 2017. The card took some last-minute hits, losing a couple of fun fights, but the core managed to remain intact. UFC 211 is headlined by two championship bouts with Stipe Miocic defending his heavyweight belt against Junior dos Santos, and Joanna Jedrzejczyk putting her strawweight belt on the line against Jessica Andrade. Apart from the two title bouts, this card also features important divisional fights in Demian Maia vs. Jorge Masvidal, Frankie Edgar vs. Yair Rodriguez, and Eddie Alvarez vs. Dustin Poirier.

What: UFC 211

Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas.

When: The three-fight UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begins at 6:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight FX preliminary card begins at 8 p.m. ET, and the five-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view.

Stipe Miocic vs. Junior dos Santos

The universe has hit the replay button on one of the greatest heavyweight fights in UFC history, and no one is complaining.

Stipe Miocic and Junior dos Santos first fought in the main event of UFC on FOX 13 back in December 2014. The fight was a striking clinic filled with violence and drama that had both men completely spent at the end of 25 minutes. That night, the judges gave the decision to dos Santos, but some thought Miocic had done enough to get the victory. Regardless of the result, the fight was extremely entertaining to watch.

Since the their first fight, Miocic went on to stop heavyweight veterans Mark Hunt, Andrei Arlovski, Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem while picking up the UFC heavyweight title in the process. Meanwhile, dos Santos was fairly inactive and only competed twice, falling short to Overeem and then outpointing Ben Rothwell.

I don’t find Miocic and dos Santos’ circumstances leading up to this rematch to be so much different from each other to make me believe we’ll experience something completely different than the first bout. Both fighters have looked good in their recent performances and both seem to be in great shape from what we saw at Friday’s weigh-ins. This will probably be a close fight, but with just a few adjustments, I think Miocic takes this one.

Clinch fighting and abandoning takedowns: Miocic had a brilliant game plan against dos Santos, but it had one small flaw that cost him the fight. Miocic looked to clinch often to control and tire out dos Santos, but to also take advantage of the small window between the breaking of the clinch and reset back to the striking to sneak in hard blows. Many of Miocic’s significant shots came during that break.

But Miocic’s plan to wear on dos Santos also involved takedowns, which ended up hurting him instead. Dos Santos has an incredible takedown defense, and constantly trying to get him on the canvas can prove to be an exhausting task. Miocic was no exception to this, and after 10 minutes of fighting, he was more tired than dos Santos. From then on, we saw a dos Santos that was able to push the pace and become the aggressor in the fight.

You belong, Stipe, you belong: While dos Santos is mentally and experience wise the same fighter he was back at UFC on FOX 13, Miocic is not.

The Cleveland native has really done most of his maturing in MMA after the first bout with dos Santos. Prior to that, Miocic was certainly considered a prospect but wasn’t classified as a top tier heavyweight, and with good reason, as Miocic only had wins over the likes of Fabio Maldonado, Philip De Fries, Gabriel Gonzaga, Joey Beltran and Roy Nelson. In the lead up to this rematch, Miocic told reporters he realized he belonged at the top of the division after taking dos Santos to a close decision. That sparked a change in him that helped him become the champion of the world.

I can buy that. Today’s Miocic seems much more confident, experienced, and used to the bright lights than the one at UFC on FOX 13.

Prediction: I see Miocic approaching this rematch in a similar way to the first one. I think Miocic will pressure dos Santos, use the clinch, but drop the takedowns in order to invest his energy somewhere where it can be more effective, say more clinching or striking. Certainly this is a fight involving two skilled heavyweight strikers so anything can happen, but I feel the momentum going in Miocic’s favor.

Pick: Miocic

Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Jessica Andrade

Joanna Jedrzejczyk will be attempting to defend her strawweight title for a fifth time, but in her way is the most interesting challenger she’s faced in the UFC.

Last year, Jessica Andrade left the women’s bantamweight division to join the strawweight roster. Fighting opponents 20 pounds lighter, the Brazilian has been able to make an impressive run that includes a technical knockout win over Jessica Penne, a submission victory over Joanne Calderwood, and a unanimous decision win former Invicta FC strawweight champ Angela Hill. Andrade has looked nothing but dominant in all her wins at 115 pounds, and has truly been a refreshing addition to the weight class.

Although Jedrzejczyk experienced some issues with Claudia Gadelha and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, the Polish fighter has generally been dominant in her UFC reign. Jedrzejczyk, who’s terrorized her opponents with her tenacious striking, won the strawweight belt back in 2015 – defeating Carla Esparza – and has defended the belt a total of four times with no major scares of possibly losing it.

I usually pick Jedrzejczyk with ease to defend her title, but this fight with Andrade has made me think twice about picking the champion. Andrade brings several skills to the table that could give Jedrzejczyk trouble. Below we take a look at those factors:

Athleticism and grappling: I find Andrade’s biggest weapon against Jedrzejczyk to be her ridiculous strength advantage. Obviously, strength alone won't get you very far in MMA, but add takedowns and a decent top game to the equation, and you have a fighter that can win fights. This is very much the case here. Andrade was never out-muscled at bantamweight, so now fighting opponents 20 pounds lighter, Andrade’s strength has turned into a significant factor every time she sets foot on the Octagon.

Last year, we saw Jedrzejczyk drop the first two rounds of the rematch against Gadelha to strength and grappling. However, Gadelha’s problem was that she wasn’t able to keep up the with Jedrzejczyk’s resilience and constant defending so she fatigued half way through the fight, which led her to lose a decision. Although both strong for strawweight, Andrade doesn't seem to share the same cardio issues of Gadelha. We recently saw Andrade fight Hill at a very high pace for 15 minutes and the Brazilian still looked to have a few rounds in her at the end of the bout.

Pressure, pressure and more pressure: I don't think this is as significant as the point above, but I do find Andrade’s tendency to relentlessly move forward worth noting. Andrade has often been compared to Wanderlei Silva and John Lineker – two fighters that only know one direction and that’s forward. Andrade is always pushing the pace, lunging towards her opponents with hooks to the head and body.

In Jedrzejczyk’s fight with Kowalkiewicz, we saw someone actually find some degree of success on the feet against Jedrzejczyk. Yes, this was because Kowalkiewicz is a great striker, but also because she was pressing forward, often keeping the champ on her heels. Being a fantastic striker, Jedrzejczyk was still able to land and counter while backing up, but it’s undeniable her best work comes when she’s planted and moving forward.

Prediction: This is a tough fight to call. Andrade is certainly not the most technical or polished fighter Jedrzejczyk has faced. I can definitely see the Jedrzejczyk having some issues with Andrade early, but adapting during the fight to outclass the challenger on the feet, as Jedrzejczyk is technically superior. However, I can’t imagine Andrade looking at the second Gadelha fight and not think, ‘hmm I can do that for three rounds, and then use my insane durability to get me through the other two.’

With that being said, I see Andrade closing the distance with her explosive striking, clinching the champ against the cage, and occasionally getting a takedown here and there to win a close decision.

Pick: Andrade

Demian Maia vs. Jorge Masvidal

Ignoring the fact that Demian Maia should to be fighting for the belt, I’m all in for this scrap. Stylistically speaking, Jorge Masvidal vs. Maia is my second favorite booking this 2017 right behind Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov (which sadly never happened).

I’ve been high on Masvidal for many years, but a string of bad decisions and low promotional push from the UFC kept him in obscurity for many years. Today, that seems to be a different story, and it feels we have a star in the making here. Masvidal is definitely one of the most well-rounded fighters in the roster. The 32-year-old has a polished and diverse striking arsenal, accompanied with great foot work and head movement. Masvidal can also score takedowns, avoid getting taken down, grapple on top or off his back, and score submission from many different positions.

Meanwhile, Maia is moderately well-rounded, but nowhere close to Masvidal. For a while, Maia tried to become a more complete fighter, focusing a lot on his striking since his grappling was already extraordinary, but that recipe didn’t fully work for the Brazilian. Today, Maia wastes no time to do what he does best as he now mainly focuses on taking down his opponent, achieving back mount, and getting a choke. It’s one of the oldest and simplest tactics in the game, but it’s insanely effective for him. To properly execute this tactic, Maia has added a solid takedown system to his game in the past few years. Maia’s takedowns, which are mainly composed of a single-leg shots, are not the most effective, but he’s so relentless with them, that one will eventually work, and that’s usually enough for a guy with flawless grappling technique.

I think it’s safe to say that Maia won't out-strike or knock out Masvidal. This leaves Maia’s grappling and takedowns to be his only ticket to victory here. So will Maia be able to get Jorge Masvidal to the ground or at least control him enough against the cage to win on the scorecard? I have my doubts.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Masvidal were to get a win over Maia. Masvidal has a great takedown defense, and even if he were to get taken down, Masvidal is no scrub on the ground. Part of me sees this being a much like Maia vs. Rory Macdonald, but another just sees Masvidal getting controlled and outpointed in decision. Definitely the toughest fight to call from the card.

Pick: Maia

Frankie Edgar vs. Yair Rodríguez

While Yair Rodríguez may not be making a big jump in opposition star level, he’s definitely making a giant leap on skill, switching from B.J Penn to Frankie Edgar.

The Mexican featherweight has been a pleasure to watch in the UFC, as he has quickly made his mark as one of the most exciting and flashy prospects in the company. Today, the prospect label on Rodriguez seems to have faded away and the contender one appears to be settling in, as he's now ranked seventh in the division and many MMA pundits are already bringing up the title contention talks.

But was this change in labels because Rodríguez has showed enough evolution and skill to be considered a threat to the champion? Or was this because he recently received a great deal of exposure by putting away the legendary Penn in the main event of a UFC card? I’d like to think both, but I’d say probably more of the latter.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Rodriguez is a fantastic fighter that will have a very bright future in MMA. However, I don't think his time to face top contenders is here – at least the Edgar kind – and I find this jump in competition to be quite concerning, considering he's a guy the UFC is trying to build into a star for the Latin American market. In the past year, Rodriguez defeated non-ranked opponents Alex Caceres, Andre Fili and Penn, yet he’s now attempting to defeat the second-ranked featherweight. What happened to building up towards the top? I think Rodriguez could use a few more fights before entering the mix of the elite at featherweight, maybe face game opponents such as Jeremy Stephens, Renan Barao, heck even a Godofredo Pepey before throwing him against a former champ in Edgar.

As you may guess by now, I think this is a bad match up for “El Pantera” and I don't necessarily like this fight for him. I see this bout being a similar contest to the Edgar vs. Cub Swanson bout, and maybe more dominant. At UFC Fight Night 92, we saw Caceres using distance to neutralize and reduce the effectiveness of Rodriguez’ kicks. The only problem Caceres encountered is that he wasn't able to follow up on the openings he was creating when Rodriguez missed with his kick. To be fair, Caceres’ is not really the wrestling type, so he had very little to work with there. With that being said, I see Edgar being cautious, as Rodriguez is very dangerous, and keeping a conservative distance until there is an opening for a takedown. I know anything can happen in MMA, especially with an unorthodox striker such as Rodriguez, but I think Edgar has enough tools to earn a solid victory.

Pick: Edgar

Krzysztof Jotko vs. David Branch

This fight will likely not be fireworks, so I’m a bit confused as to why the UFC decided to promote it to the opening act of the UFC 211 pay-per-view, replacing the Henry Cejudo vs. Sergio Pettis match-up that fell through this week. Either way, this is an intriguing fight, and I’m curious to see how it plays out.

David Branch was last seen under the UFC umbrella back in 2011, and he’s improved a lot since. After his release from the UFC, the 35-year-old fighter went on to put together a 12-1 record – with his lone loss coming to two-time UFC title challenger Anthony Johnson – while picking up the middleweight and light heavyweight WSOF titles. Despite competing outside the UFC, Branch still defeated formidable opponents such as Jesse Taylor, Yushin Okami, Vinny Magalhaes, Clifford Starks and Danillo Villefort.

Meanwhile, Krzysztof Jotko is likely to be the dark horse of the middleweight division, as he has quietly put together five wins in a row and now finds himself in the top 10 of the rankings. Since his UFC debut in 2013, the American Top Team product has shown a good deal of improvement, and now seems to be a smarter and more complete fighter.

Jotko’s only professional loss came to the bigger, and better offensive wrestler Magnus Cedenblad back in 2014. This is a good sign for Branch, as he shines best when he's grinding out his opponents with his wrestling, solid top control and ground-and-pound. However, I believe Jotko has come a long way since the Cedenblad loss, and he can fight strong grapplers a lot better than before. I see this being a close bout, but I think Jotko is a bit more polished and well-rounded than Branch. Jotko should avoid enough takedowns and do the necessary damage on the feet to get a decision.

Pick: Jotko


Eddie Alvarez def. Dustin Poirier

Jason Knight def. Chas Skelly

James Vick def. Marco Polo Reyes

Jessica Aguilar def. Cortney Casey

Chase Sherman def. Rashad Coulter

Enrique Barzola def. Gabriel Benítez

Gadzhimurad Antigulov def. Joachim Christensen