There was a lot of talk following UFC 217, surrounding the affect of big cards and how they tend to leave a series of poor and underwhelming shows in their wake. While that is certainly the case, the UFC has been able to scramble back from Poirier/Pettis, Werdum/Tybura, and Bisping/Gastelum, with a very solid PayPerView line up.
All five fights on the main card have exceedingly interesting story lines that merit
their own in-depth analysis. We have the return of Michelle Waterson in what could
be a contender making fight.
There is the Flyweight fight for a title-shot (should T.J. Dillashaw fail to secure a money fight with someone not his own size). Then there is the co-main event in which the UFC has shown itself to throw heavy promotional capital behind their most promising Heavyweight prospect and obviously the rematch of UFC 212’s main event that will have widespread implications for 145 lbs. While each of these fights could easily be the subject for this analysis, fan interest online has been decidedly one-sided, as to which bout is garnering the most amount of excitement.
In what has been dubbed the “CTE” Championship, Former Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez will take on Justin Gaethje, in a fight that cannot disappoint. Following his spectacular loss to Conor McGregor at UFC 205, Alvarez had a favorable showing against Dustin Poirier, in what amounted to a NC. In that fight Alvarez showed that his chin, while certainly diminished, is not yet outright fragile. Moreover, he displayed the brawler’s approach that has made him so successful throughout his career.
The Philadelphia native is a very intelligent game planner but, for one reason or another, he often fails to execute a pre-meditated approach. In the months and years preceding his UFC 205 title-fight he repeatedly questioned why McGregor’s opponents would not immediately grapple with the Irishman. While he acknowledged that wrestling for 25 minutes is basically impossible, if not highly implausible, he vowed to put this seemingly obvious strategy into action if the two should ever meet. Why then did UFC 205 end the way it did?
It is possible that Alvarez’s ego overcame his sense of prudence. Perhaps he objectively believed he could out strike his opponent. A more likely explanation is that he was simply stunned right off the bat and was unable to put his plan into action. Regardless of the reasoning, “The Underground King” often finds himself in similar situations i.e. reverting to a brawlers mentality and for good reason.
Although brawling did not work for him at UFC 205 it was this very methodology
that earned him titles in the UFC and Bellator at 155lbs. When Alvarez is not stunned or in danger we have seen him execute extremely measured and intelligent game plans e.g. in his win over Anthony Pettis. Yet, against Cowboy, Poirier, Melendez, Dos Anjos, and McGregor he has fought in much the same way.
The question going into his fight against Gaethje will be whether or not Alvarez will
take the “smart approach” or if he will fall back to what got him to the dance. Although he has found tremendous success with his boxing heavy style (12 of his 15 KO/TKOs have come directly from punches) one has to question the feasibility of brawling with perhaps the most infamous (for those in the know) brawler in MMA.
Justin Gaethje is the kind of fighter who thrives in the space between consciousness
and the land of wind and ghosts. There is no other fighter in MMA who is able to
stand comfortably on the precipice of absolute unconsciousness without falling into
“The Highlight” introduced himself to UFC fans in a big way with his TKO win over Michael Johnson in July and although fans were annoyed he was taken off the shelf for almost 6 months (to film yet another unwatchable season of TUF) that break was sorely needed. In the lead up to that bout I wrote that the precision striking and overall class of Johnson would be too much for the UFC newcomer and while I did not count on Gaethje’s impossible resilience, I was correct in assessing his vulnerability to crisp technique. In Alvarez, the Coloradan draws a man who lacks the sharp technical efficiency of Johnson but may very well be the equal he has been looking for.
Both Gaethje and Alvarez are excellent wrestlers though Alvarez is more offensive in his application of that martial art. While Gaethje favors all eight weapons of Muay Thai, Alvarez has an almost exclusive penchant for punches. Both men have absorbed an enormous amount of damage but the consensus at this point is that Alvarez is severely compromised.
There are two x-factors that will decide the victor of this fight. The first, as alluded to before, will be whether or not Alvarez decides to implement the grinding type of game that defeated Anthony Pettis. The success of this approach against a superb counter wrestler is obviously tied to this first factor. The second variable in this fight is risk aversion. Gaethje has shown himself to be utterly unconcerned with brain trauma and taking damage. While Alvarez ostensibly has the weaker chin it is certainly inadvisable for the undefeated lightweight to throw caution to the wind.
However, for a man who flips off the cage after every win that certainly doesn’t
seem to be a likely course of action.
UFC 218 is an absolute banger. The main card features what should be two title eliminators, a Featherweight title-fight, and perhaps the least coveted prize in MMA: the CTE Lightweight Championship.