That’s right, boys and girls – gasp! -- it’s time for the third straight edition of the Downes Side (weeze) this week! So what if my cardio isn’t what it used to be (breathes deeply). I’m going to see this through to the end.
Luckily, the UFC has greater stamina as it brings you UFC 194 this weekend. Live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, we have a double dose of title fights. In the main event, the much-anticipated featherweight title fight between Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo. In the co-main event, Chris Weidman defends his middleweight belt against Luke Rockhold. Go grab a Gatorade. It’s fight time!
MAX HOLLOWAY VS. JEREMY STEPHENS
We open the main card in the featherweight division with Max Holloway and Jeremy Stephens. Only 23 years old but a veteran of 13 UFC fights, “Blessed” Holloway has grown up before our eyes. Striking is still his preferred attack style, but he’s added strong takedown defense and an opportunistic submission game. Once considered a gatekeeper at lightweight, “Lil’ Heathen” Stephens has received a boost since dropping down a division. After consecutive losses to Cub Swanson and Charles Oliveira, he responded with a third-round TKO over Dennis Bermudez in July.
Stephens isn’t the only one who’s developed over the years. Once a brawler who telegraphed power punches, he’s become much smoother. He’s not a volume striker by any means, but he’s made it much more difficult for opponents to avoid his power punches. He has the potential to end the fight at any moment, but Holloway is difficult to hit. “Blessed” cuts angles, finds an opening to lock up a guillotine and wins via third round submission.
DEMIAN MAIA VS. GUNNAR NELSON
We jump to welterweight for Demian Maia and Gunnar Nelson. Another fighter who’s made the most of a weight drop, Maia has won three straight fights. Known for his submission skills, he’s tightened up his boxing and added some offensive wrestling to the mix. Another submission ace, Gunnar Nelson bounced back from the first loss of his career to submit Brandon Thatch at UFC 189.
The big test for Maia here will be how he deals with Nelson’s range. Gunni isn’t a karate wizard on par with Lyoto Machida, but his long striking could cause problems. Maia has improved his boxing, but he doesn’t create strong entries for takedowns. A lot of them come off clinches against the fence. Nelson should be able to resist prolonged striking encounters, avoid tie ups and work his way to the unanimous decision win.
RONALDO “JACARE” SOUZA VS. YOEL ROMERO
Next we shift to middleweight for a potential No. 1 contender fight between Ronaldo Souza and Yoel Romero. Better known as “Jacare,” the Brazilian is a power puncher who punishes opponents before dragging them into deep water. If only there were some reptile equivalent ... An Olympic wrestler who’s knocked out all but one of his opponents, the “Soldier of God” Romero knocked out Machida with a third-round elbow back in June.
A lot of people seem to think Jacare will struggle with Romero’s athleticism. Personally, I don’t see it. Yes, Souza can be guilty of being too patient at times, but that doesn’t really come into play when you’ve won five of your last eight fights in the first round. Romero is unpredictable on the microphone and inside the Octagon. He’ll leave an opening for Jacare to exploit and he’ll pay for it. Jacare stuns Romero with a right hand and finishes the fight with a rear naked choke in the second.
CHRIS WEIDMAN VS. LUKE ROCKHOLD
That brings us to the first title fight of the night. Weidman has already taken out the Brazilian trinity of Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort. Now he sets his sights on the clean-cut surfer. Rockhold has won four straight fights since losing to Vitor Belfort a year and a half ago. A skilled kickboxer, nine of his career wins have come by submission (five by rear naked choke).
There have been a lot of evenly matched title fights throughout UFC history, but this one truly feels like a toss-up. No matter what Weidman does, he’ll still be thought of primarily as a wrestler. Just like how Julian Lane could get a PhD in biochemistry and still be the “Just let me bang, bro” guy. Weidman may not have the same explosiveness and range as Rockhold, but he does have a command of angles. He knows how to avoid strikes, and make ones that do land glancing blows. Rockhold may defend 72.22% of takedowns, but he’ll have a hard time avoiding Weidman’s pressure. The champ retains his title by unanimous decision.
JOSE ALDO VS. CONOR MCGREGOR
Time for the main event! The only (undisputed) featherweight champion the UFC has ever known, Jose Aldo returns to action for the first time since his win over Chad Mendes at UFC 179. And finally, we get to see him locked in the Octagon with Conor McGregor. The Notorious One may not ever do anything to convince people that he deserves a title shot, but he’s knocked out four straight opponents, including Mendes.
Aldo hasn’t fought in over a year. Because of that, it’s easy to forget how incredible a fighter he is. He may not have the cool stances and even cooler tattoos like McGregor, but he’s damn good at Muay Thai. I’ve always contended that McGregor has holes in his defense. He’s been able to get away with it because of his pure speed advantage over opponents. He doesn’t hold the same edge in this fight. McGregor ends his combinations heavy on his feet. This leaves him open to counter low kicks and punches. Jose Aldo batters McGregor in a way he’s never experienced before and wins by third-round TKO.
That wraps up another high endurance edition of the Downes Side. Follow me on Twitter @dannyboydownes. Also, don’t forget to leave your own thoughts, predictions, compliments and resting heart rate on the page here. I really need to get back in the gym..
That wraps up the penultimate Downes Side this week. Follow me on Twitter @dannyboydownes. Also, don’t forget to leave your own predictions, thoughts, insights and preferred massage therapist. I’m starting to cramp up.