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Two title fights headline UFC 185 in Dallas as lightweight champion Anthony Pettis puts his lightweight gold on the line against top contender Rafael dos Anjos while new strawweight champion Carla Esparza faces rising Polish star Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Beyond the two title fights, UFC 185 is loaded with top ten talent and some of the best prospects in the sport today, so this card will definitely be packed with action and, needless to say, there will be some very tough choices to make when it comes to the fantasy lineup for this weekend.
From the main and co-main events on down, UFC 185 will be one of the biggest shows of the year but also one of the toughest to pick winners and losers from.
In today's fantasy preview, we're going to break down some of these key matchups and see who might have the edge going into Saturday night's card.
These are the fights that are just too close to call, but getting the pick correct could mean the difference between victory and defeat once the final point tallies are totaled.
Anthony Pettis (-450 favorite) vs. Rafael dos Anjos (+350 underdog)
Don't let the odds fool you on this main event matchup between Pettis and dos Anjos because the champion may be a 4-to-1 favorite, but don't ever count his Brazilian opponent out, especially after the run he's been on lately.
Dos Anjos has enjoyed one of the biggest career turnarounds in recent memory with an 8-1 record in his last nine fights, including wins over Nate Diaz and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, and a knockout finish over former champion Benson Henderson. Dos Anjos was known early in his career for his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game, but over the past few years he's worked tirelessly on improving his Muay Thai striking and now it has become his primary weapon.
Dos Anjos actually out lands Pettis per minute in significant strikes although his accuracy is slightly lower than the champion. Where dos Anjos excels most on the feet are in two primary categories — heavy hands and powerful leg kicks. Dos Anjos chopped Diaz down in his last bout with a barrage of leg kicks that eventually had the former lightweight title contender falling over whenever he'd get cracked by the Brazilian. Dos Anjos proved in fights with Cerrone and Henderson that his hands are no joke either and he's got serious one-punch knockout power.
The reason why the odds are probably so heavily stacked against dos Anjos is because Pettis is recognized as one of the most creative and deadly strikers in the entire UFC. The way he mixes up his punches and kicks makes him unpredictable and that says nothing about Pettis' uncanny ability to throw kicks off the cage wall or pull off rolling cartwheel kicks if the mood should strike him. Pettis hits hard and hits fast and he can put together combinations that will stun an opponent in a matter of seconds.
For dos Anjos to win this fight, he has to stay away from those combinations, which means he has to get in and get out as quickly as possible. Dos Anjos probably won't have to worry much about Pettis' takedowns, but he might do well to mix in a few of his own just to throw the lightweight champion off his game and make him reconsider throwing kicks out of fear he might end up on his back.
The recipe for success with Pettis remains the same — hit first, hit hard and don't let up until the fight is over. Pettis can't get too flashy out there because dos Anjos is a very fundamentally sound fighter who can absolutely go punch-for-punch with him for five rounds. The difference comes down to the exchanges, and while dos Anjos will probably be looking for the big single shot, Pettis will look for three and four hit combos to start racking up the points and doing maximum damage over time. If he does that, Pettis should retain his title but don't sleep on dos Anjos. A ton of fighters have fallen to him lately and Pettis could be just another name on his already impressive resume.
Prediction: Anthony Pettis by unanimous decision
Carla Esparza (-165 favorite) vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (+145 underdog)
The women's strawweight title fight features some of the closest odds of the entire card as Carla Esparza looks to successfully defend her belt for the first time against Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Esparza put on a virtually flawless performance to win the belt against Rose Namajunas back in December, and that capped off an already impressive run through three top competitors on The Ultimate Fighter last year as well. At the heart of Esparza's skill set lies her tremendous wrestling background, where she is a former All-American at Menlo College. Esparza averages over six takedowns per 15 minutes in the cage and puts her opponents down with nearly 72 percent accuracy. Esparza is strongest when she's grappling, but she's also improved her hands quite a bit over the last few years. She showed in her fight against Jessica Penne back on The Ultimate Fighter that her hands are dangerous and Esparza can mount an effective offense on the feet.
Her opponent, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, would certainly welcome a stand-up battle given her long and successful career as a kickboxer, and the Polish standout might have the most knockout power for anyone at 115 pounds. Jedrzejczyk hasn't put up great statistical numbers thus far in her UFC career — only 2.8 strikes landed per minute with 28-percent accuracy — but she's proven to be a tough matchup, especially when fighters decide to exchange with her. She knocked down former title contender Claudia Gadelha in her last fight and if Esparza chooses to test the waters with her on the feet, Jedrzejczyk could absolutely do the same thing to her.
The safe money on this fight still lies with Esparza because her wrestling has looked unstoppable, and despite Jedrzejczyk showing over 73 percent takedown defense in the UFC, she's never faced a grappler quite like the women's strawweight champion. Esparza is relentless if she wants a fight on the ground and she can put Jedrzejczyk on the defensive from the second the bout starts if she's fishing for a takedown. Esparza can wrap up a double leg takedown quick and her recovery while looking for ankle picks or trips is just unreal. Given 25 minutes of time, Esparza should eventually weather any kind of storm Jedrzejczyk can throw at her and by the championship rounds, the champion will have completely taken over.
Prediction: Carla Esparza by unanimous decision
Henry Cejudo (-580 favorite) vs. Chris Cariaso (+440 underdog)
Judging by the odds, Henry Cejudo looks like a future champion as he takes on former title contender Chris Cariaso, but there are a lot of factors in play that may not make him a sure thing.
First and foremost, Cejudo has a documented history of bad weight cuts trying to get down to 125 pounds. His first fight in the UFC was cancelled after a disastrous attempt to make 125 and he actually had to go up to bantamweight for his last bout in the Octagon. Cejudo is back as a flyweight this time and that will immediately open up a litany of questions about hitting the scales on Friday and then showing up again on Saturday. On paper, Cejudo has all the talent in the world — he’s an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling and is a much improved kickboxer, as witnessed in his last fight against Dustin Kimura.
Cariaso is a 'jack-of-all-trades' kind of fighter with no glaring strengths or weaknesses, which makes him a tough matchup for anyone at 125 pounds. He lost to flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson in his last fight, but so has every other 125-pound fighter that's ever faced him. Cariaso has struggled at times against the best fighters in the world, but he feasts on the guys who oppose him from outside the top 15.
UFC 185 will prove two things in a hurry about Cejudo — if he can make the weight and prove to be a legitimate threat at flyweight or if he's just trying too hard to fight at 125 and he wasn't ready for a top 10 challenge.
The slight edge still goes to Cejudo because his wrestling can be the neutralizer against Cariaso and pretty much anyone else in the division, but Friday could be his biggest fight of the entire week. Cejudo's ability to make 125 comfortably and not look like it drained all of his energy will likely tell the tale between victory and defeat.
Prediction: Henry Cejudo by unanimous decision
These are the fights on the card that have a much more definitive chance of favoring one fighter over another, but still getting the correct pick, not to mention the method of victory, can go a long way towards fantasy domination.
Elias Theodorou (-340 favorite over Roger Narvaez
Former Ultimate Fighter winner Elias Theodorou has to be one of the most well-rounded competitors to come off the show in recent memory and unless something dramatic happens, he should get his second UFC win in his matchup with Roger Narvaez.
Narvaez showed some serious toughness in his last bout as he took out Luke Barnatt in his first fight in the UFC at 185 pounds, but don't expect him to find as many openings with Theodorou on Saturday night in Dallas.
The Canadian middleweight is stifling with his offense, landing 4.7 strikes per minute while mixing in over three and a half takedowns per fight. It's next to impossible to predict what Theodorou is going to do at any given time and that will likely frustrate Narvaez and leave him unable to mount much of an offensive game because his rhythm will be off-kilter all night long.
When he's at his best, Theodorou can be a dominant finisher and given Narvaez's tendencies to get into big exchanges and leave himself open for counters, he could give the Canadian the perfect window to land his first official UFC knockout.
Prediction: Elias Theodorou by TKO, round 3
Jared Rosholt (-300 favorite over Josh Copeland)
Jared Rosholt looks to bounce back from a TKO loss in his last fight and stylistically he's got a favorable matchup against second-time UFC fighter Josh Copeland.
What Rosholt does isn't flashy and probably won't land him on too many highlight reels, but it's tough to stop him when he's on his game. Rosholt is a former three-time All-American wrestler who now uses his takedowns to suffocate opponents on the ground, and unless Copeland can somehow pull off a knockout punch, he's going to spend a lot of time on his back.
Copeland's debut fight could only be described as sloppy and his tendency to throw haymakers will leave him open for Rosholt's takedowns. It might not be pretty, but it's effective, and getting the win is all that matters. In this case, Rosholt is definitely the easy pick.
Prediction: Jared Rosholt by unanimous decision
Sergio Pettis (-485 favorite over Ryan Benoit)
Sergio Pettis drops down to flyweight for his fifth fight in the UFC and many believe this could be the weight class where he finally becomes a top five fighter inside the Octagon.
Much like his older brother Anthony, Sergio is a dangerous kickboxer with good technique and quick movement. At 125 pounds, Pettis should also get his power back, which is something that seemed diminished when he was facing bigger fighters in the bantamweight division. Pettis should do much better against fighters his own size and he'll be able to showcase that in a big way this weekend against Ryan Benoit.
Benoit stepped up on short notice for his first UFC fight and now he's been out for over a year, so he's getting almost the exact opposite treatment for his bout at UFC 185. Benoit has a variety of finishes on his record with both knockouts and submissions, but he's just overmatched against a fighter like Pettis.
Pettis should be able to control the distance with Benoit and once he finds his range, the Milwaukee-born fighter can start to unleash some hellish combinations. Eventually a kick or a punch is going to slip through and that's all she wrote.
Prediction: Sergio Pettis by knockout, round two
Roy Nelson (+175 underdog) vs. Alistair Overeem (-210 favorite)
The featured heavyweight bout on the main card between Roy Nelson and Alistair Overeem could be a candidate for either Fight of the Night or possibly Performance of the Night because either one of these guys could land a bone-crunching knockout.
Overeem looked much improved in his last fight against Stefan Struve, where he took the Dutchman to the mat and just brutalized him with strikes. Overeem may best be known as a former K-1 kickboxing champion, but in his MMA career, many times he's done better when taking fights to the ground and working a devastating attack from there. He definitely has the ability to put Nelson on the mat and keep him there, but the former Ultimate Fighter winner has a huge equalizer in his right hand that makes all the difference.
Despite a recent loss to Mark Hunt, Nelson is still one of the most dangerous knockout punchers in the entire heavyweight division and Overeem's chin has been tested on more than a few occasions since coming to the UFC. Nelson throws with fire and his right hand is like a cannon that explodes from his hip and doesn't stop until his opponent is laid out on the ground wondering what just happened. Nelson also upped his training for this fight by traveling down to Florida to work with American Top Team, which could be a huge benefit for the veteran heavyweight.
As long as Nelson can avoid Overeem taking him to the mat and holding him against the cage, he just needs one punch to find a home and this fight is over.
Prediction: Roy Nelson by knockout, round one