For the first time in seven years, the UFC lands in Detroit this weekend with a featherweight title fight pitting champion Max Holloway against the greatest 145-pound fighter in history, as Jose Aldo attempts to take back the title on Saturday.
Holloway defeated Aldo by third-round TKO back in June, but now the Brazilian will attempt to win back the championship. Holloway has looked unstoppable during his current win streak, but can he beat Aldo in back-to-back fights?
Also on the card will be fast rising heavyweight superstar Francis Ngannou, as he takes on by far the toughest test of his career in former title challenger Alistair Overeem. UFC 218 will also feature a battle between former Ultimate Fighter coaches when Eddie Alvarez takes on Justin Gaethje in a matchup that just screams Fight of the Night.
In our fantasy preview today, we'll examine these fights and several more to see who has the edge going into Saturday night and if someone might be primed for the upset at UFC 218: Holloway vs. Aldo 2.
These are the fights that are just too close to call, but a few minor differences between favorite and underdog could lead one fighter to victory and the other to defeat.
Max Holloway vs. Jose Aldo
Max Holloway will attempt to make the first successful defense of his title against the man he beat to win it as Jose Aldo tries to become a three-time featherweight champion. In their last fight, Aldo looked good early, using a strong Muay Thai striking attack to keep Holloway guessing, but he couldn't weather the storm from the Hawaiian over the course of the next two rounds until he was finished by strikes on the ground.
To win the rematch, Aldo not only has to look as good as he did in the opening round of their first fight, but he has to be able to pace himself to win all the way through to the final horn. Aldo is obviously one of the most elite strikers the sport has ever known, and he has a variety of combinations on the feet. Aldo can also explode forward with huge kicks and big knee strikes if he finds an opening. In the last fight, Aldo barely threw any leg kicks, so that could be a big weapon for him this time around as he'll look to chop Holloway down by taking away his foundation early and then head hunting in the later rounds.
What Aldo absolutely cannot do is stand directly in front of Holloway and allow the featherweight champion to pick him apart like last time.
Holloway is a long, rangy striker on the feet with incredible volume and relentless pressure that doesn't stop from the time the fight starts until the referee signals for the end. He will come after Aldo with a lot of confidence considering the punches he took the last time that didn’t deter him as he kept on moving forward until he got the finish. Holloway isn't a one-punch knockout striker, but instead he uses volume to punish an opponent round after round and, stylistically, that might be the worst possible matchup for Aldo, who has rarely had to defend that kind of attack during his reign as champion.
Holloway just needs to protect his lead leg in case Aldo begins chopping away at him early. Assuming he can do that, Holloway can begin to punish Aldo on the feet as the second and third rounds start ticking away. The longer this fight goes, the more it favors Holloway and he has to know that. Plus, Aldo has fought in nothing but five-round fights his entire career in the UFC, but he was just preparing for a three-round bout against Ricardo Lamas before he got the call for this main event a few weeks earlier. If Aldo's conditioning begins to fail him at some point into the third round or beyond, Holloway will take over and won't stop until the fight is finished.
Prediction: Max Holloway by TKO, Round 4
Alistair Overeem vs. Francis Ngannou
In a clash that could determine the next No. 1 contender in the heavyweight division, Alistair Overeem will look to slow down the hype train speeding at him named Francis Ngannou.
Fabricio Werdum during the UFC 213 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 9, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)" align="left" /> Ngannou has not only looked unstoppable through his first few fights in the UFC, but everyone seems to be raving about this heavyweight as he looks for the biggest win of his career when he faces Overeem. Ngannou is a big fan of using brute force to overpower his opponents, whether that's on the ground or on the feet. He still hasn't attempted a takedown during his UFC career, but he's actually quite good in the scrambles and has no problem going to the ground. Of course, Ngannou is best known for his crippling power, where he only needs one shot to alter the course of any fight. Ngannou hits like a freight train and he'll definitely be swinging for the fences in this one as he attempts to secure a title shot with a win.
Meanwhile, Overeem will undoubtedly be the biggest test of Ngannou's young career. Overeem has faced nothing but the best throughout his career, including numerous victories in the UFC. Overeem is arguably the best kickboxer the heavyweight division has ever seen but rather than just looking to overpower his opponents, these days he's using a much more strategic attack on the feet.
Overeem has shown great footwork and head movement when facing big knockout strikers in the past and he's very good at using front kicks and sidekicks to keep fighters from rushing him inside the Octagon. Overeem is devastating inside the clinch thanks to a long background in kickboxing, where he was known for having the deadliest knees in the sport. While it's a dangerous game to play with Ngannou on the inside, Overeem can absolutely finish this fight by bludgeoning his foe with knees to the body or potentially one big shot to the head.
The biggest factor for Overeem is just not standing in the pocket and exchanging punches with Ngannou. The fact is, Ngannou hits with more power and he only needs one good shot to land and he's going to be celebrating a victory. That said, Overeem has fought much smarter than ever before in his recent fights and he has to know that Ngannou will be gunning for the knockout. Overeem's ability to avoid those sledgehammer like shots early and then methodically picking apart Ngannou from the second round and beyond is a huge key to victory for him.
If Overeem can survive that initial flurry from Ngannou, he should be able to start landing with volume and power until he knocks off the highly touted prospect. It might seem crazy to say this fight goes to a decision, but if Overeem plays it smart and doesn’t just get drawn into a firefight with Ngannou, he should be able to pull him into deep waters with each passing minute in the fight and that's going to favor him in the end.
Prediction: Alistair Overeem by unanimous decision
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Henry Cejudo vs. Sergio Pettis
Wilson Reis during UFC 215 at Rogers Place on September 9, 2017 in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)" align="left" />Flyweights Henry Cejudo and Sergio Pettis will both look to build off recent wins when they meet in a crucial fight at 125 pounds.
Cejudo has shown incredible improvements over his past two fights since losing to flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. The former Olympic gold medalist in wrestling obviously has the grappling chops to go with anybody on the ground in the UFC, but Cejudo has taken huge strides when it comes to his kickboxing and that will serve him well facing someone as quick and powerful as Pettis on the feet.
Pettis has enjoyed the best run of his UFC career as of late, including a punishing performance over Brandon Moreno in his last fight. Pettis is best known for his world-class striking, but he shows no fear going to the ground with anybody in the UFC and that includes Cejudo. Pettis is fast and elusive on the feet, so he won't give Cejudo a stationary target to hit. With a five-inch reach advantage, Pettis will be smart to keep Cejudo on the end of his punches and stuff whatever takedowns might be thrown at him.
For Cejudo, the key is getting inside and making Pettis pay with big, powerful shots to the head and body. Cejudo's boxing has gotten so much better in recent months, and as long as he stays technically sound with good defense as well, he could give Pettis a lot of problems on the feet. While Pettis will be recognized as the higher-level striker on paper, Cejudo's boxing skills and hand speed have been remarkable in recent fights. Mix in a possible takedown or two to keep Pettis guessing and this could be a showcase performance as Cejudo looks to get another shot at that flyweight title.
Prediction: Henry Cejudo by unanimous decision
Charles Oliveira vs. Paul Felder
Charles Oliveira stepped up on short notice to accept this fight with Paul Felder, and this matchup has all the makings of an instant classic.
While Oliveira has bounced up and down between weight classes a lot during his UFC career, he may still be best suited for lightweight, where he picked up a win over Will Brooks earlier this year. Oliveira is a long, dangerous striker with devastating knees and elbows, as well as a nasty ground game where he's wrapped up a number of submission wins in the UFC. Oliveira might have one of the best guillotine chokes in the business, so the last thing Felder can afford to do is get caught in that submission during the fight.
As for Felder, he remains one of the most exciting lightweights on the roster, with a punishing style on the feet where he blasts away at his opponents with big, powerful shots from the inside or out. Working with head coach Duke Roufus has really brought Felder's striking to another level in recent performances, where he's now won his last two fights, both by knockout. Now Felder has to be careful with his aggressive attacks because Oliveira is very dangerous with his counter strikes and that's also where he will likely look to wrap up a submission like the guillotine choke. It only takes one mistake from Felder ducking his head down for Oliveira to latch on to him like an octopus until he drains the life out of his opponent.
This fight really comes down to Felder's ability to stay standing and unleash his powerful striking combinations on the feet. As long as he can keep his distance and then work inside by punishing Oliveira with strikes, Felder has a great chance to put a stop to this fight before the final horn. Felder is bigger and stronger and he only needs one big shot to land to finish Oliveira over the course of three rounds. Oliveira won't go away easy, however, and Felder can ill afford to make any mistakes or he might wind up with a loss on his record, wondering what just happened.
Prediction: Paul Felder by TKO, Round 3
These are the fights that appear to be a little more one-sided, but remember that this is MMA, where anything can - and usually does - happen.
Tecia Torres vs. Michelle Waterson
The Ultimate Fighter Finale on July 7, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC)" align="left" />Two old school martial arts enthusiasts will meet in a key matchup at 115 pounds as Tecia Torres faces off with Michelle Waterson on the main card at UFC 218. Both fighters come from a traditional martial arts background, so that makes this a very interesting fight as Torres and Waterson both look to establish themselves in the title race in the strawweight division.
Since losing a decision to current champ Rose Namajunas last year, Tecia Torres has turned things around with two wins in a row, including a rear naked choke submission to put away Juliana Lima earlier this year. Torres has found new confidence since moving teams as she now trains full-time in Colorado with a training camp built around her needs for the upcoming fight. Torres has definitely benefitted from the change in scenery and she's looked better than ever lately. Torres is blindingly fast on the feet, with stinging combinations that hit from all angles, and while she's not the hardest-hitting fighter on the roster, she puts together a volume-based attack that's hard to defend over three rounds.
Waterson is obviously well versed on the feet as well, coming from a karate background, but she's actually looked better on the ground in the UFC. That being said, Waterson will show no fear exchanging strikes with Torres, but she might struggle to keep up with the sheer output the former Ultimate Fighter competitor will use over three rounds. Waterson is crafty and creative, but it's in the fundamentals where Torres seems to be the stronger fighter on the feet in this matchup.
Of course, anything can happen in a fight, but as long as Torres can control the pace in this matchup where she lands two more significant strikes per minute than her opponent while showcasing incredible defense on the feet – 20 percentage points higher than Waterson, to be exact - she should be able to add up a lot of damage over three rounds to earn the victory.
Prediction: Tecia Torres by unanimous decision
Felice Herrig vs. Cortney Casey
Felice Herrig has put together the best winning streak of her career lately in the UFC and she'll look to add one more win to her resume as she faces Cortney Casey this weekend in Detroit.
Herrig has always been considered a tough out at strawweight, but lately she's really putting everything together - from her striking to grappling - and it's resulted in three wins in a row as she's started to climb up the rankings in recent months. Herrig is always regarded as a striker as she comes from a background in Muay Thai kickboxing, but her ground game is no joke. Herrig is stifling on the mat and she's very good at catching her opponents in the scramble. Herrig is strong and versatile no matter where this fight goes and that's going to give her the upper hand against a lot of opponents.
Casey will present some problems for Herrig, especially if she can keep this fight standing. Casey lands with a higher volume striking game, with more than four significant shots landed per minute. Plus, Casey will have a height and reach advantage, so she may give Herrig some trouble if she can keep the former Ultimate Fighter competitor at the end of her punches. That being said, Casey doesn't typically fight at a distance, but rather looks to punish her opponents from the inside and that could give Herrig some openings in this fight.
Look for Herrig to pick her spots and take whatever Casey gives her over three rounds. That could mean Herrig looking to beat Casey to the punch with her speed and versatility on the feet or just out grappling her should this fight hit the mat. Make no mistake, Casey won't fade away easily in this fight, but Herrig simply has more ways to win and the momentum she's carrying right now should earn her a top five opponent sooner rather than later.
Prediction: Felice Herrig by unanimous decision
Justin Gaethje vs. Eddie Alvarez
Michael Johnson during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena on July 7, 2017 in Las Vegas, NV. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC)" align="left" />UFC President Dana White might want to go ahead and write out some bonus checks for this matchup between Ultimate Fighter coaches Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje, because this fight promises to be a crowd pleasing affair. Both Alvarez and Gaethje have put on more than a few memorable performances and this one should be no different.
As a former UFC lightweight champion, Alvarez has faced nothing but elite competition since arriving in the promotion and that experience will certainly help him in this fight. Alvarez is not only a knockout striker but he possesses very good grappling and clinch work against the cage as well. While he's been part of some real firefights in recent years, Alvarez has also out worked opponents in the past, as in his bouts against Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez. It may not seem likely that Alvarez will try to grind his way to victory against Gaethje, but he absolutely has that ability.
Alvarez is a bruising lightweight with power in his hands and an incredible chin and those will both be necessary weapons in this fight.
Gaethje is a force of nature whenever he steps into a fight because he hits like a truck and doesn’t slow down from the time the referee releases him from the corner until the final horn sounds. Gaethje makes no secret what he likes to do best - come after his opponents with a brutal, high paced offensive onslaught that is just relentless. Of course, Gaethje's tendency to come forward with somewhat reckless abandon can get him into trouble and that's where Alvarez's experience against the best of the best in the UFC's lightweight division will help him in this fight.
That being said, Gaethje may look like he's throwing caution to the wind most times because he tends to eat as many shots as he fires back in return, but his ability to take a punch in order to give a punch is a deadly weapon for him. There may be a day when Gaethje can no longer count on his granite chin to save him in those rapid fire exchanges, but for now he's still got bricks for fists and a head to match. Gaethje might get hit, but when he returns fire, no one has been able to absorb his punches over the course of a fight. That adds up to Gaethje eventually finding a home for a big shot that will put Alvarez away.
Prediction: Justin Gaethje by knockout, Round 2