Thiago Alves will be looking to get back to his old ways against UFC newcomer Papy Abedi in the feature fight of the night.
After winning seven straight fights to earn a title shot against Georges St-Pierre, Alves has been a dismal 1-3, most recently getting upset by Rick Story. Though his career probably isn't at a risk tonight, Alves desperately needs to get his career back on track.
Standing across from him in the Octagon will be a legitimate challenge. Abedi is an undefeated middleweight prospect that uses his judo background to slam opponents to the mat, where he looks to ground-and-pound his way to a finish.
If Alves is going to win this fight, it will have to be on the feet. He's had difficulties with wrestlers in the past, and Abedi's strength and style will present him with difficulties on the ground.
There's no question that Alves has the better striking in this fight. His biggest strength lays in his Muay Thai skills, utilizing short punch combinations to set up chopping leg kicks and clinch knees to soften his opponents body and chin. Alves will need to keep Abedi at a distance with quick, crisp punches and utilize intelligent footwork (something he doesn't always do) to keep from being cornered up against the cage.
Given Abedi's need to close the distance and get a hold of his opponent, there's no doubt that we'll see him pressing forward, working behind punches to close the distance and change levels. Alves needs to get the better of striking exchanges in the center of the cage and then circle off at angles to keep the action where he is most comfortable.
In no scenario should Alves engage in a clinch with Abedi, but if he finds himself there, his best bet is to fire off a knee or two towards Abedi's head or body and then look to get Abedi's hands off of him, throwing punches out of the clinch.
It's always easier said than done to employ a game plan to perfection, but that is precisely what Alves will need to do tonight to stack the deck in his favor.