The Complete Guide to UFC Fight Night 90 and TUF 23 Finale
International Fight Week begins with a pair of stacked cards in the lead-up to UFC 200.
On Thursday, July 7, the UFC's Fight Pass platform plays host to a fun Fight Night event headlined by a lightweight title fight between champion Rafael Dos Anjos and well-traveled challenger Eddie Alvarez.
On Friday, July 8, Fox Sports 1 features The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale. In its main event, strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk takes on Claudia Gadelha in a rematch of their contentious December 2014 meeting that launched Jedrzejczyk into a title shot and something close to stardom.
These two main events are among the best fights that can be made in their respective divisions, and in the case of Jedrzejczyk-Gadelha, one of the best possible fights in the entire promotion.
Neither event is big on name value outside the main events, but they're both stacked with fantastic matchmaking. The Fight Night co-main event features a heavyweight slobberknocker between Roy Nelson and the rising Derrick Lewis, while Bellator lightweight champion Will Brooks—a top-five fighter by any measure—makes his UFC debut against Ross Pearson at the TUF finale.
Blue-chip Korean prospect Doo Ho Choi returns to action against Thiago Tavares after yet another first-round knockout win, Ireland's Joe Duffy takes on Mitch Clarke and action fighter Alan Jouban takes on exciting newcomer Belal Muhammad.
Even the preliminary cards have fun fights to look forward to. Thursday's bantamweight scrap between Dileno Lopes and Anthony Birchak should be fiery, while Jake Matthews and Kevin Lee meet in a fantastic lightweight fight on Friday.
These are two fun cards topped with outstanding title fights. Let's take a look at each matchup.
Quick Picks for the UFC Fight Night Prelims
Vicente Luque (8-5-1; 1-1 UFC) vs. Alvaro Herrera (9-3; 1-0 UFC)
The Blackzilians' Luque takes on The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America 2 competitor Herrera to open the evening's festivities. The bout pits Luque's smooth, technical striking and grappling against Herrera's powerful but awkward striking and basic secondary skills.
Prediction: Luque submits Herrera in the second round.
Reginaldo Vieira (13-3; 1-0 UFC) vs. Marco Beltran (7-3; 2-0 UFC)
TUF: Brazil 4 winner Vieira returns to action against TUF: Latin America's Beltran in a decent scrap at 135 pounds. Vieira is a rote striker with some power, but does his best work as a wrestler and grappler and has the cardio to go deep into the fight. Beltran can do a bit of everything, but does his best work on the feet with forward-moving combinations.
Prediction: This is a relative softball for the TUF: Brazil winner. Vieira submits Beltran in the first round.
Gilbert Burns (10-1; 3-1 UFC) vs. Lukasz Sajewski (13-1; 0-1 UFC)
Brazil's Burns takes on Poland's Sajewski in a solid lightweight bout. Burns lost to Rashid Magomedov in his last outing, but he's still a blue-chip prospect with great physical tools, a legitimately world-class grappling game and strong striking and wrestling skills to boot. Sajewski is competent everywhere and making improvements from fight to fight.
Prediction: This is Burns' fight to lose. He might submit Sajewski, but it's more likely the Brazilian takes a decision.
Felipe Arantes (17-7-1, 2 N/C; 4-3-1 UFC) vs. Jarrod Sanders (15-2, 1 N/C; 1-1, 1 N/C UFC)
Brazil's Arantes takes on American wrestler Sanders. Arantes, who has alternated wins and losses in his UFC career, is a striker with potent kicks and a slick grappler with a nice array of sweeps and submissions. Sanders is a good athlete, but he's still basically a wrestler with some grappling and striking skills.
Prediction: Arantes is an abysmal defensive wrestler, and wrestling remains Sanders' best skill set. Either he'll control Arantes or walk his way into a submission, and the former seems more likely. Sanders takes a decision.
Pedro Munhoz (11-2, 1 N/C; 1-2, 1 N/C UFC) vs. Russell Doane (14-5; 2-2 UFC)
Brazil's Munhoz and Hawaii's Doane meet in a fantastic bantamweight scrap. Both are exceptionally talented, but their UFC records don't reflect their skill or potential.
Munhoz can do everything, with technical striking and wrestling skills, but he stands out most as a lethal grappler. Doane blends his skills together nicely and is particularly effective on the mat, while on the feet he's skilled but doesn't throw enough strikes.
Prediction: This should be fun, especially if it goes to the ground. Munhoz is better on the feet and a touch more technical on the mat. He takes a decision.
Anthony Birchak (12-3; 1-2 UFC) vs. Dileno Lopes (18-2; 0-1 UFC)
TUF: Brazil 4 bantamweight finalist Lopes takes on the American Birchak in a crackling matchup at 135 pounds. Birchak entered the UFC with some hype, but he has sandwiched losses to Ian Entwistle and top prospect Thomas Almeida around a lone win, albeit a crushing one, over Joe Soto. Lopes was once a top prospect himself, but fell short against Vieira last August.
Violence defines Birchak's game. The American is a top-shelf athlete with enormous strength, explosion and raw power, and his aggressive game forces his opponents to deal with their athletic disadvantages. At range Birchak throws heavy kicks and punches, but he does his best work in the clinch, with a heavy diet of knees, elbows and punches. Wrestling is another strong suit of his game.
Lopes' game relies on two things: counterpunching and guillotine chokes. He ranges between competent and excellent elsewhere and is a strong wrestler, but those two facets form the vast majority of his offense. On the feet, Lopes is reluctant to lead, but the moment his opponent commits the Brazilian drops a hard combination. On the mat, Lopes constantly hunts for his opponent's neck.
Prediction: This should be fun. Birchak will be happy to pressure, which means opportunities for Lopes to counter to his heart's content. The American is bigger at a thick 5'8" compared to Lopes' generous listing of 5'5", and the clinch should be the difference here. Birchak takes a fun, back-and-forth decision.
John Makdessi (13-5; 6-5 UFC) vs. Mehdi Baghdad (11-4; 0-1 UFC)
Canada's Makdessi takes on the Frenchman Baghdad in a fun matchup of lightweight strikers. Baghdad dropped his UFC debut to Chris Wade, while Makdessi fell short in a contentious decision against Yancy Medeiros last December.
Makdessi is a pure striker with a fun arsenal of front, side and spinning kicks along with a crisp jab. Baghdad is a slick striker himself with crushing kicks and a nasty clinch game.
Prediction: Baghdad's height and kicking arsenal could give Makdessi problems, but the Canadian is smoother and throws more volume. Makdessi takes a decision.
Mike Pyle (27-11-1; 10-6 UFC) vs. Alberto Mina (12-0; 2-0 UFC)
The veteran Pyle takes on Brazil's Mina in yet another entertaining matchup. Mina has won both his UFC outings, taking a split decision from Yoshihiro Akiyama last November, while Pyle snapped a two-fight losing streak in February.
Pyle can do it all with slick and crafty technical acumen. He's particularly adept in the clinch and with counterpunches. Mina is aggressive and prefers to strike, though he's at his best in the clinch and on the mat.
Prediction: If Pyle can keep the pace slow and force the fight into the clinch and onto the ground, he'll have a shot. It's more likely that Mina finds a finishing shot, and the pick is Mina by knockout in the first.
Quick Picks for the TUF 23 Finale Prelims
Li Jingliang (10-4; 2-2 UFC) vs. Anton Zafir (7-2; 0-1 UFC)
China's Jingliang takes on Australia's Zafir in a fun welterweight bout. Jingliang has skills everywhere, but is at his best working quick-paced striking on the feet and wrestling in the clinch. Zafir is competent everywhere, but does his best work in the clinch and on top.
Prediction: Jingliang works faster on the feet and can win the clinch battles. The Chinese fighter takes a decision.
Jake Matthews (10-1; 4-1 UFC) vs. Kevin Lee (12-2; 5-2 UFC)
Talented lightweight prospects meet in an outstanding matchup. Australia's Matthews has won two in a row since the lone loss of his career, finishing Johnny Case and Akbarh Arreola, while Lee defeated the veteran Efrain Escudero in his last outing.
Matthews is an exceptional athlete with great speed and power. He's improving as a striker and works the body with both punches and kicks, but he's a basic if effective wrestler. On the mat, he drops brutal ground strikes and has a nose for the submission.
Lee, a former wrestler, is likewise athletic and quick. His striking is effective but rote, and is rooted in a basic jab-straight, right-kick sequence. Outstanding defensive wrestling keeps him standing and he can work from the top as well.
Prediction: This is a great pairing of talented but flawed young fighters with great upside. Matthews is more diverse and more dangerous on the feet, and that should be enough for the Australian to take a decision.
Cezar Ferreira (9-5; 5-3 UFC) vs. Anthony Smith (25-11; 1-1 UFC)
The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil winner Ferreira takes on the American Smith in a decent middleweight pairing. Ferreira is conservative and has trouble taking a shot, but he's athletically gifted and does excellent work everywhere. Smith is best on the feet, with a high-output striking repertoire, and is competent elsewhere.
Prediction: Ferreira is a deeply flawed fighter but should be able to grind this out from top position. He takes a decision.
John Moraga (16-4; 5-3 UFC) vs. Matheus Nicolau (11-1-1; 1-0 UFC)
Former title contender Moraga takes on 23-year-old TUF: Brazil 4 semifinalist Nicolau in a matchup that makes absolutely no sense. Why would you put a talented youngster, even if he looks like a blue-chip prospect, with an experienced veteran? It's puzzling matchmaking.
Nicolau could turn into a special striker, with surprising polish for one so young and a nice wrestling and grappling game to go along with it. Moraga is inconsistent, though he shows excellent skills everywhere in short bursts and has incredible finishing ability and killer instinct.
Prediction: Nicolau has the skills to win rounds, but if he makes a mistake Moraga will finish him. That's what will happen here. Moraga finds a submission in the second round.
Gray Maynard (11-5-1, 1 N/C; 9-5-1, 1 N/C UFC) vs. Fernando Bruno (15-3; 0-1 UFC)
Former title challenger Maynard drops to 145 pounds and tries to end a four-fight losing streak against TUF: Brazil 4 finalist Bruno. Maynard is a crisp boxer and wrestler, but he has struggled to take a shot recently. Bruno is mostly a wrestler and grappler.
Prediction: If Maynard can't win this, he's well and truly done. The pick is Maynard by decision.
Joaquim Silva (8-0; 1-0 UFC) vs. Andrew Holbrook (11-0; 1-0 UFC)
Silva, a veteran of TUF: Brazil 4, takes on Indiana's Holbrook in a fun lightweight matchup. Silva has huge power in his hands and can do a bit of everything else, while Holbrook likes to box on the feet, throws nasty shots in the clinch and likes the submission on the mat.
Prediction: Holbrook is a bit more diverse. He takes a decision.
Alan Jouban vs. Belal Muhammad
Alan Jouban (13-4; 4-2 UFC) vs. Belal Muhammad (9-0; 0-0 UFC)
The always-entertaining Jouban takes on Titan FC welterweight champion Muhammad as he makes his UFC debut. Jouban rebounded from a brutal knockout loss to Albert Tumenov by finishing Brendan O'Reilly in March. For his part, Muhammad has beaten good competition on the regional scene, including former World Series of Fighting champion Steve Carl in his last outing.
Muhammad is a smooth, composed fighter with real promise. Striking is his wheelhouse, and his boxing background shows in a diverse, consistent jab that he uses to measure and set his preferred range. His tight, technical footwork likewise shows polish beyond his years. Whether he decides to stick and move, pressure or stand in front of his opponent and counter, Muhammad is equally comfortable.
He's not the most powerful puncher, but he does have pop in his hands when he decides to sit down and throw a combination. Pace is the real strength of Muhammad's game, as he routinely throws 15 or 20 strikes in a minute once he finds his range.
Strong defensive wrestling keeps Muhammad standing, and he can hit the occasional takedown for variety when the mood strikes.
There's nothing particularly flashy about Muhammad's game, which explains why he wasn't considered to be a blue-chip prospect, but he's consistent, technically sound and improving from fight to fight.
Jouban is all action. The southpaw pushes forward behind a crushing left kick and a sharp right jab, and when he gets into the pocket unleashes devastating punching combinations. He's not the most technical in exchanges, but his raw power, durability and sheer willingness to engage make him a real threat at that range.
The southpaw's best skill set is his clinch. He excels at pinning his opponent against the fence and switching smoothly between positions, all the while ramming home hard knees to the body. Jouban's elbows are lethal, and he does a beautiful job of setting them up and combining them with his knees.
Only occasionally does Jouban look for takedowns, and he's competent if not outstanding at defending them. He has an active guard game from his back, but he can be controlled.
Jouban -120, Muhammad +100 (Bet $100 to win $100)
It's somewhat surprising that the betting odds are that tight, but Muhammad is polished and experienced against UFC-caliber opposition. Moreover, his pace and technical acumen could give Jouban fits if this turns into a pure striking matchup. It's easy to foresee a scenario in which the debuting fighter picks Jouban apart with his jab and combinations on the feet.
The difference here should be the clinch. If Jouban can effectively pressure and get his hands on Muhammad, he should have a massive advantage in the tie-ups while keeping it relatively close at range. With that in mind, the pick is Jouban by entertaining, back-and-forth decision.
Joe Duffy vs. Mitch Clarke
Joe Duffy (14-2; 2-1 UFC) vs. Mitch Clarke (11-3; 2-3 UFC)
Ireland's Duffy looks to rebound from his first UFC loss against Canada's Clarke. Prior to Nate Diaz's win over Conor McGregor in March, Duffy had been widely known as the last man to defeat the Irish superstar, and Duffy's two first-round finishes in the UFC made him a hot prospect. Dustin Poirier ended that streak, though, sending Duffy back to the drawing board.
Facing the Irishman will be Clarke, a five-fight UFC veteran who is the definite B-side in this matchup. Clarke lost a decision to Michael Chiesa in April 2015, which snapped a two-fight winning streak.
Duffy is dangerous in every phase. The Irishman spent several years as a professional boxer, and that shows in his lightning-quick jab, comfort with combination punching and silky-smooth footwork. He's most comfortable pressing forward behind that jab and then mixing in vicious sequences to the head and body. The occasional kick and stepping knee adds enough variety to keep his opponents guessing.
The strength of Duffy's game is his ability to adapt on the fly. He's an organic and intelligent striker who picks up on his opponent's cues and adjusts accordingly, spotting openings for particular strikes and working to set them up. The fact that he can find the fight-ending shot while still scoring enough to win rounds makes him an exceptional talent.
The rest of Duffy's game varies between serviceable and excellent. Poirier was able to repeatedly take him down and grind him out from top position, though that hadn't been a problem before. The Irishman had previously shown an active and dangerous guard along with strong takedown defense.
The Canadian is tough and well-rounded, though he lacks much in the way of athleticism or physical gifts. He has enough skills in every department to compete effectively and shows surprising strength to go along with his technical acumen.
Clarke is crafty on the feet. He likes to tap away with low kicks while circling to find advantageous angles, and then drops a punching combination when the opportunity presents itself. He's happy to counter as well.
The clinch is where Clarke shows off his combination of technical acumen and strength. He makes excellent use of head position to control even larger, stronger opponents while banking knees to the thigh and body, and he uses the fence to his advantage as well. He has a solid repertoire of clinch takedowns and shots, but defensive wrestling has been a problem.
Grappling is Clarke's strongest skill set. He excels at finding submissions in transition, namely from the front headlock, and getting to the back. Clarke has a bad habit of letting opponents grind him out from the top, though.
Duffy -350, Clarke +290
This is Duffy's fight to lose. He's bigger, faster, hits harder and is generally the more dynamic and dangerous fighter. Unless Clarke can force him into a scramble-filled grappling match, the Canadian is in serious trouble, and even there Duffy is proficient in his own right. The Irishman finishes on the feet in the second round.
Doo Ho Choi vs. Thiago Tavares
Doo Ho Choi (13-1; 2-0 UFC) vs. Thiago Tavares (20-6-1; 10-6-1 UFC)
Korean blue-chip prospect Choi takes on the veteran Tavares in a great featherweight scrap. Choi has brutalized his first two UFC opponents, Sam Sicilia and Juan Manuel Puig, knocking them out in a combined 1:51. Tavares, who has been in the UFC since 2007, lost a fight of the year candidate to Brian Ortega last June but rebounded by choking out Clay Guida in November.
Violence is Choi's calling card. The Korean carries enormous power in both hands, and puts together slick counter combinations in the pocket whenever his opponent throws at him. A sharp jab and kicks help to draw out those responses and begin the exchanges in which he prefers to fight, while flying knees add another dimension to his offense.
On the downside, Choi is perfectly willing to just brawl whenever the mood strikes. He forgets about his head movement and starts swinging with wild abandon, and in those situations he's hittable and loses some of the technique that makes him so dangerous.
It's hard to overstate just how good Choi's killer instinct is. The moment he hurts his opponent, he swarms and doesn't let up until the fight is over.
The rest of Choi's game is competent. He has a nice arsenal of trips that he uses from time to time, and at least thus far his takedown defense has been good enough to keep him on the feet. From top position, he has a basic understanding of what to do and carries real power in his ground strikes.
Tavares can do just about everything at this point in his career, though outside of his top game he isn't a real standout anywhere. His jab-cross sequence on the feet is consistent and he adds some kicks for the sake of variety, though he's hittable and doesn't take a good punch.
The Brazilian is an active wrestler who shoots takedowns early and often. He relies on chains, especially against the fence, and finishes with authority. Defensive wrestling isn't his strongest suit, though.
Tavares does his best work on top. He maintains a heavy base and packs surprising power in his ground strikes while looking for passes with regularity. Getting to the back and finishing with a choke is a specialty.
Choi -210, Tavares +160
If Tavares can get this to the ground, it's his fight to lose. He's the superior grappler and can do real work from top position.
It's more likely, though, that Choi stuffs most of the shots and plants hard counters on Tavares' suspect chin. Choi finds a knockout shot in the first round.
Derrick Lewis vs. Roy Nelson
Roy Nelson (21-12; 8-8 UFC) vs. Derrick Lewis (15-4, 1 N/C; 6-2 UFC)
The Ultimate Fighter 10 winner Nelson takes on Texas' Lewis in a heavyweight slobberknocker. Nelson has been on a rough run of late, compiling a 2-5 record in the last three years. He rebounded with a snoozer of a win over Jared Rosholt in February. Lewis, on the other hand, is riding a hot streak. He has won three in a row, all by knockout, and finished Gabriel Gonzaga in April.
The winner will likely get a top-five opponent and a title shot won't be too far away.
Nelson's right hand remains his bread and butter, but he's made serious improvements to his technical game over the last several years. He probes with a jab, follows with a left hook and often throws in combination now. His footwork has also drastically improved. Nelson still throws himself off balance from time to time and relies too heavily on the right, but he's better than he used to be.
That right hand carries devastating power and can end any opponent's night in a heartbeat. On the downside, Nelson is slow and plodding, and while his punches are shockingly quick, his feet are not. More worrisome is the fact that he's an abysmal defensive fighter who is far, far too willing to eat shots. While his chin is still iron, Nelson can't take a shot like he used to, either.
That's more or less the extent of Nelson's game. He formerly relied on a suffocating and technically sound top game and a fondness for the crucifix, but the veteran doesn't have the wrestling skills to impose takedowns on elite opposition. It's not easy to get Nelson to the mat, though, and he's stout in the clinch as well.
Lewis' game relies on his size, physicality and power. He comes forward aggressively, launching himself into heavy punching combinations that either take his opponent's head off or carry him forward into the clinch. Either way, Lewis is happy. His shots carry crushing force and his athleticism means that he's on his opponent in a heartbeat.
In extended striking sequences, Lewis' shortcomings—a lack of options, some fundamental issues and defense—become clear. He rarely looks to stand at range for long, though, and he's making regular improvements.
Lewis isn't the most technical inside fighter, but his sheer size and strength make him a handful for opponents to deal with in tight. Short punches, grinding control and strong takedowns are a potent combination.
It's not hard to get Lewis to the mat, but he's surprisingly difficult to hold down. On top, Lewis is a monster. His ground strikes are crushingly powerful, his base is heavy and it's nearly impossible to escape once he establishes position.
More than any technical piece of his game, Lewis has great instincts for creating offense. He sneaks in punches and elbows in unexpected places and pours on the strikes when he senses his opponent is hurt.
Nelson -135, Lewis +115
This is a close fight. Nelson is more technical on the feet and on the ground, but he's giving up a massive amount of size and raw strength to Lewis. In an extended and probably slow-paced striking bout, the edge goes to Nelson. In a dirty, scramble-filled war that transitions between striking, the clinch and grappling, the edge should go to Lewis.
The latter scenario seems a bit more likely. The pick is Lewis by knockout in the third round.
Ross Pearson vs. Will Brooks
Will Brooks (17-1; 0-0 UFC) vs. Ross Pearson (19-10, 1 N/C; 11-7, 1 N/C UFC)
Bellator champion Brooks makes his UFC debut against the veteran Pearson. Brooks has beaten a who's who outside the UFC, twice defeating Michael Chandler before beating Dave Jansen and Marcin Held for good measure. The American Top Team product is one of the best in the world and gets a chance to prove it on the big stage.
The United Kingdom's Pearson has experienced ups and downs throughout his career but has settled in as a reliable action fighter and gatekeeper. He took a split decision from Chad Laprise in March after falling short against Francisco Trinaldo in January.
The Englishman is a striker by trade, and one with a deep well of technical knowledge from which to draw. The jab is the engine that makes his game run. He likes to pressure behind it to gauge the distance and draw out a reaction that he can then counter with a powerful right hand or, more likely, a devastating left hook.
Constant head movement and active parries make Pearson one of the better defensive fighters in the division, and he actively turns that defense into offense by immediately looking for the counter.
At his best, Pearson scores with kicks and the jab before putting the hurt on his opponent with those crushing replies. At his worst, though, Pearson sometimes waits for his opponent and doesn't do enough to land volume or create openings for his shots.
Throughout his career, Pearson has been an excellent defensive wrestler. If his opponent shoots without a dedicated setup, the takedown is almost sure to fail. Still, the most technically sound and crafty wrestlers he's faced have found ways of getting him to the mat. The occasional takedown adds some variety for him, while as a grappler he's competent on top and knows how to defend on the bottom.
Brooks is well-rounded, athletic and experienced. He can fight in any phase and transitions smoothly between them as well.
The American Top Team product is comfortable on the feet. He likes to move forward while slinging hard kicks and a crisp jab, flowing from orthodox to southpaw to cover ground as he attacks and retreats. Counters are Brooks' specialty, particularly as he steps back, and he's willing to exchange in the pocket as well.
Brooks likes to go from kicks to punches and then back to kicks, with a special fondness for doubling up on the same side. Following a hard left kick to the body with a jab is a trademark.
As good as he is at range, Brooks' wheelhouse is the clinch. His entries are diverse and technical, and he's vicious once he gets his hands on his opponent. The Bellator champion is one of the few inside fighters who genuinely works in combinations with his strikes in the clinch, using uppercuts to open up elbows and then going under with knees to the body.
Slick body-lock trips and throws add another dimension for his opponents to worry about in the tie-ups. Brooks is one of the best in-fighters in the division, which is no small accomplishment.
Brooks boasts excellent takedown defense and knows how to defend in the unlikely event he's taken down. From top position, he drops bombing ground strikes, controls well and can pass with real skill.
In general, Brooks relies on attrition. He's a five-round fighter whose game layers itself from round to round, and he's not afraid to lose an exchange early if it means he can bank body work for later or wear his opponent down in ways that will pay off in the later rounds. Brooks plays a complex, cutting-edge game that speaks to his intelligence in the cage.
Brooks -425, Pearson +305
Pearson isn't an easy test for Brooks in his debut, but it's a fight the former Bellator champion should win. Specifically, Pearson's takedown defense and skill in the pocket make him a difficult matchup, and that should force Brooks to find creative ways to win.
The clinch should be Brooks' answer. He's devastating on the inside, and if he can get his hands on Pearson the Englishman is in trouble. That should happen enough over the course of the fight to give Brooks an edge. The former Bellator champion takes a decision.
Rafael Dos Anjos vs. Eddie Alvarez
Rafael Dos Anjos (25-7; 14-5 UFC) vs. Eddie Alvarez (27-4; 2-1 UFC)
Lightweight champion Dos Anjos looks to make the second defense of his belt against former Bellator kingpin Alvarez in a crackling matchup of elite 155-pounders.
Dos Anjos seemed an unlikely champion when he demolished Anthony Pettis in March 2015, but he cemented himself as the stacked lightweight division's top dog by crushing old foe Donald Cerrone in only 66 seconds last December.
This title shot is effectively a lifetime achievement award for the well-traveled Alvarez, who has fought the best all over the world. He took razor-thin and controversial decisions from Gilbert Melendez and Pettis to get his chance at the belt, but this matchup has just as much to do with the fact that Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson weren't available.
Regardless of the background, this is a fun matchup of elite fighters in their primes with real stakes on the line.
The champion is the most accomplished pressure fighter in the UFC today. The southpaw is relentlessly aggressive, technically sound in every phase and dangerous enough to finish on the feet or on the ground.
The fence is a pressure fighter's ally. Everything Dos Anjos does is based around the idea of forcing his opponent backward using a combination of crisp, skillful footwork and looping strikes to cut off lateral movement. Dos Anjos' footwork forces the opponent backward while kicks, hooks and overhands catch him when he tries to circle away from the fence.
The Brazilian never gives his opponent a moment to breathe. Dos Anjos stays tight, dropping a steady stream of vicious kicks at all levels and head-body punching combinations. If his opponent tries to plant his feet and counter to dissuade Dos Anjos from pressuring, the champion is happy to hang in the pocket and exchange, where his crafty defense means that he eats few perfectly clean shots.
The fence allows Dos Anjos to exchange without fear and to blend his strikes with rugged, effective wrestling. In the middle of the cage, Dos Anjos is solid but not outstanding. Against the cage, with opponents covering up to avoid flurries of hard punches, it's a simple matter for the champion to duck under, grab a double-leg takedown and suck his opponent off the fence. He's truly excellent at this.
Alternatively, Dos Anjos is happy to dive forward into the clinch, where he fires off hard knees and punches before either exiting back to a punching combination or ducking under for another takedown.
Even on the ground, Dos Anjos uses the fence to his advantage. He excels at pinning his opponent's hips in place and then pounding away with a steady stream of hard punches and elbows on top. Passes are a strong suit, and while he's not much of a submission artist there are few more technical or dangerous top games in the division.
Dos Anjos is an above-average defensive wrestler, but he has struggled when faced with elite takedown artists in the past. This is one of the few less-than-elite facets of his game.
Alvarez relies on a stout combination of wrestling and especially boxing. The former Bellator champion has quick, powerful and educated hands, and they form the centerpiece of his game.
While he's no spring chicken at an experienced 32, Alvarez remains quick and athletic. He moves well on his feet, sticking and moving behind a crisp jab and darting right hand. At his best, he slides smoothly in and out of range on sharp angles, dropping vicious head-body combinations of two and four shots while picking his spots to sit down and exchange punches in the pocket. Hard kicks add another dimension to his offense.
At his worst, however, Alvarez spends too long waiting for his opponent at range, firing predictable single shots while throwing wild counters with his head motionless. Defense has never been Alvarez's strong suit, and if he's not moving and cutting angles, he's in trouble. In the pocket, Alvarez relies far too much on his toughness, power and hand speed rather than slick head movement or craft.
Wrestling is the other major dimension of Alvarez's game. He's an outstanding defender of takedowns, and while he's not the craftiest at setting up his shots, his raw strength allows him to bull his opponents into the fence and chain his attempts together.
On top, Alvarez is mostly a control artist, though he packs some power in his ground strikes and has a nice passing game. In transitions, he has a knack for getting to the back, though he also has a bad habit of giving up his own back if tired or hurt.
Dos Anjos -370, Alvarez +310
The betting odds seem approximately correct. Alvarez has two paths to victory here: stick and move at range while staying away from the fence at all costs, and hit takedowns whenever possible. He has good footwork that should allow him to escape Dos Anjos' pressure at least part of the time, and the champion's takedown defense isn't impenetrable.
That's a tall order, though. Dos Anjos is relentless and technically sound with his pressure, not a brawling wild man, and his willingness to exchange is bad news for the hittable Alvarez. It's unlikely that Dos Anjos will find much success with his takedowns, but between striking and the clinch he should get the job done.
The pick is Dos Anjos by competitive 49-46 decision.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Claudia Gadelha
Joanna Jedrzejczyk (11-0; 5-0 UFC) vs. Claudia Gadelha (13-1; 2-1 UFC)
Following a back-and-forth season of insults and taunts as coaches on The Ultimate Fighter, Poland's Jedrzejczyk and Brazil's Gadelha clash in a rematch of their contentious first meeting.
Jedrzejczyk emerged victorious from that controversial fight in December 2014 and hasn't looked back since. She brutalized Carla Esparza to win the title, pounded Jessica Penne's face into bloody ruin and then took a five-round decision from Valerie Letourneau last November despite breaking her hand midfight. Gadelha has fought only once since then, blasting former top strawweight Jessica Aguilar last August.
This is the best fight that can be made in an increasingly stacked division. Both women have great skills and real charisma to go along with it, and the winner will be a marketable property with real fan support behind her.
Jedrzejczyk is one of the most technically sound strikers in the UFC. She has a deep background in muay thai and Dutch-style kickboxing, and it shows in her diverse and dangerous approach on the feet.
Everything she throws is crisp and efficient, which allows her to work at an incredible pace without worrying about her cardio. Her footwork is tight and based on smooth pivots and small steps, which never takes her too far out of range.
The jab is the foundation of the champion's game. It measures distance, scores points, sets her range and above all it sets her rhythm. Jedrzejczyk's approach relies on acclimating her opponent to one speed by flashing the jab and then breaking that with a sharp, quick combination. Vicious low kicks follow hard head-body sequences of punches in a bewildering variety of shot locations and types.
Jedrzejczyk can do it all as a striker. She can pressure, though this isn't her default mode; she can stick and move if pressured in turn; or she can do what comes most naturally and simply flow in the open space at the middle of the cage. Counters are the best facet of her game, and she has a deep bag of tricks at her disposal when it comes to responding to her opponent.
All of that striking skill would be irrelevant if it weren't for Jedrzejczyk's takedown defense. She has been almost flawless since Gadelha took her down seven times in their first meeting, and has placed real emphasis on improving that area. Shots without setups have next to no hope of getting her down, while her clinch game has become one of the nastiest in the sport.
The striking thing about Jedrzejczyk's takedown defense isn't just that she stuffs takedowns, but that she punishes her opponent for trying. After defending the shot, the champion makes sure to sneak in a few elbows, punches or knees to emphasize the futility of trying it.
If Jedrzejczyk has a weakness, it's likely her grappling. She doesn't offer much from her back and has yet to complete a takedown of her own, though she's capable of surviving on the ground even against good competition.
Gadelha is a physical specimen with crushing strength, great speed and serious power. She combines that physicality with slick technical acumen in every phase of the fight. Everything Gadelha does, from striking to the clinch to wrestling to grappling, she does better than almost every other fighter in the division. Moreover, she transitions beautifully between phases and sneaks in offense everywhere.
On the feet, Gadelha is a handful. She likes to pressure behind a hard jab and then commit to hard combinations in the pocket, with a preference for firing off sequences of three- and four-punch counters as her specialty. Hard low kicks provide a nice supplement to her hands.
As good as she is at range, and Gadelha is good enough to win fights purely as a striker, she's even better in the clinch. She excels at sliding smoothly from striking distance into the clinch, grabbing ahold of a single- or double-collar tie and then delivering a sharp series of knees to the body and head.
Strikes are the least of Gadelha's opponents' worries in the clinch. The bigger problem is her strong takedown game, which consists mostly of crisp trips and body-lock throws. The combination of strikes and takedowns is hard to deal with.
The Brazilian is equally adept with chains of shot takedowns, stringing together technical combinations of singles and doubles against the fence. Her takedown defense has thus far been perfect as well.
On the mat, Gadelha is a monster. She passes smoothly on top, maintains a heavy base, throws punishing ground strikes and mixes in submission attempts, particularly armbars and arm triangles.
There are no real weaknesses to Gadelha's game. She's proficient everywhere, combines her skill sets nicely, is defensively sound and works at a great pace.
Jedrzejczyk -140, Gadelha +120
This is one of the best matchups in the entire UFC right now. Both women are in their primes, both are still getting better, they put on a barnburner of a close fight back in 2014 and now they have five rounds to settle the score.
Jedrzejczyk won the first fight by landing volume at range, while Gadelha did her best work with relentless takedowns and top control. Since then, Gadelha has become a better striker while the champion has improved her takedown defense. This doesn't change the basic dynamic of the fight—Jedrzejczyk has an edge on the feet and Gadelha has a bigger one on the ground—but it adds another wrinkle.
With all this in mind, the champion should have a slight overall advantage. She's much harder to take down and managed to shut down most of Gadelha's work on top in their first meeting, and she hasn't gotten worse on the feet since then. Jedrzejczyk works a bit faster, is more diverse and has a reach advantage to boot.
It's easy to foresee a Gadelha victory by keeping it even in the striking, grinding out minutes in the clinch, working takedowns and then producing offense on top, but it's a little more likely that Jedrzejczyk finds her range on the feet and stuffs most of the takedowns. The pick is Jedrzejczyk by 48-47 decision.
All betting odds via Odds Shark.