Opening up the UFC 124 main card on Saturday night will be a welterweight contest pitting former UFC welterweight contender Thiago Alves (17-7, 9-4 UFC) against well-rounded veteran John Howard (14-5, 4-1 UFC). Both men are coming off losses. Alves most recently dropped an unanimous decision to Jon Fitch at UFC 117. Howard was hurt by wrestler Jake Ellenberger at UFC on Versus II in August, resulting in a doctor's stoppage. Alves has been battling much more relevant competition; he fought Georges St. Pierre for the title in July of last year before taking on Fitch. Injuries have curbed his regular schedule of appearances. He suffered a knee injury and was sidelined due to a malformation in his brain in the lead-up to his UFC 111 showdown with Fitch.
Despite those setbacks, Alves has proven that he's one of the sport's elite welterweights with victories over Josh Koscheck, Matt Hughes, Karo Parisyan, and Chris Lytle. He'll aim to get his career back on track on Saturday night, and while Howard is a bit of a step down from that proven level of competition -- Howard is hoping to carve out a spot for himself in the upper echelon of the division.
Howard had quite the run before losing to Ellenberger. He defeated current UFC fighter Charlie Brenneman at Ring of Combat 21 in September of 2008, then rattled of four straight wins under the UFC banner. Chris Wilson and Tamdan McCrory provided stiff challenges in his early bouts, but he knocked out both Dennis Hallman and Daniel Roberts in his more recent bouts, solidifying him as one of the more exciting welterweights in the division. He ran into one of the tougher wrestlers in the division in Ellenberger at UFC on Versus II, exposing some of the weaknesses that Howard needs to improve upon to become a top flight fighter.
Unfortunately for Howard, those weaknesses are areas in which Alves could take advantage. While Howard is a proven knockout threat on the feet, Alves normally neutralizes his opponent's stand-up game with a heavy barrage of leg kicks. His takedown defense didn't look phenomenal against the likes of Georges St. Pierre and Jon Fitch, but those are two of the top wrestlers in the division. I hold out more hope for him against Howard.
Howard's strategy would be more effective if he tries to fight in the context of an attrition war versus striking with Alves. After all, Alves has had plenty of trouble making the 170 pound weight limit. If he can press the pace and wear down Alves in the first two frames, it may pay dividends in the outcome.
In the end, I have to go with Alves' knockout power on the feet. He has an unpredictable stand-up game that includes all the trimmings: devastating leg kicks, powerful overhands, and the always exciting flying knee strike. His takedown defense is good enough to keep it standing against Howard, and he possesses a ground game that can escape Howard's control from the top. I'll bank on Alves finishing off Howard inside the three round limit.