UFC 138: Thiago Alves vs. Papy Abedi Dissection

A Congolese newcomer training out of Sweden, Papy Abedi makes his UFC and welterweight debut against American Top Team's Muay Thai murderer Thiago Alves at UFC 138: Leben vs. Munoz.

First, some background information on Abedi from his fight team's bio section: the nickname "Makambo" translates to "just trouble" in his native tongue, he started training in Judo at age seven (now a black belt) and later worked at Stockholm Muay Thai under the tutelage of Swedish Thai boxer Ricardo Gonzalez, his Wiki page lists him as a purple in BJJ and he's undefeated after eight fights, all of which were contested at 185-pounds.

As with any UFC first-timer, his ability to translate his prior success in smaller shows to the pinnacle of global combat will be the mountainous task in front of him. Of course, Abedi isn't just facing the pressure of any ol' UFC caliber fighter, he's colliding with a human wrecking machine.

Thiago Alves' had a mediocre two-and-two beginning to his UFC career, clobbering Jeff Cox and Ansar Changalov with first round TKOs but catching an up-kick from Jon Fitch and being triangled by Spencer Fisher. However, the seven-fight swathe he slashed through the welterweight division isolated Alves as a premiere contender and fan-friendly killer.

Veteran welterweight contenders like Matt Hughes, Karo Parisyan and Josh Koscheck were all left in his wake. Alves scored violent stoppages in five of those seven victories, four by way of his crushing knees, and being one of two fighters to finish the stalwart Chris Lytle (out of Lytle's staggering fifty-four career opponents) is a small miracle in itself.

What impressed me the most with Alves at that time was the way he confronted the domineering takedown artists head on and dismantled them with crippling Thai strikes rather than evade their clutches with elusive footwork.

His last four outings would lead in a different direction: winning just one (a decision over John Howard), Alves fell to the undisputed number and one two welterweights in Georges St. Pierre and Jon Fitch, then was stalked, cornered and contained by Rick Story at UFC 130. Story executed a brilliant strategy consisting of calculating footwork, cutting off angles and switching back and forth from tight boxing combinations and smothering control in the clinch.

Gifs and analysis in the full entry.

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Abedi100_mediumFrom what little footage was available, I've taken the liberty of capturing some clips from Abedi's past performances for your viewing pleasure.

He's a southpaw standing 5'11" tall who's finished all but one adversary with five TKOs and two subs. Since Alves is a massive and broad-shouldered welterweight, I don't think Abedi cutting to 170 will lend any more advantages than risks.

He will still be a strong welterweight and his extensive Judo background could cause some trouble in the clinch, where Alves is known to tangle.

Abedi has also been a viable threat standing and is proclaiming a knockout if Alves trades with him.

Abedi200_medium

From these animations you can tell that Abedi has a decent grasp of footwork, use of angles and basic striking fundamentals.

The first things that jumps out to me is the way his distinctly closed stance leaves his right leg protruding pretty far forward, which I see as a glowing bullseye for Alves' murderous low kicks.

Having a wide and squatty stature, the leg kick is Alves' best (only?) distance weapon but, then again, that would also set up the ideal southpaw vs. traditional stance counter of Abedi's straight left.

Abedi's left plunges hard, fast and deep and he also likes to go downstairs with it.

Abedy300_medium

One of his common tactics appears to be luring his foes into heated striking exchanges and then dropping levels to get a deep grip in the clinch, where he has a pile of ne-waza options to choose from.

That is the case to the right, where Abedi kept the pressure on with strikes before welcoming his opponent's aggressive charge with a quick level drop and excellent control of the hips for a massive slam.

He is also unafraid to stay in the pocket when his adversary returns fire, relying on evasive head movement, counter punching and the threat of clinch tie-ups to repel the attack.

Alves is far from easy to take down or weak on the mat, boasting a brown belt in BJJ and a lot of experience against elite level grapplers.

Abedy400_medium

Though I wasn't able to nail down his rank, Abedi has displayed a firm grasp of position, passing, scrambling, striking and submission savvy on the floor.

After the monster takedown above, he deftly slipped into the full mount and showered down some serious ground and pound.

This caused his opponent to concentrate on defending the strikes and cover up, and Abedi was quick to capitalize on the scenario by trapping his extending arm, posturing down to lock up the arm-triangle position, and immediately transitioning to side control to turn the corner and elicit the tapout.

This makes him a triple threat with striking, Judo and subs.

Alvesdesouza_medium

Alves has proven that he can end the fight at any time with a wide range of weapons.

His low kicks are bone-breaking, his knees account for almost half of his career TKOs, and both hands have massive power.

To the right, Alves clips Tony DeSouza; another southpaw who opened with a lead right hook like Abedi often does.

Still, this sequence shows a habit that's brought trouble for Alves recently, which is allowing himself to get backed up against the cage before letting his hands go. Abedi could possibly use that to his advantage by forcing a clinch fight, which is exactly how Story was able to defeat Alves.

T1_medium

To the left we see the epitome of Thiago Alves' Muay Thai swagger.

He has an excellent stance and defense, his punches are tight, his chin is tucked, his in-and-out movement is uncanny and he's at his best when he's leading the attack like this.

He's adept at overwhelming with strikes and flowing with a broad blend of techniques, all loosened with great quickness, accuracy and power.

T3_medium

His admirable style of matching -- and usually exceeding -- the aggressive onslaught of his opponents is evident here.

In Muay Thai, a common philosophy is that "if you're moving backwards, you're losing the fight". Alves embodies that outlook perfectly, perhaps taking cues from Wanderlei Silva, the fighter he lists as a personal hero who became a legend for always trudging forward and slinging stiff leather. 

While courageous, the habit is not devoid of risk.

7_medium

Again, in analyzing the Story loss, the wrestler was able to put Alves on the defensive and keep him on his heels with the looming threat of takedowns.

Instead of assuming a decisive range of either "in" or "outside" of the pocket, Story methodically crept forward, shrunk the gap and steered Alves into corners, playing a little chess game of feinting takedowns to set up strikes and vice-versa.

It seems like Abedi's proficiency with striking and clinch work could open up a similar strategy.

Even so, and while you can never count anyone out, it's hard to drum up a viable case for Abedi winning. Other than the faint correlation I just made, Alves being drained from the cut, totally overlooking him or Abedi being a future superstar, all signs point to Alves being on another level until Abedi demonstrates otherwise.

My Prediction: Thiago Alves by TKO


 

Abedi gifs via Caposa

Alves x DeSouza gif via MMA-Core.com

All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com

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