The bout to open this weekend's UFC card in Vegas feels like a Ghostbusters reunion; a little late, but with less goodwill, and extraneous whining about buzzwords that amount to criticizing women's suffrage. Still, both men are spiritual next of kin; one an aging prospect who wants to prove he's still as valuable as he used to be, the other a young prospect with lots of experience who wants to prove he's as valuable as he can be.
The Match Up
Welterweight Jordan Mein -140 vs. Thiago Alves +120
3 Things You Should Know
1. Mein's incredible knockout over Mike Pyle is a sign of his continued progress on the feet, where he remains a threat to many in the division.
I wasn't shocked that Mein beat Mike Pyle (who is often more erratic than given credit for), but certainly with how quick it happened. However, the thing with Mein is that he's legitimately a threat on the feet in ways that are unappreciated by casual observers. The set up to the left hook on Pyle was picture perfect; a quick feint caused Pyle to lower his shoulder, setting up a textbook bait and switch. Two left hooks later and Pyle was looking at the jumbotron's undercarriage.
2. With Alves' 3rd fight in 3 years coming up, part of his task will be will be feeling comfortable with all the inactivity.
Thiago Alves is an odd musclebound duck. For a guy who turned a 7 fight winning streak into a title fight with Georges St-Pierre, he sure does rack up the losses. The loss to Kampmann was a real bitter pill to swallow. For the most part Alves is a fighter who has never seemed to put it all together; with strong takedown defense and an arsenal of strikes from all limbs.
3. The stakes are higher for Mein, who can start hearing whispers of high profile matchups if he wins. Expect him to fight accordingly, much to the dismay of Alves.
I suspect that a fighter's stance can speak to a fighter's level of confidence. Alves' stance has always been rigid, compact, and conservative; perhaps it speaks to his uncertainty about the kind of complexities any fight presents itself with. How else to explain the variety of offense despite a nadir of output?
However, perhaps most importantly, is the cold hard craftsmanship of luck. He's experience a number of injuries, including an arteriovenous malformation of the brain that halted his rematch with Jon Fitch for UFC 107. Add to that missing weight, getting popped for banned substances, and the raw experience of prizefighting itself, and Alves no longer looks like a 31 year old former prospect. Instead he looks like a case study in how unforgiving this sport can be.
Despite how dramatic I'm making this sound, he looked sound against Seth Baczynski. Not great, but sound. As usual, leg kicks will be what Alves looks to serve up, while trying to land combinations during the exchanges. Mein will try to feint his way towards openings, hoping to replicate that left hook left hook climax to the Pyle bout. The other reason I like Mein in this one is that I think his style of striking counters Alves' on certain principles alone.
One of the common assumptions of good defense on the feet is that if you just keep your hands up, everything will be just be fine. Except that isn't the case at all. It's hardly even true of boxing, where the sheer mass of the gloves makes it harder to laser shots through. A lot of guys end up getting pelted around the forearm, and Alves is a fighter who has suffered before; against Mein who hooks his strikes without completely looping them, it's possible Alves could experience one of the rare KO losses of his career. In addition, Mein knows how to keep the fight well entrenched in phase shifting warfare; a tactic that allowed Alves to get outstruck by GSP despite ostensibly being the more dangerous striker.
I feel like I haven't made Alves seem like the credible threat that he is, but it's hard to articulate what he does differently that will allow him to endure. Just being strong and versatile is not enough, even though it sounds like the whole enchilada. MMA is also about strength, versatility, adaptation, momentum, and calculation. Simply put, Mein better represents that.
Mein by Decision.