Even if each of these main card contests for UFC 208 looks a bit lopsided at first glance, there is a certain level of intrigue in each of them. Tim Boetsch and Jim Miller were written off by many pundits, perhaps only a single loss away from being released last summer. Now they have put together consecutive wins and are getting an opportunity to return to a level of prestige they once enjoyed against heavily favored opponents in Jacare Souza and Dustin Poirier. If Souza wins, he’s almost assured of a title shot after Michael Bisping and Yoel Romero take care of business. Plus, Jared Cannonier, fresh off his slobberknocker with Ion Cutelaba, takes a HUGE step up in competition against a potentially faded Glover Teixeira. No disrespect to the main and co-main, but these fights are the ones I’m most looking forward to.
The main card of UFC 208 begins at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Jacare Souza (23-4) vs. Tim Boetsch (20-10), Middleweight
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: Souza wants a title fight. So why is he taking this contest with Boetsch? Souza has had difficulty finding someone willing to step into the cage with him as few have been willing to step up and face the BJJ expert. Plus, it’s a paycheck. With a win, it will be hard to deny Souza the title shot that he has long been campaigning for.
There isn’t an area that Souza isn’t dangerous. Everyone likes to talk about his championship BJJ with its creative guard passes, submissions, and tenacity - and they should. It really is all that it is cracked up to be. But to leave the narrative at that sells Souza’s all-around abilities short. A naturally strong athlete, he’s added a lot more technique to his wrestling in recent years to more effectively take his opponent to the mat. Though he is capable of driving an opponent to their back, more often than not it comes from Souza chaining together attempt after attempt from the clinch. Trips are another essential part of his arsenal.
Boetsch, like pretty much everyone else in the world, will want to avoid Souza’s ground game at all costs. Boetsch has a competent wrestling game with his own version of trips that pundits refer to as “redneck judo” due to its lack of grace. However, he’s also proven to have sub-par submission defense against anyone with an above-average submission game. If the fight hits the ground, it’s gonna be game over for Boetsch.
Boetsch’s best chance will come if he can avoid Souza’s takedown attempts from the clinch, as Boetsch has proven to have ungodly strength in close quarters. His dispatching of Yushin Okami and Brad Tavares when it appeared they were firmly in control is solid proof of his abilities. Souza does tend to be overly patient, stalking his opponent throwing far more feints than actual strikes for minutes at a time. He’s able to get away with this due to his underrated power and threat of the takedown. If Boetsch, can get his kick heavy offense going along with the occasional flurry of punches, he could steal a decision.
Boetsch has experienced a recent revitalization, winning his last two contests when most expected he’d be washed out of the big leagues by now. Expecting that to continue against Souza would be foolhardy. Souza is a far superior athlete and far more skilled as well. Boetsch would be better off fighting the likes of Chris Camozzi whom Souza subbed twice in the first round. Expect a similar fate for Boetsch. Souza via submission, RD1
Glover Teixeira (25-5) vs. Jarod Cannonier (9-1), Light Heavyweight
It’s amazing what a single good performance can do. After a firefight with Ion Cutelaba, Cannonier now faces former title contender Teixeira on a PPV main card. Damn. Then again, it could be a greater reflection of a potential decline by Teixeira.
While Teixeira is certainly past his prime, one needs to consider it was hard-hitting Anthony Johnson who last dispatched of him. That makes his inability to make it to the 15-second mark in that fight more understandable. In an incredibly shallow division, Teixeira is still one of the top 205ers. His tight and technical boxing would be dangerous enough if he merely possessed average power. Instead, an argument could be made that Teixeira is the hardest hitter in the division this side of Johnson. He has shown more aggression recently, stalking his opponent with efficient footwork behind a potent jab. His aggression has led to him eating a lot of damage, but on the whole he has good defensive skills in addition to great durability…provided Johnson’s KO isn’t a precursor of things to come.
Cannonier is similar in style, though far short on high-level experience. The opponents Cannonier has defeated in the UFC have a combined two UFC victories while the opponents Teixeira has turned away have clocked in 62 victories. Big difference. While his power isn’t as consistently proven as Teixeira’s, it looks as though it is as potent. Cannonier’s durability is not yet a proven commodity. Yes, he ate all of Cutelaba’s shots and kept coming for more, but he also fell in quick fashion to Shawn Jordan. It’s a surety that his chin will be questioned as Cannonier’s defense leaves a lot to be desired.
The one thing people aren’t talking about Cannonier’s last contest is the amount of times he was taken down by Cutelaba, even after Cutelaba had gassed. Teixeira’s wrestling doesn’t get the attention it should as it is the most underrated part of his game. Highly dependent upon single-leg attempts, his doggedness is surprising for someone of his size. Teixeira’s submissions from the top position that are another aspect that doesn’t get much attention. It’s plausible the fight could be over in short order if Teixeira can get side control or better.
Everyone’s drooling over the possibility of this contest becoming a firefight as both are hard hitters. I don’t see Teixeira taking that route to victory. Seeing as how his chin was cracked by Johnson, I doubt he’ll want to have it tested. I’m worried this will be a grinding affair in which Teixeira takes Cannonier down time after time, utilizing his awesome positional grappling for a safe and unanimous decision. Teixeira via decision
Dustin Poirier (20-5) vs. Jim Miller (28-8, 1 NC), Lightweight
Who would have believed this contest would be happening eight months ago? Most had written off Miller following his loss to Diego Sanchez last March only to see him wheel off three straight wins. On the other side of the spectrum, Poirier saw the momentum of a four-fight win streak – including three first round finishes – come to a screeching halt in a matter of 95 seconds against Michael Johnson. So much for the title talk surrounding Poirier…
It isn’t that it would be impossible for Poirier to dust himself off and make a run to the top. It would just be improbable. Johnson revealed Poirier’s lack of top-flight athletic ability and the same defensive deficiencies that ultimately led to his loss to Conor McGregor back in 2014. That hardly means Poirier is a shell of himself. He’s still the same guy that plowed through the lightweight division upon making the jump to 155. We simply have a better idea of just how far he can climb the ranks.
Poirier has become a dangerous pressure fighter, staying up in his opponent’s grill with hopes of getting them to initiate as Poirier is most comfortable on the counter. His footwork has improved dramatically over the years, with excellent use of angles to find openings. Like most pressure fighters, he tends to play with fire – and we all saw Johnson burn him – but he has come out of the flames in better shape than his opponent far more often than not. Miller doesn’t have the same level of speed and athleticism of Johnson, so don’t expect Poirier to quickly go down in flames again.
Miller’s career revitalization has featured some luck as he ran threw a shot Takanori Gomi, stole a decision from Joe Lauzon, and outlasted a depleted Thiago Alves in the Brazilian’s debut at lightweight. Miller isn’t completely done as many thought, but it would be a mistake to believe he’s regained his status as a contender.
Possibly the secret to his success was a diagnosis of Lyme disease, discovered right before he went on his streak. He has looked more energetic and crisp in putting together his boxing combinations. He doesn’t have the power that Poirier owns, which could be troublesome as he has a bad habit of letting his opponent dictate where the fight takes place. Miller would be best served fighting in the clinch where he does an excellent job of finding small openings to stay busy with while looking to execute his trip takedowns.
I’m not sure what to expect on the ground. Poirier doesn’t look for takedowns unless he believes his opponent to be deficient there compared to their striking. Thus, former professional boxer Joe Duffy is the only opponent he has taken down more than once in over three years. Miller is comfortable working off of his back, conceding takedowns at times due to his abilities. Don’t expect Poirier to give in to that, even if Miller has been outwrestled more often than not the last few years.
Miller’s best chance to win is to get the fight to the ground as his submission skills are superior to those of Poirier, though not by much. He really doesn’t have any other physical advantages and will have to rely on his guile and savvy to pull off the upset. I don’t see it happening. He survived Alves, as Alves didn’t have the energy needed to put away the longtime UFC vet. Poirier won’t have that issue as he has looked fantastic at lightweight. I don’t expect this to last long. Poirier via KO, RD1