It isn’t too difficult to see just how deep UFC 211 is. You know the main card has to be exceptional when Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier aren’t on the main card. Not only is that a contest that could easily headline a Fight Night card, Alvarez headlined the one of the biggest cards in UFC history in his last contest. Granted, he largely has Connor McGregor to thank for that, but Alvarez deserves some sort of credit. Don’t overlook Chas Skelly and Jason Knight either. They aren’t as well known as Alvarez or Poirier, but they tend to be just as entertaining.
I realize that there are four contests on the FX prelims, but the Jared Gordon-Michael Quinones preview was released in yesterday’s preview. Thanks to a hand injury to Henry Cejudo, he was forced to pull out of his contest with Sergio Pettis, shuffling the card. Krzysztof Jotko and Dave Branch was moved from the televised prelims to the main card with Gordon and Quinones being moved into its current position on the prelims from the Fight Pass preview.
The televised prelims air on FX at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Eddie Alvarez (28-5) vs. Dustin Poirier (21-5), Lightweight
From headlining the UFC’s first trip to Madison Square Garden opposite McGregor to closing out the prelims. Quite the fall for Alvarez. Regardless, Alvarez and Poirier are two of the most notable action fighters at 155, making this a wet dream for many fans.
Given how easily McGregor handled Alvarez, there are questions of whether Alvarez is on the decline. Though is it a fair question to ask given the mileage on Alvarez’s body, McGregor was a stylistic nightmare for the former champion, owning a five-inch reach advantage and knowing how to use it. Poirier will still have the advantage there, though only by three inches while not using his outside striking as effectively as our current champion. In fact, both competitors tend to stay in the pocket for long periods of time. Translation: Expect this to be a slobber knocker.
Alvarez has become less inclined to slug it out in recent contests thanks to his mentoring from Mark Henry. His diverse attack and willingness to mix his strikes to all levels makes it difficult to know where Alvarez’s attack is going to come from. The added discipline hasn’t completely eliminated Alvarez’s tendency to brawl, but he picks his spots better now while relying more on the threat of the takedown than he has in the past.
Poirier has also made improvements to avoid taking so much damage, though they haven’t been quite as obvious as Alvarez’s. Then again, fans are rarely looking at what is happening with footwork which is where Poirier has made the most strides. Like Alvarez, Poirier still enjoys biting down on the mouthpiece and swinging, but also realizes that approach isn’t always going to work for him despite his above average punching power. While speed isn’t an asset Poirier possesses, that has only come into play against the superior athletes of the division. Though I won’t discount arguments that Alvarez once belonged in that category, Alvarez’s slight physical decline makes it unlikely Poirier will pay a serious price for that deficiency as he did against Michael Johnson.
The other aspects of the contest are very close. Poirier is probably slightly better in the clinch, though Alvarez has been improving in that area. Alvarez likely has a slight edge in the scrambling department, yet Poirier’s underrated grappling skills has allowed him to hold his own there. I’m not even going to try and guess who is the better wrestler. The point I’m trying to make is this contest should be mostly contested and decided on the feet. Given Alvarez’s status as a former champion, he’s the easy pick to go with. Then again, there are signs of physical decline in Alvarez. Alvarez has traditionally responded well following his losses. Not the most scientific reason to pick the former champ, but I don’t know if there is a strong scientific argument for one way or the other. Alvarez via decision
Chas Skelly (17-2) vs. Jason Knight (17-2), Featherweight
Probably the most underrated contest on the card, don’t be surprised to see these two hard-nosed scrappers steal the show.
Though Skelly and Knight are under the radar of most casual fans, those in the know were excited when this contest was announced. Both are determined grapplers with aggressive striking who don’t back down from anyone. Between the two, Knight has received more love from the fans thanks to his abrasive personality which has earned him the moniker of Hick Diaz. Oh yeah… his tendency to talk trash, constant forward movement while throwing his fists, poor wrestling, and dangerous guard had something to do with that too. Sounds just like a Diaz, right?
Labeling Knight as a poor man’s Diaz brother isn’t fair to Knight’s recent improvements. A reactionary double-leg takedown has been the most obvious addition, creating a more favorable option to take the fight to the ground than he utilized in the past. Upon his entry, Knight’s dangerous guard was the most notable part of his game as he threatens with armbars and triangle chokes at all times. His top control is still developing, though it doesn’t take away from his danger as a submission artist.
Skelly’s guard isn’t as dangerous as what Knight has to offer, though no less effective as Skelly’s activity off his back is more likely to lead to a sweep. He’s also far more likely to get the fight to the ground as his impressive collegiate wrestling background – an NAIA All-American -- has served him well. Like Knight, he times his shots well, but also has a bit more burst and technique in his shots. Skelly’s very active early in the contest searching for subs with chokes being his specialty. He has tended to fade down the stretch, though better dieting and conditioning has seemingly solved that.
The standup battle will be an interesting one. Knight keeps his jab out there constantly, though he also leaves his own chin to be touched up in the process. Still, his toughness allows him to find success trading shots as he lays the volume on thick. Skelly has typically been a sloppy –though powerful – striker. He has shown improvement since hooking up with Henri Hooft, improving his accuracy to his awkward striking. Perhaps the biggest key to the contest will be the progress Skelly has made.
I was leaning towards picking Knight until taking a deeper look into this contest. Knight is likely to win the striking battle as his boxing is far sharper than what Skelly offers and I don’t see Skelly landing a haymaker to put Knight on the ground. However, Skelly’s ability to make a fight ugly in the clinch and dictate where the fight takes place with his superior wrestling should be just enough to edge out Knight in the eyes of the judges. Regardless of who wins, I very much look forward to this contest. Skelly via decision
Polo Reyes (7-3) vs. James Vick (10-1), Lightweight
Even though Vick has been vocal about his disappointment in his being matched up with Reyes, it should be an entertaining contest for the fans regardless of who comes out on top.
Even though Vick has a right to be upset with the contest as it isn’t going to advance his position in the ultra-competitive lightweight division if he is able to pull off the win. However, an opportunity to fight in his home state and pick up an extra paycheck pushed him to accept the contest. Standing at 6'3" with a 76" reach, Vick’s freakish size makes him a unique puzzle for anyone in the division. He has developed a strong jab with a series of front kicks to maintain distance. That often forces opponents to telegraph their level changes where Vick often snakes in his signature guillotine choke off of opposing takedowns.
Reyes isn’t likely to fall into the guillotine as he rarely looks to take the fight to the ground. He would much rather stand and trade, developing a reputation as one of the more entertaining brawlers in the organization. Reyes did show far more discipline in his last contest against similarly lengthy Jason Novelli, getting down his timing and countering everything in the second round to show progression in his technique and timing. His greatest weapon is his chin as few have proven to be able to withstand punishment quite like he can.
Considering the two of them have combined to land a single takedown in 10 combined UFC contests, don’t expect much wrestling and/or grappling to come into play. Reyes should have the advantage in scrambling situations, but he’ll be hard-pressed to penetrate Vick’s above-average takedown defense should he attempt to create.
Vick is the easy favorite here. He’s faced better competition than Reyes and emerged victorious against all but Beneil Dariush. However, if he decides to look past Reyes – and he could be given his attitude towards his opponent – Vick has enough holes in his standup defense that Reyes could easily land a big overhand and put the big Texan down for the count. Though it’s a good possibility that happens, the safe money is still on Vick to pull out a W. Vick via decision