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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 213: Nunes vs. Shevchenko - Main card preview

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Scope out the inner workings of the opening half of UFC 213’s main card, featuring a rubber match to potentially determine the next #1 contender at heavyweight between Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem.

MMA: UFC 209-Hunt vs Overeem Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

To the casual observer, the inclusion of Daniel Omielanczuk and Curtis Blaydes on the main card of UFC 213 may seem a bit out of place, especially when compared to the contest it replaced: Donald Cerrone vs. Robbie Lawler. I’m not about to compare it to that contest as the violent possibilities in that bout had many fans drooling at the possibilities. Take away that comparison though and you have the UFC promoting someone who could be one of their biggest stars in short order. Seriously, Blaydes has the potential to be that good.

The other two contests covered here will certainly make more waves in the immediate landscape and should be more entertaining from a competitive standpoint too. After all, Fabricio Werdum and Anthony Pettis are former UFC champions while Alistair Overeem formerly ruled the Strikeforce heavyweight division. Furthermore, the winner of Overeem and Werdum could very well determine the next title contender at heavyweight. There are very heavy stakes on the main card of UFC 213 outside of the title fights, but don’t be surprised if we look back on this and remember as the coming out party for Blaydes.

The main card kicks off at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Daniel Omielanczuk (19-7-1) vs. Curtis Blaydes (6-1, 1 NC), Heavyweight

At 6'4" with an 80" reach at the 265 lb. heavyweight limit, Blaydes possesses a frame that is intimidating to merely look upon. Throw in his freakish athleticism and wrestling accolades – a junior college champion – and it isn’t difficult to see why those in MMA circles are drooling about his potential. In Blaydes’ last contest, he blew out Adam Milstead’s knee as Milstead attempted to defend a takedown, an indication of just how powerful Blaydes is.

It isn’t all roses quite yet for Blaydes. He is still very raw on his feet and can be controlled by an experienced striker. For example, he got stuck on the end of Francis Ngannou’s jab last year. Then again, that was last year and Blaydes has been making great strides, having only turned pro just over three years ago. Blaydes also needs to learn to conserve energy as he doesn’t hold anything back early in contests. Should he find himself in the third round, it wouldn’t be surprising if he has little left to offer at the current pace that he pushes.

Despite his stout 6'0" frame, Omielanczuk is a skilled kickboxer who knows how to make the most out of his limited range. Kick-punch combinations are his bread and butter, throwing them at a pace that is often exhausting for other big men. Don’t let his belly fool you as Omielanczuk has traditionally been the fresher fighter late in fights. Though he isn’t known for his power, Omielanczuk has been able to land the occasional KO blow, though club-and-sub is more his style. He has also been making strides with his wrestling, though it isn’t anywhere near the level of what Blaydes offers.

In terms of straight up physical skills, this is a complete mismatch. I still like the pairing for Blaydes as Omielanczuk is a smart veteran who can cause him some problems, particularly in the clinch as Blaydes has yet to develop the intricacies of dirty boxing in the manner Omielanczuk has at this stage of his career. Perhaps Omielanczuk catches Blaydes with a combination or surprises with a power submission when the fight hits the ground. Most likely, Blaydes grinds Omielanczuk into the ground with some powerful ground-and-pound. Blaydes via TKO, RD2

Fabricio Werdum (21-6-1) vs. Alistair Overeem (42-15, 1 NC), Heavyweight

We’ve seen this before. In fact, we’ve seen this twice before. The last time was so bad that most would presume to have it erased from their memory. However, the current iterations of Werdum and Overeem are very different from the ones that last squared off six years ago.

In that contest, Werdum continually flopped to his back, inviting Overeem to jump into his guard rather than stand and trade with the former K-1 kickboxing champion. Embarrassed by his performance, Werdum rededicated himself to his standup, becoming almost as dangerous standing as he is on the ground thanks to Muay Thai specialist Rafael Cordeiro. Werdum has gotten a lot of attention for his knees and his round kicks to the body, making it easy to forget he has developed a stout jab as well as the basic boxing combinations he often finishes off with a round kick. He still isn’t a defensive wiz, but when Werdum is fights a smart fight, he usually avoids taking serious damage.

Overeem is the ultimate definition of a glass cannon. Though there are few in the sport who have a greater penchant for the KO finish, he’s just as likely to be finished in a similar manner. Considering the heavy mileage Overeem has put on his body – and chin – throughout the course of his MMA and kickboxing careers, it shouldn’t be a surprise. Recognizing this, Overeem now stays on the outside looking to pick his shots as opposed to barreling forward on his opponent as he was wont to do the last time these two met. Like Werdum, round kicks to the body are a staple of his arsenal, though Overeem employs more of a countering style than his Brazilian opponent.

As both excel in the clinch, it’s hard to give a definitive advantage to one over the other. Both possess two of the best collar ties in the division and have a good knowledge of how to effectively dirty box. What may be the difference is the grappling and wrestling. Entering the sport as Mirko Cro Cop’s BJJ coach, Werdum clearly has the advantage once the fight hits the ground, but Overeem isn’t a slouch there himself. It’s easy to forget he has just as many career victories via submission as he does via KO. What could be the difference is Overeem has traditionally had more success in keeping the fight where he wants it, be it standing or on the ground.

This very much feels like a coin toss. Both have the power to turn the lights out on the other and neither possesses an iron chin. Both of their recent losses can be attributed to them deviating from their strategy too. While Werdum does have a grappling advantage, I don’t know if he can get Overeem to the ground to take advantage of that. I suppose Overeem’s ability to better dictate where the fight takes place has me leaning towards him, though I’m hardly confident in my pick. Overeem via decision

Anthony Pettis (19-6) vs. Jim Miller (28-9, 1 NC), Lightweight

The idea of this fight seemed ludicrous about a year ago. Pettis was about to embark on a new chapter in his career at featherweight while Miller’s UFC career appeared likely to end in a short amount of time as he had lost four of his last five. Here we are now with Pettis’ excursion to featherweight cut short after missing weight for an interim title fight and Miller rebounding to win three in a row after it was revealed he had been suffering from Lyme disease.

Miller’s winning streak was snapped against Dustin Poirier in February, but an argument could be made that was his best performance since his career revitalization began. His boxing looked crisp as he put together efficient combinations, continually attacking Poirier’s leg with kicks after it became clear he had hurt the Cajun. However, it’s doubtful he’ll look to give the flashy Pettis room to operate from the outside. One of the sports underrated strategists, look for Miller to take the fight to the clinch where he can strike with his sharp elbows and look for trip takedowns.

Pettis still has the same tools that led to him becoming the lightweight champion. Opponents have simply figured him out and he hasn’t responded with enough adjustments to continue his winning ways, dropping four of his last five. For instance, Pettis’ footwork has often led to him being backed into the fence due to his opponent’s pressure, a place that the striker doesn’t want to be. If given room, he can still blast an opponent with one of his deadly round kicks or something even more creative, i.e. the Showtime Kick. Acknowledging some of his improvements, Pettis has developed a sound counter-boxing game with a solid jab to compliment his well-established kicking arsenal.

What will be the X-factor is the grappling department. Miller is a better wrestler than Pettis, though Pettis’ submissions may be the most underrated part of his arsenal despite having secured three submission victories since his last KO win. His guard is dangerous and he is quick to snag an opponent’s neck if they leave it out for the taking. Miller is a bit more aggressive than Pettis, often looking to create his submission opportunities. However, sometimes he can be too aggressive and get himself into serious trouble. Then again, the last time that happened, Miller was still affected by Lyme disease.

Though Pettis has had some major struggles, I’m having major problems seeing Miller imposing his will on the former champ, even if Miller has been rejuvenated as Pettis is a far superior athlete. Miller should have some good moments as he pressures Pettis against the fence, but Pettis should find a finish whether it be a highlight reel kick or a slick submission. Pettis via submission, RD2