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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 232: Jones vs. Gustafsson 2 - Main card preview

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Get the inside scoop on the early main card action of UFC 232, featuring Bloody Elbow favorite Ilir Latifi looking to thwart the rise of volume punching Corey Anderson.

The main card contests of UFC 232 outside of the two title fights don’t have any contests fans have been clamoring to see. That may sound a bit crazy given Carlos Condit is on the card, but the former WEC champion hasn’t been the same since falling short – arguably – to Robbie Lawler three years ago. He hasn’t hit the levels of depression former two-division champion BJ Penn has – also on this card – but the decline is obvious. However, the main card fights are perfectly acceptable to be on the main card of any PPV. Condit hasn’t lost to nobodies. Ilir Latifi is considered the GOAT in many circles (take that how you will). Chad Mendes is a former title challenger looking to turn away an up-and-comer. These are quality fights, even if you didn’t know you wanted to see them.

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

Carlos Condit (30-12) vs. Michael Chiesa (13-4), Welterweight

While Condit is currently riding a four-fight losing streak, it could be argued his decline has been ongoing longer than his current streak as his 2-7 record since his victory over Nick Diaz isn’t indicative of a fighter in decline for quite some time. Long a fan favorite for his heavy volume and violent opportunism, it seems likely that all of the brutal battles have finally caught up to the Natural Born Killer. He does still have the incredible durability that has been one of his keystones, but he no longer has the quick-twitch reactions nor the opportunistic nature that once defined him. Bottom line: he no longer has the fire that once drove him near the tip top of the welterweight mountain.

That’s music to the ears of Chiesa. Tired of depleting himself to make the 155-pound lightweight limit, the Washington native has decided to move up to welterweight. It’s questionable how successful the transition will go given Chiesa’s ability to bully smaller opponents – as well as absorb damage – were key to his success at the smaller class. On a positive note, his lack of athleticism is likely to be less noticeable against larger opponents. An even better note: Condit isn’t a large welterweight, nor is he incredibly athletic.

Chiesa’s lack of activity on the feet could prove to be a bigger problem in this contest as Condit has always been a busy fighter, even now when it appears his fire has gone out. Chiesa’s power has long been an underrated aspect, but it’s conceivable it’ll no longer have the same oomph it once did. Regardless, Chiesa will likely find success getting Condit to the ground as Condit’s lack of takedown defense has always been his Achilles heel. Traditionally, Condit has been quick to get back to his feet, but he’s been unable to escape the grasps of Demian Maia and Alex Oliveira in recent fights. Given Chiesa’s reputation as a back-take and RNC expert, it isn’t as outrageous to see Condit getting caught in the mitts of Chiesa.

I really want to pick Condit to win this bout. In fact, I absolutely would have picked him prior to Condit’s loss to Neil Magny. He just doesn’t have it anymore. If he can find a way to reacquire the passion that made him a fan favorite and whirling dervish of violence, I’ll be as excited as anyone to see Condit do his thing. However, three consecutive losses without a sign of the Condit of old, I’d be stupid to bet on it reappearing at this point. Chiesa finds Condit’s back and forces his third submission loss in four fights. Chiesa via submission, RD1

Ilir Latifi (14-5) vs. Corey Anderson (11-4), Light Heavyweight

For all the jokes on this website – and others – that Latifi is the GOAT, he has developed into a legit top ten light heavyweight… perhaps even top five. While I understand light heavyweight is one of the shallowest divisions in the sport, it shouldn’t overshadow Latifi’s development as the progress he has made since his entry into the UFC over five years ago is impressive. No longer relying solely on his bullish wrestling, Latifi uses his lack of height to his advantage as he makes himself a small target with a crouched stance. If he didn’t possess a reach that belies his height, it might pose a problem, but he knows how to keep his jab in his opponents face with the occasional powerful overhand.

For all Latifi’s improvements on the feet, he still can’t compete with Anderson’s boxing. The former TUF winner has no problem laying the volume on nice and thick. The problem has been his lack of power and inability to take a hard shot himself. He was arguably winning against both Gian Villante and Ovince Saint Preux when they landed punches that turned out the lights on the Mark Henry product. Anderson’s wrestling has always been in his back pocket too, but he has also worn himself out in the process of trying to take his opponent to the mat. Latifi has never been taken down in the UFC, though Anderson’s 19 combined takedowns against Glover Teixeira and Patrick Cummins in his last two appearances – two solid wrestlers themselves – offers strong evidence Anderson could be the man to end that streak.

How you pick this contest is dependent on how you see Anderson’s fight with Teixeira. Did Anderson turn the corner or are Teixeira’s days as a competitive 205er numbered? Given Teixeira’s age and mileage, I’m leaning towards the latter more than the former. Anderson is going to have a hard time getting his wrestling going and few can match Latifi’s power. Anderson will probably jump to an early lead – and probably takes a decision if it goes the distance – but Latifi is opportunistic enough he’ll crack Anderson’s chin. Latifi via TKO, RD2

Chad Mendes (18-4) vs. Alexander Volkanovski (18-1), Featherweight

Mendes made a successful return to the cage this summer by disposing of Myles Jury after nearly three years away. While he undoubtedly looked good against Jury, a win over Jury doesn’t answer whether Mendes is still a divisional elite. However, we don’t know if a win over Volkanovski will answer that question either…

There is no doubt Volkanovski is one of the better up-and-coming 145ers, a hell of a compliment given the depth of talent in the division. It could be argued that he has yet to pick up a signature win, but his victory over Darren Elkins is nothing to sneeze at. After all, Elkins toppled Mirsad Bektic just the previous year. Volkanovski isn’t the most polished striker, but he’s proven to be productive on the feet anyway. His jab is effective and he finds a way to land the occasional power shot with fight-ending potential. Despite that, his bread-and-butter is still his wrestling. His takedowns have dissipated with an increase in the level of competition, creating a question of how much success he’ll find with his takedowns at the top of the division.

Given that Mendes has never been taken down in his UFC career, it’s very much a concern. What appeared to be failing Mendes prior to his suspension was a fading chin, suffering two consecutive KO losses. Volkanovski does have the power to test that theory, though Mendes’ own punching power isn’t anything to be trifled with, having secured six first-round KO/TKO’s in his last seven victories. One of the bigger concerns throughout his career has been his miniscule 66” reach, though that didn’t prevent him from reaching three title fights over the course of his career. However, much like Volkanovski, Mendes’ bread-and-butter is his wrestling, averaging more takedowns per minute than Volkanovski at a greater success rate.

While it’s unlikely the winner of this contest gets a title shot, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility either. Both present fresh challenges for Max Holloway, a champion who has blazed a path through most of the division. Do those stakes change things? Hard to say. Mendes has been in the bright lights before while Volkanovski hasn’t. Some would point out Mendes hasn’t risen to the occasion every time, but he wasn’t exactly wilted. While I can easily see Volkanovski using his reach to cause problems for Mendes, I see the Team Alpha Male veteran giving the future star one of his last losses before establishing himself as a top featherweight. Mendes via decision