Four out of the five main card contests are fantastic fights. There is the women’s championship fight at the top. The co-main event features a man many consider to be the GOAT. (Both of those contests will be previewed later by Phil MacKenzie and David Castillo) The next contest below them features another all-time great looking to turn away a serious up-and-comer. Then there’s the main card opener with a pair of aggressive fringe lightweights. All of those should be extremely pleasing to the MMA viewer.
Then there is the contest after that. I’ll get to what is wrong with it in a moment, but I also need to remind my readers – and myself – that a PPV card with four awesome fights is pretty damn good. Remember how barren UFC 234 was? Regardless of whether that card was hurt by injuries, it wasn’t a deep card to ever begin with. I’ll keep my complaints with this card to a minimum.
The main card begins at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Jose Aldo (28-4) vs. Alexander Volkanovski (19-1), Featherweight
Many assumed Aldo was done following his back-to-back losses to Max Holloway. Not because losing to Holloway is anything to be ashamed of. More because Aldo endured a lot of damage in those losses and didn’t seem to make any adjustments. Then he turned away Jeremy Stephens and Renato Moicano in violent fashion in back-to-back contests. Aldo is NOT done. He may not be able to retake the gold while Holloway is the champion – bad stylistic matchup – but that doesn’t mean he can’t beat all the other featherweights on the roster.
That doesn’t mean Aldo is impervious to everyone else. He’s an old 32 – he began his professional career when he was 17 – no longer possessing the granite chin that allowed him to reign over the featherweight division for six years. Enter Volkanovski. The Australian has blazed his own trail through the featherweight division, bowling over Darren Elkins and former title challenger Chad Mendes in impressive fashion. Entering the organization as a rough and tumble wrestler, Volkanovski has slowly transformed himself into a slick striker, finishing Mendes in the second round without even attempting a single takedown in the contest. Few expect Volkanovski to attempt to outpoint Aldo solely on the feet – Aldo may be the greatest defensive fighter ever from a striking standpoint – but no one should put it past him to hurt the Brazilian as the threat of the takedown should always be in the mind of Aldo.
I have yet to mention two of the things that made Aldo an all-time great: his takedown defense and his low kicks. His takedown defense may not be what it was at his peak, but it is still incredibly stout. Even if Volkanovski can muscle him to the mat, Aldo never stays down for very long. Many will say Aldo’s low kicks have become underutilized, but all he needs is one to change the course of the contest. Seriously, they’re that deadly. Just ask Urijah Faber.
I would never say Volkanovski doesn’t stand a chance. He’s become far more sophisticated striker, showing more than the heavy hooks he relied on early, not to mention showing some of the best wrestling at 145. However, Aldo appears to have a weight lifted off his shoulders no longer fighting for gold. He’s opened up his arsenal and looks like the threat to end a contest at any moment that we all remember from the WEC days. A highlight reel finish is a distinct possibility, but I’m expecting a more measured approach from the former champion. Volkanovski will have a few moments, but Aldo should take a clear decision. Aldo via decision
Thiago Alves (23-13) vs. Laureano Staropoli (8-1), Welterweight
This is the contest I can’t figure out. Why in the hell is the UFC thrusting Staropoli into a main card slot? The young Argentinian put on an entertaining scrap with Hector Aldana in his debut in November… but what the hell does a victory over Aldana mean? Hell, he didn’t even get the finish! And now he gets a spot on a PPV main card? I’m calling BS.
Don’t mistake my criticism of the way the UFC is handling Staropoli as criticism of him. He has some finishing ability, going the full 15 for the first time in his career against Aldana. However, he also showed some severe limitations as a striker, engaging in a brawl with Aldana and showing subpar wrestling ability on the regional scene. Alves isn’t much of a wrestler, but he can hit the occasional takedown and is one of the most technically sound strikers in the division. Where Alves comes up short is on size, speed, and durability. Nonetheless, Alves still has his power, can still find angles, and still has some of the best low kicks in the history of the sport. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t find a way to finish Staropoli, proving to be a hard lesson for the still developing fighter. Alves via TKO of RD1
Francisco Trinaldo (23-6) vs. Diego Ferreira (15-2), Lightweight
Trinaldo defies logic, finding a way to remain a high-level lightweight despite being 40-years old. Keep in mind, he’s older than BJ Penn and Penn has been shot for years. While that also presents an argument for mileage as opposed to age, it doesn’t take away from what Trinaldo is still doing at his age.
Known as a massive lightweight with a penchant for smothering the opposition upon his UFC entry, Trinaldo turned himself into a tricky counter puncher who can still revert back to his physical ways when he needs to. Despite his physicality, he has never been the most refined wrestler or grappler. Thus, skilled mat technicians have been his Achilles heel with the likes of Kevin Lee and Michael Chiesa having their way with the Brazilian. However, if Trinaldo’s opponent can’t get him to the ground – and many haven’t been able to – Trinaldo’s power needs to be reckoned with. Throw in the fact that he has yet to be finished with strikes in his career and his success shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Ferreira, like Trinaldo, wasn’t known for his striking when he first came into the UFC. However, again like Trinaldo, he’s polished up his technique to the point that he’s no longer the wild brawler he was upon his entry. Ferreira is still rough around the edges – I’ll be shocked if he outpoints Trinaldo on the feet – but can still overwhelm with this aggression and power. Where Ferreira will have the biggest edge will be on the mat as he one of the better pure grapplers at lightweight. The question is if he can get the fight to the ground, something he has struggled to do at this level.
You might be better off flipping a coin for this one. Trinaldo should be able to outpoint Ferreira on the feet and has a better history of durability. However, he’s also prone on the ground. The other factor to consider is when Trinaldo will begin to show signs of age. It could happen in any fight and it wouldn’t be a surprise at this point. Nonetheless, I’m picking Trinaldo on the risk his athleticism and chin hold up for at least one more fight. It should be fun. Trinaldo via decision