UFC 231 comes to us from the Scotiabank arena in Toronto, Canada this Saturday 8th December with a stacked main card that boasts 2 championship fights. The much anticipated headliner between Max Holloway and Brian Ortega will go ahead following a false start earlier in the year. Holloway came in on weight today, silencing doubters and many concerned whether 145 lbs was a realistic and healthy weight for him to fight. In the co main event Valentina Shevchenko and Joanna Jedrzejczyk square off for the vacant women’s flyweight crown, with both women comfortably making weight.
UFC Featherweight championship
Max Holloway(19-3) vs. Brian Ortega(14-0)
Max Holloway’s winning streak since that loss to Conor McGregor now 5 years ago has been nothing short of scintillating, winning the UFC Featherweight title and beating the great Jose Aldo twice in those 12 fights. Things since then have not gone to plan, with Holloway pulling out of his 3 last scheduled bouts, drawing major concerns. The first of these was a leg injury that stopped his fight with Frankie Edgar, he then tried to step in to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov on a week’s notice for the UFC Lightweight championship, which the New York state athletic commission cut short due to concerns over the weight cut. Concussion like symptoms then ruled him out of the first scheduled bout with Brian Ortega, making it a hat trick of disappointments. Holloway has however made weight and we will be treated to one of the most exciting match ups possible in the UFC at present.
Ortega has also been in fine form, with several come from behind victories on his way to becoming Featherweight number 1 contender. His most notable win coming over Frankie Edgar, a complete obliteration with an uppercut that starched a man known for his incredible durability. That fight and the previous second round submission of Cub Swanson put Ortega in this position. Though who can forget the come from behind submission of Moicano late in round 3 at UFC 214. This ability to finish from nowhere is what makes Ortega such a dangerous prospect against Holloway. He has finished his 3 of his last 6 fights in the 3rd round.
Max Holloway comes into this fight as champion and deservedly so but with the 3 pull outs in the lead up to this contest it isn’t guaranteed that we are going to see the same Max Holloway we have had the pleasure of watching over the last few years. He has won many fights from the accumulation of punches he has put on his opponents but has the trauma of what he has received had a long term impact on him? Watching the embedded Vlog series this week has lead me to have concerns over Holloway’s health, his speech at times appeared laboured. However similar statements have been made about the likes of Nate Diaz and he has continued to fight at the highest level.
Dan Hardy broke down this fight on inside the octagon earlier this week and mentioned 2 statistics that stood out above anything else. Brian Ortega’s 14% takedown success rate compared to Max Holloway’s 84% takedown defense success rate. This seems key, Ortega best chance of winning this fight is undoubtedly via submission, most likely on the ground. How will he get Holloway there though? It’s a delicately poised main event with some mitigating factors that could weigh heavily on the outcome. The best Max Holloway for me wins this encounter, his stand up prowess, angles and ability against the cage mean that for me Ortega has to hope for a chance in the championship rounds. If Max Holloway isn’t physically at his best or his cognition is impaired this could be the start of a decline, at the young age of 27. I hope for all of the MMA community this is not the case. The bookies have Holloway as marginal favourite, but I wouldn’t stick any of my hard earned money on this.
UFC Women’s Flyweight Championship
Valentina Shevchenko(15-3) vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk(15-2)
Valentina Shevchenko showed with her dominant victory over Priscila Cachoeira that she is the woman to beat at 125 lbs, she has an impressive hit list with wins over Holly Holm and Julianna Pena on her CV. She is extremely durable and has only suffered defeat in the UFC to bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes. Coming down to flyweight seems logical, her grappling skills will be even more impressive at this weight and the division is in need of a champion of her calibre following the TUF series that brought in the division with a real lack of top end talent.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk has gone from being the queen of 115 lb division to having 2 losses at the hands of now champion Rose Namanjunas. Joanna took the opportunity to step up a division after the second loss with no real reason to have a third anytime soon. Jedrzejczyk was an incredible champion and has not become a bad fighter overnight, arguably she had nothing to prove at strawweight unless the third Namanjunas fight was there. Joanna took apart Tecia Torres in an impressively professional performance. We know her boxing and head movement are as good as they come but the major worry is how she will deal with Shevchenko’s larger frame in the grappling exchanges.
I see Valentina Shevchenko taking a hard fought victory by decision. Joanna has the skills to prove this wrong and it is a testament to her that she has moved up to try and add to her legacy.
Alex Oliveira (19-5-1) vs. Gunnar Nelson (16-3-1)
Last June I witnessed Gunnar Nelson’s return in Glasgow against Santiago Ponzinnibio, he suffered a heavy KO loss that has left questions over where he is on the spectrum of the UFC welterweight division. He has a chance to put himself back in the conversation of the division’s best against a tough Alex Oliveira. Oliveira has also seemed to plateau somewhat, he is a physical specimen that has wins over Carlos Condit and Tim Means amongst others. Nelson will look to do his best work on the ground and avoid being ragdolled by Oliveira, I see Gunni taking this by submission but a great piece of matchmaking from the UFC.
In the other two main card fights Alberta’s Hakeem Dawodu (8-1-1) takes on Boston’s Kyle Bochniak (8-3) in a featherweight bout. Dawodu comes from a Muay Thai/kickboxing background and has won admirers in his first few outings in the UFC, despite a loss to Danny Collins. He’s a fighter on the up who has the potential to reach the higher echelons of the division, being on the main card is a credit to how he is thought of. His opponent Bochniak is a durable fighter though and good everywhere, this will be a real test of Dawudo’s current level. If he doesn’t knock out Bochniak, I can see him being pipped by a decision.
London’s Jimi Manuwa(17-4) looks to show he is a relevant contender in the light heavyweight division against Thiago Santos (19-6) in what should be a very fast heavy hitting encounter, Jimi likes to go toe to toe, Santos has heavy hands, I don’t think this will last long. I’m rooting for Jimi but I think Santos will get the KO unless Jimi can return to the form that saw him beat Ovince St Preux and Corey Anderson.
Max Holloway v Brian Ortega — featherweight title
Valentina Shevchenko v Joanna Jedrzejczyk — flyweight title
Alex Oliveira v Gunnar Nelson — welterweight
Hakeem Dawodu v Kyle Bochniak — featherweight
Jimi Manuwa v Thiago Santos — light heavyweight
Claudia Gadelha v Nina Ansaroff — strawweight
Olivier Aubin-Mercier v Gilbert Burns — lightweight
Katlyn Chookagian v Jessica Eye — flyweight
Elias Theodorou v Eryk Anders — middleweight
Brad Katona v Matthew Lopez — bantamweight
Chad Laprise v Dhiego Lima — welterweight
Diego Ferreira v Kyle Nelson — lightweight
Devin Clark v Aleksander Rakic — light heavyweight