The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday returns to Texas with a card stacked basement-to-rafters with top-notch talent -- so much so that it is difficult to give all of them the attention they deserve. In the main event, heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic defends his title for the second time in a rematch with longtime contender Junior dos Santos, who defeated him in a five-round thriller in 2014. Meanwhile, women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk takes on the hard-hitting Jessica Andrade in a co-main headliner that will surely produce fireworks at the American Airlines Center in Dallas (online betting).
Filling out the main draw is a trio of potential No. 1 contender fights. Demian Maia looks to add Jorge Masvidal’s name to his six-fight winning streak and net a shot at Tyron Woodley’s welterweight belt in the process. Before that, former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar gives blue-chip featherweight prospect Yair Rodriguez the toughest test of his young career, and Henry Cejudo tries to get back on the winning track against a constantly improving Sergio Pettis. Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier make for a scintillating pair in the featured preliminary clash, while the rest of the card is chock-full of well-matched fights featuring a selection of prospects, contenders and action fighters.
Let us take a closer look at each individual UFC 211 “Miocic vs. Dos Santos 2” matchup, with analysis and picks:
UFC Heavyweight ChampionshipStipe Miocic (16-2) vs. Junior dos Santos (18-4)
THE MATCHUP: Before taking the heavyweight belt from Cain Velasquez in 2011, dos Santos compiled one of the most impressive runs in the division’s history: nine straight wins in the promotion, five of them knockouts and all of them utterly dominant. After winning the title, however, some inherent problems in dos Santos’ style were revealed. In two follow-up fights with Velasquez, dos Santos was repeatedly cornered and beaten up against the fence. He lacked the footwork necessary to avoid the fence and lacked the defense necessary to survive there. Despite his emphatic knockout over Velasquez the first time, he was dominated in both rematches.
It was after the disappointing rubber match with Velasquez that dos Santos first met Miocic. The fight was an instant classic, a five-round heavyweight war to be remembered. Despite absorbing significant damage, dos Santos proved more durable and more consistent over the 25-minute distance. Since then, their paths have diverged. Miocic went on to win two straight before taking the heavyweight title from Fabricio Werdum and defending it against Alistair Overeem. All four of his wins since fighting dos Santos have been knockouts. Dos Santos, on the other hand, was stopped by Overeem in a considerable upset. The loss seemed to spell the end of his title aspirations, as dos Santos once again failed to adapt to a clever opponent. He could not outmaneuver the fleet-footed Dutchman, and he was kept on the outside of a superior kickboxer’s range.
Just when his story seemed finished, however, dos Santos showed a few new wrinkles. Against Ben Rothwell in April 2016, the Brazilian brimmed with confidence. Some of the new muscle that seemed to slow him down against Velasquez, Miocic and Overeem had evaporated. The speed that was always dos Santos’ most fearsome weapon was evident again. More importantly, dos Santos showed excellent generalship. For the first time in his career, he was acutely aware of his position in the cage. When Rothwell pressured him toward the fence, dos Santos used his jabs and feints to create space and then promptly circled away, seeking at all times to keep himself in open space. He still did not show many tight pivots, but he refused to be cornered. While moving at range, dos Santos used straight shots to the body to stop Rothwell in his tracks and wear him down.
While Miocic has enjoyed more success since the first fight with dos Santos, the Brazilian has not rested on his laurels. Perhaps the fact that those laurels were forcibly taken from him was a good thing after all. To assess whether this fight will look any different than the first, we have to ask: Has Miocic made improvements of his own since 2014? It is not an easy question to answer. Miocic has shown some new looks. The pressure he put on Overeem, for example, was unprecedented, and the confidence he showed by constantly walking down a dangerous striker cannot be overlooked. Overeem, however, has always been susceptible to such tactics. While dos Santos has been stymied by pressure, Overeem tends to fold altogether, making his fragile chin even more of a liability. In addition, the intelligence of Miocic’s strategy was belied somewhat by his tactics. He seemed content to simply walk forward and throw punches. Like dos Santos, Miocic has never been a superb defensive fighter, but he was exceedingly vulnerable whenever he attacked Overeem, who managed to drop the champion hard with a clean counter as he stormed into the pocket.
In long fights, Miocic relies on his wrestling to wear down his opponents and keep them guessing on the feet. However, dos Santos has some of the best takedown defense in the entire division. Even Cain Velasquez had trouble taking down dos Santos and controlling him the way he does most opponents, and Miocic only managed one takedown the first time around. For his part, dos Santos managed to take down Miocic, as well, proving that his offensive wrestling can be a factor when necessary.
THE ODDS: Miocic (-133), dos Santos (+113)
THE PICK: It is not easy to guess what version of dos Santos will show up at UFC 211. His career has been rocky of late, and we cannot know whether the visible improvements he showed against Rothwell will show up against Miocic. However, a quick Dos Santos who does not allow himself to be cornered is a dangerous man indeed; and even without these improvements, dos Santos managed to beat Miocic the first time around. Always in phenomenal shape, he outlasted Miocic down the stretch. He took the Ohioan’s best shots and landed devastating ones in return. He worked the body and countered when Miocic became too aggressive. Miocic may be more comfortable pressuring now, but he remains hittable on the way in, and without a distinct wrestling advantage, he will be forced to contend with dos Santos in his world. The pick is dos Santos by fourth-round TKO.
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