As the holiday season begins, UFC 218 on Saturday in Detroit might not be exactly what we asked for. Max Holloway, who turns a ripe old 26 this Monday, has won 11 consecutive fights and is already putting together a historically noteworthy resume. Seeing the Hawaiian try to vanquish a legendary, two-division stalwart like Frankie Edgar would have been a thrill and a half, but naturally, Edgar was injured in training camp a month ago.
This is MMA, and that is just the way the orbital bone crumbles. Everybody understands. Well, everybody except UFC President Dana White.
So Holloway, who dispatched Aldo just six months ago, now faces the Brazilian again at the humble Little Caesars Arena in the Motor City. However, if we are forced to accept a consolation gift, we could do a lot worse. At the end of the day, this is still a young king like Holloway, just sniffing his prime, taking on one of the best to ever do it in Aldo, still just 31 years old.
That says nothing of a fantastic heavyweight clash between Francis Ngannou and Alistair Overeem or the chance that Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje could reenact Don Frye-Yoshihiro Takayama, so let us dispense with wisdom or lack thereof on UFC 218:
UFC Featherweight ChampionshipMax Holloway (18-3) vs. Jose Aldo (26-3)
ODDS: Holloway (-310), Aldo (+255)
ANALYSIS: This rematch is particularly compelling because of the very dynamic of their first encounter in June. Since Holloway poured on the punishment in the third round and beat down Aldo before his Rio de Janeiro crowd, it is easy to forget that the Brazilian was landing sharp, powerful counter combinations over the first 10 minutes and won both rounds, even though Holloway started coming on in the second stanza. Aldo also claimed he had a leg injury during the UFC 212 bout, which prevented him from throwing his legendary leg kicks.
Is that a smokescreen? First of all, just as Aldo himself and trainer Andre Pederneiras have publicly proclaimed him to be in full health, we never seem to really have a true handle on the medical, physical realities involved with him. More than that, over the last three years, Aldo has quietly shifted his style towards this kind of heavy counterpunching anyhow, largely leaving his leg kicks behind.
Ever since he hacked up Ricardo Lamas’ leg at UFC 169, the Nova Uniao product has been vastly more focused on circling outside and countering with combinations, fighting in shorter, more explosive bursts. A leg kicking attack would seem to suit Aldo against the long-legged Holloway, who despite being four inches taller than the 5-foot-7 Aldo, actually gives up an inch of reach to the Brazilian.
Aldo may be good enough to preserve his range and space against most fighters without using leg kicks but not against Holloway. The Gracie Technics star lands 5.79 significant strikes per minute in the UFC; now consider the competition he has faced at 145 pounds. Again, what does it say that Aldo was so successful in the first fight, yet wound up getting beat silly in its conclusion with no real sudden change in momentum? Holloway walked through hard, clean combos and continued drilling Aldo to the head and especially the body with both hands. The “Blessed” one may have some first-round finishes, but he is not a fast starter by nature; Holloway takes a minute to find his groove, and then he plays jazz. In the first Aldo bout, he threw 32 total strikes in Round 1, then 78 in Round 2. In just over four minutes in the decisive third frame, he landed 88 of 124 total strikes.
Once Holloway found a home for his left hand in their first fight, the snowball started rolling downhill and completely squashed Aldo. Unless Aldo shows a different game plan or manages to land the perfect two-piece counter that actually puts down Holloway, the second verse should be the same as the first. Holloway wins his 12th in a row, and a 31-year-old Aldo suddenly feels like a relic of an era long past.
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