With several meaningful fights falling through, UFC 212 is starting to look like a shadow of the card it could have been. Honestly, it does not matter. Jose Aldo and Max Holloway will fight to unify the Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight title in the main event on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro, and this card would be worth watching even if the entire undercard was one long replay of “The Ultimate Fighter China.”
Fortunately, there are still a few gems sprinkled throughout the card. The co-main event between Claudia Gadelha and Karolina Kowalkiewicz has the potential for fireworks and could put either woman into position for one more crack at strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Before they hit the cage, Vitor Belfort returns to his hometown for one last hurrah in an exciting matchup with fellow veteran Nate Marquardt. In the featured prelim slot, former World Series of Fighting bantamweight champ Marlon Moraes makes his long-awaited UFC debut against elite gatekeeper Raphael Assuncao.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC 212 “Aldo vs. Holloway” matchup, with analysis and picks:
UFC Featherweight ChampionshipJose Aldo (26-2) vs. Max Holloway (17-3)
THE MATCHUP: What a fight. Aldo is undeniably the greatest featherweight mixed martial artist of all-time, and a shocking 13-second loss to Conor McGregor does not seem to have broken him in any discernible way. As evidence of his continued greatness, Aldo utterly outclassed Frankie Edgar at UFC 200. Edgar was better than ever, riding perhaps the best winning streak of his storied career, and yet his rematch with Aldo was far less competitive than their first fight. Aldo evaded, countered and controlled the former lightweight champion for five straight rounds, all without ever shifting out of second gear.
Hawaii’s Holloway is what boxing writers used to call “the coming man.” Undefeated since his own run-in with McGregor in 2013, Holloway has compiled a 10-fight winning streak. Among the vanquished: respectable names like Andre Fili, Cub Swanson, Charles Oliveira, Jeremy Stephens, Ricardo Lamas and Anthony Pettis. Seven of those 10 fights have ended in a finish, and the 25 year-old Holloway grows sharper and more confident with every fight. With McGregor leaving the featherweight division behind, now is the time for a changing of the guard, and Holloway is poised to snatch the torch from the masterful hands of the G.O.A.T.
The starkest contrast between Aldo and Holloway is volume. Holloway is an extremely high-output fighter, throwing an average of 13.19 significant strikes per minute while landing 5.67 of them. Aldo connects at the same percentage, 43 percent, but throws fewer strikes. On average, the champion attempts only 7.63 significant strikes per minute, landing 3.28 of them. Even in the fastest-paced fight of his career -- a thrilling rematch with Chad Mendes -- Aldo threw 10.67 strikes per minute, well short of Holloway’s average. Thus, this fight will be decided by whoever can effectively control the pace.
Aldo has always been a superb general in the cage, and he still refines his technique and polishes his game with each new fight. Much of Aldo’s control is the result of his defense. Aldo has excellent head movement. With some of the keenest timing ever seen in MMA, the Brazilian will execute quick slips and pulls from the opening bell, seemingly free from the need to study his opponent before effortlessly reading his offense. It is footwork, however, with which Aldo really shines. He maintains distance brilliantly with small, subtle steps, and cuts tight angles with pivots when his frustrated opponent comes barreling forward. There is no finer defensive artist in all of MMA; and though the 30 year-old Aldo has been fighting professionally for nearly 13 years and endured more than his fair share of injuries in that time, his speed does not seem to have diminished one iota. As such, Aldo uses his defense to set up punishing counters which, coupled with his cracking jab and famously powerful low kicks, enable him to thwart the offense of more aggressive fighters. Aldo drags elite challengers into his pace and then picks them apart.
Holloway is certainly more hittable than the champion, but he does not absorb many more punches. In fact, Holloway is just behind Aldo in terms of significant strike defense, absorbing just 67 percent of his opponents’ offerings. Holloway lacks Aldo’s precise head movement, but his angular footwork is comparable, at the very least, and he uses his reach to keep his opponents on the ends of his punches without wandering into the pocket. The output, however, is responsible for much of Holloway’s apparent defensive skill. Holloway is a combination striker, and he responds fiercely to any and all offense, pouring on the strikes with remarkable accuracy. Though Aldo is the more powerful puncher, Holloway is likely more dangerous thanks to that volume. If Aldo’s chin is at all diminished after the McGregor knockout, Holloway will test it.
Though this fight is likely to be determined by kickboxing, both men have further wrinkles to their games. Aldo is a phenomenal grappler, with airtight top control and buttery-smooth guard passing. Though he rarely looks for the takedown, he has a strong double-leg and a sneaky knee tap in his arsenal. When Aldo fought Mark Hominick with the flu, he made up for the unexpected competitiveness of the striking exchanges by taking down the Canadian five times. Holloway does not shoot much, either, but he is an opportunistic takedown artist with a strong clinch game and some tricky, Lyoto Machida-esque sweeps. Holloway has a venomous guillotine which he usually snags in the transitions created by these takedowns. All the same, it is difficult to imagine Holloway getting Aldo to the ground and even harder to imagine him keeping him down. Of all his defensive skills, Aldo’s takedown defense is the most impressive.
THE ODDS: Aldo (-115), Holloway (-115)
THE PICK: We have the best contender in a stacked division taking on the man who has, but for one brief and violent interruption, ruled that division for nearly a decade. Holloway is confident, aggressive and adaptable, and his ironclad stamina means he will likely try to push the pace against a champion who has sometimes struggled to fight the full 25 minutes. Aldo did show against Mendes that he can still kick into high gear when he needs to, but he really will need to do so if he hopes to keep Holloway from building momentum as the fight wears on. Just as Holloway’s volume poses a threat to the Brazilian’s stamina, Aldo’s intelligent boxing, slick defense and potent counterpunching pose a threat to the Hawaiian’s usual high-output style. Holloway has never had to adapt to a tactician of Aldo’s caliber, and one suspects he will find the challenge surprisingly difficult. Without the constant threat of the takedown, this fight seems like the perfect opportunity for Aldo to unleash a lot more of his notorious low kicks. This fight will have ebb-and-flow. Aldo will stifle Holloway; Holloway will overwhelm Aldo; and both men will have to dig deep to overcome what just might be the toughest test of their respective careers. The pick is Aldo by tooth-and-nail unanimous decision.
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