UFC 227 is now available on Amazon Prime.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s grandiose plans for UFC 227 did not quite come to fruition, but what is left remains a really fun affair. The promotion apparently targeted Georges St. Pierre-Nate Diaz -- a fight that fizzled out almost as quickly as it was rumored. The card was diminished further when Alexander Gustafsson and Volkan Oezdemir suffered injuries, resulting in their bout being scrapped entirely.
However, there are still two title rematches, and while the timing may be suspect on both, they are probably the best matchups the UFC can put together in each division. Add in a cadre of top prospects and some elite action fighters, and the end result feels similar to UFC 221 in February. It may not be worth $65 in terms of star power, but it has the potential to be one of the more exciting cards of 2018.
Let us get to the analysis and picks for UFC 227 “Dillashaw vs. Garbrandt 2,” set for Saturday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles:
UFC Bantamweight ChampionshipT.J. Dillashaw (15-3) vs. Cody Garbrandt (11-1)
ANALYSIS: When Dillashaw won the UFC’s bantamweight title from Renan Barao at UFC 173, it was one of the biggest upsets in UFC history and a huge moment for Team Alpha Male. Dillashaw had been a top prospect since debuting with the UFC two and a half years prior, but in the Barao fight, his striking game fully clicked into place under the tutelage of coach Duane Ludwig. After years of unsuccessfully chasing the likes of Barao, Dominick Cruz and Jose Aldo, it also marked the first UFC championship for Team Alpha Male; unfortunately, it went downhill shortly thereafter. Dillashaw’s title reign was a bit of a dud. While he looked excellent inside of the cage, a rematch with Barao was repeatedly delayed due to injuries to both men, which left the bantamweight division stuck in stasis for over a year. Dillashaw soon had an acrimonious split with Team Alpha Male. Ludwig and camp founder Urijah Faber had a falling out, and when Ludwig returned to his native Colorado, Dillashaw decided to leave with him. Dillashaw wound up losing his title to Cruz in the latter’s stunningly successful return from multiple knee injuries but struggled to get a rematch, as the UFC’s attention seemed set towards building up the latest apple of Team Alpha Male’s eye: Garbrandt.
Garbrandt also became a top prospect upon his promotional debut, but it was still surprising when the UFC decided to put him in a headlining spot against Thomas Almeida just nine fights into his career. Up to that point, Garbrandt had shown little more than his power punching ability, but as it turns out, that was all he needed to make his way to a title shot. Garbrandt put down Almeida within a round, did the same to Takeya Mizugaki and was placed in a co-main event slot opposite Cruz at UFC 207. Most figured that fight would expose Garbrandt, but instead, it was his coming-out party. Garbrandt used his power and reflexes to shut down Cruz’s entire game. Whatever Cruz tried, Garbrandt either absorbed or evaded it and hit back twice as hard until the bout was over and he had won three one-sided scorecards.
Dillashaw and Garbrandt finally met at UFC 217, and the result was outstanding, even if it only lasted a shade under eight minutes. Most of the first round served as a feeling-out process, but at the end of the frame, Garbrandt hit one of his counters and nearly finished Dillashaw. However, before Garbrandt could turn up the pressure for a stoppage, his former teammate was saved by the bell and staggered back to his corner. From there, Dillashaw followed the advice of his corner, managed to adjust, threw more kicks and sat down on more powerful strikes -- until one finally clipped Garbrandt. Dillashaw swarmed on his fallen rival and reclaimed his title.
It does feel like the UFC is rushing Garbrandt back into an immediate rematch, particularly with the bantamweight division being particularly deep with other options, but this still might be the best fight the promotion can put on at 135 pounds. The first encounter showed they were evenly matched, as either man could have walked away with the knockout. It also put a dynamic between the two in stark contrast: Dillashaw has more options, but Garbrandt has the lightning-quick reflexes and knockout power needed to mask his deficiencies.
ODDS: Dillashaw (-115), Garbrandt (-105)
THE PICK: I tend to favor Dillashaw in the rematch. The current champ seems like the smarter fighter, and if there has been one historical criticism of Team Alpha Male, it has been its inability to make the little adjustments to get most of its fighters over the championship hump. “No Love” can ruin all of Dillashaw’s planning with one big punch, but look for the champion to break down Garbrandt and score a finish in the second half of the fight.
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