The future -- and perhaps the present -- of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s bantamweight division will be on display, as Thomas Almeida faces Cody Garbrandt in the UFC Fight Night “Almeida vs. Garbrandt” main event on Sunday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. In the co-headliner, former bantamweight champion Renan Barao climbs to 145 pounds to confront Jeremy Stephens.
The rest of the six-fight main card features a middleweight battle matching Vitor Miranda with Chris Camozzi, a lightweight scrap pitting Joshua Burkman against Paul Felder and a pair of welterweight bouts, as Tarec Saffiedine meets Rick Story and Jorge Masvidal takes on Lorenz Larkin.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC Fight Night “Almeida vs. Garbrandt” matchup, with analysis and picks:
Thomas Almeida (21-0) vs Cody Garbrandt (8-0)
THE MATCHUP: Ah . . . do you smell that? The scent of violence is on the wind, and Thomas Almeida and Cody Garbrandt are to blame. Between, them, these two 24 year-olds have a near 90 percent finishing ratio. Garbrandt has knocked out all but one of his opponents, the very tough Henry Briones, while Almeida has finished 16 of his 21 opponents in the first round.
That quick finishing tendency has proven problematic for “Tominhas,” as he ran into the left hook of fellow gunslinger Brad Pickett nearly a dozen times in the first round of their July 2015 clash, and suffered two knockdowns as the result of his recklessness. The problem was Almeida’s willingness to mix it up inside and commit to combinations early in the bout, something he has done throughout his career. He pressed for openings rather than sussing them out, and nearly paid a dear price. As the fight wore on, however, Almeida settled down, fought more patiently, and found his range, ultimately knocking “One Punch” out with one brutal knee.
It’s impossible to judge what long-term lessons Almeida drew from the experience just yet, but his follow-up fight was very promising. Faced with the powerful and aggressive Anthony Birchak, Almeida maintained his distance, avoided needless exchanges--and then buzzsawed through Birchak once he’d figured out the wisest route. The fight hinted at a stylistic transformation for Almeida, from swarmer to boxer-puncher, and the latter suits his strengths much better.
Almeida is an excellent combination striker, blending all eight limbs together in pursuit of the KO. He has a fondness for the cross counter (and its close cousin, the overhand elbow), and knows how to slip inside his opponent’s effective range while attacking, allowing him to do serious damage in the pocket while keeping his eyes open for counters. His preference for that range does leave Almeida relatively open in the early going, however, and that’s a problem that will continue to haunt him until he clocks enough fight time to develop a more consistent defense.
Garbrandt is certainly capable of nailing Almeida with a dynamite punch in the opening stages of this fight. He is the superior athlete, as far as speed and explosiveness go, and he uses that quickness to leap through space behind his heavy right hand. Garbrandt is also a capable counter puncher, with good instincts in the pocket and enough grit not to be backed down by a more aggressive opponent.
Perhaps the best sign for Garbrandt, going forward, was his response to the durability of Henry Briones when the two fought in July of 2015. Briones proved too tough and too crafty to put away, the first time in his career Garbrandt was faced with such an opponent. Rather than wilting or wasting his energy on a resilient target, Garbrandt laid back and picked his spots, winning a comfortable decision. The result was less impressive than expected, but Garbrandt showed unexpected poise for such a young fighter.
This analysis has been largely concerned with the striking battle, and for good reason. Almeida and Garbrandt tend toward the defensive when it comes to grappling. Almeida has shown the ability to submit opponents from his back, but his usual approach is to hip escape like mad when an opponent takes him down, returning quickly to his feet. Likewise, Cody Garbrandt tends to maintain distance and nip takedowns in the bud, eschewing the need to sprawl altogether whenever possible.
THE ODDS: Almeida (-163), Garbrandt (+138)
THE PICK: With two such powerful punchers, no result is certain. Garbrandt’s style, however, is notably less developed than Almeida’s. “Tominhas” is hittable early on, but Garbrandt is susceptible to counters whenever he commits to a forward rush. Not only are these blitzes dangerous, but they comprise too great a part of Garbrandt’s offense. He fights in spurts, while Almeida tends to pick a measured but aggressive pace and stick with it. Garbrandt will likely tag Almeida with a few counters in the first round or two. Provided the fight doesn’t end there, however, he will have a hard time matching Almeida’s pace as the fight wears on. A dramatic finish is to be expected. Thomas Almeida by TKO in the fourth round.
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