UFC 237 Preview and Predictions

UFC 237 Preview and Predictions

The UFC returns to Brazil on Saturday night from the Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro and while the card might lack depth and name recognition, there are some intriguing bouts that make the card worth tuning into.

The card is littered with precise strikers, strong wrestling and incredible jiu-jitsu. Here are my thoughts on my favourite bouts.

Rose Namajunas (C) (+100) vs Jessica Andrade (-125) – 5 Rounds for the Women’s Strawweight Championship

We’ve seen a few champions over the last year enter the cage as underdogs. Tyron Woodley and Max Holloway both successfully defended their belts against Darren Till and Brian Ortega, respectively, but Rose Namajunas has a different challenge on her hands. Till and Ortega were undefeated prospects and their rise up the rankings ended with title shots. Andrade has been here before. After amassing a 4-3 record as a UFC women’s bantamweight, Andrade dropped to 115-pounds and has flourished ever since, earning a 6-1 record. Her one defeat was a crushing loss against Joanna Jedrzejczyk in her one title shot, but the important note is that she’s been there. She’s been in a title fight, been taken into deep waters and knows what to expect. The same argument can be made for Namajunas, but I think that Andrade is the more talented fighter.

Before getting her title shot against Joanna, Namajunas was only a 6-3 professional, 4-2 in the UFC. She did go onto handily beat Joanna twice, but Namajunas isn’t the world-beating champion that a lot of the UFC champions are.

I was incredibly impressed with how Namajunas maintained distance against Joanna in their second encounter. She’d prefer to take the fight to the ground (five of her eight wins come by submission), but she fought two intelligent fights against Joanna where she correctly calculated that maintaining distance would be more valuable than getting in tight and attempting takedowns or grappling.

Andrade provides a different striking challenging, but is still elite on her feet. Joanna tries to use her size advantage to get you at distance, whereas Andrade tries to get into the pocket and use her quick hands to strike quickly. Andrade is also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, meaning that she can more than handle herself on the ground.

Namajunas won’t enjoy an advantage on the mat and Andrade’s striking is too dangerous to exchange. This leaves Namajunas with a similar strategy to her second bout with Joanna, where she maintained distance while finding her spots striking. The problem will be that unlike Joanna who’s comfortable fighting at distance while putting on pressure when the fight calls for it, Andrade will be relentlessly moving forward and pressuring Namajunas from the on-set.

Add that to the fact that Brazil has been known to give their native fighters questionable scorecard victories and this sets-up badly for Namajunas.

 

Andrade by Unanimous Decision

Anderson Silva (+110) vs Jared Cannonier (-138) – 3 Rounds in the Middleweight Division

It seems unlikely, but Saturday night could be the swansong of one of MMA’s all-time legends. It seems like 44-year-old Anderson Silva still has the drive and fight to continue to compete in MMA’s top playground, but the results don’t match the desire. 1-5 with one no-contest in seven fights since 2013, Silva is past his prime, but still does his best to put on a show every time he steps into the Octagon. Father-time is undefeated, but Silva has been incredibly unlucky with his opponents. All five of his losses were against UFC champions, or fighters who captured UFC gold within one fight of facing Silva.

Saturday night presents a talented counterpart in Jared Cannonier, but one of lesser skill than some of Silva’s more recent competition.

A former heavyweight and light-heavyweight, Cannonier amassed UFC records of 1-1 at heavyweight and 2-3 at light-heavyweight before making the move to middleweight at UFC 230, recording a 2nd round KO of David Branch.

The public opinion was that Cannonier looked better and faster at 185-pounds and that he hadn’t lost much power as seen by his performance-of-the-night bonus for his knockout, but it’s easy to forget that Cannonier lost the first-round fairly handily. He defended very well, but was taken down multiple times and didn’t mount much offense at all until the end of the round. The knockout certainly was impressive, but it wasn’t as if Cannonier looked unbeatable.

Silva prefers to use his muay-thai and taekwondo striking skills, but his advantage in this bout lies in his Brazilian jiu-jitsu. We might see a grappling and ground-game approach from Silva versus the relatively untested mat-work of Cannonier. Yes, Cannonier did look good in the one-round he ended up on the cage and ground against Branch, but he mounted no offense and lost the round.

As a former heavyweight, we saw Cannonier’s heavy hands touch Branch, but his chin may be susceptible, having to cut more weight. This could be a place for an incredible Silva knockout, but it seems unlikely.

I think there’s a lot of value in Silva here, even in his older-age. I think he stifles Cannonier’s offense by using the cage and the mat and his freestyle striking will be difficult for Cannonier to time-up. If it goes to a decision, Silva could also get the benefit of some Brazilian home-cooking on the scorecards as suggested above for Andrade.

 

Silva by Unanimous Decision

 

Jose Aldo (-138) vs Alexander Volkanovski (+100) – 3 Rounds in the Featherweight Division

Another Brazilian legend and former-champion nearing the end of his career will make the walk to the Octagon in his native country on Saturday night. Unlike Silva however, Aldo is still well entrenched in his title picture and Saturday’s result will likely determine the next challenger to Max Holloway’s belt.

This will be an intense battle of impeccable striking. Jose Aldo brings his famous Muay Thai and Volkanovski his kickboxing prowess. Both are high-ranking Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners and Volkanovski has a strong wrestling background.

After dropping three fights in four, Aldo has bounced back with two consecutive TKO victories against Jeremy Stephens and Renato Moicano. Volkanovksi brings a sixteen-fight win streak into Saturday night and while he hasn’t fought the same level of competition as Aldo, he’s 6-0 in the UFC and TKO’ed Chad Mendes in his most recent outing.

There really isn’t a lot to separate these two and it’s honestly the most difficult fight I’ve picked in a while. This will be a completely new experience for Volkanovski as he’s in a fairly high-exposure location on a pay-per-view card having to travel into hostile territory. As much as I want to pick him in this spot, he hasn’t seen someone with the elite striking that Aldo possesses and the moment could very well overwhelm him. While Aldo’s chin has been suspect later in his career, we haven’t seen Volkanovski’s chin get tested much thus far in his career.

I think Aldo uses his menacing leg kicks to measure distance early on and stop the threat of the takedown. The leg kick punishment will leave Volkanovski looking to defend it, opening himself up to punches. Aldo drops Volkanovski late in the second round and continues his streak of TKO victories after a little ground-and-pound.

 

Aldo by Second-Round TKO

Those are all the predictions I have for you, but if you’re looking to catch some earlier fights, here are some other fights that have piqued my interest:

-          Former women’s bantamweight title challenger Bethe Correia fights for the first time since mid-2017. Similar to Ronda Rousey (Correia’s first professional loss), Correia never adapted to the improvement of the fighters and styles in women’s MMA. It will be interesting to see if the 35-year-old comes back a different fighter.

-          BJ Penn and Clay Guida meet in a bout that would have been awesome ten years ago. One of those fights that no one really asked for, but everyone will tune in to watch.

-          Priscila Cachoeira will always be a name that stands out to me for all the wrong reasons. She was the one the UFC fed to Valentina Shevchenko in her flyweight debut to set Valentina up for her shot at the title. It was one of the biggest miss-matches in MMA history and even though I’m a fan of Bullet Valentina, it was tough to watch. Cachoeira is still looking for her first UFC victory, and hopefully she can pull it off this weekend.

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