Finally, the day has come! Almost seven months after the Max Holloway claimed a bogus interim title, he and Jose Aldo will finally get the chance to unify the belts to determine who is the undisputed Featherweight king in the UFC.
Aside from that, the PPV is still pretty good, at least by 2017 standards. The co-main event, which was originally going to pit the legendary Anderson Silva against the recently surging Kelvin Gastelum, has now been replaced by a bout between two two best Strawweights in the UFC not named Joanna Jedrzeczyk-as Claudia Gadelha will look to defend home turn against another woman whose only loss came against the champion, Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Also on the card is a bout between a pair of veteran finishers, as Vitor Belfort takes on Nate Marquardt. The first two bouts on the main card are a pair of firefights that are sure to entertain.
It’s not a stacked PPV card, but judging by the previous PPV cards in 2017 aside from the vaunted UFC 211, this is a pretty good one. Here are my predictions for the entire five-fight main card slate.
Erick Silva (19-7, 1 NC) vs. Yancy Medeiros (14-4)
The main card opener pits a pair of former notable prospects who, over the years, have turned out to not be contenders. Silva was once viewed as a blue chip prospect who could potentially become a title challenger. The former Jungle Fight Welterweight champion has been in some really fun fights and had some incredible finishes, but his 7-6 UFC record is a clear indication that he is, well, not a contender. Still, he’s a dual black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Judo, has 16 finishes including 12 submissions, has only gone the distance twice in 13 UFC bouts, and is consistently able to be in fun fights.
Speaking of fun, Yancy Medeiros is well versed in that realm as well. Like Silva, he came into the UFC with a great record (9-0 in this case,) but his 5-4 UFC mark is a clear indication that he, too, is not a contender. In nine UFC bouts though, he’s gotten four postfight bonuses, and like Silva, has only gone the distance twice.
This is definitely not an easy pick to make. Silva is bigger, has a better ground game, but has also left a legitimate gym in King’s MMA to train in his own gym. That’s simply not smart. What’s more is that he’s lost two of his last three, and in his last fight against Luan Chagas, he got dropped twice and may have been on the verge of losing a decision had he not gotten the late finish. Silva is at home, but Medeiros is somehow more reliable. A Silva win will be far from shocking, but the smart pick would probably be Medeiros. Prediction: Medeiros via tko, round 2.
Paulo Borrachinha (9-0) vs. Oluwale Bambgose (6-2)
The next bout should definitely not be the second bout on any PPV main card. That is, unless the UFC is really trying to market Borrachinha, which could be awesome. After all, the former Jungle FIght Middleweight champion is unbeaten with every win coming via first round finish, and all but one coming by way of knockout. He easily knocked out Gareth McClellan in his UFC debut in March, and a win against Bambgose on PPV can simply boost his stock.
Lucky for Borrachinha, Bambgose will be more than willing to bang. Possessing black belts in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muai Thai and Taekwondo, as well as a black sash in Kung Fu, all but one of his fights have ended via first round knockout. The lone fight that didn’t end that way for him was a decision loss to Cezar Ferreira in his last fight, back in April of last year. He’s a knockout artist through and through, and therefore, someone’s going night night in this one. Bambgose getting the upset would be quite a swerve. However, I’m going with the hometown guy in this one. Either way, this fight will be damn fun while it lasts. Prediction: Borrachinha via knockout, round 1.
Vitor Belfort (25-13, 1 NC) vs. Nate Marquardt (35-17-2)
Two former victims of Anderson Silva, two PED abusers, two finishers, two elder statesmen of the game, both at or pushing 40, both in the twilight of their careers. Belfort turned 40 in April, has been fighting since 1996, possesses black belts in Brazilian Jiu Kitsu and Judo, finished 21 if his 25 wins including 18 via knockout, and has been finished in four of his last five bouts. Marquardt has second degree black belts in Brazilia Jiu Jitsu, Jiu Jitsu, and Pancrase MMA. He’s 38, has fought 54 times, and has lost seven of his last ten, including four via finish. He’s also won 16 fights via submission and 11 via knockout, stays busy to this day, and keeps finding ways to stick around.
This fight is equally depressing and likely to be entertaining. It elicits a mixture of sadness and pity from many fans, and yet, it’s very likely to be a barnburner. As checkered as their careers may be, and as shopworn as the two men are, they’re both finishers and will go all out here. Vitor still has great handspeed for about three minutes before gassing out, while Marquardt still has finishing ability. If Marquardt tries to clinch and grind against Vitor, he has a solid shot. However, I can’t sake the feeling that Vitor will get the knockout here. I guess that’s what I’ll go with, even though you never know what will happen in a matchup like this one. Prediction: Belfort via knockout, round 1.
(1) Claudia Gadelha (14-2) vs. (2) Karolina Kowalkiewicz (10-1)
There’s not much to say about the co-main event of the evening that isn’t predictable, but I’ll give a full preview of it nonetheless. Originally penciled in as the middle bout of the PPV portion of the card, it took over the co-main slot after Anderson Silva vs. Kelvin Gastelum got scrapped. It’s a matchup of two women who’ve only lost to Strawweight champion Joanna Jedrceczyk, and are clearly the two best fighters in the division aside from her. Gadelha is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu who has six submission wins, but also six decision wins. She’s the best wrestler in the division, and best ground fighter in the division as a whole. She’s proven she can hang with, and even top Jedrzeczyk, for two rounds.
Kowalkiewicz is the better striker, but has only one knockout win. She can’t finish Gadelha, had one very good moment in her fight against Jedrceczyk, and will likely get taken down and smothered for two rounds before trying to muster a comeback in the final round. In the end, either Gadelha wins the decision, or gets a submission win. Unless something crazy happens or Gadelha gasses out really early, this is a fight she should undoubtedly win. Prediction: Gadelha via decision or late submission.
UFC Featherweight championship unification bout: (c) Jose Aldo (26-2) vs. (iC) Max Holloway (17-3)
In the main event of the evening, the UFC Featherweight title will finally be unified. What’s more is that this bout pretty much allows the division to fully move on past the dreadful McGregor saga. Whoever wins is officially the best in the division, end of story.
Aldo’s story is well documented at this point. Growing up in the favelas (slums) of Brazil, Aldo cleaned and lived in the gym to pay for training. He overcame all the adversity to become the face of the division in WEC and the UFC, going undefeated for over ten years and amassing a 14-0 record in the two promotions prior to the McGregor bout, which I won’t pay any more heed to. He’s dominated the likes of Urijah Faber, Cub Swanson (whom he beat in eight seconds,) Chan Sung Jung, Kenny Florian, Ricardo Lamas and Chad Mendes. His leg kicks are insanely brutal, he’s a black belt in both Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Luta Livre, and has 14 knockout wins to his credit. He’s the greatest Featherweight ever, in the minds of true fans, and his legacy is cemented as such.
And then, there’s Max Holloway. It’s amazing what all he’s done at such a young age. He’s only 25, yet has beaten the likes of Anthony Pettis, Cub Swanson, Ricardo Lamas, Jeremy Stephens and Charles Oliveira in his current ten-fight winning streak. He made his UFC debut back in February 2012, at the tender age of 20, against the ferocious Dustin Poirier. He got submitted in the first round that night, but won three straight in the octagon before losing a split decision against Dennis Bermudez at UFC 160 in May 2013. In his next fight, he lost a decision to Conor McGregor, before going on his incredible and ongoing ten-fight winning streak. There’s nobody that can deny that the Hawaiian deserves this title shot, and even though his trash talking has been cringeworthy, that doesn’t deny how great he has been.
This is honestly a tough fight to predict. Aldo is more experienced, much better on the ground, has more knockouts than Holloway has finishes, legendary takedown defense, and unimaginably powerful leg kicks. He’s also still marked by what happened in December 2015, and while he looked incredible against Frankie Edgar at UFC 200 last August, he hasn’t fought since. Holloway is a better striker than most of Aldo’s opponents, which raises the question of if there is a chance that he out-strikes and possibly finishes Aldo.
In the end, I’m going with Aldo. He’s got experience, and I believe he’ll be poised to win in his home country where he is thoroughly beloved. His leg kicks are something Holloway has never dealt with, and as long as he doesn’t gas out or take much damage, this is his fight to lose. Add in his ground advantage, and he should win this fight. Holloway is the favorite, on the hot streak, and doesn’t have the pressure that Aldo does here. It’s a fascinating paradigm, and while a Holloway win won’t shock anyone, I’m picking Aldo to use his leg kicks, grappling advantage and other aspects of a well-rounded game to fight smart, and ultimately take home the decision victory. Prediction: Aldo via decision.