Saturday, July 8th, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada for the UFC 213: “Nunes vs. Shevchenko 2” by Daniel Tom

The opinions expressed in this free content are for entertainment purposes only, as my goal here is to provide analysis for those who enjoy the technical or gaming aspects of our sport. If you choose to gamble, I recommend doing so responsibly and legally as it is at your own risk. Enjoy the fights!

Amanda Nunes (14-4)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’8″ Age: 29 Weight: 135 lbs Reach: 69″
  • Last Fight: TKO win / Ronda Rousey (12-31-16)
  • Camp: American Top Team (Florida)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   UFC Bantamweight Champion
+   Black Belt BJJ
+   10 KO victories
+   3 Submission wins
+   11 first round finishes
+   KO power
+   Underrated footwork
+   Improved jab
+   Dangerous right hand
+   Hard leg kicks
+   Strong inside the clinch
^   Good hip awareness
+   Solid top game
+   Devastating ground striker
^   Hard elbows & punches
+/-Aggressive pace & pressure
^   Propensity to fade as fight progresses

Valentina Shevchenko (14-2)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’5″ Age: 29 Weight: 135 lbs Reach: 67″
  • Last Fight: Submission win / Juliana Pena (1-28-17)
  • Camp: 303 Training Center (Denver, CO)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Good

Supplemental info:
+   17x Muay Thai & K-1 Champion
+   9x IMFA Champ (56-2 as a pro)
+   Black Belt Tae Kwon Do (2nd dan)
+   2 KO victories
+   6 Submission wins
+   6 first round finishes
+   Excellent footwork
^   Rarely out of position
+   Accurate check-hook & counter cross
+   Dangerous knees, elbows, and kicks
+   Competent & crafty clinch game
^   Good trips, tosses & positional awareness
+   Underrated takedown defense
^   Deceptively strong hips & base
+/-Sometimes stuck playing defense
+   Consistent fight-to-fight improvements
+   Physically & mentally durable

Summary:

The main event for UFC 213 is a rematch for the bantamweight belt as Amanda “The Lioness” Nunes defends her title against Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko.

Riding high since becoming a champion last year, we have seen Amanda Nunes add legendary names to her resume as she was able to stop both Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey in the first round. Now, tasked with a previous test that proved to be difficult, Nunes will have her chance to make yet another statement to the division she currently rules over.

Looking to spoil the Brazilian’s party is Valentina Shevchenko, the dark horse-turned-title contender who is coming off an impressive win over Juliana Pena earlier this year. Not only does the Kyrgyzstani fighter have a chance to avenge her only UFC loss, but she also has a chance win a UFC belt, a dream for any life-long martial artist.

In their first meeting back in March of 2016, we would see a tentative start from each fighter—particularly Shevchenko—as they both did their homework on each other’s game, showing respect for the potential shots coming back at them.

With Nunes implementing her on-paper advantages come the second round, we would see the Brazilian take her opponent down off of having her kick caught in a scramble––and subsequently used her solid top game to land hard shots on Shevchenko.

Displaying her durability both physically and mentally, Shevchenko would barely blink an eye as she fought out of multiple bad spots—including a rear-naked-choke—Nunes’ best submission position. And of course, the third round would see a momentum shift as Shevchenko turned up the volume, landing knees, elbows, takedowns, and ground strikes.

However, it would be too little too late as Amanda Nunes would take home her first career win by decision. And though the dynamic of this matchup largely remains the same, each fighter has shown improvements in crucial areas of their game.

Starting off on the feet, I still give a decent edge to Shevchenko as she is the more technical striker on paper.

Coming from a martial arts family—as she has been a practitioner since the age of four—Shevchenko has amassed multiple titles in K-1 and the IFMA, an organization where she fought and beat Joanna Jedrzejczyk 3-times.

A counter fighter by nature, the general objective and game plan of Shevchenko should be clear against a fighter who inherently needs to close the distance. From her accurate counter-cross to her hard left kicks and right hook follow-ups, Shevchenko will be a live threat to Nunes both coming forward and stepping backward.

Nevertheless, Nunes has made improvements to her game since their last meeting as her preternatural power and killer instinct keep the Brazilian dangerous until the end.

Training boxing since the age of 16, Nunes has steadily developed a Muay Thai arsenal since entering MMA. Initially storming into exchanges and producing quick results in doing so, Nunes has slowly sharpened her game and adjusted her approach.

Most notably, Nunes has improved her footwork as she will now circle just outside of range as opposed to rushing right in. Showing signs of intelligence in the direction in which she circles and angles, the champion’s shot selection and accuracy have also inherently improved as this makes her power more potent.

Another recent development to Nunes’ game has been the presence of her jab. Utilizing it in a measuring fashion, Nunes will now set up her patent cross-hook combinations more efficiently, as well as use the jab to check to the body and or out of exchanges.

However, finding the jab can often be one of the harder aspects of facing a southpaw, especially one as proficient as Shevchenko. For that reason, it will be interesting to see if Nunes leans more on her left hook.

Despite Shevchenko being, for the most part, fundamentally sound, left-hands have been the common culprit for strikes landed on her inside of the UFC. Sara Kaufman had success with her left on multiple occasions, and Holm was able to drop Shevchenko in the first round of their fight.

Whether or not Nunes opts for left hooks or once again leans on her right-hand, she will need to gain ground against the southpaw striker.

Should Nunes attempt your typical on-paper fix of playing to the weak side, she could be unpleasantly surprised as the perceived “weak side” of the southpaw stance is an area that I feel Shevchenko is especially dangerous within.

When Shevchenko’s previous opponents have tried hard to achieve attack angles around her lead foot, Shevchenko has had no problem showing off her Tae Kwon Do base as she throws spinning back & hook kicks with surprising accuracy. Serving as the cleanup hitter, Shevchenko also has a solid check right hook that was on full display in her fight with Holly Holm––as I suspect it will serve her well here.

Regardless of how things start standing, I suspect the outcome of this matchup will likely hinge inside of the clinch.

Criminally underrated in this area, Shevchenko possesses all the tools you would expect from a Muay Thai practitioner. Not only does the Kyrgyzstani wield mean elbows off the break, but she also does deceptive work to the body with knees as I see that paying huge dividends for her in this fight.

Though many high-level strikers have failed to develop grappling games in MMA, I feel that fighters who come from traditional Muay Thai backgrounds bring an aspect of grappling that is typically understated. A devastating striking art with an often overlooked emphasis on clinch wrestling, Shevchenko embraced and excelled in the grappling aspects of Muay Thai as it became a huge key to her success.

And though Shevchenko reminded us of her overall clinch craft in her last outing against Pena, the pendulum of this fight could easily sway with one successful takedown from Amanda Nunes. With the champion being arguably the most dangerous ground striker in the division, Shevchenko could find herself in deep waters should she get overconfident and once again, get stuck playing defense.

That said, I feel that Shevchenko did a lot of things right off of her back in regards to where her head was at as well as what she attempted technically. And considering that she has only demonstrated improvements to her ground game since moving shop to Denver with Rose Namajunas & company, I suspect another sway in momentum should Nunes not find an answer early.

For that reason, I believe the oddsmakers and public favor Shevchenko from a betting perspective, despite the fact the Nunes—the sitting champion—is the one who already holds a win over the other.

And with the dynamic of this matchup, in my opinion, remaining the same, I will once again side with Shevchenko to survive the early storm and shift the trajectory of this fight.

Though I have admittedly been high on Shevchenko since Jump Street, I honestly believe she may be the best five round fighter amongst her female contemporaries. Unless Nunes can claim her kill early, then it is hard for me to see the Lioness outrun the Bullet as I predict that Shevchenko will punctuate her presence by stopping the Brazilian with an accumulation of strikes come the fourth round.

Official Pick: Shevchenko – Inside the distance

Official Outcome: Fight Cancelled (Nunes illness)


Yoel Romero (12-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’10” Age: 40 Weight: 185 lbs Reach: 73″
  • Last Fight: KO win / Chris Weidman (11-12-16)
  • Camp: American Top Team (Florida)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Olympic Silver Medalist (Cuba)
+   Multiple Wrestling Accolades
+   10 KO victories
+   4 first round finishes
+   KO power
+   Incredibly athletic & agile
^   Closes distance quickly
+   Deceptive tempo changes
+   Variates attack levels
^   Dangerous flying knees
+/-Sometimes wild in entries
^   Counter availabilities
+   Superb takedown & scrambling ability
+   Devastating ground striker
–    Inconsistent output & pace
^   Gas tank bares watching

Robert Whittaker (18-4)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’11” Age: 26 Weight: 185 lbs Reach: 73″
  • Last Fight: TKO win / Ronaldo Souza (4-15-17)
  • Camp: PMA Martial Arts (Australia)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Black Belt in Karate & Hapkido
+   Purple Belt BJJ
+   10 KO victories
+   5 Submission wins
+   6 first round finishes
+   KO power
+   Good footwork & distance management
^   Quickly & deceptively blitzes
+   Moves head well
+   Accurate left hook
+   Unique angles & off-beat attacks
^   Disrupts opponents rhythm
+   Underrated wrestling ability
^   91% takedown defense
+   Improved overall grappling
+/-1-0 against UFC southpaws

Summary:

The co-main event for UFC 213 features an interim title fight in the middleweight division as Yoel Romero collides with Robert Whittaker.

A former Olympic silver medalist and world-class wrestler, Yoel Romero has continued to make a name for himself since entering into mixed martial arts. Boasting an unbeaten 8-0 run in the organization, Romero will now get his long-awaited shot at gold.

Standing in the Cuban’s way is the division’s dark horse, Robert Whittaker. An Australian who has also gone unblemished in the UFC’s middleweight stable, Whittaker will seek to make another big statement as the man who many said was too small to compete at this weight class.

Starting off on the feet, we have a battle of two dangerous strikers—who despite their difference in age—are also amongst the faster of their contemporaries.

Looking like a Ninja Turtle without it’s shell, Yoel Romero not only carries the physique of a superhero––but can move like one too. Utilizing springboard-like aerial assaults to misdirect his opponent’s attention, Romero will explode immediately upon touchdown as he is one of the most deceptive distance closers in the game.

Using changes in tempo to lure his opposition into a false sense of security, Romero can close in at the drop of a dime, which is probably why most of his opponents are typically more gunshy when facing him.

Much more crafty than he leads on to be, Romero will often get in on a takedown, only to abandon ship at the last second. Typically, this will shake-up an opponent’s defensive radar as the takedown becomes a real threat and focus.

As soon as Romero gets his opponents dropping their level in anticipation for a shot, the Cuban will then fake low and explode upwards with flying knees.

Although his athleticism and agility allow him to conduct himself like a video game character, Romero makes his money like most southpaws as he packs a powerful left cross and right hook. Considering that Whittaker tends to keep his lead hand low(to defend shots and attack at odd angles), Romero’s right handed follow-ups could pay him dividends in this fight.

However, despite Whittaker keeping his hands low, he has solid reaction times to his head movement and overall techniques. Coming from a traditional martial arts base, Whittaker has developed into one of the most dangerous and unique strikers in the division.

Using a combination of speed, accuracy, and a fluid economy of movement, the Australian will deceptively blitz off different angles. Like many Karate based strikers, Whittaker will show a certain speed to draw his opponent into a false sense of security, only to disrupt the perceived timing with off-beat strikes.

Considering the level-changing takedown threat of his opposition, I suspect Whittaker may be a bit more conservative, at least early on, with his blitzing combinations. Instead, I suspect we may see his aforementioned off-beat deception utilized in a countering effort.

Whittaker, of course, has a competent sense for the counter as he throws a dangerous check hook that I see being effective anytime his opponent comes forward in this fight.

Despite having the inherent edge exploding forward, Romero tends to get wild in his follow-ups as this has often cost him counter right-hands and or check hooks. Similar to Anderson Silva, Romero also tends to be a bit too reliant on head & trunk movements in the heat of exchanges.

Should Whittaker get a beat on Romero coming forward or backward, I suspect his left hook will be worth watching for regardless.

Given how competitive this fight should be in the standing department, it will be interesting to see if Romero elects to take this fight to the floor as he is the man with more motive on paper.

Even though you could argue that a majority of Romero’s takedowns are setups for strikes and or re-wrestling triggers for opponents who attempt to get in on him, we have seen the Cuban elect a grappling-heavy game before.

Against Brad Tavares, Romero would use takedowns to disrupt the Hawaiian’s striking rhythm and eventually take rounds en route to a decision. We also saw Romero use his devastating ground striking to punctuate a victory Lyoto Machida, as well as almost finish Jacare Souza in the first round.

Regardless of the Cuban’s intent, it will be interesting to see just how successful he will be against the ever-improving Australian, as Whittaker is seemingly amongst the leaders in this new era of counter-grappling.

For example, when fighters are reliant on more traditional defenses such as sprawls or battles for under-hooks, they typically lose to superior grapplers as these defenses involve a commitment to contact, which in turn can lead to more grappling.

Considering that Whittaker does not rely on these traditional defensive tropes, I feel that his takedown defense is even more promising than the listed 91% success rate would suggest.

And aside from the fact that his footwork makes it difficult for his opponents to set up their shots, Whittaker also shows the small technical intricacies that make him difficult to ground or hold down when grasped.

Working diligently on his wrestling over the past few years, we have seen Whittaker show the small signs of improvements a young fighter should be making from fight-to-fight.

Already possessing a strong base and balance, Whittaker’s hip and grip awareness have also improved. Not only does Whittaker utilize grip breaks and wrist controls, but he also is disciplined about consistently circling out to his opponent’s weak side, which in turn dissuades re-shots and takedown chain adjustments.

What is even more impressive, is Whittaker’s ability to go from thwarting takedown attempts to striking off of the breaks. Even against an aggressive wrestler like Derek Brunson, Whittaker was able to circle effortlessly off the fence and come right back with an uppercut as I feel that striking in these small spaces will potentially pay off big against Romero.

In looking at the line, the oddsmakers initially opened Whittaker as the underdog, but the public has quickly shifted him to a slight favorite. And although I am hesitant to make any big plays(as I recommend going light on this one), I also feel that Whittaker has the best tools amongst the middleweight elite to beat the Cuban.

Don’t get me wrong, Romero could certainly blitz Whittaker both standing and on the floor, as the Australian is traditionally more susceptible early than late. However, should Romero take his shot and miss, he could disturb the sleeping dragon as Whittaker demonstrated this to us in his Derek Brunson fight, working well under prolonged pressure.

Given the 5-round nature and importance of this matchup, I suspect both fighters to be cautious in their initial approach. And though Romero has proven to be dangerous late into fights, I feel that he will have a harder time maintaining his output and overall beat on Whittaker—whose speed I see giving the Cuban trouble—as his fight IQ and persistent pace should wear down the former Olympian as time goes on.

Official Pick: Whittaker – Inside the distance

Official Outcome: Whittaker – Decision


Daniel Omielanczuk (19-7-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’0″ Age: 34 Weight: 247 lbs Reach: 74″
  • Last Fight: Decision loss / Tim Johnson (3-18-17)
  • Camp: S4 Fight Club (Poland)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   Muay Thai Accolades
+   3 KO victories
+   9 submission wins
+   9 first round finishes
+   Good footwork
^   Outside-foot-awareness
+   Heavy L. hand—R. hook
^   Going forward or off the counter
+   Hard left kicks
^   Body & head
+   Strong inside the clinch
^   Deceptive base & balance
+   Solid from topside
–    Struggles from bottom

Curtis Blaydes (6-1-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’4″ Age: 26 Weight: 265 lbs Reach: 80″
  • Last Fight: No contest / Adam Milstead (2-4-17)
  • Camp: Elevation Fight Team (Denver, CO)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   NJCAA National Heavyweight Champ
+   Amateur MMA Accolades
+   6 KO victories
+   2 first round finishes
+   KO power
+   Aggressive pace & pressure
+   Deceptively fast
+   Explosive power-double takedown
^   Changes level well
+   Strong inside the clinch
^   Body lock, trips, suplexes
+   Solid top control
^   Floats, wrist-rides, strikes
+/-Developing striking game
^   Counter availabilities

Summary:

In an arguable styles match taking place at heavyweight, Daniel Omielanczuk squares off with Curtis Blaydes.

A lifelong martial artist, number fifteen ranked Daniel Omielanczuk will look to crack the top-10 with a win over the rising contender, Curtis Blaydes.

With his only loss coming in an overseas UFC debut to Francis Ngannou, Curtis Blaydes has since made good on two showings inside of the Octagon. Now, with a ranked opponent in front of him, Blaydes will attempt to take the next step forward in his journey.

Starting off on the feet, we have an experienced southpaw striker versus as developing MMA kickboxer.

Although Blaydes will have an on-paper disadvantage striking, I am not sure it will be by a huge margin as the IKF champion has shown consistent fight-to-fight improvements, putting together his punches and kicks more fluidly.

Moving shop to work with the Elevation Fight Team in Denver as well as training at BANG Muay Thai, I can only expect the young prospect to continue his progressions, especially considering his age. However, Blaydes’ biggest holes are defensive ones as I do not think this is a good fight for him to explore his striking upgrades too boldly.

We have seen Blaydes countered on multiple occasions before, as he will need to be careful coming forward, particularly if he chooses to throw kicks as Omielanczuk has a knack for countering them.

In his UFC debut against Nandor Gueimino, Omielanczuk was able to counter the Austrian’s teep kick with a thunderous left-hand that dropped him flat. Granted, Gueimino did throw the same kick three times consecutively, but Blaydes will need to respect Omielanczuk nonetheless.

A deceptive distance closer, Omielanczuk shows solid footwork for a heavyweight as he maintains an outside-foot-awareness, and is effective both coming forward and off the counter.

Although he has Muay Thai experience, his overall movement has a nod to his traditional background in Wushu Sanda. Should Blaydes test himself for too long, he could get lulled into a false sense of range, and end up eating kicks from the surprisingly flexible Pole.

However, I am not so sure we see extenuated striking stanzas given Blaydes’ on-paper advantages and in-fight trends. An NJCAA wrestling champion, Curtis Blaydes carries a wrestling style that translates well to mixed martial arts.

An aggressive grappler since his collegiate days, Blaydes has appeared to always be relentless in his approach, whether he is re-wrestling for under-hooks or implementing his patent blast-double in which he delivers with impunity.

Despite Omielanczuk being no stranger to being paired up with wrestlers, Blaydes may be a different task entirely. And to give Omielanczuk his due, the Pole has shown steady fight-to-fight improvements in his counter wrestling, hustling for under-hooks when appropriate.

The problem, in my opinion, is that Omielanczuk, at best, gets himself into stalemates against the fence where he is the one stuck playing defense. And against a wrestler with the acumen of Blaydes, the Pole will likely find himself on the wrong end of trips, body lock takedowns, and God forbid––suplexes.

Should Omielaczuk hit the floor, he will need to show more immediacy in his get-ups than in previous outings as Blaydes will likely be on him like a blanket. From his postional floating and strikes to his wrist-feeds and rides, Blaydes looks like a new breed of Cain Velasquez in the making should his athletic upside continue to deliver in the output department.

Even though I strongly disagree with what has become an insanely inflated line, this is Blaydes’ fight to lose. Regardless of potential striking improvements, Blaydes has always shown a good sense for when to shoot and change levels, as I see that being his saving grace here.

That said, should he stand too long, the left-hand counter from Omielanczuk is live, especially when looking at Francis Ngannou’s success with that shot on Blaydes from the southpaw stance. For that reason, I will be avoiding plays on either side and instead, look at the over as I see both men’s durability getting them through the first round regardless of the weather.

Official Pick: Blaydes – Decision

Official Outcome: Blaydes – Decision


Fabricio Werdum (21-6-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’4″ Age: 39 Weight: 239 lbs Reach: 77″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Travis Browne (9-10-16)
  • Camp: Kings MMA (California)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Former UFC Heavyweight Champion
+   BJJ Black Belt
+   2x ADCC & 3x BJJ World Champion
+   6 KO victories
+   10 Submission wins
+   9 first round finishes
+   KO power
+   Improved overall striking
^   Dynamic attack arsenal
+   Fluid combos w/improv ability
+   Deceptively effective showman
^   Baits & taunts opposition into game
+   Improved takedown ability
+   Excellent sweeps & scrambles
^   Capitalizes on chaos
+   Dangerous submission/guard game
–    Dropped in 4 of last 7 fights

Alistair Overeem (42-15-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’5″ Age: 37 Weight: 256 lbs Reach: 80″
  • Last Fight: KO win / Mark Hunt (3-4-17)
  • Camp: Jackson-Wink MMA (New Mexico)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Strikeforce & Dream Heavyweight Titles
+   K-1 Grand Prix Champion
+   ADCC European Winner
+   21 KO victories
+   17 Submission wins
+   31 first round finishes
+   KO power
+   Excellent footwork
+   Accurate shot selection
+   Devastating knees & kicks
+   Crafty clinch game
+   Underrated takedown game
+   Solid top control
^   Good grip-fighting & ground striking
+   Dangerous Guillotine choke
^   Especially from the front-headlock
–    Dropped in 5 of last 10 fights

Summary:

In a rare heavyweight rubber match, Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem will square off once more to decide the victor in a trilogy where each man sits with one win apiece.

Fabricio Werdum, who has since won a UFC title in said time, would also end up losing it as we saw Stipe Miocic upset the Brazilian at home last year. Since then, Werdum would bounce back with a win—albiet a strange one—over Travis Browne as the former champ looks to earn himself redemption in the form of a rematch for the belt.

Standing in Werdum’s way is a familiar face, as Alistair Overeem will also be heading into battle with similar motives. Regaining some momentum earlier this year after viciously knocking out Mark Hunt, the Dutchman will look to earn himself another dance with Stipe Miocic should he score a win here.

Starting off on the feet, we have a matchup between a dynamic, Dutch style knockout artist and a pressure-fighting Muay Thai madman.

Werdum, the mandman—a term in which I use endearingly—has made great strides in his striking game over the years, particularly from working with Raphael Cordeiro.

Under the tutelage of Master Cordeiro, we have seen Werdum parlay his sporadic showmanship into more of a pressure-fighting process, putting together combinations more fluidly as he punctuates his mark on exchanges through hard kicks or knees in the clinch. And despite defense still seeming to be a lacking priority, Werdum will still offer a lot of offense that Overeem will need to respect.

Given the nature of Werdum’s pressure, I suspect we will see Overeem continue the trend of counter fighting that we have seen serve him well in recent years.

In facing previous pressure-fighting threats, we saw Overeem play near the outside edges of the cage for safe distance—keeping his space—and looking for his openings. If you have been watching Overeem since his days in Pride, then you will know that the Dutchman didn’t always fight this way.

Although the striking upgrades made during the K-1 chapter of his career helped him immensely, it wasn’t until Overeem’s run of UFC knockout losses that we saw him adjust his footwork and approach.

Already dangerous off of his stance shifts, Overeem’s confidence in his head movement and technique often allowed him to plot in front of his opponents longer than he needed to. However, after a series of camp changes during his run of losses, the Dutchman seemed to find a home at Jackson-Wink as he would embrace a slightly different method.

Like many fighters who come from that camp, Overeem will now circle the outside comfortably as he looks to sharpshoot his attacks like a torpedo plane on a bombing run.

With amongst the highest striking accuracy in the division, this style is optimal for Overeem as it also plays a huge role in protecting his chin from unnecessary roughness.

This approach will likely force Werdum to implement his pressure-fighting ways to close the gap as Overeem searches for his shot. With both men being of similar stature, I feel that Overeem should have the advantage at range given his wide array of attacks.

Typically preferring to counter with his left hand—it will be interesting to see if Overeem returns to favoring his right-hand—especially given the fact that Fabricio Werdum has been dropped in 4 of his last 6-outings due to right-hands finding their mark. However, many of Werdum’s falls were arguably flops as he is known for his in-cage baits and showmanship.

Similarly to a basketball player trying to draw a foul, Werdum will deceptively roll with punches as he relinquishes to his back. Although this may not win him favor with the judges, there is a method the former champ’s madness.

The first being Werdum’s invitation into the ambush that is his guard game.

As we’ve seen time-and-time-again, Werdum can not only submit world champions here––but more importantly, he creates situations to scramble and sweep his way topside, often utilizing deep-half and X-guard variations out the back door.

If Werdum’s opponents decide not to chase him into deep waters, they inherently let him off the hook if he is in fact hurt, or give him a breather at the very least. This tactic has stifled the best of killer instincts and has allowed Werdum back into many of fights.

Nevertheless, Overeem has already proven to be wise to the Brazilian’s traps as we saw him learn his lesson in their second fight, refusing to engage Werdum on the floor.

In other words, if Werdum wants to get this fight to the ground, he will need to be the one executing the takedowns, which is no easy task against Overeem. And considering that we have seldom seen Werdum’s improved takedowns since his first fight with Travis Browne, I believe that this matchup could come down to the clinch, a place where both men make their money.

Although I give Overeem an edge inside of this space as he is one of the best heavyweight clinch fighters next to Josh Barnett, Werdum will still provide some real offerings of his own as I could see the Brazilian having a surprising amount of success with his striking initiative in said spaces.

However, the former champ will need to solve the hand-fighting acumen of Overeem if he means to get off his strikes inside the clinch.

What makes a clinch striker so dangerous or a “ground & pounder” so good, ultimately comes down to their ability to grip fight. Hence why most good ground & pounders make good clinch strikers and vice versa.

Ultimately, when considering Overeem’s clinch craft and underrated wrestling ability, I see this being a tough fight for Werdum on paper, as the oddsmakers seem to agree as they opened the former champion as a slight underdog. And as one of my favorite underdogs and fighters alike, it pains me to pick against Werdum here.

Even though the stats suggest that both men’s chins are a bit more susceptible than most at heavyweight, Overeem is the one who, in my opinion, has grown more since they last met. Couple with that with his more intelligent approach—and I see the Dutchman capitalizing on the defensive holes Werdum leaves coming forward—and outworking the Brazilian in a conservative showing should he not find the finish.

Official Pick: Overeem – Decision

Official Outcome: Overeem – Decision


Anthony Pettis (19-6)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’9″ Age: 30 Weight: 155 lbs Reach: 72″
  • Last Fight: TKO loss / Max Holloway (12-10-16)
  • Camp: Roufusport (Milwaukee, WI)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Switch-stance / kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Former UFC Lightweight Champion
+   WEC Lightweight Title
+   9 KO victories
+   7 submission wins
+   12 first round finishes
+   Athletic & agile
+   Good footwork & feints
+   Improved boxing
^   Accurate counter cross
+   Diverse kicking game
^   Dangerous body attacks
+   Improved wrestling ability
+   Active from the bottom
^   Slick submission attempts

Jim Miller (28-9)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’8″ Age: 33 Weight: 155 lbs Reach: 71″
  • Last Fight: Decision loss / Dustin Poirier (2-11-17)
  • Camp: Miller Bros MMA (New Jersey)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   Black Belt BJJ
+   4 KO victories
+   14 Submission wins
+   10 first round finishes
+   Aggressive pace & pressure
+   Accurate L. hand—R. hook
+   Dangerous short elbows
+   Solid leg/inside leg kicks
+   Underrated wrestling
^   Well-timed takedowns
+   Deadly submissions in transit
+/-Willingness to fight from bottom
^   Active & attacking guard game

Summary:

Kicking off the main card is a fantastic lightweight matchup as Anthony Pettis takes on Jim Miller.

After a failed campaign for the featherweight throne, Anthony Pettis will now return to the division he once reigned over. But before he can get back to the title picture that seemed so familiar, Pettis will have to prove his doubters wrong by making a statement against the challenge ahead.

One of the few tried-and-true staples of the lightweight division, Jim Miller has never taken the easy path as he has always welcomed all comers. Now, experiencing a late-career resurgence after addressing lingering medical issues, Jim Miller once again finds himself on a big card with another big name that can potentially go on his wall.

Starting off on the feet, we have a battle between a southpaw Muay Thai savage and a dynamic, dazzling opportunist who can close the show at any moment.

Coming from a Tae Kwon Do base, Anthony Pettis has been able to bring in a spectacular array of kicking attacks into the cage. Balancing out his traditional stylings under the tutelage of Duke Roufus, we have seen Pettis round out his attacks with punches and feints to help set up his fight-ending kicks.

As flashy as some of the kicks on his highlight reel may be, Pettis’ body kick is probably his best tool as he can unload them from either stance. And given the success Thiago Alves and Donald Cerrone had when attacking Jim Miller’s body, I suspect that Pettis’ patent liver kick will be worthing watching for in this fight.

However, if Pettis elects to come out in orthodox—as he typically prefers to mirror his opponent’s stance—he could risk telegraphing his attacks as most of his fight-ending setups come from his southpaw arsenal.

Regardless of Pettis’ perceived on-paper advantages in the kicking department, I do not feel it will be by a huge margin as Miller is no slouch when it comes to throwing kicks himself.

Aside from the damage he did to Dustin Poirier in his last fight, Jim Miller has long used inside-leg kicks to debase his opposition as this gives him a beat to get off his combinations as the shorter man. And given Pettis’ lackadaisical approach to checking kicks—as seen in his fight with Edson Barboza—and Miller could surprisingly create a kicking narrative of his own if the former champ is not careful.

That said, Miller will not likely hang out in range long against Pettis, as I suspect the New Jersey native to be looking to abuse the advantages he will have on the inside.

Although Pettis has made improvements in slipping at the end of combos, he still shows the defensive tendencies from his past. Coming from his aforementioned traditional martial arts base, Pettis tends to rely on his fleet-of-foot reactions and trunk movement to manage his defensive distancing.

Against faster fighters like Rafael Dos Anjos or Edson Barboza, these tendencies translated into the former champion taking more shots than usual. And not only would we see that cost him against Max Holloway, but Pettis also showed a tendency to shell up defensively under pressure, which in turn opened up the body shots that led to his demise.

In facing a fighter with the arsenal of Jim Miller, utilizing a shell-like guard is the last thing you want to do.

Whether he is throwing uppercuts, body shots, or crosses down the center, Miller thrives when his opponents shell up on him. In both of his battles with Joe Lauzon, we saw Miller abuse the inside angle to land counter lefts and upward elbows anytime Lauzon shelled-up.

Should he get inside on Pettis and force these reactions through pressure—I would not be surprised to see Miller start slicing away like he is “Bill the Butcher” from Gangs of New York whenever he gets a chance to.

Nevertheless, I believe that Miller’s best chances ultimately reside on the mat. Even though I feel Pettis’ ground game and wrestling is often underrated, Miller is a legitimate Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt whose submission game translates well to the cage.

Like a kid in a candy store, Jim Miller cannot help himself whenever a limb becomes available.

Despite Miller’s submission thirst often getting him into trouble, I believe that this is the type of fight where Miller’s desperate attempts will not necessarily hurt him. And considering he has leaned more on his reactionary takedowns and top game in recent outings, I would not be surprised to see Miller steal momentum––and possibly even rounds from Pettis.

However, Pettis has not only made improvements to his countering grappling game, but he has also shown he is still very dangerous on the floor.

Long known for his attacks off of his back, Pettis has worked diligently on his wrestling with Izi Martinez in effort combat the top-pressure at the upper echelon of the sport. And though many may focus on Pettis’ shortcomings in said department, he has made measurable improvements to his overall wrestling fundamentals, especially when defending from the fence.

Ultimately, I see this battle being a hard-fought one no matter where it contests. And despite agreeing with the oddsmakers in making Anthony Pettis the favorite, I feel that this a surprisingly winnable fight for Miller from a stylistic standpoint.

Don’t get me wrong—Pettis’ traditional tools should serve him well against Miller—as a crippling body kick or head kick KO setup would not surprise me. That said, if those moments do not come to fruition, I am not confident enough in the evolution of Pettis’ game—nor his ability to change gears—particularly if the weather is not going his way.

And even if Pettis does start to find his rhythm on the feet, I see Miller only being one reactionary shot away from halting the former champion’s momentum. Couple that with the fact the left-hands and inside leg kicks—Miller’s best strikes standing—are the shots that Pettis is traditionally most susceptible to, and I feel that Jersey’s own can come up large on the scorecards, with the possibility of a submission in transition late.

Official Pick: Miller – Decision

Official Outcome: Pettis – Decision

Preliminary Card Predictions:

  • Browne def. Oleinik
  • Laprise def. Camozzi
  • Meerschaert def. Santos
  • Muhammad def. Mein
  • Font def. de Andrade
  • Stamann def. Ware
  • Giles def. Bochnovic

Dan’s Plays:

(*like my breakdowns, these are for your reference & entertainment)

Props worth looking at(@ 5Dimes.eu):

-Blaydes/Omielanczuk “Fight doesn’t go distance” -130 (0.75 Unit)
-Muhammad by Decision +215 (.25 Unit)

*fun flier* Miller “by submission” +1225

Playable parlay pieces(My most confident favorites within play):

-Rob Font
-Belal Muhammad

Fights to avoid(live dogs, inflated lines, high intangibles, etc.):

-Romero vs Whittaker
-Santos vs Meerschaert
-Stamann vs Ware
-Giles vs Bochnovic

For further technical and betting analysis, listen and subscribe to: The Protect Ya’ Neck Podcast and for future & past UFC breakdowns, stay tuned to: MixedMartialAnalyst.com



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