UFC 218 recap: Where to next?

Edward L'Orange Roar Pro

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    UFC 218 was a card full of expectation, and it did not fail to deliver.

    However, this card also posed and answered some intriguing questions about future bouts in the UFC. With this in mind, I will provide a brief breakdown of the fightsand note some important points coming out of the results.

    Tecia Torres versus Michelle Waterson
    The first fight of the UFC 218 main card was the women’s strawweight’s bout between Tecia Torres (going into the fight: nine wins, one loss) and Michelle Waterson (15-5).

    Despite Waterson’s greater experience, Torres came into the fight a solid favourite. Her karate-style distance striking was a bad match up for Waterson’s, who likes to rely on a more submission-based game. Subsequently Torres won the fight by unanimous decision, outmuscling Waterson even when on the ground.

    However, Torres’ performance is not without critique. Torres was carrying a lot of muscle for the weight class, and as the match progressed she looked heavily fatigued. If she progresses into five-round title fights, this may become a significant issue.

    However, perhaps a more concerning issue is that in the later rounds Torres seemed to abandon the safety of striking from the outside and simply thrust herself into the context, almost head first at times. This worked fairly well against Waterson, but she should be very wary of trying this against strawweight champion ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas or particularly former champ Joanna Jędrzejczyk.

    Torres’s next match is still unclear in such a developing division. However, if the UFC do not see fit to give Jędrzejczyk an immediate rematch against Rose, Torres might be an interesting match-up for her. However, I would see Joanna as the heavy favourite.

    Eddie Alvarez versus Justin Gaethje
    The next fight was the highly anticipated lightweight bout between Eddie Alvarez (28-5, one no contest) and Justin Gaethje (18-0). In a brutal and very entertaining fight Alvarez dismantled Gaethje for an eventual knockout with one minute to go in the third round.

    In hindsight this fight poses the question: why Gaethje was the favourite? Gaethje may have been undefeated, effectively using his vicious striking, leg kicks and go-forward attitude in the past, but he had never seen the kind of opposition offered by Alzarez, and I suspect the outcome of this fight was anticipated mostly due to reputation.

    Gaethje’s only other UFC fight, against Michael Johnson, was a similar ‘never take a backwards step’ fight in which he managed to lure Johnson into a brawl Johnson could not sustain. However, against the skill set of Alvarez and his lower, outside stance, Gaethje could not bully the former champ in the same way.

    Besides this, there are queries over Gaethje’s fitness. He looked tired after the first round, possibly due to vicious body punches from Alvarez, but he was really a shell going into the last round.

    There is no doubt that Gaethjs is tough as nails, but when competing against the best in the world he will need to adjust he fighting style. The ‘move forward and bang’ mentality simply does not work in the modern era of MMA.

    Henry Cejudo versus Sergio Pettis
    Following Gaethje and Alvarez was the flyweight bout between Henry Cejudo (13-2) and Sergio Pettis (18-2), which had important implications for the division. The fight itself was no doubt seen as boring by many fans, but it was a wonderfully technical display of wrestling shown by the Olympic medalist Cejudo, who won easily by unanimous decision.

    Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Cejudo’s performance in this fight was actually the level to which he depended on his wrestling. It was perhaps the first time in the UFC Cejudo has done this, previously preferring to use a wider skill set. But in this fight Cejudo took the fight to the ground early and kept it there, dominating on points.

    It was an intelligent game plan considering the height advantage of Sergio Pettis, and it worked extremely well. Unfortunately it was a bad match-up for Pettis, and he never really looked in the fight. As a counter striker he simply could not take the fight to Cejudo effectively when behind on points.

    This was a title elimination bout, with the winner supposed to face Demetrious Johnson for the championship. However, Cejudo is unlikely to have made many fans with this win, and considering he has already fought and lost to Mighty Mouse, he may have shot himself in the foot with this performance. I suspect and hope that the champ will look past Cerjudo to the mouth-watering super-fight with TJ Dillashaw.

    Alistair Overeem versus Francis Ngannou
    Next was the entertaining heavyweight bout between Alistair Overeem (43-15, one no contest) and Francis Ngannou (10-1). What was deemed from the start to be a slugfest, the heavy favourite Ngannou landed a freakish uppercut to Overeem that knocked him out cold in the first round. This punch was made even more terrifying by the fact it was simply a glancing blow with Overeem moving backwards. I shudder to think what would have happened if he had caught Overeem coming forward.

    With Dana White announcing that Ngannou will next face Stepe Miocic for the heavyweight title, possibly as early as UFC 220, anticipation is already building for the fight. However, I want to make two comments.

    Firstly, while Overeem has been a huge star in MMA he is far past his prime. His chin and attack are simply nowhere near what they were in his ‘Ubereem’ days, and although this is a good win for Ngannou, it is not a huge victory.

    The other is that I would be very interested to see Ngannou fight a grappler before facing Stepe. A title eliminator bout between Ngannou and someone like Fabrício Werdum would make more sense in the scheme of the heavyweight division, as Ngannou has not faced any of the elite heavyweight grapplers. It is simply an unknown how he would deal with the pressure of someone like Werdum, Cain Velasquez or indeed the champ, Stepe.

    Max Holloway versus José Aldo
    Finally, Max Holloway (18-3) for the second time put his featherweight title on the line against José Aldo (26-3) and once again stopped the former champ in the third round. There is not much to say about this fight. Holloway simply outclassed the smaller and older Aldo, building pressure with intelligent use of space and more expansive striking.

    There are two questions to come out of this bout. The first is: where to now for Aldo? He is still in my estimation the greatest featherweight in history, but after these losses the objective voice in my head says he is done.

    Aldo looked a shell of his former self against Holloway, particularly without the use of his formerly famous leg kicks. If Aldo does keep fighting, facing the winning of the upcoming bout between Cub Swanson and Brian Ortega might be on the cards. However, I hope he calls his excellent career now.

    The second question is the same for Max Holloway: where now? The obvious man is Frankie Edgar, and this will almost certainly be his next fight after the latter dropped out of UFC 218.

    However, after that the featherweight division is looking bare for Holloway. He has the makings of a genuine UFC superstar, with a highly entertaining fighting style and great personality. However, he has defeated most of the names in the featherweight division. It will be interesting to see where his career takes him, but I wonder if a change in weight class might be in the cards in the future.

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