After weeks of UFC events with little real consequence, UFC 231 is here with two highly competitive title fights.
In the main event, a featherweight title fight between two of the divisions brightest stars is set to take place as Max Holloway looks to defend his undisputed title against Brian Ortega who has successfully finished all of his opponents during his UFC tenure.
Meanwhile, in the co-main event, Valentina Shevchenko will finally get her chance to vie for the flyweight title as she takes on former strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the vacant championship.
The rest of the Toronto, Canada main card is set to be filled out with extremely promising and exciting fights while the preliminary card will also feature some high-ranking bouts that will be well worth the watch.
Max Holloway (19-3) vs. Brian Ortega (14-0, 1 NC)
While there is the looming sense of dread that we still don’t know what’s the story with Max Holloway’s condition, we have to act under the assumption that he is 100% entering this fight.
With the champion, we have a relentless pacesetter with both remarkable takedown defence and a chin that has yet to see Holloway be as much as wobbled in the Octagon. Perhaps the most impressive feature to the Hawaiians game, however, is that he is always in control of the distance. He’s able to slip and fire back, knows when to remove himself from danger all together and he can use his range to his advantage with a smart jab.
His challenger meanwhile has constantly improved with each outing. While entering the UFC as a grappling maestro, Ortega has developed a big hitting striking game which includes feinting to draw out his own opportunities. As an opportunist, Ortega is probably amongst the most dangerous in MMA at the moment. His ability to snatch a submission was shown in full effect against Cub Swanson as he jumped on a guillotine and was able to hold the position while readjusting his grip in mid-air.
Ortega’s ability to finish fights is the X-factor here but with Holloway’s ability to keep the fight standing and Ortega not really being a takedown specialist, you’d expect this fight to play out on the feet almost entirely. With the champion simply being the better stand-up fighter, you have to side with Holloway to rack up the rounds on the feet and sap Ortega’s gas tank with his body shots.
Pick: Max Holloway
Valentina Shevchenko (15-3) vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (15-2)
Joanna Jedrzejczyk looks a lot better at this weight class and her speed will be her path to victory here.
She’ll have to use her footwork and jab to keep away from Shevchenko and try to win rounds without accruing damage.
Shevchenko however is the bigger puncher, isn’t that much slower and is excellent on the counter.
Ultimately, this fight reminds me of the recent Gegard Mousasi – Rory MacDonald fight where two evenly matched fighters are paired together but the size difference is the deciding fighter.
With her power on the counter and Shevchenko being a fairly hittable target, I think Shevchenko will win this bout without too much trouble.
Pick: Valentina Shevchenko
Alex Oliveira (20-5-1, 2 NC) vs. Gunnar Nelson (16-3-1)
Both Oliveira and Nelson are defensively porous fighters and pack a punch so this could come down to whoever cracks their opponent first.
Nelson should hold the advantage grappling wise but Oliveira is a big fella to ground.
This fight could go either way but I think Oliveira’s form and recent activeness in comparison to Nelson will give him an advantage in the early going.
Pick: Alex Oliveira
Hakeem Dawodu (8-1-1) vs. Kyle Bochniak (8-3)
Kyle Bochniak has a high work rate, is well-rounded and is more than durable.
Dawodu meanwhile is more comfortable fighting on the counter and has big power to accompany it.
On paper, Bochniak has all the tools and intelligence to alter his fighting style to his opponent and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Bochniak emerge the victor here.
Pick: Kyle Bochniak
Jimi Manuwa (17-4) vs. Thiago Santos (19-6)
Manuwa is the natural light heavyweight here but it looks like his career is starting to wind down, at least from a physicality point of view.
Santos meanwhile has the power that should translate at a higher weight class and he has a more active game on the feet and on the ground.
Manuwa to his credit does have the power to switch pretty much anyone’s lights out but Santos has simply shown more recently than the Englishman.
Pick: Thiago Santos
(Last Predictions: 3/6, Total: 106/180, 59% Success Rate)
(2017: 60% Success Rate)