One of the most anticipated fight cards of the year goes down this Saturday as Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Stipe Miocic defend their respective titles and a host of UFC superstars throw down on the UFC 211 main card.
Let’s take a look at how the exciting card might play out.
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Krzysztof Jotko vs. David Branch
Krzysztof Jotko and David Branch were originally slated to fight on the UFC 211 prelims but will now kick off the main card after an injury forced Henry Cejudo’s bout against Sergio Pettis off the card.
Branch, a grappling specialist who was a two-division champion in his previous promotion, returns to the UFC after more than six years away and gets an immediate crack at the middleweight top 15 in ninth-ranked Jotko.
Jotko, winner of five straight, is a talented striker with an unorthodox and aggressive style. He’s also extremely hard to takedown, proving it in his last fight against decorated jiu-jitsu champion Thales Leites by stuffing seven of his eight takedowns. And even when that fight went to the mat, Jotko displayed good transitions and very capable submission defense.
Branch, a Renzo Gracie black belt, will likely look to expose any holes in Jotko’s ground game that Leites couldn’t. But he’ll probably find out, like majority of Jotko’s opponents, that he’s still an underrated fighter despite his placement in the top 15.
Prediction: Krzysztof Jotko by decision
Frankie Edgar vs. Yair Rodriguez
Rising featherweight contender Yair Rodriguez gets a huge bump in competition when he battles Frankie Edgar on Saturday at UFC 211.
There’s no doubting Rodriguez’s talent, as he’s won all five of his UFC fights since winning The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America. He’s a dynamic striker who lands over four strikes per minute and his uncanny athleticism allows him to pull off some really slick movement in the Octagon. But he’s also coming off a win against 39-year-old BJ Penn, and he’s never faced anyone like Edgar.
“The Answer” is, and has been, one of the most well-rounded fighters on the roster and has a litany of wins over top competition, including twice beating BJ Penn in his prime and wins over Charles Oliveira, Cub Swanson and Chad Mendes. Outside of champion Jose Aldo, Edgar is the most experienced fighter in the featherweight top 5 and Rodriguez will have to deal with that fact on fight night.
Edgar should remain level-headed enough to handle everything the up and comer throws and ready to return with some heavy fire of his own. And his ability to get this fight to the ground and impose his will is going to be a major factor.
I think this fight will be competitive, but the veteran will be a bit too much for Rodriguez.
Prediction: Frankie Edgar by decision
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Demian Maia vs. Jorge Masvidal
Will Demian Maia be able to overwhelm and submit Jorge Masvidal the same way he has most of his opponents since dropping down to welterweight? We’ll see Saturday night -- but if he can, there are no more excuses for him not to fight for the title, and if he doesn’t, and Masvidal wins, the ATT fighter probably deserves a shot at the belt himself.
What we do know is that this traditional striker vs. grappler matchup could really go either way, depending on which fighter can control the action for the longest.
For Masvidal, that means using his footwork and boxing to piece Maia up and circle out of range. Eventually, the Brazilian will be able to tie Masvidal up, and when the fight goes to the ground, “Gamebred” should use his underrated wrestling to counter Maia’s brilliant jiu-jitsu game.
If Masvidal can execute a solid game plan that doesn’t involve proving how good his grappling is, I really believe he could stop Maia’s trek to the title in its tracks.
Prediction: Jorge Masvidal by third-round TKO
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Jessica Andrade
UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk faces what looks to be her toughest opponent to date when she battles former bantamweight contender Jessica Andrade.
Andrade is a rare mix of power and speed, and she’s been a huge problem for strawweights since dropping to the division in 2016. Jedrzejczyk has simply overwhelmed opponents with her volume on the feet, landing over 125 significant strikes in all four of her title defenses. But that fact shouldn’t worry Andrade, who has twice cracked the 100 significant strike threshold during her three fight winning streak at 115-pounds.
The key for Andrade in this bout will be her ability to close the distance against the taller and longer Jedrzejczyk. Joanna Champion isn’t known for her shifty footwork but she should be able to touch Andrade with her long jab enough to make the Brazilian think twice about rushing in with combinations.
It appears Jedrzejczyk has sown up the ground game issues that plagued her in her first fight against Claudia Gadelha, where she was planted seven times, but the threat of the takedown will still be there against the powerful Andrade, who has shown she can pull off a submission if the opportunity presents itself.
However, all signs point to this bout being fought predominantly in the stand-up, and a war of attrition bodes well for Jedrzejczyk, who has fought a full five rounds three times in her UFC career compared to none for Andrade. And I think that’s how the fight will be won -- Jedrzejczyk dragging Andrade into the championship rounds and pulling away with her world-class stamina that allows her to be just as effective in the fifth round as she is at the opening bell.
Prediction: Joanna Jedrzejczyk by decision
Stipe Miocic vs. Junior Dos Santos
The first matchup between Stipe Miocic and Junior Dos Santos was an absolute barnburner and fans should expect nothing less the second time around.
On paper, Miocic vs. Dos Santos is about as even of a matchup as you can get. From their stature, with both standing 6-foot-4 and weighing around 240 pounds, to their proficiency on the feet, as they both land a whopping five strikes per minute while connecting on 50 percent of their total strikes thrown.
Heading into their second bout, Dos Santos is still likely the faster fighter and more technical striker while Miocic will maintain his advantage in the grappling game. That means Dos Santos will have to be nearly perfect, yet again, with his takedown defense if he wants to avoid getting planted by Miocic and suffocated by the Cleveland-native’s high-level wrestling and devastating ground-and-pound.
Dos Santos’ best bet is to turn this fight into a boxing match and use his speed to get in and out of exchanges without allowing Miocic to load up on his punches. If he can do that, he has a chance to walk away as champion. But the odds of him stuffing 17 takedowns again at slim.