Saturday marks the most exhilarating UFC fight card so far in 2017. Even though the card took a hit by losing the first fight of the pay-per-view portion due to a Henry Cejudo hand injury, the main card should have no shortage of action and drama . It all starts with the main event of the prelims with an almost guaranteed stand-up war between Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, and continues to the main card with two title fights, including a rematch of one of the best heavyweight fights in recent memory between now-UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic and former champion Junior Dos Santos. The lineup also features two high profile fights in the featherweight and welterweight divisions, respectively. Yair Rodriguez looks to continue his ascent at featherweight in the toughest matchup of his career against Frankie Edgar, and the fight between Demian Maia and Jorge Masvidal may produce the next No. 1 contender in the welterweight division. Saturday should be a great night of fights and it is hard to imagine any card this year being more anticipated, with the possible exception of UFC 213, the always-stacked International Fight Week event.
As always, below is your MMA barometer with rising, falling, and check status fighters.
Jorge Masvidal, UFC, Welterweight
Masvidal is riding a three-fight winning streak and poised for a title shot with a victory over Demian Maia this Saturday. “Game Bred” has finished both of his last two opponents, including a dominant victory over the red-hot Donald Cerrone. Furthermore, even though he dropped the two fights before starting his streak, Masvidal lost both fights by split decision in two very close contests. His experience, mixed with great takedown defense (80 percent in 19 UFC fights) and power, makes him a difficult fight in the welterweight division. Masvidal has seven first-round finishes as a professional, and he also possesses impressive striking defense at 69 percent in his UFC career. The No. 9-ranked UFC welterweight is in his best form to date, but he faces arguably the hottest fighter in the division in Demian Maia this Saturday.
Maia is on a six-fight winning streak, including two submission victories in his last two fights over Matt Brown and Carlos Condit. The former UFC middleweight is certainly the scariest fighter in the division on the floor, but Masvidal should hold the advantage standing. The issue is, Maia is a huge welterweight and has been able to take every welterweight he has fought to the ground. Masvidal’s takedown defense will be an asset, but if he is not successful against every takedown it is imperative he gets back to his feet quickly, otherwise he will be smothered by Maia’s heavy top pressure. This would likely lead to a submission victory for Maia. The silver lining for “Game Bred” is that Maia has to get inside to take him down. This will give Masvidal opportunities to hurt Maia standing, which would likely negate the Brazilian’s takedowns. The outcome will be determined by who can dictate where the fight takes place, and the winner is likely in line for a welterweight title shot.
Next Fight: Demian Maia, UFC 211: Miocic vs. Dos Santos 2
(May 13, 2017)
Krzysztof Jotko, UFC, Middleweight
Jotko is on a five-fight winning streak and coming off a convincing, three-round decision victory over former middleweight title challenger Thales Leites. He outclassed Leites in every aspect of mixed martial arts, and even out-grappled the former Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion. Leites was only able to land one takedown on Jotko, and it was shortly thereafter reversed by the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt. Leites is a high level BJJ black belt, but Jotko was able to dominate the fight from top position. He landed vicious ground-and-pound, which is not surprising, as one of his mixed martial arts idols is Tito Ortiz. Furthermore, he was able to easily defend against submission attempts and was never in any real danger. He also hurt Leites on the feet on multiple occasions. Jotko is now the No. 9-ranked UFC middleweight, and has a showdown with the former World Series of Fighting champion David Branch.
Branch won the inaugural World Series of Fighting middleweight strap and defended his belt five times. He was cut from the UFC in 2011 and has since won 12 of 13 fights, including his last ten. His sole loss was a decision to Anthony Johnson, which is not a bad thing based on Johnson’s success in the UFC light heavyweight division. Branch is a BJJ black belt, but based on Jotko’s grappling performance against Leites, it should not be a problem for the Polish middleweight. Furthermore, Jotko displays technical footwork and formidable striking, which should serve him well against Branch, who has not recorded a knockout in over two years. Jotko should be able to keep the fight standing, if he wishes, as he boasts 89 percent takedown defense in the UFC, the best mark for a UFC middleweight at this time. Jotko is a tough matchup for the returning Branch, and if he comes out victorious, Jotko should be in line for a high profile middleweight fight.
Next Fight: David Branch, UFC 211: Miocic vs. Dos Santos 2
(May 13, 2017)
Al Iaquinta, UFC, Lightweight
Iaquinta has a five-fight winning streak dating back to 2014. Due to a contract dispute with UFC management, Iaquinta had a two-year layoff and returned in style with a vicious first round knockout of UFC veteran Diego Sanchez. Iaquinta has finished four of his last five victories by knockout, but future fights are uncertain as he is unhappy with his pay in the UFC, claiming he makes more money as a real estate agent in New York. It would be in both his and the UFC’s best interests to get Iaquinta back in the cage as soon as possible, because he is one of the most exciting fighters in the division and has a controversial personality, which brings fans to watch his fights, whether they love him or hate him.
As the No.11-ranked UFC lightweight there are many fights in the top ten that would be intriguing for Iaquinta. One matchup that would be interesting would be a rematch of The Ultimate Fighter finale against No.7-ranked UFC lightweight Michael Chiesa. It would give a chance for Iaquinta to avenge a prior loss, and would serve a second purpose by bringing Chiesa more notoriety due to the popularity of Iaquinta. Whoever Iaquinta gets matched up with, hopefully it is sooner rather than later so Iaquinta has an opportunity to climb the ranks.
Next Fight: TBA
Eddie Alvarez, UFC, Lightweight
After winning three fights in a row, Alvarez suffered a brutal knockout loss to Conor McGregor at Madison Square Garden. There is no shame in a loss to McGregor, as every fighter in the past few years, save Nate Diaz, has suffered a similar fate. The most discouraging part of Alvarez’s performance was that he abandoned the strategy of using his exceptional wrestling and attempted to stand and trade with McGregor, an almost sure way to lose to McGregor at lightweight. However, Alvarez is still one of the best fighters in the division, and he has victories over killers like Rafael Dos Anjos, Anthony Pettis, and Gilbert Melendez. He looks to get back on track against Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier this weekend in the main event of the prelims at UFC 211.
Poirier is on a respectable run of his own, winning five of his last six fights. Poirier has an impressive UFC record, but in his last four fights against top-10 opponents, he has lost. This is a great matchup for Alvarez because he has some of the best power in the division. Poirier has the same mentality as Alvarez and prefers to stand and bang, so this should be a stand-up war. Alvarez may try to use his wrestling, but he has a lot of confidence on the feet and can make sure he keeps it there, as he has 92 percent takedown defense over his UFC career. All it takes is one shot for Alvarez to put his opponent out, and he can also use pressure up against the cage to drain Poirier’s gas tank. This will be a brawl, which is Alvarez’s style of fight, and is a good chance for him to get back in the win column.
Next Fight: Dustin Poirier, UFC 211 Prelims (May 13, 2017)
Jake Ellenberger, UFC, Welterweight
After his latest knockout loss, Ellenberger has claimed he does not want to retire on a loss. That may be his best option, however, as Ellenberger has been finished three times in the last year and a half. All three fights saw him absorb a significant amount of punishment, even in his bizarre fight with Jorge Masvidal when Ellenberger’s toe got stuck in the cage. The other two knockouts were brutal knockouts, via wheel kick to Stephen Thompson and a vicious elbow in his latest fight against Mike Perry. Ellenberger is at the end of his career, and to avoid taking more damage to his brain he should consider hanging it up. He has little hope of competing with the top fighters in the division, and is certainly susceptible to knockouts at this point in his career. To his credit, “The Juggernaut” had explosive knockouts and exciting fights in his career, but those days appear to be in the past.
Next Fight: TBA
Henry Cejudo, UFC, Flyweight
Though it's through little fault of his own, Cejudo lands on this week's fallers. He had been scheduled for an opportunity to bounce back from a two-fight losing streak against Sergio Pettis at UFC 211, but was rendered unable to fight due to a hand injury. Instead of taking on a lower-ranked opponent in a matchup where he was heavily favored, “The Messenger” will now be on the shelf indefinitely. Despite landing in the fallers category, the 30-year-old has plenty of time left in his prime to turn things around. There's little doubt he's one of the three or four best flyweights in the world, as the former Olympic wrestler's only losses are to champion Demetrious Johnson and No. 1 contender Joseph Benavidez, the latter a split decision. Hopefully, the UFC will re-book his fight against Sergio Pettis to a later date, giving Cejudo an opportunity to once again begin to ascend the rankings.
Next Fight: TBA