The UFC’s penultimate pay-per-view of 2018 is UFC 231 in Toronto on Dec. 8. Headlining the event is a much-anticipated featherweight title bout between reigning champion Max Holloway and the undefeated Brian Ortega. In the co-main event, former women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk moves up to flyweight to challenge Muay Thai rival Valentina Shevchenko for the vacant belt.
While UFC 232: Jones vs. Gustafsson 2 is the much bigger event, UFC 231 is a card filled with intriguing and entertaining matchups from top to bottom, and for hardcore fans, those two title bouts are must-watch. Before all the action kicks off at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, let’s take a brief look at some of the night’s competitors who could produce high scores for your DraftKings teams.
Max Holloway ($8,300) vs. Brian Ortega ($7,900)It’s been a frustrating and concerning year for Holloway. He’s yet to fight in 2018 due to three cancellations, and the most recent one vs. Ortega for UFC 226 was down to mysterious concussion-like symptoms. When we last saw him actually fight, “Blessed” TKO’d Jose Aldo for the second time in a row, extending his remarkable win streak to 12. Ortega has been sensational in his run towards the title, submitting Renato Moicano and Cub Swanson before becoming the first man to KO Frankie Edgar. Initially starting his career as a jiu-jitsu specialist, Ortega has developed into one of the most well-rounded and dangerous offensive fighters in all of MMA, which is what makes this bout with Holloway so compelling.
So much of the outcome of this fight does hinge on Holloway’s health. If he’s vintage Holloway, then this is going to be an absolute classic, but Holloway has even more weapons in his arsenal to win fights than Ortega. Holloway can win rounds and finish fights, whereas Ortega largely focuses on getting the finish. They both know how to take punishment and give punishment back, but I think Holloway’s multi-layered, high-volume striking and pressuring will be a big difference, and he’ll be privy to Ortega’s vaunted guillotine chokes. The pick is Holloway by decision, but Ortega can never be discounted.
Number of Note: 35. Holloway has stuffed his opponents’ last 35 takedown attempts, stretching back to his 2014 win vs. Clay Collard, who is the most recent person to take him down. Ortega’s takedown offense in his UFC career is only 14 percent.
Gunnar Nelson ($8,400) vs. Alex Oliveira ($7,800)Back from a meniscus injury, Nelson makes his first appearance in the UFC since a KO loss to Santiago Ponzinibbio in July 2017. The native of Iceland is one of the sport’s most dangerous grapplers, in addition to being a karate black belt. “Cowboy” Oliveira is enjoying the best run of his career, with six wins in his last eight. This year he’s submitted former interim champ Carlos Condit and quickly knocked out Carlo Pedersoli Jr. When Alex Oliveira is in the cage, you know you’re in for something fun.
This is a real toss-up. Oliveira is large even for welterweight, can win with his striking or grappling, but has notoriously bad defense. He’s not going to out-grapple Gunni, but he has the power to hurt him. Nelson can also exploit Oliveira’s defensive woes on the feet, and turn that into a submission opportunity. If it turns into a brawl, Oliveira likely wins, but Nelson is the more composed of the two and I think he’ll get the W in Toronto.
Number of Note: 12. Twelve of Nelson’s 16 wins have come via submission, including six of his seven UFC victories. Three of Oliveira’s five losses have been by tap out.
Chad Laprise ($9,100) vs. Dhiego Lima ($7,100)Laprise is coming off a KO loss to Vicente Luque in May, but preceding that defeat was a three-fight winning streak for the Canadian. After winning TUF: Nations as a welterweight in 2014, Laprise dropped back to lightweight, but returned to welterweight in 2017 after badly missing weight for his TKO win vs. Thibault Gouti in 2016. Lima is in must-win territory, with a UFC record of 1-5 across two stints, plus the rare distinction of two losses in TUF Finales. The Brazilian’s most recent outing was a decision loss to Yushin Okami.
This one should favor Laprise pretty comfortably. Not only is he capable of outwrestling Lima, he has a good jab and can pack a punch, something Lima has historically had problems with. The pick is Laprise by knockout to get himself back on track.
Number of Note: 5. Of Lima’s seven losses, five have been by stoppage. He’s been knocked out four times and submitted once.
Men’s Light Heavyweights
Thiago Santos ($8,800) vs. Jimi Manuwa ($7,400)Having spent his entire career at middleweight, Santos finally made his light heavyweight debut in September, winning by TKO against short notice replacement Eryk Anders, who was replacing… the injured Jimi Manuwa. Overall, Santos has won six of his last seven, and it looks as if 205 will be his long-term home. Manuwa is on a two-fight skid, with a KO loss to Volkan Oezdemir followed by a decision setback in a rematch vs. Jan Blachowicz. The Englishman is a powerful striker and has notable KOs over Corey Anderson and Ovince Saint Preux.
Neither guy is exactly iron-chinned, and they’re devastating strikers with KO power. Santos has brutal kicks, Manuwa has vicious clinch knees and power punching, but he’s 38 years old and seemingly on a physical decline. I believe if Santos can hurt Manuwa at any point in the fight, he’s going to get the knockout.
Number of Note: 77. Approximately 77 percent of Santos and Manuwa’s combined 36 pro MMA wins have been by knockout. For Santos, it’s 13 of 19, while Manuwa’s is 15 of 17. Judges might not be necessary for this one.
Aleksandar Rakic ($9,500) vs. Devin Clark ($6,700)An actual promising prospect at light heavyweight? Why yes, that’s Austria’s Aleksandar Rakic, whose two UFC wins were impressive decisions over Francimar Barroso and Justin Ledet. The 26-year-old lost his pro debut back in 2011, but has won ten straight since then. Clark is a bit older at 30, but he’s also a prospect, albeit with mixed results. He sits at 3-2 in the UFC, coming off a decision win over Mike Rodriguez. Like Rakic, his UFC wins have been by decision, but both losses were by stoppage.
Clark could pose some problems on the mat for Rakic, but Rakic’s takedown defense looks sharp and he showed tremendous ground-and-pound against Justin Ledet, and he’s the vastly superior striker who comes from a Muay Thai base. I’m backing Rakic for another dominant win, and he’s a name to watch in 2019.
Number of Note: 7. Seven of Rakic’s ten pro victories have come by KO/TKO, so look for him to try and make his third UFC fight double as his first finish inside the Octagon.
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