The UFC returns to the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Saturday, May 13, for the fourth pay-per-view offering this year. From top to bottom, UFC 211, which includes two championship bouts at the top of the bill, is the best UFC event this year.
UFC heavyweight titleholder Stipe Miocic is out for revenge when he faces former UFC titleholder Junior dos Santos, one of only two men to defeat him, in his second defense of the heavyweight strap. Miocic has won four straight since the pair first met in 2014, including wins over former champions Fabricio Werdum and Andrei Arlovski. The Brazilian challenger defeated top-10 heavyweight Ben Rothwell in a largely one-sided performance.
One of the promotion’s most dominant champions, UFC strawweight titleholder Joanna Jędrzejczyk, attempts to tie Ronda Rousey’s record for most title defenses by a female athlete inside of the Octagon when she faces off with rising Brazilian prospect Jessica Andrade. Poland’s Jędrzejczyk has defended her title four times since bursting into the spotlight with her destruction of the inaugural champ Carla Esparza. Andrade has strung together three wins since making the drop to strawweight from bantamweight.
The next challenger for the welterweight title should be crowned when No. 1 contender Demian Maia meets surging welterweight Jorge Masvidal. Maia has won six consecutive fights, including finishes over top-10 fighters Carlos Condit, Neil Magny and Matt Brown. Masvidal’s confidence is riding high after dismantling former title challenger Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone earlier this year.
The main card features a theme of sorts, as some of the best in their respective divisions take on rising prospects looking for a breakout performance. Former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar takes on Mexico’s top prospect Yair “El Panterra” Rodriguez and former flyweight title challenger Henry Cejudo meets blue-chip prospect Sergio Pettis.
In the headliner of the preliminary fight card, former lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez meets Dustin Poirier in a potential “Fight of the Night” candidate. Rounding out the prelims, former two-division World Series of Fighting champion Dave Branch returns to the UFC against top-10 middleweight Krzysztof Jotko and former consensus No. 1 female strawweight Jessica Aguilar takes on the always game Cortney Casey.
The action kicks off with five prelim bouts on UFC Fight Pass at 6 p.m. ET. From there, Fox throws us a curveball with the remaining four prelim fights airing live on FX at 8 p.m. ET. Then, it’s off to pay-per-view for the main card at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Bryan Henderson and Zach Aittama break down the card in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
In 2014, Stipe Miocic and Junior dos Santos went five rounds. Dos Santos won. Now, Miocic is the heavyweight champ and his Brazilian counterpart is out to dethrone him. Can JDS find the same route to victory as he did at UFC on Fox 13, or will Miocic avenge his prior loss?
Henderson: This is a really tough question. Dos Santos, 33, has looked horrible in his losses. However, he’s only lost to the monstrous Cain Velasquez (twice) and superior striker Alistair Overeem. Subtract those three defeats and the Brazilian is 18-1 with only an early career loss. He’s still an elite heavyweight, in other words. He beat Miocic at UFC on Fox 13, and he dispatched of rising contender Ben Rothwell as recently as April 2016.
The difference here is that Miocic has grown as a fighter. He’d already ticked off six UFC wins before he met dos Santos, but he had also suffered a loss to Stefan Struve. Since the loss to dos Santos, Miocic has gone on to beat Andrei Arlovski, Mark Hunt, Fabricio Werdum (for the title) and the aforementioned Overeem (in a title defense). He’s also become much more dominant with his fists — all four of those victories came by some form of knockout, and the three most recent bouts ended in the first round. This isn’t the same Miocic who stepped into the eight-sided cage with dos Santos a few years ago.
Can JDS score a second victory over Miocic? Sure, it’s possible. However, those horrible losses the Brazilian suffered, combined with Miocic’s recent streak of knockout wins, makes it a highly unlikely outcome to envision. Miocic has the answers now, and he should be able to tag dos Santos repeatedly while employing a similar game plan to the one used by Velasquez. The Brazilian might be tough enough to hang in there till the final bell, but whether there’s a finish or not, Miocic is the man who will emerge with the gold on Saturday night.
Aittama: I’m not as down on dos Santos as my colleague is, but I can hardly argue the most likely outcome of this contest. The first bout was an absolute war that featured both men having to dig deep in order to stay in the fight. That very well could be the case this time around too, since the contest is once again scheduled for five rounds.
If Miocic’s recent resume is an indication on whether this fight can make it the full five frames, then dos Santos is going to be in for a rough night. However, it seems Miocic hasn’t had to really dig deep outside of a brief moment when Overeem blasted him in the first round at UFC 203. Over the course of five rounds, Miocic beat down the aforementioned Hunt worse than any other fighter had in his storied career. Miocic destroyed former UFC champ Arlovski in under a minute. He stole the title away from Werdum with one beautiful shot while moving backward. He then went on to survive an early knockdown against Overeem and earn the first defense of his title when he knocked out the former K-1 World GP and Strikeforce heavyweight champion in the first round in front of his hometown fans. Miocic has run through everyone he has faced since his last meeting with dos Santos.
Dos Santos hasn’t been nearly as active or had the same type of success. The Brazilian was brutally knocked out with one shot when he fought Overeem at UFC on Fox 17 following his victory over Miocic. The 33-year-old got back in the win column against top-10 heavyweight Rothwell, but the former champ needed all five rounds to get past his overmatched opponent. Has the knockout artist lost a step after his incredible battles with Velasquez? Without question. However, this doesn’t mean he won’t be able to find a home for his strikes when he faces off with Miocic again. Yet, the task will be a difficult one for dos Santos, who has spent over a year on the sidelines.
This fight can be sold because dos Santos has a win over the current champ. However, Miocic seems to be the heavy favorite in most books in the rematch. Miocic has continued to improve his boxing game. He’s added a strong counter striking element to his already impressive mauling style inside tight quarters. Dos Santos may be the more technical striker overall, but his past physical advantages seem to have trailed off as his body has taken more and more punishment over the years. This is a fight Miocic badly wants back, and it will be the first time he is avenging a loss in his career. Miocic will come in motivated and make the second defense of his heavyweight title.
Is Jessica Andrade the woman to finally knock women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk off the mountaintop?
Aittama: Andrade is an intriguing match-up for the women’s strawweight champ Jędrzejczyk for a countless number of reasons. The Brazilian has really come into her own since dropping from the bantamweight division to strawweight. At 5-foot-2, she is not a tall fighter by any means, which gives the move even more credence when you look at her physique in her new division. Andrade is a massive 115-pounder with the attitude and fighting style to match her looks. The 25-year-old has continued to impress since dropping weight with big victories over former Invicta FC champ Jessica Penne and top-10 strawweight Joanne Calderwood. The Brazilian put the division on notice when she put Penne away with a vicious barrage of punches at UFC 199 and then locked up a tight arm-in guillotine choke against Calderwood at UFC 203.
Heading into her bout with former Invicta titleholder Angela Hill, Andrade was picked by many to be the next challenger to Jędrzejczyk’s title. She didn’t disappoint. Andrade looked more like a machine than a human being in her pursuit of the finish against Hill. Andrade’s insane pace and pressure were far too much for Hill to avoid for the entirety of the contest. Whenever Hill thought she was doing the right thing, Andrade would rush her with a six- or seven-punch combination. If not for Hill’s tremendous chin and heart, Andrade would have picked up a highlight-reel knockout for the ages.
Yes, Andrade has the tools to hand the dominant champion her first career loss. Not only is she a solid pressure fighter, but she can also take her opponent down and maul them on the mat. Andrade has been able to dominate many facets of the fight game because of her strength and ability to implement her game plan. We know exactly what she is going to do on fight night. She is going to come forward, rarely take a backwards step, and look to violently pick apart her opponent’s weaknesses.
Jędrzejczyk is a violent delight in her own right. She lets her opponents know they’re going to have a rough night as soon as they lock eyes at the weigh-ins. Jędrzejczyk puts fear into her opponents before they ever step foot in the cage, and she finishes the job on fight night. The Polish fighter is a highly skilled striker with a style that produces exciting fights. She has been nearly flawless in her dismantling of the strawweight division in her seven UFC wins. She has already beaten the clear No. 2 strawweight, Claudia Gadelha, twice. Jędrzejczyk faced adversity in both fights, but showed herself to be the superior fighter in their most recent encounter at The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale in November. Jędrzejczyk lost the first two rounds, only to pull herself back together and dominate the final three rounds en route to another title defense. Only Demetrious Johnson, arguably the best fighter on the planet, has more title defenses than Jędrzejczyk in her incredible title reign. She battered Carla Esparza, Jessica Penne, Valérie Létourneau and, most recently, Karolina Kowalkiewicz in largely one-sided affairs.
Jędrzejczyk was hurt in her fight with Kowalkiewicz late in the bout. The Polish champion was met with a counter strike that put her on one knee. However, that one shot couldn’t overcome nearly five full rounds of one-sided traffic from the champ. Jędrzejczyk has been hit and stunned before, which leads some to believe Andrade is just the person to do the hitting this time around. For Jędrzejczyk to avoid the opportunity, she needs to do a couple of simple things. First, she needs to establish a jab. If she can keep her fist in Andrade’s face every time the Brazilian tries to rush forward with strikes, then she is going to be in control of the distance. Jędrzejczyk needs to keep the fight in her range. She cannot afford to have her back against the cage. Andrade will absolutely crush anyone who gives her the opportunity, so it is extremely important that Jędrzejczyk keeps a consistent distance between them. She can do this in a few different ways. She can use her jab to the head and body, make use of her Muay Thai background with a solid dose of teep kicks to the chest and, maybe most importantly of all, she can move her feet. Jędrzejczyk can avoid much of Andrade’s onslaught by simply stepping off, circling out, or moving herself out of range.
If Jędrzejczyk just simply backs up to avoid the pressure, she is going to have a rough night. If she can consistently time Andrade’s attacks, step off and counter, then the Polish star will find major success. Andrade is best served to mix in takedown attempts, if not for anything else but to make Jędrzejczyk second guess what’s coming. If Andrade gets Jędrzejczyk anywhere near the fence, then the Brazilian can use her size and strength to muscle the champion against the cage. If Andrade can cut off those escape routes for Jędrzejczyk, then she will begin to score. Jędrzejczyk’s grappling is still developing, as was evident against Gadelha. If not for Jędrzejczyk, though, Gadelha would currently sit atop the division.
That’s what makes this fight so great for the fans. Andrade is relatively unknown by the casual fan base, but people are going to recognize just how good the Brazilian really is after Saturday night. This is the most intriguing style match-up on the card. It has all the makings of a potential “Fight of the Year,” just like Jędrzejczyk produced when she fought Gadelha at the end of last year.
Andrade could find the upset. However, I’m going with Jędrzejczyk to continue her unbeaten run as champion.
Henderson: There has not been quite enough emphasis placed on Andrade moving down 20 pounds in weight to find a new home at strawweight. We’re not talking about a fighter making this huge drop and looking completely drained on the scales, either. Andrade has been a force in the division. This is the real key to the contest.
The aforementioned Gadelha has been the biggest threat to Jędrzejczyk’s title reign, but the Polish fighter has managed to sneak past her longtime rival repeatedly. Andrade is everything Gadelha is, plus some, and she’s even more dominant, if that’s possible. The 25-year-old experienced an up-and-down run while competing as a bantamweight. She got past some pretty damn good fighters in Rosi Sexton, Raquel Pennington, Larissa Pacheco and Sarah Moras, but she also dropped fights to Pennington, Marion Reneau and Liz Carmouche. Meanwhile, as a 115er, she stopped the aforementioned Penne and Calderwood before decisioning Hill. Andrade is a tough striker and a strong grappler — again, everything Gadelha is, only arguably more so.
Gadelha came very close to getting the job done against the champ. The little extra something that Andrade carries in her punching power, strength and size could be the slightest of edges that allows Andrade to excel where Gadelha came up short. Furthermore, we haven’t witnessed any extreme fading over the course of the fight from Andrade like we’ve seen from Gadelha. If Andrade can muscle Jędrzejczyk while also keeping the pedal to the floor for the duration of the bout, we might be looking at a new champion at the end of the evening’s co-headliner.
Jared Gordon, Michel Quinones and Rashad Coulter — do we need to know these names?
Henderson: The most important name entering the Octagon after fighting elsewhere in his last bout is obviously two-division World Series of Fighting champion Dave Branch. However, Branch has one UFC stint in his past, even if fans won’t likely remember his uneventful 2-2 run that spanned 2010-11. Branch is certainly a name to know. However, I digress. Let’s get back to the fighters who are making their official Octagon debuts.
Two of those men, Jared Gordon and Michel Quinones, go head-to-head in a featherweight contest on the prelim card. “Flash” Gordon has a legitimate resume that includes a featherweight title reign under the Cage Fury Fighting Championships banner. The 32-year-old Quinones has made appearances inside the Bellator and Titan FC cages, but he has failed to capture a high-level regional crown.
Neither of these men really gets my blood pumping. Gordon does have wins over established regional vets Anthony Morrison and Bill Algeo, but he also dropped a fight to UFC castoff Jeff Lentz. Quinones lost to Brandon Girtz under the Bellator banner. The winner — I’ll say it’s Gordon — is probably good for another fight or two with the promotion, whereas the loser is likely to be one-and-done.
Coulter is the prospect with the most potential, but that has a lot to do with the division where he competes. Heavyweight is often viewed as a shallow pool of talent, so a few big wins can establish a fighter in a hurry. However, Coulter has a ton to prove, and not a whole lot of time to prove it. He’s already 35 years old, and he hasn’t faced a lot of top-tier competition. Coulter destroyed his last opponent in just 38 seconds, but that opponent had won just three of his 18 pro outings before losing to Coulter. He’s beat a few opponents with winning records, but his other very experienced foe was another athlete whose record has sunk well below the .500 mark. Coulter also lost a fight to a debuting pro.
“Daywalker” is actually a rather smallish heavyweight with a largely unproven track record. He’s claimed all of his victories via some form of knockout, so he could be an entertaining addition to the UFC’s roster. However, he could also turn out to be another heavyweight with a great record right up until he reaches the UFC. Pay attention to Coulter if you like seeing fighters separated from consciousness, but keep in mind that his opponent, Chase Sherman, entered the league with a similar run of finishes and has only managed a pair of losses inside the Octagon.
Aittama: Unfortunately, I share my colleague’s view on the potential successes of these three debuting fighters. It’s hard to imagine Gordon, Quinones and Coulter finding much success inside the Octagon. All three fighters have put together long winning streaks on the regional scene, but none of their resumes stick out. Factor in the age of these three men, and these additions feel more like card filler than the addition of three top-flight prospects.
Gordon, 28, has to be the top of this pack. He won the CFFC featherweight title with a total of eight wins in his nine fights inside the Cage Fury promotion. His lone loss is to The Ultimate Fighter 12 alum Lentz. That’s not exactly a record that wows. In the past, a win over a UFC veteran has always been one of the major criteria the UFC used to bring in new signees. Gordon does not have a win over a UFC veteran.
As for Quinones, 32, and Coulter, 35, I don’t really have high hopes based on their age, skill set, and overall resume. Again, neither has a won over a former UFC fighter. In fact, Coulter’s opponents have a combined record of 28 wins and 51 losses, for a combined winning percentage of just 35 percent. Those numbers don’t scream prospect. Quinones has fought better competition as his career has developed. However, his opponent’s record is under 50 percent as well.
This card may be littered with prospects, but this crop of newcomers is more underwhelming than promising. Gordon could find some success depending on the match-up. He’ll pick up the win this weekend, but the featherweight division is deep and there aren’t many easy fights for him going forward.
Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 211?
Aittama: The fight card is littered with key match-ups pinning some of the best in their respective division against a rising prospect looking for their major break. A big win by the younger fighter, and they could potentially catapult themselves into title contention. If the grizzled vet comes out on top, they will cement their positioning in the division. There are four fights on this card that are prime examples of this scenario, two of which feature former champ and two that showcase former title challengers: the flyweight showdown between Henry Cejudo and Sergio Pettis, the lightweight battle featuring Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar’s clash against rising Mexican prospect Yair Rodriguez, and the thrilling style match-up between former middleweight title challenger and current top welterweight contender Demian Maia and the surging Jorge Masvidal.
On the side of the veteran, Maia is the only fighter who would receive a title shot should he have his hand raised on Saturday night in Dallas. While Cejudo, Alvarez and Edgar are just one or two fights removed from championship bouts, it is unlikely any of the three will be next in line for a title shot in their respective divisions. Cejudo lost a close split decision to Joseph Benavidez at the TUF 24 Finale in December. Despite Cejudo taking the scorecards from most media and fans watching, he is instead attempting to fight off his third straight loss. Edgar has lost two fights to current featherweight kingpin José Aldo. Edgar will need some serious help from Max Holloway if he plans on challenging for a belt in the near future. It’s entirely possible Edgar halts Rodriguez’s momentum and forces the UFC’s hand, but the recent history of matchmaking from the UFC suggests Edgar will have to string together a series of wins if he even hopes of sniffing another shot at the title. Alvarez returns for the first time since getting dominated in the biggest fight of his career against Conor McGregor at UFC 205. The former lightweight champ is just one poor performance removed from being the titleholder in one of the deepest divisions in the sport. However, a win over Poirier won’t go a long way in a division that seems to be on hold at the top.
So, which fighter can make the most of their opportunity?
There are potential upsets for Poirier and Rodriguez.
Rodriguez showcased his aggressive striking arsenal in a one-sided beatdown against MMA legend and former two-division UFC champion B.J. Penn. Rodriguez offers a diverse array of kicks and outside attacks that makes his fight with Edgar one of the more intriguing bouts. Edgar has consistently beaten every fighter outside of the truly elite in the sport. Rodriguez will need another flawless performance if he hopes to get past Edgar, whose continual improvements in his boxing and stellar wrestling and top game make him the clear favorite in this bout. However, Edgar will start to slow down eventually, now that the New Jersey native is on the wrong side of 35. Rodriguez has a huge opportunity to put himself in title contention just 11 fights into his MMA career. This fight is such a huge step up in competition for the dynamic, high-flying striker. Edgar is clearly the best fighter Rodriguez has ever fought, and it’s not even close. Rodriguez has paths to victory in this fight, but will he be able to pull it off? It may be a case of too much, too soon for the talented youngster.
Poirier has made a name for himself as a top-level fighter who pursues the finish from the opening bell. His UFC career has been defined by his aggressive striking approach and beautiful transitional grappling. However, Poirier has seemingly hit roadblocks every time he has strung together a few wins. He was part of McGregor’s historic rise, for example. He again tasted defeat after a long winning streak when he lost to top-10 lightweight Michael Johnson at UFC Fight Night 94. In his most recent outing, Poirier bested Jim Miller at UFC 208 to start another potential run at the title. The fight with Alvarez is a pick ’em for the potential bettors, which could be a culmination of Poirier’s impressive eight wins in his past 10 fights and Alvarez tasting the canvas four times against McGregor. Alvarez has a distinct advantage in the wrestling department, a crutch he leaned on in his close split decision wins over former champ Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis. What makes Poirier a live dog in this contest is his constant pressure and improved striking. Poirier has to fight off his own desire to pressure his opponent, a trait that has led to his success and also some of his downfalls. Poirier will get very wild in his approach if his opponent offers resistance. Alvarez has made his name as a warrior that won’t step down from a fire fight. Unfortunately for Alvarez, that seems to be one of Poirier’s best paths to victory.
However, the biggest winner on the fight card is Masvidal. Maia made a big mistake by taking this fight. The Brazilian is clearly the top contender following dominant victories over Neil Magny, Gunnar Nelson, Matt Brown and Carlos Condit. He unfortunately had to wait around while the UFC settled the largely uneventful series of fights between welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and challenger Stephen Thompson. Woodley had his hand raised in the rematch after a majority draw ruling in the first meeting. Had Woodley taken one more scorecard in the first meeting, we could have potentially already had the wonderful Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu versus NCAA wrestler match-up for the welterweight title. Instead, Thompson was gifted a second opportunity and Maia has been sitting on the shelf since his August victory over Condit. Maia has been waiting for over seven years for his chance to redeem himself after a lackluster performance in his first title challenge against middleweight champion Anderson Silva at UFC 112. If Maia pulls off the victory against Masvidal, he will undoubtedly get the next shot at Woodley’s belt with his seventh straight win.
That’s where Masvidal comes in to ruin everything for the 39-year-old Brazilian. Maia is clearly the superior grappler in this contest. However, Masvidal has continued to showcase his ever-improving ability in becoming one of the best welterweights in the world. Masvidal showed off his dangerous striking game against the surging Donald Cerrone at UFC on Fox 23. He knocked down Cerrone twice in becoming only the second man to defeat Cerrone in the “Cowboy’s” past 16 fights. Masvidal is ready to derail another top fighter in his pursuit of UFC gold in what amounts to a very favorable match-up if he can just stay off of the mat for an extended period of time.
Maia has honed in on a certain path to victory that has led him to many of his past six wins. Masvidal needs to avoid getting taken down, but more specifically he needs to be cognoscente of his surroundings when attempting to stand back up. Maia’s top control and positioning has unbelievably continued to improve as his career has progressed. Once Maia has an opponent down, he is going to pass to a dominant position. In that moment, a fighter has a decision to attempt to reverse the position in a few different ways, but not one of those ways is ever safe when facing a high-level grappler like Maia. One wrong move and the fight could be over, as evidenced by Maia’s absolute clinical performances against Condit and Magny. Masvidal is a strong grappler. However, the way Maia slices through his opponents like butter, Masvidal doesn’t want to put himself in any unnecessary danger.
Masvidal hopes to make this the same case when the fight is on the feet. Maia has gotten very good at avoiding any damage in his pursuit of the clinch and takedown. Masvidal will need to use his outside striking game to open up some of Maia’s past holes. An effective jab in combination with shots to the chest and body will go a very long way in defending the takedown attempts from Maia. Masvidal will need to remain patient, too. “Gamebred” is a true fighter who is always game, no matter where the fight takes place. If he can slowly pick apart Maia’s attacks, then he will find success in closing the show later in the fight.
Similar to the Rory MacDonald fight from a few years ago, Masvidal may find himself in some bad positions. If he can find an escape route, then there are some major openings ripe for the picking. Masvidal will find a home for his punches and steal the title shot out from under the No. 1 contender.
Henderson: My colleague already spent some time talking about my pick for the biggest winner, but it’s not Masvidal. Instead, it’s Rodriguez.
The Mexican fighter is really in a no-lose situation as he approaches his fight with former lightweight titleholder Edgar. If Rodriguez wins, he’s added a very big name to his resume while also laying a legitimate claim to a spot in the top-tier.
If he loses, so what? The excuse will be exactly what Mr. Aittama already suggested: a case of too much, too soon. Even casual fans would look at a Rodriguez loss and say, “Well, look at who he fought. Did we really expect him to beat Frankie Edgar?” Then, the loss can simply be chalked up as a learning experience. Rodriguez would get bumped down a notch and have to build up some steam again. He’s only 24, so it’s not like he’s running out of time. Rodriguez has a bright future ahead of him, and this fight can really do nothing to hinder his progress.
Regardless of the outcome, Rodriguez benefits from a high-profile bout on a nicely stacked card. If he wins, it’s just icing on the cake.
Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 211?
Henderson: It has to be Eddie Alvarez. He’s booked in a preliminary-card slot for his first fight since dropping the lightweight title to Conor McGregor? Ouch.
At least Alvarez gets the high-profile prelim headliner slot, as well as a solid opponent in Dustin Poirier. Alvarez is always entertaining, and Poirier is a veteran with a similar record and propensity for violence. This isn’t a case of the UFC giving Alvarez an easy rebound match-up. He’s going to have to work for the win.
Still, a recently deposed champion deserves better than a spot this far down the lineup.
Aittama: Alvarez could certainly lose prime positioning at the top of the lightweight division. Luckily for him, his loss to McGregor won’t mean much if the brash Irishman never returns to the Octagon. Alvarez has a tough test in front of him in Poirier, but a win puts him right back into the mix of top contenders.
Based on who I tabbed as the biggest winner — Jorge Masvidal — the easy choice for the biggest loser would be his opponent, Demian Maia. However, I’m going to go in a different direction.
Sergio Pettis has the toughest opportunity in his career to date when he faces former title challenger Henry Cejudo in the pay-per-view opener. Pettis has made strides in his game since he fell short against Alex Caceres and Ryan Benoit earlier in his UFC career. The 23-year-old Roufusport product has picked up three consecutive wins over the likes of Chris Kelades and former top-10 fighters Chris Cariaso and John Moraga. The younger of the Pettis brothers has a bright future ahead of him, but he may meet yet another roadblock when he steps up in competition against one of the top flyweights in the world.
Cejudo made major improvements in his boxing game that have seemed to take his overall skill set to the next level. This style match-up will be difficult to crack for Wisconsin’s Pettis. Pettis has rounded out his game over the years with vast improvements in his striking game, but he still has his flaws as a fighter. Cejudo will have the distinct advantage of controlling where this fight takes place. Judging by the performance in Cejudo’s most recent outing against Joseph Benavidez, we’re primed for the former Olympic gold medalist to come to the Octagon in top form on Saturday night. He is an upper-echelon flyweight with plenty of work left to do in his career.
Pettis won’t have enough to get by Cejudo. Even if he does taste defeat for only the third time in his career, Pettis will be a mainstay at the top of the flyweight division for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, taking a loss to one of the guys who will likely be ranked above him at the top of that division could keep Pettis out of the title mix. A more favorable match-up could have helped develop Pettis further and grew his stock as a potential future champion. However, the UFC’s matchmaking in this fight will likely lead to Pettis getting knocked back down the rankings once more.
Pettis may be the biggest loser at UFC 211, but he won’t walk away without learning a few important lessons on what it means to be an elite flyweight.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Aittama: There are a few fights that really stick out on the preliminary fight card. Fights between Jessica Aguilar and Cortney Casey or Krzysztof Jotko and Dave Branch would be highlighted on any other fight card. However, this UFC event is clearly the best card from top to bottom since UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden. Those fights that might have earned the winner a performance bonus could potentially go unnoticed in the grand scheme of the fight card.
However, there is one fight on the undercard that will likely be hard to forget. It pits rising featherweight prospect Jason “The Kid” Knight against UFC mainstay Chas Skelly.
Knight, 24, has impressed in his four Octagon outings with big victories over Daniel Hooker, Jim Alers and, most recently, Alex Caceres. Knight developed his aggressive style while fighting in the South’s growing regional MMA scene. Knight knows how to do the talking with his hands and his mouth, which is why many have given him the nickname “Hick Diaz,” both for his aggressive striking style and his mid-fight trash talk. Knight’s game has continued to grow since he dropped a tough outing against MMA great Tatsuya Kawajiri in his UFC debut. Knight recently traveled to Thailand to hone his craft with Phuket Top Team, one of the fastest rising gyms in MMA. Knight is still improving and moving up the UFC pecking order at an exponential rate.
Knight should be in for a real fight when he clashes with the grizzled vet Skelly. “The Scrapper” has earned six victories, including five finishes, over the course of his eight career UFC bouts. The Team Takedown member stopped Tom Niinimäki, Jim Alers and Maximo Blanco in under three rounds. In his most recent fight, Skelly put in one of his best performances against another rising prospect, Chris Gruetzemacher. Skelly has grappling acumen to put Knight in danger, no matter if it’s seconds in or in the latter half of the final round. Skelly is a dangerous finisher with the grit and toughness to survive a beating and ultimately pull out the victory.
In terms of fights that will offer entertainment from the opening bell, Knight and Skelly will deliver in spades.
Henderson: Can we call the prelim headliner between Alvarez and Poirier a sleeper? Probably not, eh? In that case, let’s dive a little deeper down the prelim lineup. I have my eyes set on the middleweight clash between Dave Branch and Krzysztof Jotko. I talked about Branch a little earlier in this preview, but he deserves more attention.
Branch is back in the UFC more than six years after his previous Octagon run came to an end. Now, he’s looking for respect and recognition. He went just 2-2 in his first UFC tenure, but he collected titles in two WSOF weight classes during his absence. He deserves top-15 consideration immediately in both the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions, but he’ll take a crack at the 185-pound rankings first when he squares off with Jotko.
Jotko is another very overlooked talent on the UFC roster. The Polish fighter has just one loss, which came against Magnus Cedenblad in 2014. He’s won his last five fights, including recent victories over Tamden McCrory and borderline contender Thales Leites. The 27-year-old is rising up the ladder, but he’s got a big task in front of him when he meets Branch.
Perhaps I lean a little too much toward fights that make a difference in the rankings when selecting a sleeper. Jotko and Branch can be grinders in their fights — Jotko has seen the scorecards 12 times, all for wins, and Branch has gone the distance nine times while collecting eight wins. This fight could be a points contest, but the winner should take a big step up in the middleweight division.
Pair this card with…
Henderson: A Rangers day game. UFC 211 takes place in Dallas, not far from the Texas Rangers home ballpark in Arlington. The Rangers happen to be in town the same weekend for a series against the Oakland Athletics. Sure, these teams are in their division’s basement, but even the worst teams can be fun to watch. If you’re in Texas or the surrounding area, make it a sports weekend — the UFC on Saturday night and a baseball game on Sunday afternoon.
Aittama: Friends and family. This is the type of fight card that inevitably grabs the casual fan. The name on the pay-per-view headliner may not be Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey or Jon Jones, but the fight card itself is one of the best in many months. From the prelims to the championship fights at the top of the bill, the fights should deliver excitement and a plethora of finishes. Fights like Alvarez/Poirier and Jędrzejczyk/Andrade are tailor-made for the casual sports fan. Gather together your friends, your family, and maybe even your neighbors (if you can stand them), and make it a night to remember.
|Fight||Henderson’s Pick||Aittama’s Pick|
|Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)|
|HW Championship: Stipe Miocic vs. Junior dos Santos||Miocic||Miocic|
|Women’s StrawW Championship: Joanna Jędrzejczyk vs. Jessica Andrade||Andrade||Jędrzejczyk|
|WW: Demian Maia vs. Jorge Masvidal||Maia||Masvidal|
|FW: Frankie Edgar vs. Yair Rodriguez||Edgar||Edgar|
|FlyW: Henry Cejudo vs. Sergio Pettis||Cejudo||Cejudo|
|Preliminary Card (FX, 8 p.m. ET)|
|LW: Eddie Alvarez vs. Dustin Poirier||Alvarez||Alvarez|
|FW: Chas Skelly vs. Jason Knight||Skelly||Knight|
|MW: Dave Branch vs. Krzysztof Jotko||Branch||Jotko|
|LW: James Vick vs. Polo Reyes||Vick||Vick|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6 p.m. ET)|
|Women’s StrawW: Jessica Aguilar vs. Cortney Casey||Aguilar||Casey|
|FW: Jared Gordon vs. Michel Quinones||Gordon||Gordon|
|HW: Rashad Coulter vs. Chase Sherman||Sherman||Sherman|
|FW: Enrique Barzola vs. Gabriel Benitez||Benitez||Benitez|
|LHW: Gadzhimurad Antigulov vs. Joachim Christensen||Antigulov||Antigulov|