UFC on Fox 30 should be called “Stranger Things.” This isn’t because there’s a terrifying tunnel monster rampaging through the heartland of America, but because there’s so much uncertainty and strange occurrences surrounding this card, which takes place at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on July 28.
It starts at the top, where Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez face off again after the strange ending to their first encounter. Poirier was seemingly cruising to a victory before the tides turned. However, instead of a comeback victory, Alvarez landed an illegal knee that put a halt to the bout. The fight ended in a no-contest and left a sour taste in both of their mouths. Now, the two lightweight contenders will get a chance to settle the score once and for all.
The strange theme continues with the fact that José Aldo and Joanna Jędrzejczyk will both compete on a UFC card in which neither fighter will take part in the main event. For so long, both fighters represented the cream of the crop in their respective divisions. However, multiple losses have put their status as elite fighters in question.
Aldo will square off against Jeremy Stephens, a fighter who has lights-out knockout power in his hands and a wave of momentum behind him. Meanwhile, Jędrzejczyk faces Tecia Torres. The “Tiny Tornado” will look to not only bounce back after a loss to Jessica Andrade, but will also look to take Jędrzejczyk’s place near the top of the women’s strawweight division with a win.
The rest of the card features a great mix of up-and-coming fighters along with veteran names. The Canadian gangster Olivier Aubin-Mercier faces Alexander Hernandez in the main-card opener, Jordan Mein takes on Alex Morono to cap off the preliminary-card action, and John Makdessi battles Ross Pearson to headline the UFC Fight Pass portion of the card.
The UFC Fight Pass prelims get underway at 4 p.m. ET. From there, it’s off to Fox for the remaining preliminary-card fights at 6 p.m. ET and the main card at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Kyle Symes previewing the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
In their fight at UFC 211, Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier engaged in a war where Alvarez was almost finished and then mounted a comeback before throwing an illegal knee that caused the controversial no-contest conclusion of the bout. What did we learn about how these two lightweights match up? Will this rematch look similar to the first fight, or can we expect one fighter to have all the answers this time?
Kuhl: Let’s be honest here. Poirier was winning that last fight until he wasn’t. He outstruck Alvarez by a lot, went for a couple submission attempts and was way ahead in the judges’ eyes until the tide turned late in the second round. Sure, Alvarez came around and had his opponent in a very bad position, but there was no guarantee he was going to finish Poirier before the end of the round.
Alvarez was a champ for a reason. He was actually able to put away the very durable Justin Gaethje even quicker than Poirier, too. However, side-by-side, Poirier currently looks a little more technical, a bit quicker, and he still has the reach advantage to get more touches, which is what happened during most of their first affair.
I see almost the exact same fight happening, with the big difference being that Poirier wins by stoppage before the end of the second frame.
Symes: Agreed, to an extent.
Yes, Poirier was winning the first fight early on, but Alvarez’s comeback is the quintessential “Alvarez fight.” Alvarez seems to have a knack for making a comeback just when you think he’s done. Just as a lot of fans thought his run as an elite fighter was coming to an end with some not-so-spectacular split decisions, “The Underground King” went out and demolished the seemingly invincible Rafael dos Anjos in one round. He was outclassed by Conor McGregor in his first title defense and admittingly went through some mental struggles before and after the fight. To his credit, Alvarez has come back and hasn’t looked fazed by his nightmare of a night at UFC 205. He still gets hit an awful lot, and eventually that’s going to catch up to him. Similar to the man he last defeated, Alvarez is able to weather the storm like no other and then takes over the fight once he breaks his opponent.
That’s going to be a tough task against Poirier, though. For years, Poirier struggled to get over the hump from contender to the elite of the division. First, it was the Chan Sung Jung fight. Next, it was McGregor. Most recently, Michael Johnson stopped all of Poirier’s momentum with a huge knockout. Now, Poirier has another shot to become one of the elite members of the UFC’s lightweight division. Just as Alvarez has a ton of mental toughness, so too does Poirier. He also demonstrated his fight IQ in his last bout with the aforementioned Gaethje. Poirier threw crisp combinations, maintained an active pace throughout the contest and, for the most part, avoided the dangerous striking of Gaethje. It wasn’t a 30-second knockout or a 10-7 round ass-whooping, but it was very telling that Poirier kept his composure and stuck to the game plan.
Alvarez is still one of the best 155-pound fighters on the planet, but if the version (or better) of Poirier that fought Gaethje shows up at UFC on Fox 30, then Alvarez will be hard-pressed to keep the “Most Violent Man” title.
José Aldo was long considered to be the best featherweight fighter on the planet. Now, the Brazilian has lost three of his last four fights. Will Aldo get back on track against Jeremy Stephens? Does Stephens have what it takes to emerge with the victory here?
Symes: This fight has the potential to get violent in a hurry. Stephens isn’t interested in winning a fight on points. Every strike he throws has bad intentions behind it. However, that’s exactly where Stephens has ran into issues before by focusing on the one-strike kill shot rather than grouping combinations together. It seems as if he’s turned a corner recently, though, and his run toward the top of the division is evidence that the changes he’s made have been very successful.
Speaking of success, Aldo would very much like to find some. The former UFC featherweight champ is riding a two-fight skid, with both losses coming to current champion Max Holloway. There’s certainly no shame in losing to the champion of the division, but it’s the manner in which Aldo was defeated that was telling. We’ve seen Aldo gas out in the later rounds and struggle as the fight wore on. We’ve also seen McGregor land a perfect counter in the early seconds of the fight to put Aldo away. However, we hadn’t seen someone take it to Aldo the way Holloway did. Aldo had his moments, but it wasn’t fatigue or a mental lapse that overcame the featherweight great. Instead, it was the other fighter simply being better.
Aldo’s run of dominance at 145 pounds was something truly special. For the majority of it, he looked like his skill level was worlds away from the competition. Now, he’s simply fighting to remain relevant in an increasingly crowded featherweight title picture.
How Aldo handles the forward pressure of Stephens will be crucial for the Brazilian in this fight. We’ve been hearing for years that Aldo is going to start throwing more kicks, but in every fight he seemingly forgets he’s one of the best kickers in MMA history. Perhaps this is the fight it actually happens — we’ve seen Stephens struggle with leg kicks in the past — but is he still confident enough in his skills to throw leg kicks and successfully avoid the bombs Stephens will throw at him? I’m not as confident in Aldo’s skill set as I once was. I suspect Aldo will look great early on, but the constant forward pressure of Stephens, combined with his power, will earn “Lil Heathen” the victory here.
On a side note, we haven’t really heard a lot about Aldo’s weight cuts recently — or at least not as much as we used to — but one would have to believe Aldo is a guy who would benefit from a move to 155 pounds. Weight-cutting doesn’t get any easier as a fighter gets older, and a jump to lightweight could provide the Brazilian with a fresh start.
Kuhl: Look, there is no secret to what Stephens brings to the table. He’s one of those OG Midwestern fighters who’s been around forever. He has a wrestling pedigree and hits like a ton of bricks. He brings the action hard, so he can lose, but he can also destroy opponents as the fight drags on. His UFC debut was against Din Thomas in 2007, and he has fought every major name in the lightweight and featherweight division since — except Aldo. However, I’m not sure any of this matters.
I hate to say it, but I’m worried that Aldo is going the way of Carlos Condit. These guys were two of the greatest champs in the WEC. They started off on the right foot in the UFC, too. Yet, when things got bad for them, they got really bad. Multiple losses by a former champ, against opponents they could have easily beat in their respective primes, can start to make them question their place. Condit checked out a long time ago, and I’m worried about where Aldo’s head is at. He can and should beat Stephens with his precision striking, but costly errors may get him knocked out by the power-punching Iowa native.
Tecia Torres was considered among the best strawweight ladies around when the UFC first added the division in 2014. However, she posted disappointing results early in her Octagon tenure with two losses on The Ultimate Fighter 20 and some underwhelming performances in wins after the conclusion of the show. However, Torres only managed to suffer official losses to current champion Rose Namajunas and, more recently, to Jessica Andrade. Can Torres turn the tide against former champ Joanna Jędrzejczyk, or is this another fight that will prove that we’ve seen Torres’ ceiling as a fighter?
Kuhl: I’ve always liked the “Tiny Tornado” since her days with Invicta Fighting Championships. She’s scrappy, she pushes the action, and she has some wins over very impressive opponents. However, this just seems like a mismatch at this point in her career.
“Joanna Champion” may not actually be the champ anymore, but there has still only been one woman to beat her. The Polish fighter has been through all of the top ladies in her reign as the longest-running UFC women’s strawweight champ in the promotion’s history. When we look back at her performances against fighters similar to Torres — Andrade and Claudia Gadelha, to name two — it’s hard to envision Torres winning this one.
Torres is going to have a tough time getting inside with the tremendous size disadvantage, and when she tries, she’s likely to get lit up by the former champ. Also, Jędrzejczyk is coming in bitter with something to prove after her two crushing defeats at the hands of Namajunas.
The former champ will make a statement in this one with a quick finish.
Symes: This fight seems to be a mismatch on paper. Torres has been one of the most consistent fighters on the UFC’s roster. She’s beaten some well-known names and credible veterans during her time with Invicta and the UFC, but Jędrzejczyk is a huge step up compared to her recent opponents.
Given what we’ve seen from Torres, it’s safe to wonder if we’ve already seen how far she can go with her current style. She has one finish throughout her career, and getting into a points contest with Jędrzejczyk is not the way to beat the former UFC champion. Torres needs to evolve her game to provide a legit threat of ending a fight at any given moment if she’s going to make the leap to the next level.
I don’t see her doing that against Jędrzejczyk, unless Jędrzejczyk’s mental game is completely off. You’d think she’d come in with hot fire, looking to prove that she is still the best UFC strawweight not named Rose Namajunas, but we’ve seen Jędrzejczyk deflect a lot of the criticism and blame from the two losses away from herself. Her reasoning may be true — we obviously don’t know everything that happens in a training camp — but you’d like to see a fighter look inward rather than place blame on others.
Could Jędrzejczyk overlook Torres, considering what she’s accomplished versus Torres’ resume? Sure, she could. We’ve seen it before after all. Even if Jędrzejczyk does overlook Torres, the “Tiny Tornado” doesn’t have the ability to make her pay for it. Torres has struggled to put away opponents, and Jędrzejczyk will happily exchange strike for strike with anyone on the roster. Jędrzejczyk will take this one by decision.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Symes: John Makdessi and Ross Pearson.
Both guys are well-known names who are certainly on the downslope of their careers. Given the wear and tear on both men, this bout has the potential to provide the “Knockout of the Night.”
Kuhl: The match-up between Dustin Ortiz and Matheus Nicolau is an interesting one.
Ortiz is one of those gritty vets that people sometimes forget about, but he is only 29 years old and will look to string together three wins for the first time since 2013. He is coming off a win against Alexandre Pantoja back in January.
Nicolau, on the other hand, is a very exciting fighter who only has one ding on his pro record. He fell out in the semifinals of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 4 in 2015, but he has won all three of his official UFC fights, including notable victories over Louis Smolka and John Moraga, who is currently ranked above him. The Brazilian has a lot to prove, and a win over Ortiz would have to catapult him in the rankings.
This one has the all-around makings of a great fight.
Pair this card with…
Kuhl: A swineapple. What’s that, you say? It’s a whole pineapple stuffed with marinated pork and wrapped in bacon before being grilled. I believe it was around this time last year when that fad came on, and I certainly jumped on board. It combines the best of all worlds — sweet, savory, salty and tropical. It also combines two of my favorite foods. It’s a lot like this card. This card has something for everyone, from technical match-ups to barnburners, and it is not likely to turn out like last week’s card, which was tied for the most decisions in history at 10.
Symes: Well, I know where I’ll be watching the fights. I’d say you pair this with a nice, cold adult beverage. The summer is in full effect, meaning the only way to cool down is with some whiskey and soda, right?
|Fight||Kuhl’s Pick||Symes’s Pick|
|Main Card (Fox, 8 p.m. ET)|
|LW: Eddie Alvarez vs. Dustin Poirier||Poirier||Poirier|
|FW: José Aldo vs. Jeremy Stephens||Aldo||Stephens|
|Women’s StrawW: Joanna Jędrzejczyk vs. Tecia Torres||Jędrzejczyk||Jędrzejczyk|
|LW: Alex Hernandez vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier||Aubin-Mercier||Aubin-Mercier|
|Preliminary Card (Fox, 6 p.m. ET)|
|WW: Jordan Mein vs. Alex Morono||Morono||Mein|
|FW: Hakeem Dawodu vs. Austin Arnett||Dawodu||Dawodu|
|LW: Islam Makhachev vs. Kajan Johnson||Makhachev||Makhachev|
|LHW: Gadzhimurad Antigulov vs. Ion Cutelaba||Antigulov||Antigulov|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 4 p.m. ET)|
|LW: John Makdessi vs. Ross Pearson||Makdessi||Makdessi|
|Women’s FlyW: Alexis Davis vs. Katlyn Chookagian||Chookagian||Chookagian|
|FlyW: Dustin Ortiz vs. Matheus Nicolau||Nicolau||Ortiz|
|Women’s StrawW: Randa Markos vs. Nina Ansaroff||Markos||Markos|
|LW: Devin Powell vs. Alvaro Herrera||Powell||Powell|