The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Detroit with its penultimate pay-per-view event of the year, UFC 218, live from the Little Caesars Arena.
Originally scheduled to headline the event was a featherweight title clash between champion Max Holloway and Frankie Edgar but an injury ruled Edgar out of contention. He will be replaced by Jose Aldo – who lost a unification bout to Holloway at UFC 212.
Despite only one title fight scheduled – it promises to be a fantastic night of fights, with plenty of fighters having a point to prove.
We preview and predict the main card’s action below…
MAIN EVENT – UFC FEATHERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
Featherweight – Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway (C) vs Jose Aldo ‘Jr.’Embed from Getty Images
With Edgar sidelined, Holloway will make his first defence of the featherweight title against the man he replaced at the top of the division. Cub Swanson was also considered as a replacement, but I believe the UFC made the right call in bringing in Aldo – who was expected to face Ricardo Lamas at UFC on Fox 26.
In their first bout, Holloway finished Aldo in the third round, dropping his opponent before finishing with ground-and-pound, despite the Brazilian starting sharply in the first two rounds. The win over the former WEC featherweight champion extended Holloway’s win streak to 11 – the longest in the 145lb division and second longest in the UFC.
A leg injury meant Aldo did not use his feared leg kicks in their first meeting; they could play a huge factor in the second fight if he can utilise them correctly. The former champion is 1-2 in his last three contests and desperately needs to win, or he could be waiting a while for another shot at the title.
On the other hand, Holloway seems to be improving every fight, at frightening prospect when you consider he is only 25-years-old.The Hawaiian born star has excellent striking and knockout power.
I can see the fight following a similar path of their first meeting with Aldo pushing the pace and Holloway content to counter. In my opinion, Holloway will land on Aldo’s chin and get another stoppage in the middle rounds to retain his belt to set up a meeting with Edgar.
PREDICTION: Holloway via third-round KO
Heavyweight – Francis ‘The Predator’ Ngannou vs Alistair ‘The Reem’ OvereemEmbed from Getty Images
The co-main event of the evening sees two heavyweights collide in what could prove to be a title eliminator between Francis Ngannou and Alistair Overeem. Provided Daniel Cormier does not step up in weight, the winner of this fight could be next in line for a shot Stipe Miocic’s heavyweight title.
Despite claiming he felt Miocic tap, Overeem lost to the reigning champ at UFC 203, losing via knockout in the first round. Since then, he has picked up two straight wins over Mark Hunt and former champion, Fabricio Werdum.
In his way of another shot of the title could be the scariest man on the UFC roster in Ngannou. ‘The Predator’ has finished all five of his UFC bouts via knockout and has never gone past the second round. He has unbelievable one-punch knockout power and slick boxing which is likely to cause Overeem problems.
The Dutch kickboxer has much more experience than his opponent, but his chin is faltering as a result of a long career in combat sport. The majority of the fight should be spent on the feet with both men willing to stand and trade.
Overeem’s stand-up skills are elite, and he must remain vigilant to avoid being caught. I think Overeem’s chin will be tested but will be no match for Ngannou’s power.
PREDICTION: Ngannou via second-round KO
REST OF THE MAIN CARD
Lightweight – Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje vs Eddie ‘The Underground King’ AlvarezEmbed from Getty Images
The Ultimate Fighter Season 26 coaches, Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje, will meet inside the Octagon following weeks of guiding their team of female flyweights.
Alvarez’s last contest ended in controversy when he landed an illegal knee on Dustin Poirier, and he was unable to continue in what was shaping up to be a hugely entertaining fight. The bout was ruled a no contest and a rematch was expected to be scheduled.
However, the UFC decided to book Alvarez as a coach which angered Poirier who was looking at another crack at the former lightweight champion. Instead, he will face Gaethje, who fights for only the second time since joining the UFC.
The former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion defeated Michael Johnson in his UFC debut where he earned a performance of the night bonus. Gaethje is currently undefeated in his professional career having amassed a record of 18-0.
His aggressive style and the constant offence should make for a great match-up with Alvarez who tends to make the fight a brawl.
This one could go either way making it extremely difficult to predict. I’m backing Gaethje to pinch this one and continue his impressive record as well as staking a claim for a title shot.
PREDICTION: Gaethje via second round KO
Flyweight – Henry “The Messenger” Cejudo vs Sergio “S.P” PettisEmbed from Getty Images
There is another potential title eliminator in the flyweight division with Henry Cejudo set to face Sergio Pettis looking to move next in line for a shot at Demetrious Johnson’s flyweight crown.
Cejudo has already lost to Johnson at UFC 197, where he was knocked out in the first round. The Olympic gold medallist was also beaten by Joseph Benavidez but returned to winning ways with a hugely impressive knockout of Wilson Reis.
He will face Pettis who has overcome a difficult start to life in the UFC to pick up four straight wins to put him on track for a shot at the title. His most recent victory came against Brandon Moreno at UFC Mexico City.
The 24-year-old has climbed the flyweight rankings, and a win over Cejudo would make him a shoe-in for the next title shot provided TJ Dillashaw does not step down in weight. Cejudo’s striking against Reis was excellent, but Pettis is equally as adept on the feet.
It’s another tough fight to predict. If Cejudo continues to display the improvements made to his striking, I think he will find success with his takedowns and grind out a decision victory.
PREDICTION: Cejudo via decision
Strawweight – Michelle ‘The Karate Hottie’ Waterson vs Tecia ‘The Tiny Tornado’ TorresEmbed from Getty Images
Kicking off the main card, we have a significant fight in women’s strawweight division between Tecia Torres and Michelle Waterson.
Torres has won five of her six fights in the UFC – including a win over current strawweight queen Rose Namajunas – however, her single loss also came at the hands of ‘Thug’ Rose.
Since losing to the reigning champion, Torres has picked up two straight wins over Bec Rawlings and Juliana Lima and will move to 6-1 in the UFC with a victory over Waterson.
Waterson enjoyed a solid start to life with the promotion with two submission wins over Angela Magana and Paige VanZant before also losing to Namajunas via rear-naked choke.
Her best work comes on the mat, so it’s likely she will push hard for the takedown. Not many women have been able to match the pace that Torres – all nine of her win have come via decision – meaning Waterson should attempt to get the fight to the ground.
She is in desperate need of a win to regain some of the momentum she picked up when she choked out VanZant.
With Torres’ current record standing at 1-1 with the reigning champion, a win over another top-ranked opponent could see her next in line for a title shot which will give her extra motivation when stepping foot inside the Octagon.
I think Torres will press the action for a decision victory.
PREDICTION: Torres via decision
Who do you think will have their hand raised at UFC 218? Let us know in the comments!