MIXED MARTIAL ARTS

UFC 218: Aldo-Holloway rematch highlights a stacked card

Jose Aldo looks to get back on track. mmafighting.com

UFC 218 takes place tonight in Detroit, MI at the Little Caesers Arena and presents a nicely stacked main card with a few hidden gems in the prelims. 

The headliner is a rematch between current 145 lb. champion Max “Blessed” Holloway (18-3) and the former division kingpin, Jose Aldo (26-3). Aldo didn’t lose a fight for nine years (2006-15) and came back from his stunning defeat to Conor McGregor with a fantastic performance against Frank Edgar. He then fought Holloway for the title, and looked like the Aldo of old in the first two rounds before fading and being finished in the 3rd round. Holloway has won 11 fights in a row, and is clearly in the prime of his career, but will have his hands full with Aldo, who is a faster striker with an advantage on the ground. The difference may be Holloway’s gas tank, which never seems to run low. 

The co-main event features one of the most experienced heavyweights in the world, Alistair Overeem (43-15-1 NC), taking on the young and hungry Francis Ngannou. Ngannou is hoping a win here puts him on the title radar, while Overeem is hoping for one last shot at the belt. Both men have serious knockout power, and it would be a shock if this fight went the full 15 minutes. Overeem’s chin has been exposed in the past, and Ngannou has finished 6 of his 10 wins via knockout. Overeem, of course, is one of the great knockout artists in the history of heavyweight martial arts, and Ngannou has not faced someone with his skill set in his rise up the rankings. 

Former US Olympian Henry Cejudo (11-2) take on Sergio Pettis (16-2) in a 125 lb. battle. Cejudo is a former title challenger who is trying to work his way back to another shot at Demetrious Johnson, while Pettis will look to shake up the division with his dynamic striking. 

The unbeaten Justin Gaethje (18-0) takes on former 155 lb. champion Eddie Alvarez (28-5-1 NC) in a battle of this season’s The Ultimate Fighter coaches. Gaethje is a pressure fighter who thrives on leg kicks and flurry punching to go along with excellent defensive wrestling. Alvarez is going to have to fight off his back foot, and will need to counterpunch effectively to have a chance here. Gaethje is the hot name, but Alvarez is the accomplished veteran looking to make another run at the lightweight crown. 

Tecia Torres (9-1) takes on Michelle Waterson (14-5) in the opening fight of the PPV card. Preliminary card highlights feature submission ace Charles Oliveira (22-7-1 NC) taking on slick-striking Paul Felder (14-3) and Alex Oliveira (18-3-1-2 NC) going up against Yancy Madeiros (14-4-1)


PREDICTIONS

Holloway by decision

Ngannou by TKO

Cejudo by decision

Gaethje by KO

Torres by decision

C. Oliveira by submission

A. Oliveira by KO

Teymur by KO

Casey-Sanchez by decision

Alhassan by TKO

Reyes by KO

Willis by decision

Cooper by decision

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The NBA is doing it right with their restart inside the Orlando Bubble at the Disney resort. A centralized location for the 22 teams picked to finish out the regular season and vie for the playoffs. A nice twist of a play-in for the eighth and final spot in each conference adds some intrigue. With teams not having to travel as extensively as they would under normal circumstances, this could have a positive effect on players and teams by them being more rested between games.

When I say it could benefit players and teams, I'm specifically talking about the Rockets. Head coach Mike D'Antoni typically employs a tight rotation when it comes playoff time. He's notorious for only playing a strict seven or eight man rotation. This usually overworks his starters who play close to 40 minutes per game or more. Meanwhile, guys that have gotten a decent amount of minutes are relegated to being cheerleaders with jerseys on. Given the current conditions, is small-ball sustainable in the bubble?

Yes: the extra rest will help

As previously stated, I believe the rest will help. James Harden and Russell Westbrook aren't spring chickens. Neither is P.J. Tucker or Eric Gordon. All four of these guys are keys to the Rockets being able to make a run. Given the lack of travel allowing for extra rest, I think the older guys who've played significant minutes and have overcome injuries will be better rested. Better rest and time to heal should give them a boost.

No: can't win being out-rebounded

In their impressive win over the East leading Bucks in their second game of the restart, the Rockets were out-rebounded by 29! Now the possession gap was tightened via the 23 turnovers they got from the Bucks, including several down the stretch. But you can't expect to be consistently out-rebounded and win.The last NBA champion to be out-rebounded by their opponents was the '12-'13 Miami Heat team who were loaded. This team isn't suprememly talented like that team was so I doubt they can overcome shortcomings on talent alone.

Yes: threes are more than twos

Three is greater than two. That is a fact that can't be debated. The fact that the Rockets shoot more threes than any team in the league isn't debatable either. Their shooting percentage on those threes (34.9%) ranks them 22nd in the league. But when you shoot roughly 45 a game and make about 16 of them yielding 48 points off threes, it makes the risk worth the reward. Not to mention long distance shots often give way to long rebounds which can help a team that doesn't play a regular player taller than 6'9.

No: defense is too inconsistent

The inconsistency at which this Rockets team plays defense could be their downfall. The way they played down the stretch against the Bucks is the way you'd hope they play all game. They stepped up when it counted in that game, but don't play that way consistently enough to be considered a real threat. When you score 118.7 a game, but give up 114.9 a game, you will always be in close games. Add the rebounding desparity, and that's a recipe for too many close games which they could end up losing if they aren't shooting well. When you can't get stops, you can't win. It's that simple.

Overall, this team has a shot to do sometihng special, but will need lots of things to go right for them. Do I think they have a shot at a title? Yes. Do I think the road will be tough? Yes. All it takes is 16 wins once the playoffs start. Being the best team in a best of seven series four times in a row is more daunting than it sounds. The confines of the NBA bubble make it a little more advantageous to the Rockets' style of play. But will their deficiencies impede their progress? That remains to be seen. Until then, let's enjoy the ride.

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