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 media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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