A.J. HOFFMAN

UFC 231 preview: Holloway defends title

Max Holloway defends his title. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

UFC 231 is the last pay per view of 2018, and it looks like they have pieced together a pretty nice card. The headliner features Max Holloway defending his 145 lb. title against the unbeaten Brian Ortega, in a matchup of two guys who it's almost hard to imagine taking a loss at this point. The co-main features Valentina Shevchenko taking on former strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the vacant women's flyweight title. The last two December pay per views have both been fantastic, and both ironically featured Holloway.

The main event is for the featherweight title that Max Holloway (19-3) has unfortunately been unable to defend in 2018, pulling out of three scheduled fights, including one with Ortega. Assuming his health is OK, this fight makes for a dynamic matchup. Holloway is a fantastic kickboxer who uses speed and timing to overwhelm opponents. His ground game is a plus, but he is at a significant disadvantage on the mat in this fight. Ortega (14-0) has proven to be one of the most dangerous submission artists in the UFC. He is typically a slow starter, and there have been rounds where it looked like he wouldn't be able to pull out a victory. He is opportunistic, though, and when a neck has presented itself, Ortega has been quick to choke it. My biggest concern is the health of Holloway, as he has struggled with a tough weight cut to 145 and concussion-like symptoms. Hopefully we get a healthy champion on Saturday, and along with it a "Fight of the Year" candidate.

The co-main event features two of the best pure strikers in MMA, male or female, fighting for the women's flyweight title. It has felt like Shevchenko (15-3) was the inevitable champion after Nicco Montano missed weight for their title fight. Montano was stripped of the belt, and there was consideration of matching Valentina with Sijara Eubanks, but this fight is far more interesting. Shevchenko is definitely the lower-volume striker, picking her spots carefully, which can occasionally lead to boring dance matches. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (15-2) makes that difficult though, as she is a volume striker who is typically the aggressor. Shevchenko will likely look to keep this fight close range, possibly even clinch and try to take the fight to the ground. Joanna, as always, will want to stay in kickboxing range and attack. This has all the makings of a fantastic fight as well.

Alex Oliveira (19-5-1) is on a tear, but will have his ground limitations tested against grappling ace Gunnar Nelson (16-3-1). Oliveira will want to be at range, as he has looked questionable in grappling situations even in the fights that he has won. He remains a great athlete with heavy hands, but he still comes across to me as more of gatekeeper than contender. Nelson, once considered a borderline title contender, but was knocked out by Santiago Ponzinibbio back in July of 2017, and has been inactive ever since. He will look to close distance and drag Oliveira into his world, but again, this fight is essentially a coin flip.

The matchup between Jimi Manuwa (17-4) and Thiago Santos (19-6) pairs two guys who will be willing and able to bring the violence. These guys are both willing to trade, and this fight has the makings of a quick night. Manuwa was once considered a top contender, but has fallen on hard times. A win here would be crucial for his resurgence. Santos had a successful debut at 205 lbs., getting a stoppage win over Eryk Anders back in September. He has now won 6 of his last 7, and looking to make a run in the division. Santos is a pure power puncher, and Manuwa is willing to brawl. This one should be really fun.

The prelims feature Claudia Gadelha, Olivier Aubin-Mercier, Dhiego Lima and an interesting matchup between Eryk Anders and Elias Theodorou.

Enjoy the fights!

PREDICTIONS:

Ortega by submission

Jedrzejczyk by decision

Nelson by submission

Bochniak by decision

Santos by KO

Gadelha by decision

Burns by decision

Chookagian by decision

Theodourou by decision

Lopez by submission

Laprise by TKO

Ferreira by submission

Rakic by decision

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Davis Mills has to work to do. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The Houston Texans took to the field for their second day of workouts on the field. Here are 11 observations from a shaky offensive day.

1. Mills had a shakier day than his first. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good. There were a lot of teachable moments for him in this practice. General manager Nick Caserio said consistency is the biggest thing for him in evaluating a player. Part of the consistency is how often do you make the same mistakes, according to Caserio. Mills has work to do before Monday’s practice.

2. Even with the shaky day, there is still excitement to Mills. Seeing how he bounces back will be big, and the challenge won't be easy as the team will have a padded practice on Monday. Traditionally, defenses are ahead of the offense early in training camp.

3. Nico Collins and Davis Mills weren’t on the same page on Saturday. The two had a few miscommunications that led to some incomplete passes. Mills also came up just a little long on a deep pass to Collins. Later the two hooked up for a nice completion as Collins beat rookie Derek Stingley Jr. but it was not the best day for the two second-year players.

4. There weren’t a lot of receivers getting open today. Brandin Cooks is about the only player who constantly gets open. It led to Davis Mills holding the ball a few times and ultimately deciding to check the ball down. The secondary had a solid day.

5. Lovie Smith said after practice they don’t scheme up a lot of short passes and this team will need to move the ball through the air. He did lament that sometimes you have to take a quick and short gain as an offense. Smith also joked when you don’t like the passing game you can give credit to the coverage.

6. Speaking of the secondary, it featured a lot of Derek Stingley Jr. on Saturday. The first passing drill with the offense against defense saw Stingley Jr. square off with Brandin Cooks. It was again a win for Cooks, but the rookie had some nice moments on the field. Chris Conley also had a nice win against Stingley Jr. in coverage. The Texans have to get their first-round pick acclimated to how they will use him. I will say though that Stingley Jr. makes things look fluid and easy as he moves about the defense.

7. Safety Terrence Brooks has put together a nice couple of days to start training camp. He has had at least one pass break-up in each of the first two days and he has a lot of energy in the secondary. Rookie Jalen Pitre dashed into the backfield sniffing out a toss play showcasing his anticipation.

8. Garret Wallow was a player showing up to camp with high expectations, and he’d earned them. The late-round pick last year had done a great job getting his body in shape, and it feels like he is all over the field. Wallow had a pass break-up Saturday and he is near the top of my list for when the pads come on Monday.

9. Speaking of players who will excite when the pads come on, Kenyon Green is near the top of my list too. The “other” first-round pick for the Texans hasn’t played as much as you would maybe like so far, but he absolutely STONED a defender on a running play. There is work to do, but Green has flashes and in pads, he should flash more.

10. Jerry Hughes is one of the oldest players on the field. You wouldn’t know it though. The veteran has a ton of energy, and he’s very vocal. He easily dismissed Laremy Tunsil for what would have been a sack. Hughes is going to be a necessary contributor to this team in 2022.

11. Jonathan Greenard, Justin Britt, and Kamu Grugier-Hill all practiced after missing time on Friday. Phillip Dorsett has yet to really get involved and Lovie Smith said Dorsett is a little dinged up. The team will practice in pads on Monday for the first time. Jalen Pitre, Kenyon Green, Garret Wallow, Christian Harris, and Roy Lopez are the players I have near the top of my list to keep an eye on as the pads come on.

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