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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Houston now focused on postseason

Altuve and Correa homer, Astros drop final regular-season game

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With no playoff impact at stake if the Astros won or lost the game, Houston took Sunday's final regular-season game as a chance to get their lineup a few more at-bats before shifting focus to Tuesday's first game of the post-season. Here is a quick recap of the game against the Rangers:

Final Score: Rangers 8, Astros 4.

Record: 29-31, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Wes Benjamin (2-1, 4.84 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Chase De Jong (0-1, 14.73 ERA).

Houston's main bats get a final tune-up

Knowing they'd only have a couple of at-bats to work with, some of Houston's big bats took advantage, starting with Jose Altuve. He crushed a pitch in the top of the first, a solo homer to put the Astros in front 1-0. After the Rangers tied the game 1-1 in the bottom of the second, Altuve started the third with a walk before moving to third base on a Michael Brantley single, which improved Brantley's season average to .300.

Aledmys Diaz would pick up the RBI on a groundout to score Altuve, putting Houston back in front 2-1. In Correa's last at-bat in the top of the fourth, he extended the lead to 3-1 with a solo home run of his own.

Rangers hand Astros a loss to end the regular season

After getting the early run against Chase De Jong, the Rangers would put together a big inning against him in the fourth. After two one-out singles, Rougned Odor would give Texas their first lead of the day on a three-run homer to make it 4-3.

De Jong would continue to struggle in the inning, getting just one more out while loading the bases, prompting a move to the bullpen to bring in Nivaldo Rodriguez to try and eat up more innings. The Rangers greeted him with a two-RBI single to extend their lead to 6-3 before ending the fourth. Odor would hit his second home run of the game in the bottom of the fifth, a solo shot to make it a four-run lead at 7-3.

Rodriguez allowed another run in the bottom of the seventh, making it 8-3. Diaz, who drove in a run earlier, would account for another RBI in the top of the eighth, getting Houston's third solo homer of the day. That would make it an 8-4 game, which would go final as the Rangers would win the regular season's last game.

Up Next: Houston's first game of the playoffs will be on Tuesday, with the start time and opponent TBD while the rest of today's games wrap up, and the schedule is announced. Regardless, the Astros are expected to begin that best-of-three series with Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03 ERA).

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