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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