UFC 232: Analysis and Predictions

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Light Heavyweight Championship

Jon Jones (#1 Ranked) (22-1) (-300) vs Alexander Gustafsson (#2 Ranked) (18-4) (+250)

I’m extremely excited for this fight.  Back in October when it was announced that Jon Jones would be coming off his suspension, the rumors immediately began swirling over who he would face first.  This was the fight many in the MMA community really hoped would materialize.

The first fight between Jones and Gustafsson was an absolute barn burner.  It was a back and forth war that saw both fighters get seriously hurt.  Jones had never before fought someone with the size and range of Gustafsson and it absolutely caught him off guard.  The decision ultimately went for Jones in that first title match in 2013, but it was a close fight and many people thought Gustafsson had done enough to take the decision. 

A lot has happened in the 5 years since these fighters last met, and it will be interesting to see how that plays into the fight.

For his part, Jon Jones has been plagued by near constant issues outside of the ring.  These include two PED related suspensions, and another suspension for a hit and run accident in which he fled from the scene of the crime.  When you add to this the fact that he’s pretty well known as a dirty fighter (eye pokes), there are a lot of things to not like about Jon Jones.  That’s unfortunate, because despite these shortcomings he’s one of the best of all time in the ring. 

At 6’4 with a freakish 84.5in reach he has in many ways the perfect build for a fighter.  A short torso with extremely long arms and legs allows him to deal damage from far outside the range of most fighters.  This gives him the ability to take very little damage while continually landing jabs, leg kicks, and oblique kicks.  Opposing fighters tend to simply eat shots while puzzling over how to close distance.

Jones’s last fight was in the summer of 2017 against Daniel Cormier.  Originally a head kick KO by Jon Jones, this outcome was overturned when Jones tested positive for PEDs and is now a no contest.  A year prior to that Jones fought Ovince Saint Preux to a lackluster decision, and yet another year before that he fought to a decision victory over Cormier.  Jones has essentially been fighting once a year since his win over Gustafsson due to his constant legal troubles.

Similarly, but for very different reasons, Gustafsson has also been less active over the last 5 years.  In 2015 he had a title shot against Daniel Cormier in which he lost an extremely close split decision.  Since then he has taken big wins over Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira cementing his position as the #1 contender in the division.  He’s dealt with several injuries over the last few years but mostly has been content to sit on the sideline while waiting on a shot at Jones or Cormier.  That patience has clearly paid off.

Gustafsson is somewhat of tragic story in the light-heavyweight division to me.  He is unquestionably an elite level fighter as evidenced by the fact that he took both Jones and Cormier to close decisions.  However, with the Jones / Cormier rivalry being so huge, and with both of those fighters being pound for pound greats, it seems that Gustafsson’s name is frequently forgotten.  This fight will be Gustafsson’s chance to change all of that.  The stakes are huge for Gustafsson.

In analyzing this fight the first thing of interest to me is the fact that Jones has repeatedly stated he was “off” heading into the first match with Gustafsson.  He has implied that he wasn’t training properly and had spent the weeks leading up to the fight largely partying.  Given the string of drug infractions and suspensions that occurred after this fight, I tend to believe him.  It would seem that Jones didn’t really take Gustafsson seriously heading into the first fight.  I expect that’s going to be very different this time around with Jones coming off a 17-month layoff.  I imagine he’ll be healthy, well trained, and focused.

The next area that’s interesting to me is what we’ve seen from Gustafsson since the first Jones match.  Gustafsson has some big wins and has clearly improved.  His beat down of Teixeira was probably the most impressive to me.  Gustafsson’s striking was surgical in that matchup.  However, what I continually see from Gustafsson is that he seems to be so easy to hit by fighters who are good at measuring range.  During his matchup with Cormier he spent a large part of the later rounds essentially running away because whenever he engaged, he would get tagged.  He does great damage at range, but fails to pair that with good head movement like a Max Holloway, and as a result tends to get tagged.

I really want Gustafsson to win this match.  I’m probably going to be on my feet cheering every time he lands a jab, but ultimately, I think this is going to be a bad night for fans of The Mauler.  In fact, I think it’s going pretty lopsided and will likely end with Gustafsson in tears.

The problem for Gustafsson is that Jon Jones will be intensely focused for this fight, he will be healthy from the layoff, and trainers Jackson / Winkeljohn will have had ample time to review footage of the original fight.  He won’t be fighting the 80% Jon Jones that was present in the original matchup.  He’s going to be fighting a Jon Jones who is 100% and has had some of the best coaches in the business laying out a fight strategy for months.  Jones will land hard on Gustafsson early in this matchup and The Mauler won’t have a lot of answers.  I think Alex makes it out of the first round, but things start to unravel quickly in the second.

 Jones by 2nd Round TKO

  

Women’s Featherweight Championship

Cristiane Justino (Featherweight Champion) (20-1) (-265) vs Amanda Nunes (Bantamweight Champion) (16-4) (+225)

After a dominant run at 135lbs, Amanda Nunes moves up in weight to fight pound for pound great Chris “Cyborg” at 145lbs.  I’m really happy this matchup was made because both of these fighters have largely cleared out their divisions and need a legacy building fight.  The line seems to heavily favor “Cyborg”, but I believe it’s going to be a close fight.

If you’ve watched any MMA for the last 10 years you probably have a good idea of who Chris Cyborg is.  She gained mainstream recognition with her absolute destruction Gina Carano at Strikeforce in 2009.  She bounced around between organizations for a few years after that before eventually landing in the UFC hoping for a super fight with Ronda Rousey.  The 135-weight cut was far too much for her and that fight never materialized.  However, the UFC did, recognizing her talent level, continue to give her catch weight fights.  Eventually a 145-pound women’s division was established, and she has held the belt ever since.  She’s currently 20-1 in MMA with her only loss coming in her first fight over 13 years ago.

I’ll admit my bias here, for a long time I haven’t been a fan of Chris Cyborg.  She has multiple PED violations and clearly fails the “eyeball test” as someone who has abused PEDs throughout her career.  For the longest time, this is essentially why she won her fights, she was always the much larger, stronger, and more aggressive fighter.  She would wing wild hay makers Wanderlei Silva style and female opponents just couldn’t handle the onslaught.  My opinion of Chris has started to turn around though.  The UFC USADA testing is really strict, and it’s clear from her before and after weigh in photos she has had to clean up her act.  In addition to this, watching her fight with Holy Holm, she clearly used skill to win this fight more than pure power and aggression.  I feel like she is making the transition from a juiced-up brawler to a skilled striker, and I like what I see.

Amanda Nunes has held the UFC women’s bantamweight title belt since 2016 when she defeated Meisha Tate at UFC 200.  The only blemish on her UFC record is an early loss to Cat Zingano, who interestingly, is also on this card, and could serve as a backup should one of the fighters in this matchup miss weight or fail medicals.  Over the last 3 years Nunes has truly proven herself to be an elite fighter with destructions of Ronda Rousey and Raquel Pennington.  Her recent win over new flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko was perhaps the most impressive as Shevchenko has an almost spotless record.  Nunes has a reputation for hitting extremely hard.  Multiple female fighters have publicly stated that “it’s like getting punched by a man.”

As stated previously, I believe this fight will likely be closer than most realize.  In fact, I think Amanda has a good shot at dealing Cyborg her first loss in 13 years.  The level of competition in female MMA has increased considerably since the days where Cyborg was fighting Gina Carano.  Most of the top-level fighters, including Amanda Nunes, have been training in some sort of martial art since they were very young.  The best example of this is the Holm / Cyborg fight.  That was a close fight that saw Holm steal a round or two from the Champion.  The Women’s division is catching up to Cyborg, and Nunes is a much more dangerous fighter than Holm.

I suspect this fight is going to be a 5-round affair with a lengthy feeling out process, but some pretty entertaining late rounds.  Cyborg and Nunes will recognize how dangerous their opponents are and the first two rounds may be a lot of judging range and throwing single jabs / kicks. I expect the action will start to pick up in the 3rd and 4th when one fighter realizes they’re down on the cards and needs to be more active.  You’re going to see Chris Cyborg backed up and potentially dropped for the first time her career during this fight.  I don’t think she’s prepared for the amount of power Nunes can bring. 

 Nunes by Unanimous Decision

  

Welterweight

Carlos Condit (Unranked) (30 - 12) (+165) vs Michael Chiesa (#9 Lightweight) (14-4) (-190)

The Carlos Condit vs Michael Chiesa fight is a matchup between two relatively well-known fighters who are trying to get back on the winning track.  Both of these fighters are coming off of multiple recent losses.  Condit is probably at the tail end of his career, while Chiesa likely still has several strong years ahead of him.

It’s crazy to think that almost 7 years ago, the then 28-5 Carlos Condit was considered one of the absolute best at 170.  He fought St Pierre for the belt in 2012 and was considered a game competitor, losing a closely fought decision.  Since that fight, Condit has gone 2-7, only winning fights to a fading Thiago Alves and Martin Kampmann.  He Has lost his last 4 in a row.  Condit’s slide isn’t as bad as the record makes it look.  He has almost exclusively fought top ranked fighters, and many of those were closely fought decisions.  Still, you can’t help but think the best days for “The Natural Born Killer” are likely behind him.

Michael Chiesa is a 2012 Ultimate Fighter Winner who had been on a strong 7-2 run in the UFC until dropping his last two fights to Kevin Lee and Anthony Pettis.  This will be his first fight at welterweight and I suspect he will look better as a result, having struggled with weight at 155.  This will also probably be a good move for him considering that the 155 lb. division is incredibly deep, and it will probably be easier for him to get a shot at top 5 contenders at welterweight.  Chiesa is largely a grappler with 10 of his wins coming by submission and the remaining 4 being decisions.

This is a tough fight to predict because there are so many seeming unknowns.  For Carlos Condit, I’m really not sure where he is physically and mentally.  Having such a tough run recently, does he actually believe he can win this fight?  For Chiesa, how does his skill set translate to the higher weight class?  Is he going to feel stronger and have more energy, or will he be overwhelmed by the size and power of most welterweights?

For a prime Condit I think this would be an easy fight, but we’re pretty far from that point in time.  Condit just makes me too nervous having so many recent losses.  I’m concerned that he’s physically over the hill and mentally defeated going into this fight.  I think Chiesa will feel great at 170 and will have renewed energy in a different division.  Condit also hasn’t historically been one of the larger welterweights in the division so this should be a good first matchup for Chisea.

Look for Chisea to use his striking to setup takedowns on Condit and turn this into a grinding affair on the ground.  I expect Chisea will be patient and the first round may be slower as he’s content to retain dominant position on the ground.  In the 2nd he’ll become more aggressive and lock in a submission.

 Chisea by 2nd Round Submission

  

Light Heavyweight

Ilir Latifi (#5 Ranked) (14-5) (-155) vs Corey Anderson (#10 Ranked) (11-4) (+135)

Ilir Latifi vs Corey Anderson is a matchup between top 10 light heavyweights that likely has implications for a future title shot.  Both fighters have had long runs in the UFC so the ranking and title implications of this fight will likely make it an exciting affair.

Ilir Latifi started in the UFC in 2013 with a loss to current Bellator Middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi.  Since then his record has been an impressive 7-2, winning his last two fights over Ovince St Preux and Tyson Pedro.  For the longest time Latifi has struck me as a gatekeeper at 205, but his win over St Preux really changed my opinion of him.  Still, it seems as though he has historically struggled against the top of the division, with his more recent losses coming from current Bellator Light Heavyweight Champion Ryan Bader, and top ranked Light Heavyweight Jan Blachowicz.  Like many fighters coming from a wrestling base, Latifi is best when he mixes both striking and grappling to keep opponents from getting in a routine.  At 5’10 he’s short for the weight class, but tends to do a good job compensating for this with his strength and wrestling.

Corey Anderson has been fighting in the UFC since 2014 and owns a respectable 8 - 4 record.  He is the Ultimate Fighter Season 19 winner.  Corey feels like he’s always been on the cusp of going on a title run, but has fallen just short.  His most recent lost to Ovince St Preux in 2017 is a great example of this.  He had the fight well in hand but then succumbed to a massive head kick late in the 3rd round.  Things turned around for him big time in July of this year with a big win over Glover Teixeira.  Teixeira is one of the best at light heavyweight so this could set the stage for Anderson to go on a run.

Both of these fighters come from strong wrestling bases, so history tells me this will be a mostly standup fight.  That being said, Anderson’s game plan needs to be to aggressive mix in clinch work with his striking to keep this from turning into a pure standup fight.  He also needs to leverage his height and range to keep Latifi from getting comfortable in the pocket.  For his part, Latifi needs to keep this fight at short range where he can dirty box and test the chin of Anderson.

This will be a close fight.  I’m going to take Corey Anderson.  I’m optimistic he’s going to use his size advantage to keep Latifi at range, and then use his wrestling skills to lock down Latifi anytime the range shortens too much.  I could see this potentially being a boring fight with a lot of clinch work when Anderson is unhappy with the range, but that’s what it needs to be in order for him to win.

 Anderson by Unanimous Decision

Featherweight

Chad Mendes (#5 Ranked) (18-4) (-150) vs Alexander Volkanovski (#10 Ranked) (18-1) (+130)

Alexander Volkanovski takes a big step up in competition to take on Chad Mendez.  This is a big fight for the featherweight division and the winner of this fight will likely be one more win away from a title shot.  I imagine the winner will be taking on either Frankie Edgar for a #1 contender spot.

Chad Mendes made a triumphant return to the ring in July when he made quick work of Myles Jury with a 1st round TKO.  This was a big win for Mendes who was coming off a two years suspension for a USADA violation.  Prior to his suspension, Mendes was one of the absolute best at 145 with his only losses coming to all-time greats Connor McGregor, Jose Aldo, and Frankie Edgar.  He’s a powerful wrestler who uses a great combination of striking, grappling, and pure athleticism to overpower opponents.

Alexander Volkanovski has been red hot over since his debut in the UFC in 2016.  He has 5 straight wins in the UFC with 3 coming by decision and 2 by TKO.  His background is in wrestling, but he has proven himself to be a capable striker over the years.  His recent win over Darren Elkins was particularly impressive considering that Elkins was riding a 6-fight winning streak going into that fight.

I’m really excited for this matchup, because we will end learning a lot about both fighters.  On the down side, I could see this end fight being a very slow grinding affair with a tremendous amount of clench work and extended takedown attempts.  I think Volkanovski has a bright future in front of him in the UFC, but I think Chad Mendes is just going to be a little too much for him in the clinch.

 Chad Mendes by Unanimous Decision 

Women’s Featherweight

Cat Zingano (#5 Women's Bantamweight) (10-3) (-145) vs Megan Anderson (Unranked) (8-3) (+125)

Cat Zingano makes the move to featherweight to face Megan Anderson in a fight between two talented fighters.  One of these women might get bumped to the co-main event should either Cyborg or Nunes fail to make weight, so the stakes are unusually high for these two fighters.  This is another one of those fights that’s really difficult for me to pick on, because I’ll admit my bias in really liking both of these fighters. 

If you don’t know the history behind Cat Zingano, suffice it to say she’s had one hell of a rough last few years.  Without going into too much detail, she defeated Miesha Tate in 2013 to win the right to host the Ultimate Fighter alongside Ronda Rousey.  She then had a string of injuries and tragic real-life events that lead to her being forced to withdraw from that opportunity.  This ultimately lost her the ability to become the chief rival of blockbuster star Rounda Rousey, and as such, likely cost her millions. 

Astonishingly, she bounced back from all of this to defeat current division champion Amanda Nunes, and remains the only fighter to have done so in the UFC.  She then lost in a blowout defeat to Ronda Rousey, suffered another string of injuries, and went on a 3-loss streak, barely fighting once a year.  In July of this year she finally got a much-needed win over Marion Reneau.  To say her career in the UFC has been a rollercoaster would be a massive understatement.  This is also why she is a favorite of the hardcore fans.  It’s hard not to cheer for someone who has been through so many low points.

For her part, Zingano is an incredibly strong and aggressive fighter who uses a blend of striking and grappling to get her wins.  Throughout her career I believe her athleticism has been her biggest weapon.  When she was on her 3-loss streak it really seemed that time had caught up to her, however in recent fight with Mario Reneu, she looked like she had regained her burst.  At 36 I have concerns about how much longer she can compete using her berserker fighting style, but remain optimistic she has at least a few more good outs in the tank.

On the other side of this fight is Megan Anderson who despite being 0-1 seems poised to have a great future ahead of her in MMA.  She is the former Invincta FC featherweight champion.  At 6’1 she’s an absolute giant compared to most other women, and at 28 she certainly has a lot of good years left in her.  Her one loss in the UFC was to perennial title challenge Holy Holm.  That fight was a close decision, and I believe it says a lot about just how high-level Anderson’s game is.  Anderson is balanced fighter who was known for her submissions early in her career, but has transition to seemingly being a pure striker.

I hope I’m not just setting myself up for disappointment here, but I really think Zingano has a good shot in this fight.  With Megan Anderson’s size she likes to keep opponents at range and damage them from the outside.  I think Zingano can potentially be the perfect counter to this, because she is a fighter that loves to charge in with complete disregard to her own wellbeing.  This often times works well for her because she has an incredible chin.  I feel like she’s going to be able to close distance, clinch, get a takedown, and turn this into a ground and pound fight.  I don’t know how much Anderson has been tested on her back, and I feel like she’ll have difficulty getting back to her feet and returning the fight to range.  I see 3 rounds of Zingano landing takedowns and pounding on Anderson from inside guard and half guard.

 Zingano by Unanimous Decision

 

Fight PreviewsJustin Wingard