UFC 211 PRIMER: Ecochard’s preview of Miocic vs. JDS for Heavyweight Title, Jedrzejczyk vs. Andrade, Maia vs. Masvidal, Edgar, Alvarez

By Matthew Ecochard, MMATorch contributor

Two title fights are headlining an exciting PPV on the night before Mother’s Day. This Saturday’s fight card features a heavyweight title bout that is also a rematch between champion Stipe Miocic defending against Junior Dos Santos. Joanna Jedrzejczyk looks to continue her reign over the 115 lb women’s division by taking out Jessica Andrade. Demian Maia, Jorge Masvidal, Frankie Edgar, Yair Rodriguez, Henry Cejudo and Sergio Pettis are all of the familiar names that will be filling out the main card. The rest of the night’s prelims has some fun bouts of their own. The following are previews and predictions for the entirety of the card.

UFC Fight Pass Prelims (6:00 PM EST / 3:00 PM PST)

Joachim Christensen (14-4) vs. Gadzhimurad Antigulov (19-4) – Light Heavyweight Bout

What should be a fun light heavyweight bout is opening up the biggest card of the year so far. Joachim Christensen is 1-1 so far in the UFC and he is fairly well rounded in both his ground and striking aspects of the sport. Christensen prefers to stand and trade and will likely try to do just that against the dangerous ground game of Gadzhimurad Antigulov. Out of Antigulov’s 19 wins, 14 have come by way of submission. All of his submissions are varied with attacks such as armbars, anaconda chokes, guillotines and kneebars so he is a  big threat to Christensen should the fight hit the mat. I see a competitive striking battle until Antigulov gets Christensen down late in the first where he will overwhelm the Denmark native.

Prediction: Gadzhimurad Antigulov via Submission Round 1

Gabriel Benitez (19-6) vs. Enrique Barzola (13-3-1) – Featherweight Bout

Both Gabriel Benitez and Enrique Barzola have been fairly unimpressive so far in the UFC and are looking to climb up the featherweight division at the expense of the other on Saturday night. Enrique Barzola is being groomed as a true mixed martial artist, but doesn’t excel in any one area just yet. Barzola’s biggest strength he has shown so far is his toughness by never being finished. While he will stand and trade (training from team AKA), Benitez definitely prefers the ground winning 10 of his 19 via submission. 3-1 in his UFC career, Benitez’s lone loss came from getting KO’d by Andre Fili in 2015. Barzola likely won’t be as slick as Fili, and Benitez’s speed should help him here. This will be a close fight but Benitez should have enough to outlast Barzola.

Prediction: Gabriel Benitez via  Split Decision

Chase Sherman (9-3) vs. Rashad Coulter (8-1) – Heavyweight Bout

Chase Sherman needs a win here to stay in the UFC despite it being the shallow heavyweight division. Sherman loves to stand and trade, but his best bet would be to takedown the newcomer Coulter early and keep top position. Standing and trading with Rashad Coulter seems like a bad idea, he has only lost once and it was by submission. All of his wins come from (T)KO and looks like he is an early finisher. Sherman has a good chin, but has been knocked out twice and Coulter will come out early looking for a finish. If Sherman drags this into the third round he should likely tire out Coulter, but he will be happy to stand and trade and it should likely cost him his job.

Prediction: Rashad Coulter via KO Round 1

Jared Gordon (12-1) vs. Michel Quinones (8-1) – Featherweight Bout

Two new debuting featherweights should have a nice striking match when Michel Quinones takes on Jared Gordon. Both men only have lost once in their careers and both have traveled a hard road to get to the big show. Gordon’s story is one of overdosing and broken bones, but after multiple relapses he is finally clean and feels like his time to shine is now. Both men love the striking portion of the game, but Gordon seems to be a bit more well versed on the ground and in going the distance. Jared Gordon has come so far in his life and sometimes all of that drive and never giving up will show up in the cage. Gordon’s younger and has faced the tougher competition inside and outside of the cage. It won’t be easy but Gordon will get the decision.

Prediction: Jared Gordon via Unanimous Decision

(#12) Jessica Aguilar (19-5) vs. Cortney Casey (6-3) – Women’s Strawweight Bout

Both of these ladies lost their last bouts to Claudia Gadelha, a tough opponent that neither should be ashamed in losing to. Jessica Aguilar took her on in her first UFC bout and just couldn’t offer up enough resistance to her strong game-plan. Cortney Casey was 2-2 in the UFC and then fought her, proving to be too much too soon. Casey’s frame for 115 lbs is very big at 5’7” and it allows to keep distance and strike or set up some nice submissions. Casey has never made it out of the first round and came out with a win, so against a tough fighter in Aguilar that doesn’t leave her a good chance at winning. Aguilar is really strong on the ground and has never been finished on the feet. Look for Aguilar to control Casey and come out with her first UFC win.

Prediction: Jessica Aguilar via Unanimous Decision

Fox Sports 1 Prelims (8 PM EST / 5 PM PST)

Marco Polo Reyes (7-3) vs. James Vick (9-1) – Lightweight Bout

Marco Polo Reyes is improving at a fairly quick pace, going from a 3-3 fighter, to a 7-3 in his last four bouts he has closed up some of the holes in his game rather quickly. Reyes isn’t perfect and can be taken down still and dragged into deep waters, but his heart and solid striking have carried him through his first three UFC bouts. James Vick is a really good test for Reyes to see if his ground game has improved enough to not be submitted by a man who is four inches taller and that will have a large reach advantage. Vick would be smart to stay on the outside for a while and mix in some takedowns to through Reyes off and keep him from getting comfortable. If Reyes can establish his range and start pouring off shots he can definitely finish off Vick. Vick will likely be able to work his game, but Reyes hasn’t lost in almost three years at this point so maybe he has improved that much. An early flurry keeps Vick off his game and lets Reyes get the finish.

Prediction: Marco Polo Reyes via TKO Round 1

(#9) Krzysztof Jotko (19-1) vs. David Branch (20-3) – Middleweight Bout

Former WSOF multi-division champion David Branch is not getting an easy fight in his return to the UFC. Branch has only lost one fight since leaving the UFC in 2011 and that was to Anthony Johnson. A 10 fight winning streak has proven Branch to be worthy of another shot in the UFC. The dominating grappling of Branch paired with solid striking and good submission skills have built him up to be a viable threat. Krzysztof Jotko is on a five fight winning streak in the UFC with his last coming over Thales Leites. Jotko is pretty strong everywhere in much of the same ways that Branch is. Wrestling, striking, and clinching all keep Jotko as a dangerous opponent who smothers his opposition. Branch should be hungry here and want a top 10 position in the UFC to prove his last run was a fluke. A grueling, tiring war will leave these two exhausted, but one will move forward and Branch has shown great improvements and strong cardio.

Prediction: David Branch via Unanimous Decision

Chas Skelly (17-2) vs.  Jason Knight (19-2) – Featherweight Bout

Chas Skelly has only lost two fights in his entire UFC career, one to Mirsad Bektic and the other to Darren Elkins. Elkins just out grinded Skelly, but besides that Skelly has won the majority of his fights via submission and continuously looks better each time out. Skelly’s striking is awkward enough that he can mix it up, sometimes connect and if not he uses it to take the fight to the canvas. Jason Knight is tough as nails and has a similar style to Skelly so this fight should be very interesting. The grappling and striking of both should be very equal and submission attempts should be just as exciting. Neither fighter has been finished before, but both are so good on the ground that either one could be here. The likely finish is that one is just slightly better on the mat when it goes there and that is probably Chas Skelly.

Prediction: Chas Skelly via Unanimous Decision

(#3) Eddie Alvarez (28-5) vs. (#9) Dustin Poirier (21-5) – Lightweight Bout

During the Conor McGregor fight, Eddie Alvarez looked nothing like his normal self as he was destroyed from the start and finished early in the second round. I expect Alvarez to look nothing like that in his fight Saturday against Dustin Poirier. Alvarez will go back to his strong striking style and mix in plenty of clinch and grappling work to keep Poirer guessing. Dustin Poirier has looked really strong at lightweight, only losing to Michael Johnson in his last 6 fights. Poirier’s power is very high at lightweight and he can always mix in his strong top game to keep himself as a top contender. Alvarez is a bad match for Poirier overall and he just has more weapons to win this bout. Poirier will remain on the outside of the top 5 looking in.

Prediction: Eddie Alvarez via Unanimous Decision

PPV Main Card (10 PM EST / 7 PM PST)

(#2) Henry Cejudo (10-2) vs. (#6) Sergio Pettis (15-2) – Flyweight Bout

Sergio Pettis is getting a huge opportunity in taking on the Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo. Pettis hasn’t faced anyone the caliber of Cejudo. The opposition that Pettis has fought is solid with recent names like John Moraga and Chris Cariaso, but Cejudo might be too much too soon. The striking will likely go to Pettis, but if he can’t keep this fight standing Cejudo will just out point him to a decision fairly easily. Pettis will continuously attack from his back and on the feet when it is taking place there. Look for Pettis to make it interesting at a couple of different points, but Cejudo grinds out a fairly easy decision.

Prediction: Henry Cejudo via Unanimous Decision

(#2) Frankie Edgar (20-5-1) vs. (#7) Yair Rodriguez (11-1) – Featherweight Bout

Another scenario where an up and comer will take on an established contender most likely too soon. Frankie Edgar is looking to take out anyone he can to work his way back to another title shot and that road continues with the surging Yair Rodriguez. Edgar recently beat Jeremy Stephens fairly easily to get back in the win column but needs to make an example out of Rodriguez if he wants his own stock to stay high. Rodriguez is riding a six fight win streak in the UFC, beating the likes of Andre Fili, Alex Caceres and most recently demolishing B.J. Penn. The striking of Rodriguez is incredibly fun to watch as he throws everything from front kicks and wheel kicks to spinning back fists and flying knees. Edgar likely wont’ be caught by much of those techniques though and even if he is, he has always shown what is the strongest chin and recovery out of any fighter in the UFC. Edgar outworks Rodriguez for three round and either gets a knockout of his own or just carries himself to a decision.

Prediction: Frankie Edgar via Unanimous Decision.

(#3) Demian Maia (24-6) vs. (#5) Jorge Masvidal (32-11) – Welterweight Bout

Moving towards a title shot Demian Maia decided to take another fight while he waits, but he will be facing off against “Game-bred” Jorge Masvidal who has been on a tear in his last three bouts. Finishing off Donald Cerrone in his last fight, Masvidal shocked a lot of people and just dominated him from start to finish. If Masvidal keeps the fight standing he will dominate Maia, but he really needs to stop the take-downs in order to have a chance in this one. Demian Maia hasn’t lost a bout since he fought Rory MacDonald in early 2014 and is currently on a six fight win streak. Beating Neil Magny, Gunnar Nelson, Matt Brown and Carlos Condit, Maia has faced a murderers row at welterweight to crawl his way back to challenger status. Maia has gone back to his roots and used his grappling skills and it is paying off for him tremendously. Masvidal surprised a lot of people by dominating Cerrone, Maia will surprise here with another dominating performance himself.

Prediction: Demian Maia via Submission Round 2

(C) Joanna Jedrzejczyk (13-0) vs. (#3) Jessica Andrade (16-5) – Women’s Strawweight Championship Bout (5 Rounds)

The first of two championship bouts that will co-headline this PPV features the women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk taking on the heavy handed Jessica Andrade. Jedrzejczyk has faced very little in terms of controversy in his fighting career and has only ever been remotely in danger a handful on times. Andrade has looked like a woman on a mission since dropping down those extra 20 lbs. that let her compete in a division more her size. These two will go to war on Saturday and it should be quality entertainment for the rest of us looking on.

The champion Jedrzejczyk has already defended her belt four times and has looked dominant each time. She may have never faced someone with the power that Andrade has and that could leave her out cold if she isn’t careful on Saturday. In her last bout against Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Jedrzejczyk got tagged a couple of times and if that happens against Andrade she will be in some serious trouble. The speed and movement of Jedrzejczyk keeps her out of trouble in most cases and she can’t be in and out before her opponents land anything of significance. She needs to keep range and not exchange in any fire fights if she wants to walk out with her belt around her waist.

Jessica Andrade has impressive striking, it looks a little barbaric, but the power she swings with could knock out just about anyone in the strawweight division if she lands clean. While Jedrzejczyk isn’t known for her ground game, Andrade needs to not be too careless as the smart Jedrzejczyk would definitely take advantage of any openings. If Andrade can keep Jedrzejczyk off balance with some heavy forward pressure and overpower her in the clinch game, she could finish her off. I don’t see Andrade out lasting Jedrzejczyk in a five round fight so if it goes past the first two or three rounds the fight will go the way of the current champion.

Prediction: Joanna Jedrzejczyk via Unanimous Decision

(C) Stipe Miocic (16-2) vs. (#4) Junior Dos Santos (18-4) – Heavyweight Championship Bout

The heavyweight division is fairly shallow and that is why a man who is coming off of just one victory is getting a shot at the UFC heavyweight championship. Junior Dos Santos beat Ben Rothwell early last year and is now getting a chance to beat the current champ Stipe Miocic once again. In December of 2014, Miocic was defeated via unanimous decision by Dos Santos in a close fight. Miocic has improved since then defeating four fighters by (T)KO in Mark Hunt, Andrei Arlovski, Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem. This should be a great rematch so lets dive a little deeper into each fighter.

Stipe Miocic hasn’t been a perfect fighter and has been clipped quite a bit but his finishing instinct is unparalleled at heavyweight. The break for a few months should be good for him since his last fight with Overeem almost saw him get knocked out. The stamina of Miocic is solid and he should be able to hang with Dos Santos if it goes all five rounds again. The opening round might be a little tentative between the two fighters because both know how strong they are and that one punch might result in a finish. Miocic needs to stay at his range, which is more boxing than kick-boxing and he should fair a little better. Moving his feet and staying at range, those are his two keys to victory.

Junior Dos Santos was knocked out one additional time since their last meeting so he needs to be especially careful with his chin. Head movement and kicks will help keep this fight where he wants it to be. In their first bout Dos Santos kept it at his pace and while it wasn’t a perfect win, he got the job done and took the rounds he needed to. If Dos Santos gets even a little sloppy, he will likely find himself face down in the octagon Saturday night. He needs to be careful as Miocic has really gotten comfortable with his hands and keeping a high pace. Look for Miocic to defend his belt again, finishing off Dos Santos around the middle of the bout.

Prediction: Stipe Miocic via TKO Round 3

NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS PRIMER: UFC 210 PRIMER: Ecochard’s preview of Saturday’s event including Johnson vs. Cormier, Mousasi vs. Weidman, plus all prelims

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