UFC 138 fight card: Thiago Alves vs Papy Abedi preview

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A former UFC welterweight title challenger will welcome one of the top ranked prospects in the world to the promotion this Saturday night (November 5, 2011) as Thiago Alves takes on Papy Abedi on the main card of UFC 138

Alves has been in a career downward spiral after suffering multiple injuries, getting outwrestled by some of the best fighters in the division and getting on Dana White's bad side with some weigh-cutting issues. He's hoping that a UFC newcomer can be the cure to what ails him.

Abedi is one of most talented up-and-coming fighters in the world, with an undefeated record, a black belt in judo. After having manhandled all eight of his opponents thus far in the middleweight division, he'll be dropping down a weight class to take on one of the most dangerous welterweights on the planet.

Can Alves get back on track? Will Abedi make a huge splash with a strong showing against one of the most feared welterweights in the world? What will each fighter have to do to be successful on Saturday night in Birmingham?

Let's find out:

Thiago Alves

Record: 18-8 overall, 10-5 in the UFC

Key Wins: Josh Koscheck (UFC 90), Chris Lytle (UFC 78), Matt Hughes (UFC 85)

Key Losses: Georges St. Pierre (UFC 100), Jon Fitch 2x (UFC 117, Ultimate Fight Night 5), Rick Story (UFC 130)

How he got here: Alves has been fighting under the UFC banner since 2005. In 2009, he was at his peak and famously rode a seven-fight win streak all the way to a title shot against Georges St. Pierre at the promotion's biggest event ever, UFC 100. Alves dropped a lopsided five-round unanimous decision to "Rush" and would be sidelined for more than a a year because of a knee injury and subsequent brain malformation.

On his return to the promotion, he earned a rematch against consensus number two ranked welterweight Jon Fitch this past August, but he failed to make weight for the second time in his career. Missing weight again caused "The Pitbull" to be in Dana White's doghouse, but Alves made a fantastic career decision when he teamed up with new wave nutritionist and weight cut connoisseur, Mike Dolce.

Under Dolce's guidance, the American Top Team (ATT) fighter made weight easily and looked fantastic in pounding John Howard at UFC 124, winning via unanimous decision. He was hoping to continue his resurgence against Rick Story but got overwhelmed by the wrestler's tenacious takedown attempts and "in your face" striking style. 

He enters this fight with Abedi having lost three of his last four and in need of a victory badly.

How he gets it done: To get a victory on Saturday night, Alves will need to channel his 2008 self again, which is something he's clearly been lacking in his past performances. Alves has built a reputation as being an absolute buzz-saw with his striking. The Brazilian has the nastiest leg kicks in the business and also mixes in excellent knees and short, crisp punches.

He's been very inconsistent ever since losing a title shot to GSP, getting outwrestled in all three of his losses. He needs to do a better job of controlling distance in this match or he could find himself getting tossed on his head repeatedly.

Look for Alves to either keep his distance and pepper Abedi with leg kicks to weaken his strong Judo base or, if the fight gets inside, Alves will want to throw his vicious knees from the clinch. If he can take out Abedi's legs or core, his odds of securing a victory will go through the roof.

Papy Abedi

Record: 8-0 overall, 0-0 in the UFC

Key Wins: none

Key Losses: none

How he got here: Papy Abedi is a native of France but grew up in the Republic of Congo and traveled to the likes of France and Belgium before settling in Sweden in 1997. Abedi has a strong background in judo where he is a black belt and that has provided him with an extraordinary sense of balance as well as the brute strength to dominate his opposition since he switched to mixed martial arts in 2006. 

He hasn't been the most active fighter, fighting once or twice a year every year, but he's still undefeated at 8-0 and he was able to finish all but one of his opponents thus far in his career while competing on smaller shows in Europe. What makes his accomplishments even more impressive is he's done everything thus far as a middleweight, even landing the number one spot on Leland Roling's 2010 World MMA Scouting Report as a 185 pounder.

He'll be dropping to welterweight for the first time in his career after signing with the UFC and he's getting tossed to the wolves immediately with a fight against one of the most dangerous 170-pounders on the roster in Alves.

How he gets it done: Abedy's strength is his biggest advantage. He was able to get inside, lift his opponents up and slam them viciously to the canvas on multiple occasions in his young fight career thus far. Most of his throws aren't even through judo, he just physically overwhelms his opponents with superior power and they are forced to bend to his will.

Look for Abedi to get into the pocket against Alves, he's not the greatest striker, but he's taken great strides in that area of his game and even set up the finish in his last bout with a knockdown before choking his opponent out with a guillotine. 

Abedi's key will be to get inside and clinch with Alves. If he can lift the Brazilian up and slam him to the canvas, his ground and pound is wild but ferocious and it could at least win a round if not finish a fight. One thing Abedi absolutely cannot do is stand on the outside and eat leg kicks from the American Top Team fighter because he'll lose the base of nearly all his power.

Fight "X-Factor:" The X-Factor" for this fight is the significant jump in competition level for Abedi. He's been squaring off against no-names on the European circuit but he's being thrown right into the fire against Alves, one of the most talented fighters in the UFC welterweight division. Alves will not get choked out with a standing guillotine and he probably won't get tossed around the cage as easily as Abedi's previous opponents. He's also not likely going to have the poor striking defense that he was able to take advantage of in his recent bouts. 

If Abedi can't adjust to the bright lights of the biggest mixed martial arts promotion in the world or the extreme jump in competition level, he could be in some serious trouble.

Bottom Line: This bout has a ton of questions heading in that need to be answered. At 28 years old, will Alves ever turn it around and become a force in the welterweight division again? Just how good is this prospect Abedi? Thankfully, we'll get an opportunity to find the answers to these questions during this fight. We're either going to discover a new contender in the division in Abedi, or Alves will be trying to reestablish himself in the rankings and get back on track. Whichever is the case, it should be a compelling match-up.

Who will come out on top at UFC 138? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!

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