Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight prospects Cody Garbrandt and Thomas Almeida will clash TONIGHT (May 29, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 88 inside Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Garbrandt made his way into the Octagon after just five professional fights -- and five knockouts -- and has been perfect since. Now, he'll look to make the step up from highly-regarded prospect to contender in the title mix.
On the other hand, Almeida had nearly 20 fights before first competing in the Octagon, but he's also unbeaten and has finished a large majority of his opponents. If Almeida can score another victory here, he's likely in line for a title eliminator bout.
Let's take a closer look at the keys to victory for both men:
Key Wins: Marcus Brimage (UFC 182), Augusto Mendes (UFC Fight Night 83), Henry Briones (UFC 189)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Garbrandt fits the stereotypical Team Alpha Male mold of wrestler and boxer, but he's quite refined in both areas. Highly successful in both of those individual sports, "No Love" fights with athleticism and aggression, having knocked out seven of eight opponents.
In this bout, Garbrandt should look to act as the counter striker. Almeida likes to push his way into the pocket -- an area in which both men strikes comfortably -- but often leaves himself open to punches while moving forward.
That's a big opportunity for Garbrandt.
It would be smart for Garbrandt to establish his boxing with lots of jabs early on. Almeida often pushes straight forward with his hands tight and head still, which is a recipe to eat jabs. This has been noticeable in each of his fights, but was especially obvious in his bout with Tim Gorman, as Almeida's face took a beating from the wrestler's jab.
If Garbrandt can frustrate and damage Almeida with the jab, the Brazilian will get more desperate in his attack. That will create openings, and "No Love" is quick and powerful enough to violently capitalize on them.
Key Wins: Brad Pickett (UFC 189), Yves Jabouin (UFC 186), Anthony Birchak (UFC Fight Night 77)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Almeida is a vicious Muay Thai striker who pushes a hard pace and utilizes many different weapons. As should be expected of a Chute Boxe fighter, Almeida is highly aggressive and has finished 16 of his opponents via knockout.
To defeat Garbrandt, Almeida needs to make full use of his deep arsenal of techniques. His opponent is largely a boxer on the feet, whereas Almeida has secured finishes with punches, kicks, elbows, and knees.
In particular, Almeida's right counter elbow could be a very valuable tool. While Garbrandt has plenty of experience slipping punches, the elbow is a far larger weapon that is more difficult to fully evade and can interrupt head movement.
Additionally, Almeida needs to put extra focus on pressuring without overextending himself. His head movement is usually pretty good once he's in the pocket exchanging, but if Almeida is reaching before getting in the right distance he could easily run into a hard shot.
Bottom Line: Two of the finest prospects in the division are going to try and knock each other out.
This is certainly a big step up in competition for Garbrandt, who was supposed to fight John Lineker in his last appearance. This is an opportunity to live up to all the hype and move into the top 10 with a single victory, which isn't bad for a fighter less than 10 fights into his pro career.
On the other hand, a defeat would mean that perhaps Garbrandt is ready to take on the elite of the division just yet. He still has plenty of time to grow as a fighter and earn more chances.
Almeida is in a similar situation. For both undefeated 24 year old athletes, losing simply isn't the end of the world. They have the time to gain experience and try again in the future.
That said, Almeida does have a bit more to gain -- and lose -- as he's on the stronger win streak over more established competition. If the Brazilian wins, Almeida is quite close to earning a title shot and solidifying his reputation as an elite Bantamweight.
TONIGHT at UFC Fight Night 88, Cody Garbrandt and Thomas Almeida will throw down in the main event. Which fighter will remain standing when the dust settles?