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UFC 218 predictions, preview, and analysis

UFC 179 Weigh-in Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to the hurt business this Saturday night (Dec. 2, 2017) with UFC 218: "Holloway vs. Aldo 2,” taking place inside Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan.

UFC 218 will be headlined by the featherweight championship rematch between reigning division kingpin Max Holloway and former 145-pound titleholder Jose Aldo, while heavyweight bruisers Alistair Overeem and Francis Ngannou battle for contendership in the three-round pay-per-view (PPV) co-main event.

Who wins and who loses? I’m glad you asked.

Before we break down the five-fight main card, let’s take a closer look at what’s dong on the UFC 218 preliminary card (spread across FOX Sports 1 and UFC Fight Pass) by clicking here and here. To see what the bookies had to say about the “Holloway vs. Aldo” event click here.

Let’s get the show on the road.

145 lbs.: UFC Featherweight Champion Max “Blessed” Holloway (18-3) vs. Jose “Junior” Aldo (26-3)

Nostradumbass predicts: In order for me to believe that Jose Aldo can win a rematch against Max Holloway, I must first believe that he’s corrected the mistakes he made when they first went to war in the UFC 212 main event back in June, or improved as a fighter in the weeks and months to follow.

Unfortunately, “Junior” hasn’t competed since then, so we can’t really gauge what he’s done or how he’s done it. It’s one thing to have your coaches guide you through training camp, it’s another thing to get into the Octagon and actually execute. Simply put, I have to imagine we’re getting the same Aldo at UFC 218 that we got at UFC 212.

That’s not necessarily a disadvantage. Most outlets (including this one) had Aldo winning the first and second rounds, but if you look at how the fight crested from start to finish, Holloway slowly began to catch up, then took over en route to a commanding finish.

Aldo is the faster, more technical striker. He also sports an underrated ground game and fought some of the best fighters in the world. But his gas tank has never been anything to brag about and he’s taking this fight on short notice. Going five rounds against a killer like Holloway is a tall order on a full camp, so to expect the 31-year-old Aldo to come in and cruise is pure folly.

In order for “Junior” to recapture his crown, he needs to finish “Blessed” and finish him early. The Hawaiian — still just 25 years of age — has never gone down on strikes and has already faced the divisions best strikers, including Conor McGregor, Cub Swanson, and Anthony Pettis. Aldo had his reign at the top, and it was an impressive one, but those days are over.

Final prediction: Holloway def. Aldo by technical knockout

265 lbs.: Francis “The Predator” Ngannou (10-1) vs. Alistair “Demolition Man” Overeem (43-15, 1 NC)

Nostradumbass predicts: This is supposed to be the fight that tells us whether or not Francis Ngannou is for real. I’m sure the promotion is rooting for him, as the folks behind the scenes have given the Cameroonian a boatload of marketing leading up to this fight. And why not? He’s the perfect fighter. Gentle and charming outside the cage, terrifying and murderous inside it.

It’s important to note that Ngannou will not be facing the same Overeem who captured a K-1 belt and scooped up titles for DREAM and Strikeforce. Like a pitcher who can no longer throw the fastball, ”Demolition Man” has been forced to modify his offense under Greg Jackson, which helped plug a sinking ship and lead the hulking Dutchman to a 7-1 record over the past three years.

That means Ngannou will be forced to defend takedowns and deal with a brute who can match him in strength, two things he hasn’t really dealt while recycling cans outside the division’s top 15. Ngannou claims he has a submission game and there is a handful of taps to back it up, but I don’t expect that skill set to come into play here.

There is a very easy way to plot this course. Ngannou recently set a world record for punching power and Overeem has been knocked out 10 times in his career. If Travis Browne and Ben Rothwell can melt “The Reem,” then so can “The Predator.” And when you hit as hard as Ngannou does, you don’t even have to land clean, you just have to land. With 15 minutes to get the job done, I certainly like his chances.

Final prediction: Ngannou def. Overeem by knockout

125 lbs.: Henry “The Messenger” Cejudo (11-2) vs. Sergio “SP” Pettis (16-2)

Nostradumbass predicts: I think most fans are used to seeing the same names perched atop the flyweight sill and boy, it sure would be nice to have a fresh face like Sergio Pettis in there to shuffle the deck. To do that, he must first dispose of Henry Cejudo, who got creamed by Demetrious Johnson back in April 2016, then dropped a decision to Joseph Benavidez in a fight that most folks scored in his favor.

Undaunted, “The Messenger” roared back and beat the brakes off Wilson Reis, reestablishing himself as a top contender in the process. That means Pettis has to beat a former Olympic medalist who already fought two of the best flyweights on the planet. What evidence exists to make that case? Looking at his current body of work, not much, I’m afraid.

Pettis — who graduated from the Daniel Cormier school of nicknames to end up with “SP” — captured wins over a quartet of talented fighters. It’s hard to knock that achievement and to be fair, it’s also hard to gush over it. To make a case for beating Cejudo, there should be a pair of devastating finishes or some other noteworthy highlight to silence critics. Anyone remember what he did against Chris Kelades? My point exactly.

Pettis, like his older brother, is a dynamic striker with sneaky submissions. He moves well and understands cage mechanics. I just don't see a way to stifle Cejudo, who will undoubtedly be looking for takedowns, which means valuable minutes spent on his back trying to survive. That’s not the sort of thing that impresses the judges and the hard-hitting “Messenger” only needs to win two out of three rounds.

Final prediction: Cejudo def. Pettis by unanimous decision

155 lbs.: Eddie Alvarez (28-5, 1 NC) vs. Justin “Highlight Reel” Gaethje (18-0)

Nostradumbass predicts: Color me surprised to see Eddie Alvarez as the +155 underdog heading into this fight. I understand all the cool kids are picking Justin Gaethje to win, and admittedly, his 18-0 record — bolstered by 15 knockouts — is very convincing.

On paper.

Gaethje had the benefit of competing on the regional circuit, where the talent often skewed from “good” to ... “warm body.” I'm not breaking out the party hats for a finish over Adrian Valdez, who is 1-7 and lost every fight by either knockout or submission. In addition, beating Michael Johnson is noteworthy, but so is the fact that “Menace” is just 1-4 over the past two years.

Remember when Thomas Almeida was 20-0 with 16 knockouts and everyone was like “OMG NEXT CHAMP!”

Gaethje is a dangerous fighter and underneath that violent exterior is a surprisingly technical striker. In an age where leg kicks are treated like relics of the past, “The Highlight” reminds opponents why they were so celebrated to begin with.

Eddie Alvarez has already been there and done that.

The former TUF coach held world titles for both UFC and Bellator and his bread and butter is boxing. It failed him against Conor McGregor, and Dustin Poirier put up a better fight that he probably expected, but again, we have to look at his body of work inside the Octagon.

Three straight wins over former lightweight champions from 2015-16.

His wrestling helped shut down precision punchers like Anthony Pettis, but Gaethje’s defensive prowess, built on a foundation of exemplary collegiate wrestling, will certainly give him pause. The name of the game in this fight, at least for Alvarez, is counterpunching, because he is going to be walked and stalked from bell-to-bell.

Look for a Gaethje bum rush, with hands low, to be met with a Alvarez uppercut.

Final prediction: Alvarez def. Gaethje by knockout

115 lbs.: Tecia “Tiny Tornado” Torres (9-1) vs. Michelle “Karate Hottie” Waterson (14-5)

Nostradumbass predicts: In a lot of ways, this bout mirrors the flyweight contest between Henry Cejudo and Serio Pettis placed higher up on the card. We have a strong, relentless wrestler taking on a dynamic, fluid striker. These two are clearly the better looking of the bunch, but I’ll end my compliment there in fear of getting Lauer’d on social media.

Tecia Torres managed to rack up four straight wins under the Invicta banner, largely because of her strength and athleticism. Few female fighters are built like the “Tiny Tornado” and that torrid win streak landed her a spot on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20, but she came up lame in the big spot and got bounced from the competition after losses to Randa Markos and Carla Esparza.

I know some folks won’t count those because technically, they’re exhibition fights, but when trying to evaluate a fighter’s body of work, it’s remiss to ignore them. Torres got into the cage and fought and you can bet your ass she would be counting them if she won. Conversely, Waterson did not use TUF as a conduit to UFC stardom, but did wear gold as the Invicta atomweight champion a few years back.

While she’s an outstanding striker, the submission game is where the “Karate Hottie” really shines, scoring nine taps in 14 wins. Her finish of Paige VanZant was particularly impressive and strawweight looked like a comfortable fit for Waterson, until Rose Namajunas turned her inside out at UFC on FOX 24. Knowing that “Thug” is now the division champion, that makes her defeat all the more forgiving.

Torres likes to throw hands and I don’t expect her to be intimated by Waterson’s striking. But once those kicks begin finding their mark and “Tiny Tornado” starts absorbing damage, I believe she’ll resort to her wrestling and mug-and-slug her way to a close decision win.

Final prediction: Torres def. Waterson by split decision

That’s a wrap. will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 218 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.

For much more on tomorrow night’s UFC 218 event click here.

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