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X-Factor! Some UFC 231 main card predictions

This Saturday (Dec. 8, 2018), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) travels to the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, for UFC 231. On the whole, it’s a pretty excellent card, headlined by a pair of title fights that feature four fighters perhaps known more for their deep technical skill than any other attributes. Before Max Holloway defends opposite Brian Ortega or Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Valentina Shevchenko meet for the fourth time, however, a trio of excellent battles will grace the main card. In addition,’s Jesse Holland will preview and predict the main event as we get closer to showtime.

Light Heavyweight: Jimi Manuwa vs. Thiago Santos

Best Win for Manuwa? Corey Anderson For Santos? Anthony Smith
Current Streak: Two losses for Manuwa, a pair of wins for the Brazilian
X-Factor: Neither man cares much about defense
How these two match up: I am an unabashed Thiago Santos mark. He’s basically a big, Brazilian Justin Gaethje in terms of mentality: he is there to destroy people (via kicks) or be destroyed (via any number of things). Last time out, Santos made a successful move to 205 pounds in an epic fight, and now he’ll look to stake his claim as an elite Light Heavyweight.

Standing opposite him will be an exceptional athlete with sharp boxing in Manuwa, a veteran of the Light Heavyweight division who’s been in there with the best. He hasn’t always won, but “Posterboy” is always a knockout threat.

This one is pretty simple: Santos is gonna try to kick the shit out of Manuwa’s leg, skull and LIVER. Meanwhile, Manuwa will try to walk him down, not get his liver kicked to shreds, and promptly shut off Santos’ lights. Indeed, a pair of very plausible, very violent outcomes.

This is definitely tough, but I tend to side with the younger man who is more often getting his hand raised. Plus, as smart as Manuwa’s offensive boxing is, I don’t know that he’ll be able to employ much of his crafty when Santos simply charges at him like a bat from hell.

Prediction: Santos def. Manuwa via knockout

Featherweight: Hakeem Dawodu vs. Kyle Bochniak

Best Win for Dawodu? Steven Siler For Bochniak? Brandon Davis
Current Streak: A win for Dawodu, a loss for Bochnaik
X-Factor: Bochniak’s gameplan
How these two match up: Sometimes, UFC’s thought process is extra obvious: “Hey, the last time we matched Kyle Bochniak with a great prospect who physically outmatched him, the results were awesome. Let’s do it again!”

Dawodu is big, strong Featherweight with a classic Muay Thai approach and heavy power. Bochniak is a little trickier to pin down, but the best description is spoiler: Bochniak can frustrate still-growing fighters with movement and a smart gameplan or, as his last fight showed, simply make lives difficult with an abundance of toughness.

This is a fascinating match up. By all rights, Dawodu should be too much for Bochniak: too strong to take down, too powerful to kickbox. However, Bochniak is a smart and tough bastard with some tricks up his sleeves.

Though I am far from confident, the technical match up favors Bochniak. Fighters who rely on classic Muay Thai as heavily as Dawodu also tend to rely on opponents to stand in front of them — the case in both of his career’s best wins opposite Siler and Austin Arnett. Bochniak, however, is likely to be running all around the cage and denying him a target, forcing Dawodu off his “A Game” and into less traveled waters.

It won’t be the fun, blood-and-guts scrap UFC wanted, but ...

Prediction: Bochniak def. Dawodu via decision

Welterweight: Alex Oliveira vs. Gunnar Nelson

Best Win for Oliveira? Carlos Condit For Nelson? Albert Tumenov
Current Streak: Two wins for Oliveira, a loss for Nelson
X-Factor: Once again, we have two men with serious defensive issues
How these two match up: In another entertaining match up likely to end early, we have a monstrous physical talent with a random array of skills against an oft-undersized Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace with sneaky knockout power.

As with Manuwa and Santos, it seems quite likely that one well-placed strike in the early goings could make the following analysis very unnecessary. However, since what we have in Alex Oliveira is pretty well-established — the Brazilian “Cowboy” is seriously entertaining and always dangerous but deep technical flaws will likely always prevent him from reaching the highest level — I’d like to touch on Nelson.

During the height of the McGregor Era — you know, when every fighter from SBG Ireland was the next champ — Nelson was annoyingly overrated. Over time, though, Nelson has suffered a few losses, the all-around hype faded, and suddenly Nelson was never any good in the first place. In short, an over-correction ... one that I expect Nelson to fix here.

Nelson may not be great at defending himself in the pocket, but he’s nasty at timing counters as opponents push forward, and few lead with their face quite like Oliveira. That’s very likely to produce an early knockdown, but if not, Nelson only need time an entry on the hips well to get Oliveira to his back.

Once there, Oliveira will try to power his way out, the worst possible move against “Gunni.”

Prediction: Nelson def. Oliveira via submission

On a final note, these three fights and my analysis on them can largely be summed here: when either one — or both fighter(s) involved — is seriously neglecting defense, individual techniques matter less than the overall style match up, which indicates who lands first! will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 231 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.

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