Are we currently enjoying the “Blessed Era,” or will we have to pack up and relocate to “T-City?”
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will deliver that answer in the UFC 231 pay-per-view (PPV) event, headlined by the featherweight championship showdown pitting reigning division kingpin, Max Holloway, opposite streaking division phenom, Brian Ortega.
In the UFC 231 co-headliner, which goes down this Sat. night (Dec. 8, 2018) inside Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, former strawweight champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, takes on ex-bantamweight title contender, Valentina Shevchenko, with the vacant flyweight strap up for grabs.
Before we take a closer look at those two fights, see what resident fighter and top MMA analyst, Andrew Richardson, had to say about the rest of the main card match ups in his “X-Factor” preview right here. Looking for a breakdown of the UFC 231 “Prelims” bouts? Patrick Stumberg has those locked down here and here.
UFC 231 odds and betting lines can be found here.
145 lbs.: Max “Blessed” Holloway (19-3) vs. Brian “T-City” Ortega (14-0, 1 NC)
UFC featherweight champion, Max Holloway, has been terrorizing the featherweight division since going to the scorecards with Conor McGregor back in summer 2013. “Blessed” has won 12 straight fights with nine finishes, including back-to-back technical knockout victories over former division titleholder, Jose Aldo.
Top 145-pound contender, Brian Ortega, is unbeaten in 14 trips to the cage. As his competition increases, so does the quality of his performances. “T-City” became the first fighter to ever knockout former lightweight champion, Frankie Edgar, and he’s never been to a decision in seven fights for the promotion.
Holloway, 27, was supposed to compete twice in 2018 but was unable to make it to the cage because of health-related issues. Questions surrounding his notoriously brutal weight cuts persist, as do the whispers of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
Ortega, 27 may not have any losses under the UFC banner, but did receive a nine-month disciplinary suspension from California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) after failing his UFC on FOX 12 drug test after testing positive for drostanolone.
Holloway says, “It is what it is” at least 72 times per conversation.
Ortega inexplicably protected the insufferable Dillon Danis from a second helping of street justice.
Holloway, fighting Orthodox, is 5’11” with a 69” reach. He’s scored nine knockouts and two submissions in 19 wins against one finish (submission) in three losses. Ortega, a switch-stance fighter, stands 5’8” with a 69” reach, racking up three knockouts and seven submissions in 14 wins with zero defeats. As of Friday morning, both fighters are deadlocked in the betting lines at -110.
I didn’t write this prediction until after the UFC 231 weigh ins, simply because I needed to know what Max Holloway went through to make weight. Would he be carried to the scale with just three minutes left in the early weigh ins? I’m happy to report that “Blessed” was on weight a mere 20 minutes into the two-hour proceedings and that changes how we approach this fight, for the simple reason that Holloway, like opponent Brian Ortega, is practically bulletproof.
You can’t say that about a lot of fighters these days, but how can I sit here and pick apart a 12-fight winning streak with nine finishes? The same can be said for Ortega, who’s rolled over every fighter UFC put in front of him, including Frankie Edgar. They can both strike, grapple, and compete for 25 minutes without batting an eyelash, which is why this 145-pound collision is being hailed as one of the greatest featherweight match ups of all time.
For the purposes of this discussion, it’s worth noting that Ortega’s finishes are far better than his actual fights, like a baseball team that’s always neck-and-neck or coming from behind to score that walk-off home run. Losing rounds to Clay Guida and Renato Moicano comes to mind. If that trend continues, then expect him to get outscored against a disciplined kickboxer like Holloway, who has a pace and level of aggression not yet experienced by the challenger. If Ortega is cool with giving away rounds while patiently waiting for his opening, he may realize it’s never coming — but not until it’s too late to do anything about it.
Holloway def. Ortega by unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko (15-3) vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (15-2)
Former women’s bantamweight title contender, Valentina Shevchenko, is 4-2 under the UFC banner with her only two losses coming by way of close decision to power-punching bantamweight champion, Amanda Nunes. Already established as one of the promotion's most technical strikers, “Bullet” also showed off her ground game by tapping Julianna Pena on FOX.
Ex-strawweight champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, put together a 14-fight winning streak to start her MMA career and despite her consecutive losses to Rose Namajunas, managed to get back into the win column by turning away Tecia Torres back in July. The Polish puncher hit triple digits in striking output six times in her UFC career.
Shevchenko murdered Priscila Cachoeira in her flyweight debut so making the weight was obviously not an issue. It’s hard to find anything bad about what “Bullet” has done in her time with UFC, though she probably gave away that last Nunes fight by not working hard enough for the finish.
Jedrzejczyk, for all of her bombast, has won most of her fights by way of insane output. It’s easy to point out her shortcomings in the losses to Namajunas, but keep in mind she was also dropped by Claudia Gadelha and ate 103 significant strikes from Valerie Letourneau. Her defense is not nearly as dynamic as her offense.
Watch Shevchenko’s Muay Thai Sisters Power Workout and try not to cringe.
Everything Jedrzejczyk says makes my blood boil.
Shevchenko, fighting southpaw, is 5’5” tall with a reach of 67”. She holds four knockouts and seven submissions in 15 wins with a technical knockout loss (retirement) back in 2010. Jedrzejczyk, standing orthodox, is 5’6” in height with a 65” reach. She scored four knockouts and one submission in 15 victories against one technical knockout loss from 2017. Shevchenko is currently a -340 favorite over Jedrzejczyk at +280.
Valentina Shevchenko holds three wins over Joanna Jedrzejczyk in the IMFA (International Federation of Muaythai Amateur) tournament in Thailand. But that was more than a decade ago when they were practically kids, so I’m not giving those prior performances much weight when breaking down their rematch, now being contested under MMA rules. That said, I’m still picking Shevchenko by way of massacre.
I’ve seen “Bullet” got toe-to-toe with Amanda Nunes, the hardest puncher in the women’s bantamweight division. I’ve also seen her submit Julianna Pena, a 135-pounder so relentless she can out-muscle Cat Zingano. What will a beanpole like Jedrzejczyk do? And let’s also keep in mind that both Claudia Gadelha and Rose Namajunas were able to put Jedrzejczyk on her ass in strawweight fights, so this idea that she’s going to stand and bang against the former bantamweight is not leaving me with a sense of optimism.
I would expect Jedrzejczyk to perform better at 125 pounds, free of the punishing aftereffects of her former weight cut. But Shevchenko is just a better fighter in every area. She was in 2008 when they last fought and she is now, reflected in the betting odds, and “Bullet” is going to drop her foe before locking in something very painful to elicit the fight-ending tap.
Shevchenko def. Jedrzejczyk by submission
There you have it.
MMAmania.com 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.
For much more on UFC 231 click here.