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UFC 237 predictions, preview, and analysis

Despite shutting out Joanna Jedrzejczyk in back-to-back fights, one of which ended by way of technical knockout, reigning Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) strawweight champion, Rose Namajunas, will enter the UFC 237 pay-per-view (PPV) main event as the underdog against top-ranked contender, Jessica Andrade, this Sat. night (May 11, 2019) inside Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

That’s a testament to the ferocity of “Bate Estaca.”

In the UFC 237 co-main event, former middleweight champion, Anderson Silva, tries to squeeze whatever juice is left of his name value after winning just one mixed martial arts (MMA) fight since 2012, a controversial decision opposite Derek Brunson. The means to that end is the destruction of former heavyweight Jared Cannonier, who stands at an even 4-4 since making his Octagon debut back in early 2015.

In addition, one of the greatest featherweight champions of all time, Jose Aldo, looks to shut down the streaking Alexander Volkanovski in a 145-pound showdown that has serious title implications. Particularly for “The Great” Australian, who can find himself challenging reigning division kingpin, Max Holloway, with a statement win over “Junior” this weekend in enemy territory.

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

Before we break down the UFC 237 main card, comprised of five hard-hitting fights that can only be ordered with a subscription to ESPN+, have a look at the “Prelims” predictions from our own Patrick Stumberg here and here. All the odds and betting lines for this weekend’s action in Brazil can be found here.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get down to business.

115 lbs.: UFC Strawweight Champion “Thug” Rose Namajunas (8-3) vs. Jessica “Bate Estaca” Andrade (19-6)

I saw a recent headline that had UFC President Dana White scratching his head at the predictions for the UFC 237 main event, because so many fans (and pundits) are “underestimating” reigning strawweight champion, Rose Namajunas. I’m not sure that’s the case, as I haven’t seen many folks poking holes in the champ’s game. Instead, the argument is that Jessica Andrade is simply a terrible match up. To be fair, “Bate Estaca” — who is 27 years old and clearly in the prime of her combat sports career — is a nightmare for any fighter at 115 pounds as she continues to get better with each fight. Claudia Gadelha and Karolina Kowalkiewicz were both title contenders and Andrade went through them like Neo went through Agent Smith at the end of The Matrix.

Like Andrade, Namajunas has entered her prime in devastating fashion, toppling former strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk with relative ease, before showcasing her stand-up skills in their five-round rematch. Even though we already knew she was championship material, the second win proved “Thug Rose” didn’t usurp the throne by way of puncher’s chance. Existing wins over Michelle Waterson and Tecia Torres reinforced that distinction. Namajunas is a complete fighter and remains equally skilled on the ground as she does on the feet, which could certainly come into play in this fight, much in the same way it did for Marion Reneau at UFC Fight Night 61. No question Namajunas and her long, lanky frame will end up on the canvas at some point in this five-round affair.

I have no doubts that both Namajunas and Andrade are the two best strawweights in the world and I firmly believe Namajunas would whoop Kowalkiewicz in a rematch, just as I’m convinced Andrade would best Jedrzejczyk the second time around. My biggest concern here is Namajunas trying to use her Zen-like approach to striking against what can only be described as a 115-pound tornado. Andrade affords her opponents little-to-no space and never stops dropping bombs. She rattled off 322 strikes against Angela Hill and well over 200 against Tecia Torres in three-round fights. As we saw in her title loss, maintaining that pace for another two rounds is not going to be a problem.

Namajunas is fast and accurate and will undoubtedly land. But everyone else has landed on Andrade too, and it does little to slow her down. Trying to use the clinch against the shorter fighter would prove disastrous considering the disparity in strength and we haven't even addressed the challenger’s wrestling. She’s 33 for 56 (59%) in takedown attempts and if that doesn’t have Namajunas fans sweating bullets, then Saturday night is going to be a rude awakening. Sooner or later, the champion will find her back against the cage with nowhere to go but south.

Final prediction: Andrade def. Namajunas by technical knockout

185 lbs.: Anderson “The Spider” Silva (34-9, 1 NC) vs. Jared “Killa Gorilla” Cannonier (11-4)

Anderson Silva, to date, remains a hard fighter to critique, because every time you try to point out where he’s faltered, you get spammed by the “Yeah, but...” brigade. Let me give you some examples.

“Anderson Silva got knocked out by Chris Weidman.”
Yeah but he was clowning around and didn't take it seriously.

“He lost to Weidman in the rematch.”
Yeah but he broke his leg so it’s not really a loss.

“Silva lost to both Daniel Cormier and Israel Adesanya.”
Yeah but one was a light heavyweight and the other was in his prime.

I have a few “Yeah, but...” answers of my own. Yeah, he outpointed Nick Diaz before it was ruled a no contest because Silva pissed hot, but he also out-struck a welterweight. Yeah, he got back into the win column against Derek Brunson, but every blog on the Internet scored that fight for Brunson.

No matter how many ways you try to spin it, Silva is 44 years old and has just one official win over the last six-plus years. The reason he’s still hanging around is because the Brazilian usually goes down on points and isn’t getting knocked out in every loss.

For UFC 237, the promotion was able to drum up a middleweight who is not on Silva’s level, at least in terms of striking, as even an older and slower “Spider” is still offensively superior to Jared Cannonier. He is not, however, more powerful and certainly not immune to “Killa Gorilla’s” wrestling, if such a thing exists.

Three takedown attempts in eight UFC fights?

There’s really nothing spectacular about the way Cannonier fights and I’m not breaking out the party hats for knockout wins over the since-released Cyril Asker and Nick Roehrick. We should also point out that the former heavyweight turned 35 back in March, so it’s not like Silva is fighting another 20-something stud.

How does Silva lose this contest, which is only 15 minutes long?

Round one: Silva remains at a distance, circling the cage and refusing to engage.
Round two: Silva gets tagged, drops his hands, and taunts his opponent.
Round three: Cannonier realizes he landed nothing of merit and tries to land the one-hitter quitter to avoid the Brazilian judges. Silva gets on his bicycle and plays keep away.

How does Silva win this fight? Pretty easily. Assuming his chin holds up, he uses his technical superiority to turn Cannonier’s face into corned beef hash. “Killa Gorilla” wants to stand and trade and win by knockout, but he's not good enough. We know it, Silva knows it, so it’s just a matter of execution and actually fighting to win.

Final prediction: Silva def. Cannonier by unanimous decision

145 lbs.: Jose “Junior” Aldo (28-4) vs. Alex “The Great” Volkanovski (19-1)

I think most of us have been too hard on Jose Aldo after his rough stretch dating back to late 2015. To be fair, his only losses have come to Conor McGregor and Max Holloway, a former champion and the current champion, so it’s not like he’s been dry cleaned by mid-card filler. I think what hurt his stock is the way in which he was so handily disposed of. “Notorious” had him back in the locker room in just a few seconds, while “Blessed” treated him like the mob treats dime-store owners who forget to pay their protection fee. To his credit, the Brazilian bounced back with statement wins over Jeremy Stephens and Renato Moicano, proving that maybe he was never really washed up and instead, simply not good enough to beat McGregor or Holloway.

Whether or not Alexander Volkanovski can be mentioned in that company largely depends on the outcome of this fight. We previously anointed Brian Ortega as the next big thing at 145 pounds, despite some concerns about his defensive skills, only to have Holloway sit us down and shut us up for our insolence. Volkanovski certainly has the numbers to back it up, thanks to a 19-1 record with 11 knockouts, but he’s never been through the featherweight gauntlet like Aldo. Because Chad Mendes was so willing to retire after their UFC 232 showdown, part of me wonders how much “Money” was there to begin with — and Volkanovski did not escape that bout unscathed. Before that, I don’t see any names over the last few years that would make him the obvious pick for tomorrow night’s clash.

That’s where we get into murky waters. I don’t believe Volkanovski is the superior fighter because he simply hasn’t done enough against the right people to support that claim. I do believe he can win this fight, perhaps convincingly, because Aldo is typically betrayed by his conditioning before his chin. Both are growing increasingly suspect as the Brazilian prepares for his 33rd birthday, and I would have to imagine a fight that does not end in the first round will slowly turn in favor of the Australian interloper. “Junior” has gone five rounds before with very little problems, but it helps when strikers like Frankie Edgar and Ricardo Lamas want to play his game. Volkanovski is not going to hang around and wait for his leg to be tenderized and will instead take a few cues from aggressive strawweight menace Jessica Andrade. A second round finish would not surprise me.

Final prediction: Volkanovski def. Aldo by technical knockout

170 lbs.: Thiago “Pitbull” Alves (23-13) vs. Laureano “El Matador” Staropoli (8-1)

So uh ... WTF happened to Thiago Alves? Hard to believe there was a time he was ranked No. 1 in the world and booked for a 170-pound title shot opposite Georges St. Pierre. Since that time, nearly a decade ago, “Pitbull” has put together a 6-8 record, made the jump to lightweight (and came back again), underwent surgery, and flirted with retirement. What’s more troubling, at least in terms of picking fights, is that Alves finished seven of his first nine UFC opponents, then just two of his last six. I know he turns 36 in October and he’s not exactly a spring chicken, it’s just hard to bridge the gap between the killer who terrorized the division Top 10 back in the glory days with the fragile fighter who can’t even crack the Top 15. There’s been recent talk in the forums of post-PED Alves, but without a failed drug test, you can’t expect to make that sort of accusation and have it become cannon.

He’s certainly got his work cut out for him against Argentinian bruiser Laureano Staropoli, who lived up to his “prospect to watch” billing by turning away the venerable Hector Aldana last November in Buenos Aires. I know it’s a bit early to break out the bubbly after just one fight inside the Octagon, but “El Matador” already has seven finishes in eight wins, five of them by knockout. Considering that Alves prefers to stand and bang, we have the potential for fireworks once the cage door closes in Rio. Staropoli is just 26 and still a little too wild in his exchanges, which has me worried against a patient power striker like Alves. We also can’t overlook the fact that “Pitbull” can fall back on his wrestling if he starts to get lit up on his feet.

Unfortunately at this stage of his career, pride is likely to betray Alves before his beard does. There are a couple of different ways for the Brazilian to win this fight, but he’s also the sort of fighter who rises — or falls — the the level of his opponent. If Staropoli wants to turn this into a barnburner and the fans start hootin’ and hollerin’, then I would not be surprised to see Alves follow suit. That’s not going to work out well with a height and reach disadvantage and even with his years of experience, it’s done little to help him in recent bouts (I scored his Griffin fight as a loss). I think this is a simple case of a fighter on his way up (Staropoli) meeting a fighter on the way down (Alves). Assuming they intersect somewhere in the middle, I have to bet on the fresher, hungrier talent.

Final prediction: Staropoli def. Alves by unanimous decision

***Note: The following breakdown lifted from Patrick Stumberg’s “Prelims” predictions after the promotion scratched Diego Ferreira vs. Francisco Trinaldo due to medical reasons (full story here).

135 lbs.: Irene Aldana (9-4) vs. Bethe “Pitbull” Correia (10-3-1)

Irene Aldana excelled in Invicta, but stumbled out of the gate in UFC, dropping decisions to Leslie Smith and Katlyn Chookagian in her first two appearances. She has since won two straight, earning her second “Fight of the Night” in her decision win over Lucie Pudilova in Sept. 2018.

She has knocked out five opponents and submitted another two.

Bethe Correia punched her ticket to a title shot with three consecutive victories, only to fall to Ronda Rousey in just 34 seconds. She’s just 1-2-1 since, the only victory a controversial decision over Jessica Eye.

“Pitbull” has not fought in 23 months, as she wasn’t medically cleared for a fight with Aldana last August.

This is the second time I’ve written this bout up. I was going to just copy-paste like I usually do, but since Aldana’s had a fight in the intervening time and it didn’t feel ethical. The facts haven’t changed, though: Aldana is four inches taller, has a 4.5-inch reach advantage, hits quite a bit harder than Correia, and is the crisper boxer by far. “Pitbull,” now 35, is essentially tailor-made for the Mexican slugger to brutalize.

Correia has had some iffy decisions go her way in the past and Aldana can let fights get closer than they need to be, but every tangible and intangible is in the latter’s favor. Aldana obliges Correia’s desired brawl and puts her down with brutal right hands midway through.

Prediction: Aldana via second-round technical knockout

There you have it. will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 237 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the ESPN+ PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.

For much more on UFC 237 click here.

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