The Last Stylebender vs. Sean Strickland
The snakeskin shit-kickers are oiled, the shit kicked out of the last opponent still fresh and caked on the half-inch wooden heels as they grind into Dricus Du Plesis’s couch. "F**k yo couch!" This game doesn’t favor those who hesitate, those who look down when standing at the top. No, this game favors those who blindly step off the ledge and have faith that fate will catch them. For some, their colors dry a different hue, no winter blues; they’ll never walk your path, they wear a bigger shoe; they’ll never have or give a f**k because that’s just not what winners do. Opportunity won’t knock; it’ll leave you stuck in limbo, frozen. There is no time for wishing/hoping; when you hear the doubt outside, you know the window’s open. And Sean Strickland is jumping through that bish.
This fight reminds me a lot of when Michael Bisping stepped in on short notice for a title shot and rematch against Luke Rockhold. Bisping’s opportunity came out of nowhere against a guy who had previously choked him out with one arm in under two rounds. But to Bisping, that was old shit and had nothing to do with the new shit he was cooking up. He Steph Curry took his shot, pulling up from three-quarters court, and splashed that mf. It was now or never, and never is a mighty long time. Bisping retired a year later; had he not stepped up and taken the fight he had already lost emphatically, his career would have ended without him ever having fought for the belt. Life’s a risk, carnal. It was a fight that no one expected, a fight that was never supposed to happen.
Beware of the trap fight. Izzy is coming in off two classics against his white whale, a man who had beaten him three times across two disciplines and was set up for a classic heated rivalry matchup against Du Plesis. Those two have more beef than the Neighborhood App and had already cut the WWE in-cage promo after Du Plesis... damn this is hard to type... after Du Plesis walked through Robert Whittaker. It’s easy to get up for a fight against a guy who KO’d you twice and for a guy for whom you hold a venomous disdain. But for a guy who isn’t supposed to be here, who clearly isn't on your level?
(Insert Sean Strickland here)
On paper, Strickland is just another Marvin Vettori, Jared Cannonier, Paulo Costa, another skull heaped onto the pile. As Izzy sits old man cross-legged in his bean bag chair, blunt in mouth, admiring the taxidermized Predator head mounted above his mantle with the fight he really wants looming on the horizon, it would be easy to overlook Sean Strickland. And the only chance Strickland has is if Izzy takes him for anything other than as a serious threat to his empire.
I know it sounds like a wild conspiracy theory, but Sean Strickland is one of the best defensive strikers in MMA. There’s no bobbing and weaving or fancy footwork; Sean Strickland don’t dance; he just pulls up his pants and does the Rockaway; he leans back, leans back. He’s the Floyd Mayweather of this bish; he uses subtle shoulder rolls and parries to thwart attacks and remain in a position to counter. The key is letting punches get close to the target (his head) and not reaching to deflect them. Stricky plays chicken with punches; he likes to come eye-to-eye with them before shucking them aside like overbearing groupies. When you try to parry punches out in front away from your face, that’s when you get feinted and blasted with hooks. Strickland’s last fight against the Candyman, Abus Magomedov, was a perfect example. Abus came out throwing everything but the bidet at Strickland and quickly gassed out because nothing saps energy quicker than missing punches. It may look like Strickland is taking damage, but most are deflected and grazing, and he rarely takes flush, clean shots.
Sean Strickland fights like he’s carrying a SWAT shield in front of him as you waste precious ammunition and energy firing at his impenetrable armor. He slow-plays fights, never in a hurry, and always works behind his jab. Strickland is one of the best arm punchers in the game, whipping strikes from the elbow instead of loading up, providing tells. The trade-off is a lack of power, but he makes up for that with accuracy, volume, and deceptive speed. When you don’t turn your hips over or load up, your punches are quicker to the target. But Strickland has an Achilles heel, almost literally. He was dipped into the River Styx only up to his knees and is subsequently susceptible to leg kicks. The way to beat Sean Strickland isn’t to headhunt; it’s to work from the ground up by attacking his legs. Strickland will reach down to catch kicks instead of checking them, and when you try to catch leg kicks, that’s when head kicks happen.
Can Strickland win this fight? Sure. I could also win the Lotto, invest it in a Bitcoin dip, turn it into fifty billy, and buy the Dallas Cowboys from Jerry Jones. But it isn’t likely. Strickland is a boxer, and that’s it. He doesn’t use enough weapons to bang with Izzy. His little lungs are too small to hotbox with God. His only chance is to go out on his shield and throw heavy volume. Strickland averages nearly six SLpM to Izzy’s four, but not all significant strikes are created equal; Izzy’s strikes are far more damaging and diverse.
Don’t get it twisted, not all Champs have that dog in them. Some are never dragged into the AB-infested waters, and on the rare occasions that they are, they fold. What makes Izzy special is that he has that dog in him like the Snoop Dogg No Limit albums. The ultimate dog presents itself when you are beaten three times and KO’d twice by the same opponent and come back to knock out that opponent. Climbing the mountain has been done before and will be done again but keeping that hunger after you’ve gorged on success for several years takes a different kind of mettle. When the music stops, some keep dancing to the tune that inspired them along the way. Izzy is that dude.
The game plan: strap on the Sean Strickland snakeskin shit-kickers and kick the shit outta Strickland’s legs. This fight will look almost identical to the Paulo Costa fight. Izzy didn’t open up with his hands much and just stayed on the outside, chopping away at Costa’s legs until Costa could barely stand. If I were Izzy, I wouldn’t risk trading hands in the first round unless I had to. Izzy is the (-650) favorite, and Strickland is the (+450) mangy, rabid dog. The finishing threat is clearly Izzy, but I think the play is for the fight going the distance. Strickland is 22-5 and was only finished twice. One of those times came just a year ago to Alex Pereira, which favors an Izzy finish, but I think Strickland can make it to the final bell much like Vettori and Cannonier did. An Izzy TKO/KO will return (+100), and a decision (+130). The impossible, a Strickland TKO/KO will return (+1000), and the near impossible Strickland decision (+1200).
It all came to an end last week. Never go full Sergey Spivak. That’s the third time the main event-winning streak ended at noine. But it was a hell of a run, and it took a Spivak dive to end it. I got undisciplined and tried to hit on another Mayra Bueno Silva. But as Joe DiMaggio must have felt in ‘41 when his fifty-six-game hit streak ended, I feel liberated. I’m a free bird once again, no longer straining under the weight of the win streak. Izzy via decision. On wax.
Tai Tuivasa vs. Alexander Volkov
Tai Tuivasa is entropy in human form, chaos and disorder measured within a closed Octagon. In Tuivasa’s world, win or lose, Tomorrow Never Dies; he fights like a higher power pinky promised him a tomorrow regardless of how recklessly he fights. Tuivasa is an old soul whose brawling style looks like it’s straight out of UFC 1. When he steps into the cage against the oft-slept-on Alexander Volkov, it will be the ultimate striking style matchup, technique versus raw power. In a world comprised of randomness and unpredictability, one thing is certain: this fight will not go the distance. Alexander Volkov has twenty-four career dubs via TKO/KO, and thirteen of Tuivasa’s fourteen career dubs came via TKO/KO.
"We’re going streaking!" Tai Tuivasa is a streaky mf; he started his career by winning three straight before losing three straight. He then won five straight but is now riding a two-fight losing streak. The good news: he won’t be fighting Sergei Pavlovich or Ciryl Gane this time out. The bad news: Alexander Volkov can be just as dangerous as both. But Tai has a style that is nearly impossible to train for; he just goes for it; he throws fists against the wall to see if they stick. He’s a bowling alley parking lot brawler and a human crash test dummy inside the cage. They post up Tuivasa on a couch with some mannequins in a model home in the middle of the New Mexico desert and test the effects of nuclear bombs on this guy. Tai Tuivasa, aka The Human Mushroom Cloud; after every fight, Tuivasa leaves the arena looking like Chornobyl, followed by one hundred years of radioactive fallout.
Tuivasa’s flat-footed, heavy base is the source of his incredible power and the cause of his downfall. Tai leaves tracks in the Octagon mat as he plods forward, unloading overhands with both hands. The flat-footed, plodding base allows Tai to sit down on all his punches and not waste a single strike. But at the same time, it makes Tuivasa susceptible to body attacks. Ciryl Gane picked Tuivasa apart with teeps to the body, which also happens to be one of Volkov’s specialties. You need lateral movement to thwart body attacks, especially up the middle kicks, and Tuivasa’s lack of movement turns him into a massive target. But Tuivasa launches hands from extreme over-the-top angles that are difficult not only to track but to block with a traditional guard. His shots don’t need to land clean; they tend to clang off the top of the head, behind the ears, and other vulnerable spots that can’t be covered up. One second, you’re covered up, thinking shit’s sweet and you can weather the Tuivasa storm, and the next, you’re doing the Jitterbug like it’s 1952; you’re John Travolta Dirty Dancing in the middle of the cage. Overall, Tuivasa fights with a Diaz Bro’s IDGAF attitude, and with a style like his, you can never truly lose. All his L’s identify as dubs, trans dubs.
Alexander Volkov is built like Tiny from House of 1000 Corpses with a similar lumbering gait, slowly stalking you around the cage. Volkov is one of the rare tall fighters who uses his reach well, and it starts with the use of teeps. Volkov uses the rear leg teep to define range and cause damage. Volkov uses teeps like vintage Conor McGregor, specifically when Conor fought Chad Mendez and used snaps to the diaphragm to drain Mendez’s cardio. Five Toe Death Punch: Volkov digs his toes into the soft tissue of the belly, and when your hands come down to defend, he unloads with long, harpoon-like punches. The rear-leg teep will be the key for Volkov and body attacks in general, as Tuivasa likes to headhunt, and Volkov will need to avoid getting drawn into a firefight. Tuivasa relies on power and speed like an MLB closer, but Volkov relies on accuracy and painting the corners with mid-eighties fastballs like Greg Maddox. Tuivasa’s hands are wide and clubbing, and Volkov’s are tight like hallways, and something will have to give when they get to exchanging.
Alexander Volkov ain’t new to this; he’s true to this. If you look at his losses, they’ve all come against elite competition. Volkov doesn’t lose to scrubs, and he is perennially one of the most underrated fighters in the heavyweight division. He will be the (-240) favorite, and Tuivasa will be the (+195) dog. The play for Tuivasa is a finish, a decision heavily favors the more technical Volkov. Volkov is also a big finishing threat, coming off back-to-back first-round TKOs. But I also think there is value in a Volkov decision. Tuivasa is tough and can sustain a lot of damage, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this fight looked a lot like Volkov vs. Derrick Lewis, a fight in which Volkov dominated for fourteen minutes and forty-five seconds only to get KO’d in the closing moments. Tuivasa will remain dangerous until the very end. A Tuivasa TKO/KO will return (+300). A Volkov TKO/KO will return (-105), and a decision (+330). Alexander Volkov via TKO, round three. Put that ish on wax.
Felipe Dos Santos vs. Manel Kape
Fighters stay ducking Manel Kape like little people's doorways. The last several months have been like a limbo tournament to see who could stoop the lowest to duck Manel Kape. Kape’s original opponent was supposed to be Kai Kara-France, but Kara-France was added to the long list of fighters who dropped a scheduled fight against Kape. But let me tell you something right meow; this guy Felipe Dos Santos, who is making his debut on short notice at the top of a PPV main card, will come out and fight like he’s playing with house money.
"King and a queen..."
This guy is hitting on twenty homies. Dos Santos is a Charles Oliveira knock-off, and his heart pumps no fear. He has a nearly identical stance/stature and uses his rear leg like a Swiss Army knife, just like Do Bronx. Teeps, round kicks, standing knees, flying knees, Dos Santos throws it all with his rear leg. His style is like doing Parkour between high rises, base jumping without a parachute or flying squirrel suit. There’s no return. This guy comes out the gate like a stuntman set on fire. Flame on! He’s a walking building code violation. You get a flying knee! You get a spinning wheel kick! You get a wild six-punch combo! I know life’s a risk, carnal, and anyone who promises you tomorrow is a liar, but this guy might take too many risks. Fans call the local authorities requesting a welfare check on Dos Santos between rounds because he’s clearly not in his right mind when he’s in the cage scrappin’. But that’s the exact style it will take to beat a top-ten-ranked fighter in your debut.
What disadvantages will Dos Santos have to overcome on Saturday night? All of ‘em. First off, Dos Santos is only 7-0, while Manel Kape has twenty-four career fights and was a Rizin Champion before he signed with the UFC. Kape was a title fight alternate before he even made his debut. On top of a massive advantage in experience, Manel will have a speed and overall technical advantage wherever the fight goes. Dos Santos’s major malfunction is that he is a defensive atheist. He doesn’t believe in it. Kape isn’t a very defensive fighter either, but Dos Santos’s lack of defensive prowess is astonishing. But he makes up for all that with unrelenting aggression and pressure. And he mixes things up to the point of complete unpredictability. He uses Bobby Boucher open-field tackle double legs to get you to the mat, only to let you right back up so he can tackle you again. Rinse and repeat. As much as he can, Dos Santos will make this fight as interesting as he can, and it kind of reminds me of when Diego Lopes debuted on short notice against Movsar Evloev and had an impressive showing on the way to an L.
Manel Kape was highly, highly touted coming into the UFC. He debuted against the new current Champ Alexandre Pantoja, and I thought he beat Pantoja that night. In fact, I also think he won his other promotional loss to Matheus Nicolau. Kape’s downfall in those fights was a lack of activity and relying too much on style points and not enough volume. Overall, Kape is a problem wherever the fight goes. Although he hasn’t unleashed it inside the Octagon, Kape has excellent offensive wrestling, a dangerous prime Tony Ferguson guard, and speed to burn on the feet. Kape is a functional show boater like Roy Jones Jr. He will bust out the Roy Jones rooster, putting both hands behind his back to lure you in before exploding into a left or right hook. This mf busts out Allen Iverson cross-overs and leaps into overhands and hooks. Cue The Weeknd; this guy is a mf’iing Starboy!
Kape will be the (-400) favorite, and Dos Santos will be the (+285) dog. I think there is some value in Dos Santos. Kape can get got on the feet; for all of the Harlem Globe Trotter antics he does, Kape is very hittable, and Dos Santos has the style that creates chaos and overwhelms. Dos Santos won’t waste any time or give second thoughts to slow-playing this fight; he will come out looking to catch Kape slippin’ early. "Hey, yo. I’m slippin’, I’m fallin’, I can’t get up." Of his seven career dubs, two were by TKO/KO, and three were by sub. If Dos Santos can at least make it to the final bell, even in a loss, he will likely put up some solid striking stats. But I expect Kape to use more of his wrestling early and try to quell some of the fire in Dos Santos’s belly. Manel Kape via TKO, round three. On wax.
Austen Lane vs. Justin Tafa
*Full disclosure: This is a straight-up high school essay copy-and-paste job from two months ago when these guys fought, and it ended after thirty seconds due to an eye poke.
Justin Tafa: 6-3 with six TKO/KOs. Austen Lane: 12-3 with eleven TKO/KOs and one sub. This is one hundred percent finishing rate vs. one hundred percent finishing rate. Both these guys have that Antonio Cromartie finishing rate. Austen Lane is a former NFL tight end with limited skills but heavy power in his hands. And Justin Tafa is a more traditional kickboxer with even stupider power than Lane. You can call this one Dumb & Dumber. No matter what, have one of these guys on your Fantasy roster.
Austen Lane fights like his parents jerked him / he looks like Brendan Shaub, the generic version. Lane is a Salvation Army secondhand Brendan Shaub, an Any Given Sunday locker room brawler. He has heavy, long punches but has a limited repertoire. Lane’s arsenal is mostly repetitive left/rights while running straight ahead. He’s a puncher, not a boxer. He fought twice on the Contender Series, his first appearance being a TKO loss to... Tom Hardy. I mean, Greg Hardy. His best quality is that he has a good feeling for range and tends to land consistently at the end of his punches.
But his major malfunction is his ground game. If he can accidentally end up in the top position, he has devastating ground and pound, but if he ends up on the bottom, he’s in big trouble. His takedown defense is sauce. Chick-fil-A sauce. "Sauce Money" Lane is what they call him. On the mat, he combines Groupon beginner's Jiu-Jitsu with Presidential get-ups. It’s a deadly combination like Pac and Big L for all the wrong reasons. The good news is: The last thing Justin Tafa will do is shoot a takedown or attempt anything that could even be misinterpreted as a takedown. So why bring it up? I’m petty. And you know this, maaaan.
Justin Tafa is a BBQ brawler who will crack your ass like you changed the Doobie Brothers station on Pandora. He’s a surprisingly agile southpaw kickboxer for his size and build—he’s built like a walrus—and has spontaneous combustion power in his left hand. His special moves are the Electric Slide step-back counter left hand when under pressure and a sneaky rear-leg head kick. You think there’s no way Tafa can get his oak tree leg all the way up to your head, and then you wake up from a twelve-year coma with a hermit beard. His left hand travels twelve to six like chopping wood and is hard to defend with a hand guard. If it touches you, you’re likely to be swept up with a feather duster.
Tafa’s major malfunction is he never met a punch he didn’t eat. He’s all offense and no defense, and all his professional wins came against Love’s truck stop custodians. Janitors, if you want to be a Richard about it. Although Austen has more professional MMA experience, six of Tafa’s noine career fights came inside the Octagon. He will have the big show experience on his side, and he’s the more technical striker.
Accordingly, Tafa is the (-220) favorite, and Lane is the (+180) dog. Tafa has been KO’d once in his career, and Lane is one of the more dangerous strikers Tafa has faced. Tafa has struggled against middle-tier competition like Jared Vanderaa and Carlos Felipe. Austen is a better finisher than both guys combined and is more athletic. But I think Tafa has some subtle wrinkles in his striking that Lane doesn’t. A Tafa TKO/KO will return (-165), and a Lane TKO/KO will return (+250). I also think there is value in the fight going passed the round and a half mark at (+165). Austen may be able to tie up Tafa or even drag him to the mat and prolong the fight until... Justin Tafa, via TKO, round two.
Anton Turkalj vs. Tyson Pedro
This is an ugly main card, homies. This might be one of the weakest main cards on a PPV in a long while. I’ll make sure to hit the confessional after I stream this bish on Saturday night. "Forgive me, Father, for I have streamed." That being said: Cue "Magic Stick" by 50 Cent. Anton Turkalj’s nickname is The Pleasure Man. They bleep out Turkalj’s nickname like a radio edit when Bruce Buffer announces him because it elicits too many subliminals. Pedro Tyson or Tyson Pedro, whichever one shows up, will become the object of Turkalj’s pleasure if Pedro comes out half-steppin' like he did in his last bout.
Start the countdown like it’s NYE in Times Square. Once the clock hits zero in the first round, it’s a celebration beeches. Tyson Pedro is a classic five-minute man, and if Anton Turkalj can survive the early onslaught, he will run away with the fight from the second round on, using his wrestling and superior cardio. Stand-up-wise, Turkalj ain’t much to text home about. He uses occasional wild blitzes to close the distance so he can initiate the clinch, and that’s about it. There is some sneaky power behind his punches; you can’t completely sleep on his striking, but he can’t survive in traditional kickboxing exchanges for extended periods.
Turkalj’s bread and butter is getting to the clinch and dragging the opponent to the mat. The problem is, he’s not very good at keeping the fight on the mat once he gets it there. He turns the ball over like a Brett Farve/Eli Manning Burning Man love child. Unforced turnovers are Turkalj’s specialty. His top control is terrible; he’ll often expend a lot of energy getting the fight to the mat, only to get immediately reversed. But he’s good at scrambling and initiating the same sequence over and over. I really don’t know how he wins fights, but Turkalj is 8-2 with five TKO/KOs and two subs. I’m gonna assume most of those TKO/KOs came from ground strikes on the mat. But then I look at his SLpM and see it’s barely over one and a half, and I’m left scratching my head. His path to victory will be surviving the first round and controlling the second and third with takedowns and clinch control.
Tyson Pedro reminds me of Mr. Rousey, aka Travis Brown. IDK, but every time I saw Travis Brown fight, it looked like he was already woozy before he stepped into the cage. Like he got KO’d by his pad holder backstage during warm-ups. Brown had an unstable look about him the moment he stepped into the Octagon. Tyson Pedro walks on the same uneven Ikea table legs as Travis Brown and has an overall similar stature to Brown. Pedro is a tale of three rounds fighter. The first five minutes against Pedro is like being a British soldier during the Revolutionary War and standing in the front row while cannon balls with entrails stuck to them whizz past you. But the second round is like a sparring match, and the third is like hitting a heavy bag for five minutes. He goes from Fourth of July fireworks in Mission Bay to sparklers in the driveway in about one round.
Pedro has slick striking when he is still fresh, complete with nifty slips and rolls, crispy counters, and overhand fastballs with both hands. He also attacks the legs well and has nasty Travis Brown rear-leg teeps. But he fades like Dr. Dre’s mixing board, and his output dwindles to an IV drip. Pedro averages just under three SLpM with a high of forty-five in a three-round fight. Since returning from a four-year hiatus in 2022, Pedro fought T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli, all TLC scrubs, and he lost one. Not a good look. But I say all that to say this: Tyson Pedro should win this fight. At the very least, it’s his fight to lose. But, but, my overall take on Pedro is that he is highly overrated. Keep that filed away for future reference.
The odds are a lot closer than I thought. Pedro is actually a slight negative money dog at (-105), and Turkalj is the slight favorite at (-115). The oddsmakers are on to Pedro, too. The bet for Pedro is a TKO. If you’re feeling froggy, you can even add a first-round prop to Pedro; he doesn’t have a single win outside of one round. I think the play for Turkalj is a decision. He will win this fight almost exclusively with control time on the mat and the clinch against the cage. A Tyson TKO/KO will return (+250). A TurkaIj submission will return (+550), and a decision will return (+400). I just can’t vote for Pedro. Anton Turkalj via decision.
Put 'em on wax, homies! And as always, much love!