While I don’t think the early main card contests for UFC 231 don’t quite carry the momentum the televised prelims contained, I’m not going to rip on them either. They aren’t stupendous main card bouts, but they aren’t terrible. Essentially, they are what you’d expect out of your average PPV. Granted, none of the contests will have title implications… but who gives a damn. They should be pretty damn entertaining too.
The main card begins at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Alex Oliveira (20-5-1, 2 NC) vs. Gunnar Nelson (16-3-1), Welterweight
Nelson has been MIA for 17 months, allowing many of the more notable names in the division to pass him by in the process. However, based on recent photos of him, he hasn’t been sitting on the couch getting fat as Nelson looks ripped. Hopefully, the native of Iceland did so in a smart way as there have been multiple occurrences of fighters reinventing their bodies to calamitous effects.
Nelson’s fighting style can be a source of frustration as he tends to have long stretches of inactivity as he looks for the counter or the reactive takedown. It’s no surprise he has a losing record when his contest goes the distance. Fortunately for him, only four contests over his career have, leaving him with a 1-2-1 mark in those bouts. Small for the weight class, he relies heavily on timing to secure his takedowns. However, once the fight is there, there are few who can match his grappling prowess. An expert back-taker half of his submission victories have been by RNC. On the feet, Nelson prefers remaining at a distance and sniping on the counter or with a sudden burst.
Few exhibit the anytime, anywhere attitude many fighters proclaim to have than Oliveira, this marking his 14th UFC appearance in less than four years in the organization. Though he once fought at lightweight, he’s a monster at welterweight, with a major preference for grinding out his opposition against the cage. Like Nelson, Oliveira can go through extended stretches of inactivity as he looks for openings. One big difference though is Oliveira’s athletic advantage over Nelson. It isn’t that Nelson is a bad athlete. It’s that Oliveira is a freakish one.
Oliveira doesn’t utilize much technique thanks to his natural abilities. His losses have come to durable strikers with power. Nelson is durable – despite being finished by Santiago Ponzinibbio in his last contest – but he isn’t the type to engage in a brawl. It is plausible Nelson can engage Oliveira on the ground and submit him, but a more likely outcome appears to be Oliveira overpowering Nelson over the course of the contest or finding a finish in that manner… provided he doesn’t do anything stupid. Oliveira via decision
Hakeem Dawodu (8-1-1) vs. Kyle Bochniak (8-3), Featherweight
Dawodu may not have picked up the KO many felt he needed to redeem himself after a UFC debut that saw him falter just 39 seconds in, but even his detractors will grudgingly admit the Canadian thoroughly dominated Austin Arnett in his sophomore effort. Making great use of distance and timing, Dawodu chewed up his leg and limited his lankier opponent’s offense. No, it wasn’t the highlight reel finish many prognosticators have come to expect out of him, but it showed a lot of maturity as Dawodu didn’t feel the need to pursue the finish. Maybe losing was the best thing that could happen to him….
Bochniak required hard times himself before hitting his stride as an in-and-out attacker from the outside. It does result in a low amount of volume as the times Bochniak bites down on his mouthpiece and throws volume is rare. However, Bochniak’s improved understanding of angles and decent power has turned him into a mainstay when it looked as though he was going to wash out at some point. He has struggled with takedown artists, but that has never been used to describe Dawodu.
Y’all catch Bockniak’s contest with Zabit Magomedsharipov? Yes, it was a one-sided victory for Magomedsharipov, but Bochniak acquitted himself well by eating everything the Russian threw at him only to keep coming back swinging. Bochniak isn’t an easy one to put down. On the other hand, Dawodu is a far more nuanced striker than Brandon Davis, whom Bochniak was able to pick apart. Bochniak will be Dawodu’s toughest test to date, but I expect the youngster to pass, if only just barely as Bochniak makes things close by finishing strong. Dawodu via decision
Jimi Manuwa (17-4) vs. Thiago Santos (19-6), Light Heavyweight
For Manuwa, it’s now or never. At 38, he’s well past his physical prime and is riding a two-fight losing streak. If he ever hopes to get a title shot – a thin possibility, but a possibility nonetheless – he needs to right his ship here against Santos.
Manuwa has never been much of a wrestler. Despite that, he knows how to use his physicality pretty damn well, pushing his opponent against the fence and grinding away. It isn’t the prettiest thing, but it’s proven to be effective. However, he also proved he can be overconfident in his abilities when he got lazy against Volkan Oezdemir and suffered a brutal KO in the process. Another interesting development in Manuwa has been his abandonment of the jab, throwing high kicks and powerful hooks at Jan Blachowicz with minimal range finders. Manuwa has the power to put most opponents away, but he has to connect to do so.
Santos is looking to make light heavyweight his new home after an extended run at middleweight. He’ll probably be smaller than most of his opponents at this point, but being the more physical fighter has never been a major part of his game. Instead, the Brazilian possesses some of the most devastating kicks in the sport while effectively mixing them to all levels. Leaving a leg open for him to attack? Santos will do so. Covering the body and checking the legs? Santos will find your head. Opponents who have had success against him have taken him to the mat, often easier said than done as Santos’ knees and elbows in the clinch tend to be just as vicious as his kicks.
In terms of pure boxing, Manuwa has the advantage over Santos. However, this is an MMA contest, not a boxing match. Neither fighter possesses an iron-clad chin, so a finish appears likely. Manuwa will look to bully Santos as he won’t want to leave him free to attack from the outside. He’s unlikely to be able to do that throughout the entirety of the contest. Given Manuwa’s chin appears to be fading, I’m favoring Santos to put him to sleep before the night is through. Santos via KO of RD2