UFC 218: Fight of the Night

On what appears to be an action packed slate of fights, even with the withdrawal of Frankie Edgar in the headline bout, one contest stands out. This is the lightweight matchup between former champion Eddie Alvarez and the undefeated former World Series Of Fighting champion Justin Gaethje. Gaethje and Alvarez will be facing off after appearing as coaches opposite each other on the latest series of the Ultimate Fighter. Whilst this has been devoid of the drama that some prior series have provided the anticipation for this fight was never going to be in interpersonal conflict. These two fighters are virtual guarantees of action in and of themselves, so therefore the two of them facing off should be fairly combustible.

It is hard to get much of a handle on how Alvarez will approach this fight as his last 3 opponents have been southpaws and before that he faced Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez, who are of extremely limited utility in a comparison to Gaethje. The most useful one is his last contest against Dustin Poirier, a fight where he was rocked more than once and which finished when Alvarez landed an illegal knee.

The most concerning thing here is just how hittable Alvarez is, his head barely moves as he is throwing and he only really came alive when he wobbled Poirier with a left hook close to the fence. His eating of repeated leg kicks here is of much more limited utility as a fight with opposite stance fighters is favourable to kicks as both men are kicking from their power side to more open targets. He generally prefers blitzing combinations where the left hand is almost a throwaway and will grind at his opponents with takedown attempts against the cage.

Gaethje only has one fight in the UFC, against Michael Johnson in July. After a pretty back and forth first round “The Highlight” turned it into his kind of contest in the second, dragging Johnson into somewhat of a lethargic fight before finishing him with a flying knee and knees in the clinch against the fence. His style brings to mind Bane from the Dark Knight films, he was born in the brawl, moulded by it.

Gaethje seeks to drag his opponent into a fatigued brawl where he hits just as hard and has a great chin. He has only seen the final bell twice, winning 15 of his other 16 fights by knockout, including multiple leg kick TKOs. In order to help accomplish this he throws both inside and outside leg kicks constantly, and makes great use of single and double collar ties to break his opponent’s posture and attack the body and head with knees.

This appears to be a poor matchup for the former UFC champion. Both men enjoy getting into a back and forth brawl but Gaethje’s chin and punching power are significantly better. Alvarez is also far too willing to absorb leg kicks, which are a strength of Gaethje’s, as he likes throwing hard kicks utilising both legs at all times of the contest. He does this in order to reduce the mobility of his opponent and to fatigue them to draw them into his type of fight. Gaethje should also be able to stop Alvarez’s at times sloppy takedown attempts against the cage and possibly even convert them into his favoured single or double collar ties from which he lands effective knees to the body and head as well as strong hooks on the break.

This contest is likely to take place at a close boxing range as both men like to use aggressive footwork in order to pressure their opponents into shots against the fence as sitting targets. Alvarez’s predilection for shooting takedowns against the fence with little regard for if the initial shot takes the man down could also prove disastrous. He was caught in many front headlocks or guillotines in his last fight and Gaethje could look to turn these into collar ties where he could do serious damage to Alvarez and possibly even finish him.

As the fight progresses Gaethje will likely have the upper hand in this due to his utilisation of attritive body shots and hard leg kicks. This means that a long fight will favour him more as he will be more able to take the initiative and be the man doing the pressing as opposed to the one being pressed. Gaethje also wants to create, and thrives in, a brawl where both men are fatigued as he still hits just as hard and is just as durable.

To an extent this fight boils down to which man has the better chin and manages to lessen the effect of the other’s shots. This would appear to favour the undefeated Gaethje as he has stronger defence, at least on shots to the head. His powerful and persistent leg kicks should also help in this as he will chop out Alvarez’s base, damaging his ability to absorb Gaethje’s already strong punches and knees. All in all Gaethje should be able to make this his type of fight, one that he has never lost and one that against Dustin Poirier Alvarez narrowly escaped by landing an illegal knee to a grounded opponent.

Callum McPhail

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