UFC Fight Night 90: SportsJOE picks the winners so you don't have to
Get ready to cleanse your palate before UFC 200 with a delectable entree courtesy of two of the baddest mofos in lightweight history.
MMA writers' 2016 records
Darragh The Quizmaster Murphy: 57-29
Bourbon Ben Kiely: 52-34
Rafael dos Anjos (25-7) vs. Eddie Alvarez (27-4)
DM: I was, like Ben, leaning towards an upset this week and I think Alvarez definitely has the grinding pressure and wrestling acumen to take a round or two from the champion.
But one aspect of Alvarez's game that has me concerned is the fact he stands so heavy on his lead leg.
Alvarez generates all his power, for shots and his Tyson-esque hooks, from that leg and I think Rafael Cordeiro will have RDA set out to attack that leg early.
This is going to be a dogfight between two fighters who aren't exactly the prettiest guys to watch and dos Anjos' investment in leg kicks will pay off in the latter rounds.
For my money dos Anjos offers more in the clinch than Alvarez's dirty boxing, as excellent as it is, and I think the Brazilian is too good a grappler to allow Alvarez to ride out rounds from top position.
Dos Anjos by decision
BK: How could you not love Eddie fuckin' Alvarez? First off, hearing him casually swear on the promos for this fight is like a melodious siren's call. When people from Philly use the word 'fuck', they fuckin' mean it.
Secondly, the evolution of his game over the years has been nothing short of magnificent. He rose to prominence as a wild, hard-nosed brawler who was always willing to bite down and the mouth piece and swing for the fences with some wonderfully innovative striking. Just look at his fights with Michael Chandler, Pitbull, Kikuno etc... he's a one-man highlight reel.
However, recently we've seen a more reserved Alvarez, but not in a debilitating way like we've seen in the latter stages of Urijah Faber's career, but in a more polished, technically proficient, intelligent sense of the word. He's no longer fighting solely to entertain, he's no longer taking as much damage and, more importantly, he's winning against the cream of the crop.
We all know how amazing RDA has looked of late, but the big question is how is he going to look after making the move from Kings MMA to Evolve in Singapore. He seemed to be doing everything right in the States, which made the change of scenery a bit baffling in my book.
Either way, I'm pulling for Alvarez. Although he's a relative newcomer to the UFC, this title shot has been a long time coming considering what he's done for other promotions. If he can utilise that explosive wrestling game and gauge the right time to hold back and to start firing on all cylinders, I think he has enough weapons in his arsenal to get that coveted golden strap.
Alvarez by TKO (round four)
Roy Nelson (21-12) vs. Derrick Lewis (15-4-1NC)
DM: Roy Nelson is a lot of things but naive is not one of them.
I anticipate him coming out and looking for that overhand right, turning this bout into the knockout artist vs. knockout artist match-up that everyone is hoping it becomes.
But, providing it doesn't knock him out first, I think Nelson will resort to his grappling roots if he starts losing the stand-up battle for one second.
Either 'Big Country' knocks Lewis out late in round one or gets a later TKO with the mounted crucifix that got him all the way to the top in TUF 10.
Nelson via TKO (round two)
BK: This fight feels a bit like a budget Hunt vs Lesnar. Lewis (Lesnar) is the better athlete, but Nelson is the much craftier, much more highly-skilled fighter.
Where this fight comes down to is whether or not at 40 years old, Nelson has still got enough in the tank to beat rising fighters like the Black Beast. His cardio did not real fail him in that five-round fight against Barnett and some of the things he did in the wrestling department against the former champion were very impressive.
His big failing point is the over-reliance on that huge overhand right. Everything he does inside the cage seems to be with the intent of setting that monstrous weapon up. If Lewis doesn't overwhelm him with his superior physicality, he might just be raw enough to fall for Nelson's traps and get caught with that haymaker.
Nelson via TKO (round two)
Alan Jouban (13-4) vs. Belal Muhammad (9-0)
DM: It speaks to how highly Joe Silva thinks of former Titan FC welterweight champion Belal Muhammad that he's being tasked with a striker as dangerous as Alan Jouban on a UFC main card.
But Octagon jitters are a real thing and I think experience gets the job done for Jouban who should have a distinct advantage when it comes to explosive striking.
Jouban via TKO (round one)
BK: Talk about being thrown to the wolves for your UFC debut. Muhammad is an excellent undefeated prospect, but taking on six-fight UFC veteran and dangerous knockout artist Jouban in his his first fight seems like a tough ask.
That being said, it's a golden opportunity to get the upset and skip the queue to bigger fights in the division. If he seizes it and gets the win, he's sure to turn the heads, but the odds are stacked against him.
Jouban via decision
Joseph Duffy (14-2) vs. Mitch Clarke (11-3)
DM: Duffy has said he wasn't as motivated as he should have been against Dustin Poirier, his first UFC defeat. That astonishes me.
Irish Joe was an absolute warrior against a huge jump-up in terms of competition and he caught Poirier plenty throughout the fifteen minutes. And who knows what would have happened with that late triangle if there were an extra 30 seconds in that bout.
I don't think we're going to see much of Duffy's ground game on display on Thursday as he should have the know-how to avoid a grappling exchange with a game Mitch Clarke.
If this is kept a straight boxing match, then Duffy has the beating of Clarke ten times out of ten.
Duffy via KO (round one)
BK: Duffy is lethal everywhere. On the feet, in the clinch, on the ground, against the cage - the last place you want to be facing the Donegal native is, well, anywhere inside the Octagon.
He will have learned a lot from that loss to Poirier. It was pretty lopsided on the scorecards but as a fight, it was close. Duffy handled the adversity of being ground and pounded into hamburger meat like a consummate professional. A couple of more minutes to work, or if it was a five-round headliner like it was originally supposed to be at UFC Dublin, he just might have got the submission.
Regardless, I think every fighter needs a war like that and now he knows that he can take that much damage, keep his composure and stay in a fight. Clarke is a more than capable opponent, but he just doesn't possess the same tools that Duffy does to get a win.
Duffy via TKO (round two)