Depending on how you want to look at it, we’re on the eve of a day we’ve been waiting to come for years. Not November 12, 2016 specifically. Nor was it UFC 205. No, the first UFC event in Madison Square Garden. All devout MMA fans knew the UFC was going to go all out for their first event in the historic venue and they haven’t disappointed us. Three title fights and five other fights that could shape the immediate landscape at the top of their divisions when there have been months with numerous events that have had less.
Though this preview isn’t covering any of those crucial fights – they will be out over the next few days – the Fight Pass portion offers a couple of contests that should be entertaining action contests with mostly recognizable faces. The lone exception, which is Katlyn Chookagian, appears to have the brightest future of the four fighters listed here. Would anyone have guessed five years ago that the UFC’s first official fight in MSG would be a women’s contest?
Keep in mind with Rashad Evans suddenly being pulled from the card due to medical reasons, the Tim Boetsch-Rafael Natal contest has been bumped to the televised portion and will be covered in the next preview.
The Fight Pass prelims start at 7:00 PM ET/4:00 PM PT.
Jim Miller (27-8, 1 NC) vs. Thiago Alves (21-10), Lightweight
Originally scheduled to be Al Iaquinta fighting Alves, Miller steps in on somewhat short notice to welcome the Brazilian to the lightweight division.
About four months ago, it appeared Miller’s career was winding down. He was coming off of a disheartening loss to Diego Sanchez which gave him four losses in his last five contests. Now he is rocking two wins in a row, including a spirited back-and-forth contest with Joe Lauzon. Miller will never be a contender again, but he’s proven he is still a viable gatekeeper and a great option to match up with other divisional geriatrics.
Alves may have more than a decade in the UFC under his belt, but he isn’t quite a geriatric himself. He hasn’t put too many miles on his body the last few years as injuries have kept him from accumulating too much tread. Still, at 33-years old, Alves’ best years are behind him. What will be really interesting will be to see how he deals with the weight cut. This is a guy who has twice missed weight at 170 lbs. and now wants to cut to 155. What the hell?
If all goes well for his weight cut, Alves will be a beast at lightweight. He’s always been on the short end at 170, though his 70″ reach hasn’t deterred him from being a top notch striker. What it has prevented him from doing is consistently avoiding danger on the outside. Not that he was defensively inefficient, but he should find better use for his jab and legendary leg kicks. While people rarely talk about him as one of the best leg kickers in the game, that has more to do with his inactivity – three fights over the last four-in-a-half years – than any decline in their effectiveness.
Miller will do everything he can to negate that space as he is a close quarters fighter himself. That isn’t to say that he offers nothing at a distance as he consistently lands leg kicks and jabs from the outside, but he doesn’t want to get into a kickboxing war with Alves. Instead, he’d be better suited to tie up the Brazilian into a war of attrition with short elbows and dirty boxing. Alves’ gas tank will be a serious question with the new weight cut and he could wear out quickly in this scenario. While it would be reasonable to assume that Alves should be able to overpower the smaller Miller in that situation, no one can deny that Miller undoubtedly has the advantage in the grappling department. In the clinch is where Miller has had the most success getting fights to the ground with trips and throws.
Alves has traditionally had good-but-not-great takedown defense. How he handles Miller’s attempts to get him to the mat is likely to be the biggest x-factor in the contest. Will he be so depleted from the weight cut that he can no longer consistently remain upright? Alves isn’t helpless on the ground either, though he has been prone to mental errors every now and then, costly errors. Miller is skilled enough to capitalize on those mistakes with his dangerous guard. Miller also does a good job delivering punishment from the top position to create openings for his fundamental guard passes.
There is no way in hell I would ever consider betting on this contest as there are too many unknown variables. Alves’ weight cut is the biggest question mark, but whether or not Miller’s resurgence the last couple of fights is a fluke is also worth questioning. Takanori Gomi is shot and Miller matches up well with Lauzon. Is Miller truly back? A coin has just as good of a chance of letting you know who wins as I do. I’ll pick Alves as I think Miller’s durability has been in decline. Alves via TKO of RD2
Liz Carmouche (10-5) vs. Katlyn Chookagian (8-0), Women’s Bantamweight
Carmouche makes her return from a long layoff to serve as a gatekeeper to potential up-and-comer Chookagian in the evening’s curtain jerker.
Carmouche was one of the more popular women upon the inception of them into the UFC, thanks in large part to her dogged performance against Ronda Rousey in the first official UFC women’s match. 19 months away from the cage and she has been somewhat forgotten by the public. At 2-3, her UFC record isn’t very impressive, though she has only lost to former champions or title contenders.
Chookagian pulled off a mild upset in her debut, upending Lauren Murphy – ironically Carmouche’s last opponent – in July. No one doubted her talent coming into the contest. No, the reason for surprise in her victory is that she is a natural 125er who is smaller than the vast majority of the women’s bantamweight roster. At 27-years old with only four years of experience since starting her amateur career, she has plenty of room for improvement.
What Chookagian has going for her is a very disciplined and technical kickboxing game. Utilizing fantastic footwork to find the angles to attack while circling around the cage, it’s difficult to pin Chookagian against the fence to grind her out as most would like to do to take advantage of her lack of size. She doesn’t tend to throw with great power, preferring to throw for accuracy. However, once she smells blood she can lay the punishment on thick, sitting down on her strikes as she looks to go for the kill.
Carmouche isn’t a great striker. Despite that, she has been able to minimalize the amount of damage returned to her by making the fight as ugly as possible by either taking the fight to the ground or fighting against the fence. Her physical strength is well-renowned, so when she does connect it has some force behind it. Translation: despite being rather clunky on the feet, she can’t be taken lightly.
Where Carmouche has been best is taking the fight to the ground where she can really utilize her brutality to the best of her abilities. Her ground and pound is the best part of her game as she is incredibly difficult to move out from once she has achieved top position. Chookagian had a lot of success in avoiding Murphy’s takedowns and kept the damage to a minimum when she was taken down. Keep an eye out for her step-in knees which she loves to plant on opponents as they shoot in on her legs.
I’m prone to believing that Carmouche is bound to be somewhat rusty after such a long layoff while Chookagian looked better than ever in her UFC debut. To spell it out, Carmouche appears to be descending while Chookagian is ascending. Carmouche is about as tough as they come in the division so I don’t see Chookagian being able to finish her off. She will lay the punishment on thick though and largely avoid Carmouche’s takedowns over the course of 15 minutes. Chookagian via decision
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