It has been billed as the biggest and baddest event of the year. While 2017 has a lot of life left in it yet, there is no question that UFC 211 is the best card we have seen put together so far this year.
Two title fights at the top of the UFC 211 bill are supported by a cast of relevant matches between divisional contenders. Even with two bouts falling off the card — Sergio Pettis vs. Henry Cejudo and Jared Gordon vs. Michel Quinones — what remains is a stellar offering by current UFC standards.
The event takes place at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas on Saturday night promising plenty. The sort of main card that fans live for.
Stipe Miocic vs. Junior dos Santos – UFC Heavyweight Championship
The main event sees former heavyweight foes clash for UFC gold. In December 2014 Junior dos Santos won a competitive heavyweight classic by unanimous decision. It was the last time that Stipe Miocic was defeated inside the octagon.
While dos Santos has been somewhat inactive, injuries forcing him to fight only twice since that night, Miocic has gone on to become the number one heavyweight on the planet.
Mark Hunt was battered relentlessly in Adelaide; Andrei Arlovski smashed in Las Vegas; Fabricio Werdum put to sleep in Curitiba, and Alistair Overeem overcome quickly in Cleveland.
Each performance was thrilling in its own way. From the elongated beating dished out to Hunt, to the fight back from adversity against Overeem, Ohio’s firefighting prizefighter has undoubtedly improved as a fighter since the loss to dos Santos.
The big question on Saturday is whether the Brazilian has been able to do the same. Dos Santos’ run from UFC debut in 2008, to first championship defence against Frank Mir in 2012 was as impressive as we have ever seen from a UFC heavyweight. Nine wins against the best the company had to offer, including Fabricio Werdum and Cain Velasquez.
Since then dos Santos has gone 3-3, trading wins and losses with the division’s elite. Two defeats to Velasquez were brutal and demoralising. The wins over Miocic, and more recently Ben Rothwell were the product of outstanding performances.
The consensus pick appears to be another five round war, much like their first contest. As for the winner, that’s harder to call. Don’t be surprised however if this does not go the distance. Miocic has finished each of his previous four opponents since losing to dos Santos, and the Brazilian is only one fight removed from being put away in the second round by Alistair Overeem.
Frankly, Overeem should have beaten Miocic too, knocking him down early in their September 2016 title fight. If nothing else it proved that Miocic is hittable, and hurtable, and still despite his impressive recent form, beatable.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Jessica Andrade – UFC Strawweight Championship
In the co-main event slot the two most vicious 115-pound fighters on the planet fight for the UFC title. It does not get any better than this.
Jedrzejczyk has been imperious as champion. From the moment she outclassed Carla Esparza to win the title at UFC 185, to the completion of her one-sided domination of Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 205, the champion has done unbelievable things inside the cage.
Jessica Penne was beaten and brutalised until she could do nothing more than leak blood and twitch uncontrollably against the fence in 2015.
Valerie Letourneau was outstruck by 220 significant strikes to 103 in Jedrzejczyk’s second title defence.
Against outstanding Brazilian Claudia Gadelha, Jedrzejczyk was mauled for two rounds before mounting one of the most impressive comebacks in UFC title fight history. Joanna “Champion” ran the table, shifting through the gears at an unbelievable rate.
Then against fellow Polish warrior Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Jedrzejczyk outclassed her opponent for 24 and a half minutes. The champion was hurt, briefly, in round four but that only made her response in the final round that much more impressive. With the fight all but won already, Jedrzejczyk had her most dominant round in the final frame, outlanding her opponent 43 to 7.
Yet for all her experience at the top level, Jedrzejczyk has never fought anyone like Jessica Andrade. Similarities have been drawn to the champion’s previous Brazilian rival, Claudia Gadelha, but they only tell a small part of the story. They are not the same fighter.
Andrade is a physically imposing 115 pound battering ram who has fought, and been absolutely competitive in, the bantamweight division in the past. This is a fighter who destroyed Jessica Penne and Joanne Calderwood, absolutely crashing their stock at strawweight.
Then, when faced with a legitimate top ten threat in Angela Hill, Andrade showed that she was able to prevail against a better quality of opponent who could offer more pushback too.
Only against Claudia Gadelha did it ever really feel like Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s championship reign was in even the slightest danger. That changed the moment the defence against Andrade was booked.
Demian Maia vs. Jorge Masvidal
Stepping into the octagon with one of the most dangerous fighters in your division is a risky strategy when you are next in line for a title shot. That is the challenge Demian Maia accepted when he agreed to fight Jorge Masvidal at UFC 211.
Maia has won six straight since a 2014 loss to Rory MacDonald. The level of competition has been progressively more taxing, on paper at least. Somehow the Brazilian has managed to make easier work of each subsequent opponent.
One sided decision wins over Ryan LaFlare and Gunnar Nelson are entwined with beautifully crafted submissions of Neil Magny, Matt Brown and Carlos Condit. The latter had not been submitted since 2006.
From a sporting standpoint, Maia should be next in line for a shot at welterweight champion Tyron Woodley. Instead, he is hoping to defeat Jorge Masvidal to cement his claim for a career-defining title shot. That is a tall order.
At 32-years-old Masvidal is finally hitting his stride. Forever good rather than great, a tough measuring stick for elite fighters, “Gamebred” is now a couple of wins away from permanently changing his status within the sport.
Masvidal is a slick striker who has turned up the aggression in recent fights. His destruction of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone last time out was as good as any fighter has looked against the active WEC veteran.
If Maia can’t take this fight to the mat it becomes a total mismatch. In truth, if he can, he turns any fight into a mismatch. The old striker vs. grappler match redefined for a more evolved era in combat sports.
Frankie Edgar vs. Yair Rodriguez
Mexican featherweight Yair Rodriguez is as hot as they come right now. Six UFC appearances have resulted in six wins and an enthralling highlight reel.
Rodriguez’ ability and style have combined to make him one of the most exciting fighters on the UFC roster. His most recent outing against one of the all-time greats B.J. Penn felt sacrificial. The faded name handed over to the surging prospect.
Frankie Edgar’s legacy in the sport is not so different to Penn’s. A fighter who has achieved unbelievable things, namely winning the lightweight title and defending it successfully as a visually undersized 155 pounder.
What is different is the level of performance he has maintained late in his career. After all, it was Edgar who handed Penn his previous defeat in 2014. That felt like a mercy killing then too.
Defeating Penn in 2017 is a cute way to get a high profile name onto the resume of a fighter with a huge upside. Defeating Frankie Edgar though, now that really would be something.
Krzysztof Jotko vs. Dave Branch
The middleweight bout was plucked from the FX prelims onto the main card when Henry Cejudo’s bout with Sergio Pettis fell through. Krzysztof Jotko vs. Dave Branch is a relevant, important fight for a middleweight division that is showing signs that its top stars might be starting to slip.
Anderson Silva’s best days are long gone. Chris Weidman has now lost three straight. Nobody seems to believe Michael Bisping has any staying power once he loses the middleweight title. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza was just embarrassed by Robert Whittaker. And who knows what the future holds for Luke Rockhold, with hints dropped regarding big fights at 205 pounds in the future.
The winner of the Jotko – Branch main card opener will put themselves in line as the next “best of the rest”. Branch is a two division WSOF champion who won 10 straight under the promotion’s banner.
At 27-years-old Jotko is edging closer to the top 5 at 185 pounds. Five straight UFC wins against better and better opposition. Most recently Jotko made Thales Leites look outmatched in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The winner can move onto big fights against the division’s elite. The loser will drop back into the middle of the pack.
Full UFC 211 Card
- Stipe Miocic (16-2) vs. Junior dos Santos (18-4) – UFC Heavyweight Championship
- Joanna Jedrzejczyk (13-0) vs. Jessica Andrade (16-5) – UFC Strawweight Championship
- Demian Maia (24-6) vs. Jorge Masvidal (32-11)
- Frankie Edgar (20-5-1) vs. Yair Rodriguez (11-1)
- Krzysztof Jotko (19-1) vs. Dave Branch (20-3)
- Eddie Alvarez (28-5) vs. Dustin Poirier (21-5)
- Chas Skelly (17-2) vs. Jason Knight (19-2)
- James Vick (10-1) vs. Marco Polo Reyes (8-3)
- Jessica Aguilar (19-5) vs. Cortney Casey (6-3)
- Chase Sherman (9-3) vs. Rashad Coulter (8-1)
- Gabriel Benitez (19-6) vs. Enrique Barzola (13-3-1)
- Joachim Christensen (14-4) vs. Gadzhimurad Antigulov (19-4)