UFC 211 is expected to bring fight fans what they have been starving for through the first four months of the year: exciting, compelling fights. Through three pay-per-view cards, UFC has really been a letdown in terms of giving fans their money’s worth. But this week is loaded with fighters who are not considered tentative by any means and who should do nothing but press forward and attack their opponents.
From former champ Eddie Alvarez looking to get back on track to heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic looking for vengeance, here’s what you need to look for at UFC 211 this week.
1. Jason Knight is part of the loaded future at 145: You may not know much about him now, but Knight is a part of the 145-pound revolution in UFC. Knight has won three straight fights after losing to Tatsuya Kawajiri at “The Ultimate Fighter” finale in December 2015. His last may have been his best performance by submitting in the second round this January. Knight (16-2) is a submission specialist who needs to be ranked in if he scores another win this weekend against Chas Skelly.
2. Speaking of the future at 145, Yair Rodriguez deserves a title shot with a win: Rodriguez has been on an absolute tear since joining UFC back in 2014. ‘El Pantera’ is undefeated after beating Leonardo Morales on “The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America”finale, scoring wins over the like of Andre Fili, Caceres and legend B.J. Penn this January. Rodriguez, 24, is already ranked No. 7 in the 145-pound division. He’s on a similar trajectory to current bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt, just with more raw skill. A win over No. 2 Frankie Edgar needs to get him into title contention.
3. What do we make of Eddie Alvarez?Alvarez is coming off a demoralizing loss to Conor McGregor in which he never even had a chance. Alvarez (28-5) had just taken the 155-pound belt off of Rafael dos Anjos, dominating the champ with vicious jabs and hooks. But that was the last time we saw him really dominate anybody in the cage. He took split decision wins over Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez before getting his shot against dos Anjos. Alvarez has plenty to prove when he faces Dustin Poirier on Saturday.
4. Henry Cejudo on the comeback train: Cejudo has lost his last two fights after starting his MMA career undefeated at 10-0. The former Olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling has seemingly had issues with the more skilled strikers in the sport, getting dismantled by Demetrious Johnson and losing a split decision to Joseph Benavidez. Now, he gets a red-hot Sergio Pettis, looking to inch closer to a title shot at 125 pounds. Cejudo will need to show a vast improvement in his stand-up game if he’s going to earn respect from fight fans.
5. Frankie Edgar’s last ride? Edgar has been to the mountain top so many times before. He had a four-fight reign as the lightweight champion from 2010-12. But despite getting back into title contention twice since, Edgar just hasn’t put it together to beat the champion in his new weight class, Jose Aldo. He’s coming off a strong performance against Jeremy Stephens last November, but one has to think we’re getting close to the end for Edgar, especially against a tough challenger like Rodriguez on Saturday.
6. Demian Maia could cost himself a title shot: The man many consider to be one of the best UFC fighters to never be a champion is putting a lot on the line this week. Maia said in August of last year he was going to sit out until he got a shot at the 170-pound belt. When he was passed up again earlier this year, Maia had no choice but to take a fight. Now Maia, 39, may cost himself one last shot at the welterweight title if he doesn’t win on Saturday against rising star Jorge Masvidal.
8. Joanna Jedrzejczyk continues her march to history: The women’s strawweight champion is already cemented as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. She only needs two more wins to beat Ronda Rousey’s record for most title defenses by a woman in UFC history. Jedrzejczyk (13-0) has won her last three fights all by decision and she faces a tough foe in Jessica Andrade on Saturday night, who is on a three-fight winning streak of her own, scoring a win in each way possible (Decision, submission and TKO).
9. Junior dos Santos fifth title fight: I can’t believe it either, but yes, this will be dos Santos’ fifth fight for a belt in UFC. It’s still a bit of a head-scratcher to me, but dos Santos will look to raise the heavyweight belt for the third time in his career after losing to Cain Velasquez twice in their trilogy series. He is also only two opponents removed from facing Miocic in December 2014.
10. Stipe Miocic’s legacy: It’s become one of those fables in UFC history. The heavyweight champ doesn’t defend his belt more than one time. The only person to break that trend was Velasquez, but he promptly lost his third fight as champ to Fabricio Werdum. Miocic has a chance to join that class on Saturday night if he gets past dos Santos. History won’t be on his side, but his fists will be as he has scored four straight knockouts since losing to dos Santos the first time around.