Preview, Picks and Betting Tip: UFC Fight Night – Almeida vs. Garbrandt

codygarbrandt

After a smashing night of action in front of 45,000+ fans in Brazil two weeks ago, it’s back to the fight capital of the world for the Ultimate Fighting Championship this Sunday night as UFC Fight Night 88 goes down at the Mandalay Bay Events Centre.

Considering the quality of the preceding card one might be forgiven for thinking this weekend could be a let down. But it really isn’t. In actual fact, it’s a showcase for some of the most exciting up-and-comers in the sport today mixed with some returning old favourites.

In the main event, the aforementioned prospects are given the headlining bill as bantamweight contenders Thomas Almeida and Cody Garbrandt clash in one of the most mouth-watering non-title contests possible in MMA today.

Fighting out of the famed Chute Boxe academy in Brazil, Almeida possesses one of the best records in the game today. At just 24 years-old Almeida is currently undefeated in 21 fights with all but one finishing inside the scheduled distance. 17 of those came before the UFC, the last of which saw him pick up the Legacy bantamweight title.

In his UFC debut in November 2014 he went to the only decision of his career against hard-nosed American Tim Gorman before putting in a more than stellar 2015. Last year saw him win all three fights via KO against Yves Jabouin, Brad Pickett and Anthony Birchak where he picked up three performance bonus’ for his efforts.

Like Almeida, Garbrandt is also undefeated in professional MMA. The Ohio native has won all eight of his bouts with seven knockouts and one decision.

It took Garbrandt just five outings and two years to get the UFC call having made his debut in 2012. Like featherweight champion Conor McGregor, his maiden Octagon bout saw him KO Marcus Brimage in brutal fashion before following it up wins over Henry Briones and jiu-jitsu ace Augusto Mendes to get him to where he is as we speak.

In MMA today it’s almost an oddity for fighters this young and talented to meet while still on the way up. In their last few fights, both men have shown huge leaps in ability making this one very hard to call.

Like all Chute Boxe disciples, Almeida is an action fighter of epic proportions. He will stand in the pocket, walk forward and throw bombs like war has been declared. He has thundering leg kicks, a beautiful jab, hard hooks and throws high numbered combinations at a lofty output.

Garbrandt, likewise, is a very combination oriented fighter, but in a different way. While Almeida likes to score with 5 or 6 shots at a time, Garbrandt will work his way in with 2s and 3s. To achieve that, he fights on the outside and waits to be approached or blasts in and makes sure to score with the lead hand. When he lands, his power seems to be up there with the very best in the division, although that still needs to be put to the test.

That willingness from both men to pounce and exchange in the pocket could make this one very, very exciting. But what if it isn’t?

An x-factor here could also be the ground work. With two such talented strikers who have been pretty much untouchable so far the question always has to be asked about the floor work. Coming from the camps that they do, you’d expect them to the respectively good at jiu-jitsu and wrestling but, apart from little snippets, we don’t really know.

Another thing we don’t really know is who is going to win this fight. As fighters, both guys do similar things well. Both hit hard, both seem durable and both aren’t afraid to mix it up.

At a push, I’m going to pick Almeida here because of the improvements he will have made defensively since the Pickett fight and because of his more varied striking but, mostly because of Garbrandt’s power, I say that with very little confidence.

Then, in the co-main event, former bantamweight champion Renan Barao debuts at featherweight against American Jeremy Stephens.

Having lost to TJ Dillashaw in his 5th UFC title fight two years ago, the seemingly unstoppable career of Renan Barao quickly hit the skids. That fight and a subsequent loss in the rematch mean Barao, who was on an unbeaten 33 fight stretch previous to that, is clinging on to life as a top fighter in the UFC as he delves into a new weight class.

Welcoming him there will be Iowa’s own Jeremy Stephens who himself is attempting to stay relevant around the top of the division having lost three of his last four to take his record to 24-12.

Looking at this fight it’s really hard to know what to expect with two guys who are really in a state of transition. But whatever happens, I think it’ll be fun. With 19 finishes in 25 wins as a lightweight and featherweight, Stephens will pose an interesting test for the former 135er who himself has finished over 2/3 of his opponents inside the distance.

Look for this one to be helter-skelter from moment one with Barao fighting out of his technically superb muay-thai stance and Stephens swinging hard at big openings. A couple of years ago, I would have picked Barao here without much consideration but in 2016 I think Stephens’ power will get him the W.

Outside of that, the fight everyone is talking about on this card headlines the fight pass portion of the event as Aljamain Sterling takes on arch-enemy Bryan Caraway.

Caraway, who is the other half of women’s bantamweight champion Miesha Tate, has come in for much jealous criticism over the years and especially from “Aljo” lately as the pair have gone back-and-forth online and in the press.

But with Sterling ranked number 4 and Caraway at number 8 this isn’t just a petty spat and could very well push the winner towards a title shot over the next year. And that winner is likely to be Sterling. Despite coming on leaps and bounds since his time on ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ Caraway has won most of his fights through grit and determination. That’s unlikely to be enough against an excellent wrestler who has powerful hands and seems destined for the top.

Other than those, check out Jessica Eye vs. Sara McMann, veterans Tarec Saffiedine vs. Rick Story and the possible fight of the night between Jorge Masvidal and Lorenz Larkin.

FIGHT PICKS

Thomas Almeida vs. Cody Garbrandt – Someone is getting KO’d. Almeida wins.
Renan Barão vs. Jeremy Stephens – Stephens catches the ex-champ
Tarec Saffiedine vs. Rick Story – Story plays spoiler again
Chris Camozzi vs. Vitor Miranda – Miranda in a decision
Jorge Masvidal vs. Lorenz Larkin – Larkin via better chin
Josh Burkman vs. Paul Felder – Fancy a decision here for Felder

Sara McMann vs. Jessica Eye – Eye
Abel Trujillo vs. Jordan Rinaldi – Trujillo
Jake Collier vs. Alberto Uda – Collier
Erik Koch vs. Shane Campbell – Koch

Aljamain Sterling vs. Bryan Caraway – Sterling
Chris De La Rocha vs. Adam Milstead – Milstead

BET OF THE WEEK

Rick Story via decision at 12/5

START TIMES

Early Prelims – UFC Fight Pass at 11am

Prelims – BT Sport 2 at 12am

Main Card – BT Sport 2 at 2am

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma