Preview, Picks and Betting Tip: UFC Fight Night – Dos Anjos vs. Alvarez

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So UFC international fight week is finally here. After months of talk we can finally concentrate on the action as 30+ fights go down over three busy days in Las Vegas.

First on the agenda is the stacked Fight Night event which takes place this Thursday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Headlining that card will be the return of Rafael Dos Anjos as he takes on veteran American Eddie Alvarez over five rounds for the UFC lightweight title.

Hailing from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil but now fighting out of Kings MMA in the states, Dos Anjos is one of the rare breed of current UFC champions who has actually held onto his belt for more than a minute.

Once thought of as somewhat of a journeyman, “RDA” has hugely improved him game over the last few years. After losing half of his first eight fights inside the Octagon, Dos Anjos is 10-1 in his last eleven with the only loss coming to Russian phenom Khabib Nurmagomedov. Along the way, names like Donald Cerrone, Nate Diaz and Benson Henderson have all lost to the Brazilian while the fight that won him the title was arguably his best performance to date against Anthony Pettis.

Following that, he made light work of Donald Cerrone in a rematch before injuring himself days before a huge money-spinning Superfight against featherweight champion Conor McGregor. Instead, he now finds himself on Fight Pass fighting a grizzled veteran with nothing to lose and everything to win.

That, of course, is Eddie Alvarez. A native of Philadelphia in the US, having trained recently with the Blackzilians in Florida, Alvarez is back around his home state and training with the team best known for being behind Frankie Edgar. Although, at this stage of his career he has pretty much seen and done it all.

Having made his debut in 2003, Alvarez fought much of his early career on small-time local promotions before being picked up by the likes of Bodog, EliteXC and Dream. In 2009 he settled with Bellator and went on to win the lightweight title in the promotion’s inaugural tournament. Alvarez beat names like Pat Curran and Roger Huerta before losing his belt and winning it back again in two hellacious fights with Michael Chandler.

A prolonged contract battle with Bellator  meant he only had one fight in his last two years with the company which ended in 2014 as he signed for the UFC. Since then Alvarez has had three pretty lacklustre outings, beating Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis after losing to Donald Cerrone, and now finds himself in his first UFC title scrap.

As a bout, this one has dogfight written all over it.

The main attribute for the success of both of these men, apart from their wonderful skills, is a dogged determination to push through anything and keep going until they are physically stopped from doing it.

Dos Anjos does that with high-pressure, intensity and ridiculous output.

Alvarez does it with grinding wrestling, toughness and opportunistic striking.

That makes for an unusual battle which is very interesting and could be an absolute grind over five rounds.

As always, Dos Anjos will want to push his opponent back, jab his way in, batter legs with kicks and land his big left hand shot. After that, fencework and takedowns come which lead to a leaden top-game where strikes and choke attempts are always close.

Alvarez, in theory, won’t have a problem with that effort to pressure, though. In the past that’s where he had done some of his best work. On the feet, he loves to surf just outside of the pocket to counter with hard strikes and takedowns while all the time being defensively sound. Those strikes aren’t on the same level of Dos Anjos and his footwork certainly isn’t but his grueling takedowns and fence pushing arguably are.

Unfortunately, that’s probably where a lot of this fight will take place. Expect minutes of tedious clinching with referee breaks leading to more clinches. Dos Anjos always comes out strong and looks for the finish early, but if he can’t get that, I fancy this one to go to a decision.

Over five rounds, if Dos Anjos can keep up the almost super human pace he showed when beating Anthony Pettis, I see him taking his one. If he can’t I think Alvarez will still be in it late. But it won’t be a classic. Between the clinches, RDA’s strikes are significantly better than Alvarez’s and that sort of clear difference is usually a big sway for the judges in close rounds. I’m going with Dos Anjos here but I think the wide betting line isn’t a good barometer of how close this one could be.

Underneath that, there is also big Irish interest on the card as Donegal’s own Joseph Duffy takes on Mitch Clarke, also in the lightweight division.

Now fighting out of Tristar in Canada, arguably the world’s best MMA gym, Duffy is looking to get back to winning ways having lost to Dustin Poirier in his last fight. Prior to that, the former 7-0 professional boxer had won four fights in a row since returning to the open-fingered gloves having moved to boxing with a 10-1 record on the local UK and Irish scene. Damien Lapilus and Julien Boussage were defeated in Cage Warriors before first round stoppages of Jake Lindsey and Ivan Jorge kicked off his UFC career.

For Clarke, a similar route has been taken to where he is today. Like Duffy, he went on a long unbeaten run in his early days fighting in his native Canada. Entering the UFC he stood with a 9-0 record but that quickly became 9-2 after fights with Anton Kuivanen and John Cholish. Clarke showed some solid bouncebackabilty as he came back from those losses and defeated John Maguire and highly-touted prospect Al Iaquinta. But like Duffy, he’s also coming off of a loss with Michael Chiesa beating him in April of 2015.

That could lead to a little bit of nervousness early, but in general I think this one will be pretty enjoyable.

When looking at both men’s games, there’s a big difference in how they go about things.

Clarke is very much a mixed martial artist who could literally do anything at any time. His striking isn’t top-level, but it’s not bad, he throws in plenty of takedowns and he’s very dangerous with submissions on the floor.

Duffy, conversely, is very rhythm based and will constantly attack areas over and over. On the feet, he should have a big advantage. His jab, hooks, body attacks and high kicks are all very good and can be overwhelming for opponents who aren’t used to such slick striking. On the ground he is also well versed in submissions but questions still remain over his wrestling and ability to deal with the sort of pressure that Dustin Poirier brought.

And although you’d expect Mitch Clarke to try to ask those questions again, he’s not at the same level as Poirier. Expect plenty of forward motion from Duffy in this one and for him to show some improvements all around. Coming off of a year out this won’t be easy for Mitch Clarke, and although he has proved in the past that it’s foolish to rule him out, I’m picking Duffy to win this one in dominant fashion.

Outside of that there are fun names featured like Mike Pyle, John Makdessi and Gilbert Burns while the heavyweight bout between Roy Nelson and Derrick Lewis should be very fun.

In that one, it’s going to be Lewis looking for the takedown and mount as the increasingly patient Roy Nelson tries to place his overhand on the chin. Sometimes, we tend to forget how good Roy Nelson actually is as a grappler and I think his defensive work there will lead to him sleeping “The Black Beast” on the feet.

FIGHT PICKS

Rafael dos Anjos vs. Eddie Alvarez – A dogfight barely goes to Dos Anjos
Roy Nelson vs. Derrick Lewis – Roy Nelson lands the bomb
Alan Jouban vs. Belal Muhammad – I’ll take Jouban’s veteran savvy
Joseph Duffy vs. Mitch Clarke – Duffy softens his body and finishes him

Mike Pyle vs. Alberto Mina – Pyle
John Makdessi vs. Mehdi Baghdad – Baghdad
Anthony Birchak vs. Dileno Lopes – Birchak
Russell Doane vs. Pedro Munhoz – Munhoz
Felipe Arantes vs. Jerrod Sanders – Arantes
Gilbert Burns vs. Łukasz Sajewski – Burns
Marco Beltrán vs. Reginaldo Vieira – Vieira
Vicente Luque vs. Alvaro Herrera – Luque

BET OF THE NIGHT

Roy Nelson via round 1 KO at 11/4

START TIMES
Prelims 11.30pm on UFC Fight Pass
Main Card – 3am on UFC Fight Pass and BT Sport 2

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