Analysis. Predictions. Betting Tip – UFC 206: Holloway vs. Pettis

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Following a hectic build-up, UFC 206 will finally go down this Saturday night. Coming live from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the event’s line-up has been in a constant state of flux since first announced and now takes the shape of a very good card with little casual interest.

Initially, many hoped that Georges St-Pierre’s rumoured comeback would headline the Canadian pay-per-view but a failure to come to an agreement with the UFC scuppered that. Instead, the light-heavyweight title was placed atop the card with champion Daniel Cormier taking on Anthony Johnson for the second time. That was until a groin injury to Cormier also put that on the waste pile.

As a result, the UFC elevated the co-main event of Max Holloway vs. Anthony Pettis one spot and put an ill conceived interim belt up for grabs with Conor McGregor being stripped of the linear belt and former interim-champion Jose Aldo taking that strap in his stead. Understand? Yeah, me neither.

Anyway, what we are left with is Holloway vs. Pettis and leaving all the fairytales to one side, it’s a smashing bout between two high quality fighters.

Fighting out of Waianae, Hawaii, Holloway kicked off his UFC days as a 20 year-old in 2012 with just four fights as a professional behind him. In his Octagon debut he was ominously match against Dustin Poirier and although he lost that fight the three wins which followed secured his place both in the UFC and as a future prospect.

Another couple of tough matchmaking draws saw Holloway pitted against Dennis Bermudez and Conor McGregor which led to him dropping two on the bounce. Obviously still young and improving, that skid became a turning point rather than a cul de sac. Since then Holloway has improved in all areas. Wins over the likes of Andre Fili and Akira Corasanni got him back on track but it was landmark victories over names like Cub Swanson and Ricardo Lamas, in the midst of a nine fight winning streak, which signalled his progression into the elite.

Speaking of the elite, Anthony Pettis has been kicking it there for some time, with varied success. After jumping over to the UFC with a 13-1 record and the WEC belt in his back pocket following the companies’ merger, it was a bumpy start for “Showtime” inside the Octagon.

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A setback loss to Clay Guida, and his career being ravaged by injury, kept him away from the championship picture for much longer than many would have thought. When he did get his shot after beating Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone with ease, Pettis took it with both hands as he armbarred former WEC rival Benson Henderson in the first round of their rematch.

One title defence against Gilbert Melendez followed that but Pettis didn’t get a second as Rafael Dos Anjos and his never-ending fuel tank ripped the title from his hands at UFC 185. That loss was followed by two more at lightweight which lead to a drop to featherweight. At 145 lbs, Pettis has a win over Charles Oliveira in his only fight to date.

As a fight this one could be just magnificent. On one side you have Max Holloway: A striker who likes to come forward and throw multiple shots with perfect technique. And on the other side you have a Anthony Pettis: A hitman that can submit you or knock you out with a single shot in the blink of an eye.

In the past, both men have had their troubles with wrestling but this is likely to be beautiful, artistic, symphony of stand-up with many variables at play.

Over the last few years Anthony Pettis has been beaten many times by a blueprint of pressure and clinching which Holloway will likely also bring – in part at least. Look for him to back Pettis up with his jab before launching plenty of supplementary shots with his legs and backhand in accompaniment.

Holloway’s power hitting, and his ability to use it as part of an overwhelming striking attack, has been the main reason for his progression of late. Before he was a talented striker but now – with his improved technique and awareness of how to use it – comes the power to give that talent the pop needed to attain the desired effect. If he can get Pettis backing up and keep him from getting his shots off first, you would have to favour Holloway.

But there’s a catch. And his name is Anthony Pettis. Time and again Pettis has showed that he rises to the occasion and can pull a victory out of anywhere. And here there’s a analytical opening for that talk too.

It’s all good planning to go out to stand with, and pressure, Anthony Pettis. But then there’s actually physically doing it. Standing with Pettis and coming on to him opens you up to his counter striking – which is arguably the best part of his game. Everyone who has beaten Pettis, apart from unbelievable Muay Thai specialist Edson Barboza, has done it by adding in wrestling with the pressure striking. Going toe-to-toe with Pettis without the threat of a takedown is a risky strategy to say the least.

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So that leaves us with two questions. 1. Is Holloway going to try to wrestle at times with Pettis? 2. Is he so superior that he can beat Pettis for five rounds without getting clipped hard?

For me, the answer to both of those questions is no.

Now, both men have unbelievable chins and I could definitely see a Holloway win here after he takes a few licks but there aren’t many men who can play a pocket game with Anthony Pettis and come out standing. Call me crazy, but I’m taking the underdog here.

In the co-main event two more strikers are up against each other as Matt Brown and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone throw down in a fight which has been a dream of the hardcores for years.

At the moment, both guys are on very different side of the form charts. Cowboy has only lost to Rafael Dos Anjos (twice) in his last 15 fights and is undefeated in three at welterweight. While Brown has lost four of his last five coming off of a brilliant 7-fight win streak.

As a fight this one should be unbelievably fun for as long as it lasts. Both men like to mix it in all areas and will have no problem going toe-to-toe if needs be. Lately, Cerrone’s wrestling has become more of a factor in his wins, and that could be the case again here. But I see his ability to attack the body, which is always a weak point of Brown’s, as a fight winner here.

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Outside of that, this card, despite it being slated by many, has a bundle of fun fights. Tim Kennedy vs. Kelvin Gastelum has war written all over it. Nikita Krylov vs. Misha Cirkunov is an excellent fight, as is John Makdessi vs. Lando Vannata. While the debut of Palharas-killer Emil Meek against Jordan Mein is second only to Cub Swanson vs. Doo Ho Choi in terms of must-watch attractions on this card. In that one, I fancy the power of the Korean Superboy to get him the win but with this being his first real test, you just never know.

FIGHT PICKS

Max Holloway vs. Anthony Pettis –Showtime gets the finish
Donald Cerrone vs. Matt Brown – Fancy Cerrone to get the TKO
Cub Swanson vs. Doo Ho Choi – Huge fight. I’ll go Choi
Tim Kennedy vs. Kelvin Gastelum – Kennedy’s sheer size should be too much
Jordan Mein vs. Emil Weber Meek – I like the explosive Meek here

Nikita Krylov vs. Misha Cirkunov – Krylov
Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Drew Dober – OAM
Valérie Létourneau vs. Viviane Pereira – Valérie
Mitch Gagnon vs. Matthew Lopez – Gagnon

John Makdessi vs. Lando Vannata – Vannata
Jason Saggo vs. Rustam Khabilov – Rustam
Zach Makovsky vs. Dustin Ortiz – Makovsky

BET OF THE WEEK
I’m picking this in general, so Anthony Pettis via KO/TKO at 7/1 has to be my bet of the week.

START TIMES
Early Prelims – 11.30pm on Fight Pass
Prelims – 1am on BT Sport 3
Main Card – 3am on BT Sport 3

 

Lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Co-host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Tuesday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. 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