A breakdown of the fights on the main card of UFC 218 on Saturday at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, with picks from the Review-Journal’s Adam Hill and Heidi Fang:
Max Holloway (18-3) vs. Jose Aldo (26-3)
Class: For Holloway’s featherweight title
Line: Holloway -330
Storyline: Holloway has been on an absolute tear since suffering a loss to Conor McGregor in 2013. He has destroyed each and every opponent to step in front of him in the cage and did the same to Aldo, the longest-reigning champ in division history, when they met in June. Aldo went into that bout as a slight favorite. While Holloway was the better fighter on that night, the dramatic shift in odds from the first meeting to the second appears to be a bit of an overreaction considering Aldo was having success early. Holloway’s reach, speed and power make him a very tough matchup, but Aldo is quite similar. One thing to watch is how well Aldo bounces back from his loss. After he lost to McGregor, he came back with one of the best performances of his career against Frankie Edgar the next time out.
Hill’s pick: Aldo by third-round knockout
Fang’s pick: Holloway by decision
Alistair Overeem (43-15, 1 No Contest) vs. Francis Ngannou (10-1)
Line: Ngannou -270
Storyline: There is no mystery to this one. This should essentially be a kickboxing battle until someone falls down. Ngannou is one of the fastest and most powerful heavyweight striking prospects to come along since, well, maybe Overeem. All of the expectations are on Ngannou, who has burst on the scene with five straight stoppage wins to start his UFC career, with the last three coming in the first round. Overeem is an ideal opponent to stand in front of him and showcase Ngannou’s strengths. It won’t be easy, however. Overeem is more than capable of ending Ngannou’s rise with one punch or kick and he has plenty of tricks from his years of fighting and kickboxing that could provide a challenge. A win here for Ngannou, who has relocated to Las Vegas, probably means a title shot.
Hill’s pick: Ngannou by second-round knockout
Fang’s pick: Ngannou by first-round knockout
Henry Cejudo (11-2) vs. Anthony Pettis (16-2)
Line: Cejudo -270
Storyline: These are two of the rising stars in the flyweight division. Cejudo, a 2008 Olympic gold medalist in wrestling, has shown great improvements as a striker since losing a title fight to Demetrious Johnson. After narrowly dropping a split decision to top contender Joseph Benavidez, Cejudo destroyed former title challenger Wilson Reis in September. He may find himself in position to fight for the belt again with another win here. Cejudo’s striking is made even more effective by the threat of his elite wrestling skills that can dictate where the fight takes place. Pettis, the younger brother of former lightweight champ Anthony Pettis, has won four straight fights. He is very well-rounded, but has struggled to finish opponents even when he is in control. Cejudo represents the toughest test of his career. It’s a big challenge.
Hill’s pick: Cejudo by decision
Fang’s pick: Pettis by decision
Eddie Alvarez (28-5, 1 No Contest) vs. Justin Gaethje (18-0)
Line: Gaethje -190
Storyline: The coaches from Season 26 of “The Ultimate Fighter” will do battle in what is expected to be the fight-of-the-night. That’s typically the expectation anytime Gaethje steps in the cage. To say he is willing to take a punch to land one is an understatement. At times, he’s willing to take three to land one. Gaethje appears to be in trouble nearly every time he fights, but nobody has been able to finish him. The former World Series of Fighting champion made a spectacular UFC debut in July when he was nearly knocked out by Michael Johnson before rallying to knock Johnson out. This could look very similar. Alvarez has also shown a willingness to brawl, but he’s also been finished. Gaethje has not. That durability could be the difference.
Hill’s pick: Gaethje by second-round knockout
Fang’s pick: Gaethje by third-round knockout
Tecia Torres (9-1) vs. Michelle Waterson (14-5)
Class: Women’s strawweight
Line: Torres -240
Storyline: Waterson was one fight away from challenging for the title, but dropped a top contender bout to Rose Namajunas in April. She definitely wants that fight back now that Namajunas has the belt. This is another very tough matchup, however. Torres is very strong and doesn’t take a whole lot of chances, making her difficult to attack. Waterson, known as “The Karate Hottie,” should find success if she can stay on the outside and pick Torres apart. “The Tiny Tornado” will be a huge challenge when she’s able to close range. Torres should win when they are in the clinch and has an edge in wrestling.
Hill’s pick: Torres by decision
Fang’s pick: Waterson by decision