A breakdown of the fights on the main card at UFC 231 on Saturday at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, with picks from the Review-Journal’s Adam Hill and Heidi Fang:
Max Holloway (19-3) vs. Brian Ortega (14-0, 1 No Contest)
Class: For Holloway’s featherweight title
Line: Ortega -125
Storyline: Holloway has been dominant in the featherweight division during a 12-fight winning streak that has carried him to the 145-pound title. There are several reasons to believe his run of success might end. The undefeated Ortega is athletic and strong with a great deal of power in his strikes and has one of the UFC’s most dynamic submission games. Holloway is tall and quick, but he hasn’t fought many opponents who can match his athleticism. There also still is concern about Holloway’s health. He hasn’t fought in a year and pulled out of two fights because of complications from weight cutting and a possible concussion. The cut to 145 pounds has grown increasingly brutal on his body. A loss here could prompt a move up to lightweight.
Hill’s pick: Ortega by second-round submission
Fang’s pick: Ortega by fourth-round submission
Valentina Shevchenko (15-3) vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (15-2)
Class: For the vacant women’s flyweight title
Line: Shevchenko -345
Storyline: Jedrzejczyk, the longtime strawweight champion, is finally moving up to flyweight now that the division has been established in the UFC and she has lost her 115-pound title. She has endured several difficult cuts over the past few fights and is relieved to be at a more comfortable weight. She has a major challenge in Shevchenko, a perennial contender at 135 pounds who finally can drop down to her more natural weight. These two have met three times, albeit on a different stage and more than a decade ago. They met in Muay Thai at the IFMA World Championships in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Shevchenko won all three by decision. Shevchenko is one of the sport’s most precise strikers and could frustrate Jedrzejczyk with her accuracy in what mostly should be a kickboxing battle.
Hill’s pick: Shevchenko by decision
Fang’s pick: Shevchenko by decision
Alex Oliveira (19-4-1, 2 No Contests) vs. Gunnar Nelson (16-3-1)
Line: Nelson -140
Storyline: Nelson returns to action for the first time since a quick knockout loss to Santiago Ponzinibbio in July 2017. The grappling ace suffered a knee injury this year but insists he is recovered. Nelson looks bigger and stronger than at any point in his career, but it remains to be seen how he will carry that bulk into the cage, as he never has really cut weight in the past to make 170 pounds. Oliveira is an aggressive and powerful striker with jiujitsu credentials, but is nowhere near Nelson’s level on the mat. This one should be decided by where the fight takes place.
Hill’s pick: Nelson by second-round submission
Fang’s pick: Nelson by third-round submission
Hakeem Dawodu (8-1-1) vs. Kyle Bochniak (8-3)
Line: Dawodu -170
Storyline: Bochniak is coming off a loss, but it might be one that can prepare him for this matchup. He was a massive underdog against rising star Zabit Magomedsharipov in April only to put up a strong effort in a unanimous decision loss. Like Magomedsharipov, Dawodu is a fantastic striker, but the successful kickboxer is still learning the MMA game. Bochniak trained at Georges St. Pierre’s gym in Montreal to prepare for the fight.
Hill’s pick: Bochniak by decision
Fang’s pick: Dawodu by first-round knockout
Jimi Manuwa (17-4) vs. Thiago Santos (19-6)
Class: Light heavyweight
Line: Santos -190
Storyline: There’s not much mystery to this one. Santos and Manuwa will throw out the game plans and launch power punches at each other’s chins. Santos was wrecking opponents at middleweight before making the decision this year to move up to 205 pounds. He answered any questions about whether his power would translate at this weight by knocking out former Alabama linebacker Eryk Anders in the second round. Manuwa has 15 knockouts among his 17 wins, but he has lost back-to-back fights and might be wearing down at age 38.
Hill’s pick: Santos by second-round knockout
Fang’s pick: Santos by decision
Adam Hill/Las Vegas Review-Journal