1. Alex Pereira (7-1) vs. Israel Adesanya (23-2)
Here we go again... again, again. It feels like this fight went down yesterday. In fact, it was November, which is a very quick turnaround for a guy who was TKO'd. Has he had enough time to make adjustments and build back his confidence? Can anyone right the ship in just 4 months, when you have to get over the hump of losing to one guy 3 damn times in martial arts competition? One way to look at that question is to consider the number of UFC champions who lost their belt and won it back in immediate rematches. As of January 2022, Deiveson Figueiredo was the first guy in over 17 years to do it. Since then, 2 fighters have attempted it and only 1 was successful, Amanda Nunes. All told that's only 3 successful redemptions in 12 tries. History doesn't exactly favor Izzy's ambition, but he could be one of those generational greats who defies the odds and rises above. After all, he is the second-greatest middleweight (185 lbs.) we have seen in the UFC.
As far as his game plan in this rematch, it's very tempting to over analyze recent footage of Izzy grappling, but I wouldn't put too much stock in that. He's never been a grappler and in one training camp he's not going to suddenly become one, but maybe he doesn't need to be. Maybe his strategy is to use the takedown as a feint to keep Alex guessing, we saw this in the 3rd round of their last fight. We've seen this with "The Machine" Merab Dvalishvili. Using flash takedown attempts to keep your opponent off balance sounds fun on paper, but that's not Izzy's style when he wins. I would caution against most fighters moving away from what they're great at, especially before what might be the fight of their life. It's not like he got shut out by Alex in their last fight, he almost finished him at the end of the first round. If we want to get really speculative, we might infer that a spent gas tank was part of the reason for his downfall. If he spent less time grappling in that 3rd round, he might've had more stamina to take those shots from Alex in the 5th round. To top it off, he followed up that exhausting 3rd round with a very productive 4th (his 2nd best round for "significant" head strikes landed). Both of these guys are brilliant kick boxers, but they're certainly not grapplers, maybe they should stick to what they know.
Hardcore History: Israel Adesanya was born in Lagos, Nigeria. Around the age of 9, he attended an after-school Taekwondo club, but that was short-lived as his parents relocated him and his 4 siblings to the Republic of Ghana in 1999. Finding Ghana not suitable for the education they desired for their children, his parents moved them to Rotura, a bay-side city on the north island of New Zealand. That is where Israel attended an all-boys high school and dove deep into a passion for anime and the science of computer design. Unfortunately, some people in this life can and will try to steal your joy, after being bullied in school, Israel became interested in self-defense and at 18 started kickboxing. Two years later he went pro and from there amassed a 6-0 record, right before suffering his first and second loss, both by decision.
His opponent, Alex Pereira, grew up in a harsh neighborhood in São Paulo, Brazil with his 6 siblings. He dropped out of school early and around 12 started working at an auto repair shop. After years of grueling work, that life led him to extreme alcoholism and an impulse to fight. All his coworkers would drink and Alex stated that at one point it got so scary, he would drink as much as a liter of rum and a few beers every day. That would last almost a decade before he entered his first kickboxing gym, for almost 4 years thereafter he would continue to drink before he finally got sober in 2013. That same year he started kickboxing, winning his first 4 fights. He had his last kickboxing fight in 2021, 4 years after retiring Izzy from the sport with a 3rd round K.O.
Dave's Pick: Israel Adesanya (-140, total 4.5U -130) Sometimes, in fights like this, I honestly have no clue why the favorite is "the favorite". Izzy has lost 3 in a row to Alex, 2 by KO and one by unanimous decision, yet we're still getting plus money on Alex Pereira. Why? Is it because Izzy is really focused this time? Is it because he's "figured" Alex out in film study (this time)? Whatever the reason for Izzy being the -140 favorite, I can't understand it, and ultimately I don't agree with it. You've heard me say time and time again that if you believe that a fight is a coin flip, take the plus money. Well, IDT that this fight is a coin flip. In fact, the only thing that should be flipped in this fight, should be the odds. I like Alex at plus money.
2. Gilbert Burns (21-5) vs. Jorge Masvidal (35-16)
"3 piece and a soda", this phrase might be the only thing keeping Jorge relevant at this stage of his career, age 38. It may even get him a title shot. First, he must confront the buzzsaw that is Gilbert Burns. If by some miracle he does get through Burns, you already know Leon would be calling for that first title defense again Jorge. The cold hard reality is that you couldn't deny him, beating Gilbert would be a huge feather in his cap seeing as Gilbert is ranked 4th in the welterweight division (170 lbs.). The only guys ahead of him are Kamaru and Khamzat, the former who just lost to Leon, and the latter who is possibly being forced up to middleweight. Disclaimer: In good conscience, we can pay no mind to the prospect of a Colby title shot, he hasn't beaten someone coming off a win since 2018, and that was Rafael dos Anjos who isn't in the current top 10.
As for Gilbert "Durinho" Burns, in his last 10 fights, he has only lost to Kamaru and Khamzat. Kamaru is fresh off his second loss to the current champion and Khamzat is not looking to rematch Gilbert anytime soon. So where does that leave Gilbert with a win here? 2 guys who desperately want a title shot and have never faced Gilbert are Belal Muhammad and Colby Covington. Belal has done damn near everything to earn the shot, but for some insane reason isn't being considered for it. A fight between him and Gilbert would defiantly produce a worthy and relevant title contender. That fight would likely be fireworks, seeing as both guys are grapplers which historically results in a fun striking match. As for Colby, if he beat Gilbert then his 3rd title shot would be way more palatable, but if Gilbert beat him, that would be 3 in a row and a solid case for a 2nd title shot. In a recent interview with MMA Junkie, Gilbert reconfirmed his interest in that fight, "I hope, because I've been calling this guy out for forever". He believes a 2nd round finish over Jorge could "steal the next title shot".
Hardcore History: Gilbert grew up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with his parents and 2 brothers. When he was 12 his dad traded automotive work for jiu-jitsu lessons for his boys. Gilbert did not waste the gift, turning his experience into a gold medal by defeating Kron Gracie in the finals of the 2011 World Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships. Later that year, under the tutelage of Vitor Belfort, he took his first amateur MMA fight and won. He turned pro in 2012 and joined the UFC 2 years later, winning his next 3 fights, all in the lightweight division (155 lbs.). It wasn't until 2019 that Gilbert would make the move up to Welterweight (170 lbs.), winning his next 4 fights and earning a title shot against Kamaru Usman. He currently trains under Henri Hooft at Kill Cliff FC in Florida.
Jorge Masvidal is the ultimate journeyman, he started his career in 2003 and bursted onto the elite stage in 2007 when he head-kick KO'd MMA legend Yves Edwards while competing for the promotion 'Bodog Fight'. He has fought all over the world, spending the vast majority of his career under 3 major promotions; Strikeforce, Bellator, and the UFC. Like Gilbert, he has fluctuated between the lightweight and welterweight divisions. He found his stride at welterweight when he knocked out kickboxing hype machine and former UFC fighter Darren Till. From Miami backyard brawls to the world's biggest stage, Jorge has earned the respect of his peers, fighting anyone and everyone. He is the ultimate journeyman and the ultimate warrior. He currently trains with Dustin Poirier and other elite veterans under Head Coach Mike Brown at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida.
Dave's pick. Burns (-430, Total 2.5U-140) is the largest favorite on the card. On paper, it looks like he may have all the tools necessary to handily come out victorious, especially if this fight were to hit the ground early. But there are several intangibles at play here that will give you seconds thoughts about quickly dismissing Masvidal completely. Masvidal's back is against the wall, no doubt. The stakes are extremely high as one loss may send him into retirement, and one win may give him a title shot. Masvidal 's experience will be the difference maker. He has fought/sparred the best grapplers in the world for some time now, and he's going to have to rely on his good takedown defense (74%) along with his in cage intelligence to get this fight into deeper waters. Burns takedown accuracy of 34% combined with 6 of his last 10 fights going to decision tells me that this fight has a really good chance of going long. Whenever I think of Burns, it's always synonymous with BJJ, but in taking a look at his last 14 fights, only 2 have ended in a Burns submission victory. In fact, before submitting Neil Magny in his last time out, Gilbert Burns hasn't had a submission since April 27, 2019. I like the OVER 2.5 rounds at +110
3. Rob Font (19-6) vs. Adrian Yanez (16-3)
To steal a term that may or may not have been coined by Ariel Helwani, this fight is the people's main event. Both of these guys are stellar boxers. Yanez is on a hot streak and looking to make Rob his 10th consecutive victim, while Rob is on thin ice as he's turning 36 this year and staring down the barrel of his 3rd loss in a row. His last 2 losses were to Jose Aldo and Marlon "Chito' Vera, so nothing to be ashamed of, its a testament to the number of buzzsaw strikers in this division. Rob does have 4 submission wins on his record, and in a recent interview with MMA News claimed, "I want to get a submission under my belt, I haven't gotten one in a while, I wanna club and sub this guy". Unfortunately for him, Adrian boasts a remarkable 100% takedown defense, none of his past opponents have had such success. With only 3 rounds to work it might not be in his best interest to suddenly become a heavy grappler, Rob might want to rely on his veteran experience to bait Adrian into unfavorable exchanges. That's easier said than done as Adrian has done well to mix up his approach in his last few fights, going downstairs and upstairs between leg kicks and head strikes.
Although, The Davey Grant fight did show us a possible path to victory as Grant landed 40 "significant" body strikes and one judge awarded him a 30-27 card over Adrian. Rob does well in that regard, having out-landed his last 3 opponents in "significant" body strikes. He's combined for 109 body shots compared to their 49. The harsh reality is that he didn't have the pop to slow down his opponents with head strikes once he got the body shots going. His last finish came against Marlon Moraes and he only threw 2 body strikes in that fight as it didn't go past the 1st round. This will be an incredible test to see if Rob still has what it takes to compete with the elite bantamweights (135 lbs.). Looking forward, Adrian appears to be the close favorite in this matchup. A solid win here could eventually set him up to face the winner of Ricky Simon vs Song Yadong, the timing would be perfect as they are set to face off later this month. There's no good reason to overlook Rob in this fight, but similar to this fight, Adrian vs. either of those two men has 'Fight of the Night' written all over it.
Hardcore History: Not your typical pizza delivery guy, Rob Font stumbled upon a few guys training in their Tampa Bay garage and gladly accepted a few pointers on the basics of jiu-jitsu. He had no idea what this would lead to or that a career in MMA was even possible, but here we are. According to a 2014 interview with MMA Junkie just days before his 2nd to last regional fight, Rob recalls taking that experience into his first MMA gym and the rest is history. Soon enough he was 10-1 with his UFC debut set against the elusive veteran George Roop, in an under-the-radar prelim fight supporting UFC 175: Weidman vs. Machida. Rob scored a thunderous 1st round KO and would go on to finish 3 of his next 4 opponents. He currently trains with Calvin Kattar and the team at New England Cartel under head coach Tyson Chartier.
Adrian Yanez has been through some serious crap. After losing his father in 2016 and the permanent scar that leaves, he also lost his head coach Saul Soliz just two years ago. Known as the "Godfather of Texas MMA", Saul lost a battle with Covid-19, he was only 55 years old. Despite losing his 2 most important role models, Adrian continues to do his best to stay positive and train his best. Neither of them got to meet his son, but he uses their love and guidance to help guide his new path in fatherhood. Despite the sting of losing his trainer of 10 years, Adrian still trains with Metro Fight Club and has won both his fights since the unfortunate passing. Adrian might be the best recent example of discipline and perseverance in this vicious sport. Our hearts go out to him and his family after their tragic loss.