1. Max Holloway (23-7) vs. Arnold Allen (19-1)
In a tremendous clash of styles, the Ironman is set to face the chess master, but who is who? There are at least 3 major factors to consider in this matchup: volume, damage, and grappling. First, we will look at volume. Max Holloway's victims have come to expect an avalanche of strikes anywhere between 212-746. The former was his interim-title-winning TKO of Anthony Pettis, the latter being his criminal beatdown of Calvin Kattar. To be fair, those are strikes thrown, not landed. Still, that is staggering to deal with, when you can barely mount your offense because you're so busy defending. Then there is the damage. Max's strategy has limits, he takes a ton of punishment in order to deliver it. He has absorbed about 491 combined "significant" strikes over his last 3 fights, whereas a guy like Arnold has absorbed only 75 combined "significant" strikes over a similar stretch. In case you felt the need to compare their competition, Arnold's last 3 wins came over elite veterans: Calvin Kattar, Dan Hooker, and Sodiq Yusuff. So how might past damage dictate future volume? The reality is that Arnold fights at a more methodical pace, defends well, and takes a lot less damage. If Allen can weather the storm and add to Max's already ridiculous bill of damage, he may come out on top. We know his endurance hasn't been tested like Max will test it, he's only been out-landed twice in his past 10 fights and neither of those fights were scheduled for 5 rounds. Maybe that doesn't matter as much as we think it will. This leads us to the 3rd factor.
What can significantly slow down a high-volume striking match? Grappling. Both of these guys used it in recent fights where their opponent was extremely dangerous. Max used it to slow down Yair in a fight where Yair could keep up with his pace, Max landed 3 takedowns for almost 7 minutes of control time. Arnold used it against Sodiq, landing 2 takedowns for 5 minutes of control time. (Interesting to note, Sodiq was the favorite going into that fight, likely due to his power). So who is favored in the grappling department and will they use it? They have very similar takedown accuracy and defense so they may neutralize each other. I can see a scenario where Max gets his game going early and Arnold quickly falls behind. In that case, I could see Arnold leaning on the grappling, but the biggest mistake you can make against a guy like Max is to fight desperately. Maybe Arnold initiates the takedown early, similar to his fight against Sodiq. He doesn't need to land every attempt, he just needs to throw Max off his rhythm. Enter the x-factor. Both men have a brilliant coaching staff, but only one man has a Firas Zahabi. Not only does Arnold get more different looks going between England's Team Renegade and Canada's Tristar Gym, but he has Firas 'freakin' Zahabi in his corner. The same genius who helped lead GSP to all his glory. Tristar is known for the insane level of grappling talent training there and Arnold has access to that well of knowledge. It will be very interesting to see if that plays dividends in this matchup. In Summary, they're both the ironman, but only one can be the chess master on Saturday.
Hardcore History: Raised by his grandparents, Max "Blessed" Holloway has had a less than traditional journey. His dad exited his life when he was just 10 and his mother struggled with her own issues. To make matters worse, his hometown in Waianae, Hawaii was known for being ROUGH. In fact, one time I was visiting a town near Waianae, and I wanted my friend (a local) to take me to Waianae to show me around. His response? Hell no. He said that that town was "pretty dangerous". So we never went. Ha! So yeah, Max started fighting at 16. Inspired the success of another fellow Hawaiian, BJ Penn, Max took a short-notice fight He had no prior experience, was just 16 years old, and just found out about a little thing we like to call "the jab". He was green, to say the least. By his senior year of high school, he was swept up in the craze of the BJ Penn era and learning how much money elite fighters could make, so he decided this was the path for him. After high school, with little to no budget, he moved to Iowa and pursued the fight life. Fast forward to 2012, Max is in the hospital witnessing the birth of his first child and he gets his first contract to fight in the UFC, against Dustin Poirier of all people. As they say, the rest is history.
"Almighty" Arnold Allen hails from Trimley St. Mary, a small village on the outskirts of a seaside town in Suffolk, England hosting the United Kingdom's largest container port. His journey started from a young age, with his father's transition from competitive bodybuilding to combat sports, eventually taking Allen to the gyms he trained at. Showing him around and enticing Allen's already active interest in wrestling was the spark that stoked the flame. Allen wasted no time, starting his amateur run not even one month after his 16th birthday, then turning pro at 18 and joining the UFC 3 years later. Allen now trains under Firas Zahabi at Tristar Gym in Montreal, hoping to harvest any secrets G.S.P. might have uncovered while training there during his hall-of-fame career.
Dave's Pick: Max Halloway (-140) is one of my favorite fighters of all time. I love his fighting style and his outside the cage personality. With that said, this is going to be a TOUGH fight for him. I could never bet against Max to lose, and although I think he will pull off this decision, I honestly think that price is too high. To lay 140 against a guy like Allen is nuts, and I'm staying off this side. I will be rooting and cheering for Max to win. But the bet here IMO is the total (4.5 Over -120). As the write up suggests, I think that this fight will go into deep waters. MAx's last 7 fights have gone the distance, and I think this one will too. OVER 4.5 rounds
Pedro Munhoz (19-7-2NC) vs. Chris Gutierrez (19-3-2)
He ripped our heart out and stomped on it, but it's not his fault. Before Chris retired Frankie Edgar to the land of wind and ghosts, he was seemingly very underrated. He hadn't lost since 2018, his UFC debut, and was riding a 3-fight win streak. Now we know him as the guy the UFC wants us to be mad at, like it is not their fault Frankie was booked to fight a killer in his last fight. Chris is a savage and deserves some respect, one way he'll earn that is by beating Pedro on Saturday. Pedro is awesome, we don't want to see him lose, rather he's still dangerous and a win over him is very impressive. He looked good in the first round against Sean O'Malley, utilizing great distance control and hard leg kicks. He slowed the fight down and kept it on his terms, that's hard to do against an elite striking tactician like "Sugar" Sean.
At 36, Pedro needs this win like Rob Font needed that win last Saturday. This situation very much mirrors that one. Like Yanez, Chris is the younger fighter, with more to give and a potentially higher ceiling. Pedro is far removed from his TKO of Cody Garbrandt and on a 2-fight losing streak, also including a loss to Jose Aldo. Woah, this is eerily similar to the Font vs. Yanez fight. Does that mean we should pick the elder statesman to outwit the younger prospect? I wouldn't be so sure. Chris has out-landed his last 8 opponents, albeit against less experienced competition, whereas Pedro on average absorbs more strikes per minute than he lands. We'll see if Chris can keep a pace against Pedro, or if Pedro will slow the fight down with precise leg kicks.
Hardcore History: Pedro Munhoz is a lifelong martial artist, a karate fighter inspired by the pioneers of the UFC. That isn't the story we will focus on though, partly due to the fact if you google his background you will likely find nothing upon the first, second, and fifth dig. So we will stay in the present. The reality is that "The Young Punisher" has been in wars! He has 3 hard-fought split-decision losses to skilled veterans Frankie Edgar, Jimmie Rivera, and John Dodson. Majority of the time he lays it all out there, much like his KO victory over Cody Garbrandt. He bites down on the mouthpiece and leans into his most dangerous weapons. That hasn't served him particularly well as he is 9-7 in the UFC. With a few smarter performances he could be 11-3, he has the skills to be there. Lately, he's learned from his mistakes, hence why he fought smart in his last fight. It's not his fault it ended due to an accidental foul. In my opinion, and 2 of the 3 cage side judges' opinion, he won the first round. Why would a guy who won the first round look for a way out? That doesn't make any sense, especially in a 3 round fight. So we know he's fighting smarter nowadays, which should pay dividends in this upcoming bout. He currently trains with American Top Team in South Florida, sharing the mats with veterans like Dustin Poirier and Jorge Masvidal.
In the interest of an impartial comparison, we will focus on the more recent past of one Chris "El Guapo" Gutierrez. He didn't start his journey till he was around 16 years old but made leaps and bounds in 2 years of training. He served a healthy term as an amateur before going pro at 22 and avoided a loss for 3 years. After a short stint with the World Series of Fighting (now PFL) and Legacy Fighting Alliance, he stacked enough wins to earn a spot on The Ultimate Fighter show (Dave's favorite bedtime television). It wasn't until he turned 27 that he had his promotional debut working his way to the show's finale. Unfortunately he lost and it was fairly convincingly, by 2nd round rear-naked choke. It paid off, that fire lit under him sent him on a 7-win run where we find him today. The real story of this fight is momentum vs. maturity. Much like the Font vs. Yanez fight. Can you tell I'm obsessed with the parallel? Chris currently trains under head coach Marc Montoya at Factory X MMA in Englewood, Colorado.
Dave's Pick: To keep the comparison goin with the Yanez/Font fight, I love the favorite in here too (Gutierrez -200). Now, hopefully for the betting purposes, the outcome for me is different. Afterall, Yanez did in fact, get KTFO. Chris "El Guapo" Gutierrez is on an absolute terror. His last 2 fights ended in a KO, and he hasn't lost in 4.5 years. On the other hand, Pedro Munhoz is 1-4 (with a NC) in his last 5 fights, and his trajectory is going in the very opposite direction as "El Guapo". This fight should be a banger, and I'm laying the 200 on Gutierrez