The world is a quieter place without the UFC but after a two week hiatus, the premier MMA organisation is back with a bang.
The promotion heads to Dallas, Texas this weekend and they are bringing with them a blockbuster card as UFC 211 is undoubtedly the most talent-rich event of the year so far.
Topping the bill is a heavyweight title clash between Stipe Miocic and Junior Dos Santos while the co-main event sees Joanna Jedrzejczyk defend her women’s strawweight title against Jessica Andrade.
Sport360’s in-house MMA expert, Alex Rea, explores the five key questions ahead of the event.
In December 2014, Stipe Miocic and Junior Dos Santos went to war. Over the course of 25 minutes and five rounds, the then top contenders, both with some of the most technical boxing in the division, put on a display which showcased the very best of heavyweight mixed martial arts.
Dos Santos took a unanimous decision the night – albeit a close one – but the pair’s paths took decidedly different turns after that fight.
For Miocic, it inspired a tear through the division with wins over Mark Hunt and Andrei Arlovski culminating in his stunning knockout of Fabricio Werdum in Brazil last May at UFC 198 to become the heavyweight champ.
He defended the belt against Alistair Overeem in September and now has come full circle with circumstances bringing us a rematch with Dos Santos.
The Brazilian has had an element of luck in getting his shot at reclaiming the belt he lost in 2012. After the win over Miocic he stumbled with defeat to Overeem but got back on track with a pulverising performance against Ben Rothwell.
The 33-year-old was then slated to fight Stefan Struve but a series of changes opened the door to a second meeting with Miocic but unlike most sequels this one won’t disappoint.
For strawweight queen Joanna Jedrezejczyk there’s more than just her crown on the line against Brazil’s Jessica Andrade.
Indeed, 2017 could stand to be the bookmark of her legacy as the punishing Polish champ closes in on Ronda Rousey’s prestigious record of six straight title defences.
The 29-year-old is just two away from achieving the symbolic feat having ripped through the 115lbs division since claiming the belt just over two years ago.
But it’s not just etching her name into the record books which is on the horizon. The UFC confirmed this week that it will add a women’s flyweight class later this year and it offers Jedrezejczyk the opportunity to fulfill her lifelong ambition to be a two-weight UFC champion – a target for which she revealed last year.
First, though, is a challenger who presents plenty of problems. Andrade has been deeply impressive since dropping down from batamweight as she earned her shot at the champ with three straight victories at 115lbs.
The 25-year-old offers a combination of the two toughest opponents Jedrezejczyk has faced so far as she possesses both the power-based grappling of Claudia Gadelha and the striking skills of Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
Still, Jedrezejczyk’s precision, pressure and pace make her a firm favourite and should she come through another title defence with the belt intact and she is set up nicely to make 2017 her own.
The short answer: no. MMA is a cruel sport at the best of times. It doesn’t care for storylines and it doesn’t care about merit. Maia has more than earned his shot at the welterweight belt and yet, here we are, with another dangerous opponent in front of him and the potential for his title run to be derailed.
The Brazilian has choked his way to a top contender’s spot with notable wins over Gunnar Nelson, Carlos Condit and Neil Magny during a six-fight win streak.
But despite being widely acknowledged as next in line for the winner of Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson he accepted a fight with Masvidal. Of course, Woodley defended his belt at UFC 209 and is now back in camp awaiting his next assignment while Maia looks to rubber stamp his title claim.
At 39 years old, though, this is a do or die fight for Maia and Masvidal will be no easy target after reeling off three straight wins.
The best outcome for Maia is that he is able to utilise his jiu-jitsu – widely accepted as the best in the UFC across all weight categories – to get the job done quickly and cleanly. The worst, he’s defeated and his title dream fades into the ether.
The UFC is littered with examples of clashes between the young and the old, the prospect versus the proven and another is set to take centre stage at UFC 211.
Mexican flyer Rodriguez takes on former lightweight champ Edgar with a place in the upper echelon of the featherweight division up for grabs.
Since losing the 155lbs belt over five years ago, Edgar has dominated the division’s top contenders but has twice fallen short of becoming a two-weight champ against Jose Aldo.
Rodriguez on the other hand, has displayed some serious athleticism combined with a ridiculous high pace to quickly endear himself to the fans and has shot up the 145lbs rankings.
It’s a fight in which ‘Pantera’ can prove he deserves a shot at the winner of Max Holloway and Aldo at UFC 212 while Edgar is out to simply prove he deserves to remain alongside the very best in the division.
Frankie Edgar vs Yair Rodriguez this Saturday LIVE on PPV!!! pic.twitter.com/uldr04pozh— Dana White (@danawhite) May 9, 2017
Eddie Alvarez gave a hugely refreshing soundbite to journalist Luke Thomas this week as he opened up about his defeat to Conor McGregor at UFC 205.
He said: “I think there’s a freedom in having your worst nightmare come true. As a fighter, your worst nightmare is to get knocked out in front of millions of people. That’s like the dream of waking up naked in your classroom.
“Getting that out of the way, there’s a freedom in it for me. I realised after it happened, nothing changed. My family’s still here, my friends are still here. I’m still the same person. Everybody just wants to see me fight again and do well again. Nothing really changed.”
That type of perspective shows the former lightweight champ is mentally in the best shape possible. He needs to be, too, because Poirier is coming off a big win against Jim Miller and has won five of his past six matchups.
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