The UFC rocks up in Long Island for the first time in the company’s history this Saturday (July 22) with a card headlined by hometown guy Chris Weidman, a former UFC middleweight champion who has fallen on tough times, going up against the talented but occasionally unruly Kelvin Gastelum. Also on the card is a bantamweight tussle between Jimmie Rivera and Thomas Almeida.
Matt White runs hie eye over both of these matches for Fighters Only and, with the help of 5Dimes, tells us who we should be backing when the Octagon door closes and the referee brings the fighters together.
Jimmie Rivera vs. Thomas Almeida
Jimmie Rivera was one of the breakout stars at 135lbs, particularly in 2015/16. On paper, his debut was a tough start but he wrecked Marcus Brimage inside a round. He was a little lucky against Pedro Munhoz but dominant in decision wins over Iuri Alcantara and Urijah Faber. The latter was particularly impressive as he out-wrestled a Hall of Famer. Now, sitting at number four in the rankings, he knows a win over Almeida won’t raise him any higher but could see him placed in an eliminator for the winner of Cody Garbrandt vs. TJ Dillashaw.
Thomas Almeida was, until a year ago, one of the biggest hype trains in MMA, particularly at 135lbs. The man who went on to dethrone Dominick Cruz, Cody Garbrandt, saw to that in a furious opening round, however. It was the first loss for Almeida and proved his chin to be susceptible, something that an ageing Brad Pickett almost capitalised on a year earlier.
Almeida is the type of fighter who can dish out round upon round of punishment, but struggles taking it when it’s accurate and coming back at him. He won his comeback fight but the jury is still out on this one.
A year ago I’d have been all over Almeida to use his eviscerating striking to end this fight early. But the blueprint has been set on how to beat him. Although predominantly a wrestler, Rivera can bang with the best of them and a small play on him winning inside the distance isn’t an outrageous folly.
Recommendation: Rivera wins inside distance – 2 units at +221 (11/5) @ 5Dimes
Chris Weidman vs. Kelvin Gastelum
On July 6, 2013, just four years ago, Chris Weidman conquered a legend of MMA and was hailed not only as the new champion but the future of the sport. Three successful defences turned into three consecutive defeats, however, and the future is in very real danger of becoming the past.
In twice dispatching Anderson Silva, Weidman announced his arrival in the UFC and wins over Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort then cemented it. Against Luke Rockhold it all went wrong when a wheel kick from nowhere left him unbalanced and absorbing a torrent of strikes from the challenger. That fight ended in the very next round, a fate mirrored against Yoel Romero and, controversially to say the least, against Gegard Mousasi. Weidman has moved from 13-0 to 13-3, with his recent record reading 0-3. For the former champion, it’s far from pretty reading.
A short while before Weidman shocked the world, Kelvin Gastelum was doing some upsetting of his own when he beat heavy favourite Uriah Hall en route to winning The Ultimate Fighter 17. In that series all the highlights focused on Hall, allowing Gastelum to prepare for his fight his way.
An impressive run at 170lbs was ended by Tyron Woodley and a split-decision. That was also the second time in three fights Gastelum missed weight and a move to 185lbs was announced. After a single fight, and win, at 185lbs he returned to 170lbs. True to form, though, it was only a matter of time before he succumbed to the scales and again was forced back up to 185lbs – seemingly for good this time.
It is a division that has allowed him to retain his power, despite being very small for the division. Yet, still, Gastelum has proven to be his own worst enemy and a recent win over Vitor Belfort was overturned due to a failed post-fight drug test.
Recent performances suggest Gastelum is a lock here, coupled with an alarming drop in performance from Weidman. It is a much closer fight than it looks, though. Gastelum holds a purple belt in BJJ, but uses his jiu-jitsu far more than Weidman (a black belt), who seems to focus more on his wrestling background; again, something they share.
I can’t pull the trigger on Gastelum. Weidman has a huge size advantage in this one and he is in his hometown. If he can’t win this, he should consider retiring as this is the point of no return.
Recommendation: Chris Weidman – 2 units at +150 (6/4) @ 5Dimes