As we inch closer to UFC Fight Night 88: Almeida vs Garbrandt, which takes place this Saturday, May 29 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, NV, more questions than answers have arisen regarding who will fight next for the bantamweight title. Dominick Cruz is set to defend his title in a grudge match against his arch nemesis (and Team Alpha Male head coach) Urijah Faber at UFC 199, with the winner of this bout will likely facing the champion.
Thomas Almeida has garnered more and more attention as he has risen through the ranks of the 135-pound division. He enters this contest as a healthy -165 favorite according to most betting sites, and rightly so. The undefeated Brazilian fighter (21-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) is riding a four-fight win streak, the last three by way of knockout.
Team Alpha Male standout Cody Garbrandt, also undefeated (8-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) has looked nothing short of sensational in his three UFC fights, winning two of them by TKO. With that being said, let’s take a look at this matchup more closely. My colleague Jake Weiss and I have decided to weigh in on some questions leading up to this fight.
What makes this matchup so intriguing?
Max: Both fighters are twenty-four years old and hungrier than ever. The bantamweight crown has changed hands between Renan Barao, TJ Dillashaw, and Dominick Cruz, and there’s a restlessness that pervades the division as we look forward to a new era of young talent. Both men have excellent striking technique, though Garbrandt seems to favor boxing over the use of kicks and knees. I wouldn’t be surprised if both came out guns blazing, looking for a quick knockout.
Jake: Two undefeated fighters with this kind of knockout power are unlikely to go the distance. To be honest, I’d be surprised if this fight went past the third round.
What are each fighters strengths and weaknesses?
Max: We haven’t seen Garbrandt face real adversity, so it’s tough to call out his weaknesses. His best weapon is definitely his speed, which combined with good boxing technique and power, makes for exciting fights and finishes. He knows how to use his footwork to control the distance, darting in and out of the pocket at will. If I had to pick, I’d say his jiu jitsu bottom game is probably his weakest skill, by the simple fact that we haven’t seen much (if any) of it in the UFC.
As for Thomas Almeida, I don’t see too many holes in his game. His striking is extremely well-rounded, and he has tight, defensive posture in the exchange. He keeps his chin down and his hands high while delivering vicious Muay Thai combinations, and looks good in the scramble as well. He has power, accuracy, and technique, particularly when it comes to combinations. In addition, his killer instinct is second to none. If I had to guess I’d say his weakness is that he can be a little over-aggressive, and sometimes pays for it (e.g. the Brad Pickett fight). In all likeliness, Garbrandt will probably be the better wrestler, hailing from Team Alpha Male and demonstrating well-timed takedowns in his fights thus far.
Jake: Both men are exceptional strikers, and both men utilize head movement and good defensive posture. Garbrandt likely has the boxing advantage, and will use his speed advantage to control the distance. He’s very good at timing his opponent, knowing exactly when to leap in and attack before backing out of danger. Every fighter at Team Alpha Male has top notch takedown defense, and Almeida isn’t exactly a big takedown threat. This will enable Garbrandt to throw hands without fear of the takedown, but also comes at a price. Garbrandt sometimes relies too heavily on his boxing and doesn’t mix up his attacks.
Almeida brings an extra twist to his striking, nicely integrating Muay Thai attacks with traditional Western boxing techniques. He has nasty knees and elbows from the clinch, and stays unpredictable by throwing the occasional flying knee or superman punch. Almeida has shown tremendous heart in his previous fights, most notably the Brad Pickett fight where he was rocked badly in the first round before coming back in the second to win a spectacular, highlight-reel KO. If Almeida has any weaknesses, it’s most likely his wrestling, which makes for an especially interesting fight.
What adjustments, if any, should each fighter make going into this fight?
Max: Almeida should avoid dangerous boxing exchanges in the pocket, since that’d probably Garbrandt’s best chance at winning this fight. Almeida sometimes takes unnecessary risks if he senses his opponent is hurt. Otherwise, he has all the tools to win this fight and become UFC champion one day in the future.
Garbrandt should incorporate more kicks and knees, which not only establish distance but add to the diversity of his attack. Having more weapons in his arsenal would keep his opponent guessing and open up his boxing as well. He may want to stick and move in the opening round in order to drag Almeida into deeper waters and really test his conditioning. I might give a slight edge in cardio to Garbrandt, who is likely the smaller, faster fighter.
Jake: Thomas Almeida is a very dangerous fighter, and has more tools in his toolbox than does Garbrandt standing up. Therefore, Garbrandt should not hesitate to take the fight to the floor, where he may have an advantage with his wrestling and ground-and-pound. Garbrandt would be wise to mix up his boxing with his takedowns, keeping Almeida guessing.
Almeida needs to avoid getting pressed against the cage and outworked by Garbrandt. He’d be wise to control the distance with his excellent jab, along with a bevy of kicks and knees. He picks his shots very well, and knows when to make adjustments if he’s losing the stand-up exchanges. He will likely find openings for short strikes when Garbrandt initiates the clinch or tries to wrestle.
If you were a betting man, who would you pick to win this fight?
Max: Anything can happen in MMA, and with two young, dangerous, undefeated UFC prospects, nothing would really surprise me. Both are capable of winning this fight via knockout, but if the fight hits the floor, I’d give the edge to Almeida, who I believe has a vastly underrated submission game. Garbrandt might catch him on the feet or win via control time in top position, but I’m going to go ahead and pick Thomas Almeida to win this one.
Thomas Almeida by TKO, round 2.
Jake: Personally, I’m a big fan of Garbrandt, so my opinion is pretty biased. That being said, this fight is a toss-up and a difficult fight to call. I’m going to go with Garbrandt because I believe he is a future champion. He has that “X-factor” that pundits love to mention when discussing rising prospects in MMA. If he fights intelligently and utilizes his wrestling, he will be too much for Almeida and emerge with the victory. Either way, his will be an amazing fight.
Cody Garbrandt by Unanimous Decision.