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The main card of UFC 231 will be kicked off with some excitement when a pair of experienced and heavy-hitting light heavyweights step into the cage to do battle. Thiago Santos and Jimi Manuwa will finally meet after having their first scheduled bout scrapped after an injury to Manuwa. This bout should take place primarily on the feet as a display of world-class striking unfolds.
Santos makes a home at 205
The move to light heavyweight was not a planned one for Thiago Santos (19-6). He stepped in to face Jimi Manuwa in September but ended up fighting replacement, Eryk Anders. The bout was at 205 but Anders is typically a middleweight so this will be Santos’ first test against a seasoned light heavyweight fighter. At the moment, Thiago Santos is going through the best stretch of his career, winning six of his last seven in the UFC. Five of those six wins came by TKO while the singular loss was a knockout by David Branch. Notable finishes during that stretch include Anthony Smith and Eryk Anders.
As evidence by his 13 knockouts in 19 wins, Thiago Santos is a scary striker. His kicks in particular can end a fight at any moment. Against a boxer of Manuwa’s caliber, it would be best for Satos to stay on the outside. Striking from distance will give him an advantage and avoid the huge overhand right that Manuwa has stopped so many fights with. Santos also has brilliant leg kicks and can chop down the heavy lead leg of the boxer, Manuwa, to take some of the power out of his punches. If Satos comes in to fight patiently from the outside for a round rather than going for an immediate kill, he has a great chance for a late win.
As a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Santos has a sizable advantage on the ground over Manuwa. That being said, Thiago Santos only has one submission victory in his professional MMA career. Even if he does not try to finish the fight on the ground, Santos could try to take things to the mat if he ends up in trouble. Having options other than engaging in a standup firefight with Manuwa is a great safety net to have.
Manuwa looks to return to the elite ranks
Jimi Manuwa (17-4) was just a fight away from fighting for the light heavyweight title a year ago before suffering a brutal knockout loss to Volkan Oezdemir. Another loss followed when a rematch with Jan Blachowicz ended in a decision loss. Still, both of these losses came to the elite fighters in the division and there is no reason to think Manuwa is on his way out. Even at 38 years old, he is only 10 years into the sport and holds wins over killers like Corey Anderson, Ovince Saint Preux, and Jan Blachowicz. Manuwa has proven to be a complete fighter, defeating strikers, wrestlers, and grapplers alike.
The obvious weapon for Jimi Manuwa is his devastating punching power. Of his 17 wins, 15 are knockouts and 10 of those came in the first round. There is no one in the world who is not in immediate trouble if Manuwa lands. His two biggest weapons are the overhand right and his left hook to the body. To land to the body, Manuwa will have to lure Santos into close quarters. Despite being knocked out off the break in the Oezdemir fight, we have seen Manuwa do excellent work on the body in the clinch. If he can get Santos against the fence, he can work the body and take away the head kick of Santos who poses less of a threat out of the break than someone like Oezdemir.
The big question after Manuwa’s last two fights is regarding his chin. After being flatlined by Volkan, we saw Jan Blachowicz drop Jimi Manuwa relatively easily. If he is becoming easier to knock down, that is a huge problem against someone like Santos who has great ground and pound. One of the most important aspects of this fight for Manuwa has to be his movement. After each combination he needs to circle away to avoid being blasted with that high kick that Santos loves so much.
This is one of those fights between two knockout artists that could go either way but should be super exciting. Jimi Manuwa gets the slight edge because of the great value as a +169 underdog and his win quality. Manuwa’s wins over someone with submissions like OSP and a wrestler like Corey Anderson say a lot about his game. Those are two excellent fighters that could not take him down and ended up eating his punches. Santos has still not fought a legitimate light heavyweight and might need time to adjust. His winning streak is impressive but this is a big jump in competition. This is such a close one to call but there is great value in Manuwa. Even after two losses, he is not done yet.
Pick: Jimi Manuwa +169
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