The king of Rio is back at UFC 278 as he takes on Georgian stand-out Merab Dvalishvili.
After beating Rob Font in a headliner in December, Aldo seems to be maintaining his form as one of the best in the world 11 years into his UFC career. Dvalishvili, on the other hand, is a rising contender with all the momentum in the world. He is currently on a seven-fight win streak, including impressive victories over Marlon Moraes, Cody Stamann, and Brad Katona en route.
While another win on Saturday would put Aldo at four in a row and back into title talks, an equal prize could be in line for Dvalishvili.
One of the closest fights to call on the card, both men will sit in – odds. In order to win $100 on either man, one will have to risk a larger budget, $107 on Aldo and $117 on Dvalishvili
Early on in his illustrious career, Aldo dominated the featherweight division from a skill level a step up from the rest. He did this for nearly a decade, including his reign as WEC champ. For a long time, Jose Aldo was simply better, he would go toe to toe with his opponents, break people down with powerful strikes, crippling leg kicks, and immovable takedown defense. Essentially he was a plan A fighter, and although he sometimes ended up in wars, no one forced him to change tactics, other than what he came there to do.
In 2022, after some mixed results, two separate championships, and a drop in weight class, Aldo truly represents what a veteran should be in mixed martial arts. He still has the physical advantages over most fighters, he is still primarily a Muay Thai wizard, but his tactical brilliance has come a long way, and he now utilizes all of his skills in the most logical way possible. Once upon a time, his greatest criticism was his cardio, his fast-twitch and explosive approach to striking, scrambling and slipping, and bobbing constantly often saw him fade in later rounds. Now instead of compromising those traits, he has developed a use of takedowns, and back and top control that edges rounds and offers him moments in the fight to recover. He earns his rest once he has exhausted his power and speed for the movement and then comes back stronger when he is able.
When he is at his best, he has potentially the best leg kicks in the game. He does not often throw them compared to when he was at featherweight, but just one can cripple his opponents. He favors a large amount of headmovment, and his equally distributed stance allows him to quickly burst in any direction to avoid and angle off. The weapons to look out for are his body hooks from either side and a shifting right straight which he throws while pulling his back leg forward to extenuate the power with momentum. This also allows him to avoid stretching into his strikes and overextending.
Merab Dvalishvili is one of the best grapplers in the bantamweight division. As a striker, he is more fundamental than Aldo, but it’s his speed and volume that does his work for him. He has a great linear burst with his jab cross and his right cross to left hook combinations. He also has a great uppercut counter and reactive takedown which dissuades his opponents from pressing forward with too much confidence. However, the uppercut has in the past presented opportunities to counter for his opponents if they can draw it out of him, as he erects his posture as he rises into it and leaves his head open on the centerline. Look for Aldo to draw out the uppercut with his jab only to angle off and land a hook.
One of the advantages of Dvalishvili’s linear style is that he can overextend on his strikes in order to blend them into level changes. When his uppercuts miss, he turns them into underhook entries and trips, while his straights easily turn into double legs if he crashes into his opponents. In grappling exchanges in defensive positions or anywhere on the cage, he is always constantly working, whether it’s attempting consistent ground and pound and chipping away at his opponent or trying to scramble and advance; he never sits idle. On top, he may stop to do as much damage as possible inside the guard rather than look to pass, using belly-to-belly pressure to spread out his base and force his opponent to respect his shots rather than find the opportunity for a sweep.
Dvalishvili will be looking to take down Jose Aldo, who has some of if not the best anti-wrestling in MMA. Those who have had success with Aldo on the mat did so either after hurting him on the feet like Max Holloway or beating him up over five rounds only to find that success nearing the 20-minute mark.I don’t believe Dvalishvili has the striking capabilities to hurt Aldo standing, but his volume and pace could be a real threat, opening up opportunities by round three if he can be constant and hard.
On the other hand, Jose Aldo will be looking to replicate what Marlon Moraes was able to do with superior boxing in the pocket against Merab Dvailshvili, taking advantage of the openings in Dvailshvili’s wider striking and linear movement. The difference between that fight and this is I believe Aldo will not rush the finish could it seem to materialize; his veteran instincts prompt him to prioritize control, meaning the ability to rally back for Dvalishvili if he is caught will be much more difficult.
Prediction: Jose Aldo to win (+107 odds at MyBookie)
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.