UFC 211 Observer Panel Picks: Two titles up for grabs

In terms of fight quality and star power, UFC presents its biggest pay-per-view of the year so far tonight with UFC 211.

In the main event, heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic looks to avenge a decision loss at the hands of former champ Junior dos Santos in ia rematch from December 2014.

In the co-main event, strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk will be looking for her sixth straight title defense and eight UFC win overall as she faces former bantamweight and top contender Jessica Andrade.

Two other main card fights could have immediate title implications as Demian Maia aims for his seventh straight win as he takes on the surging Jorge Masvidal, a former lightweight who has rung up three consecutive wins. The winner will have the best claim to a title challenge against division champ Tyron Woodley.

Former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar hopes to finally earn another featherweight title shot as he faces Yair Rodriguez, one of the most dynamic contenders in any division. With Jose Aldo and Max Holloway set to meet at UFC 212 to determine an undisputed 145-pound king, this fight could determine the next challenger for that belt.

Headlining up the FX-aired prelims is a key lightweight tilt as former champion Eddie Alvarez squares off with Dustin Poirier, one of the hardest hitters in the division. Alvarez will be fighting for the first time since losing his title to Conor McGregor last November at Madison Square Garden.

If you’re new here, our panel picks are listed below and listed alongside the fighter’s names are their worldwide FightMatrix rankings, as well as BestFightOdds.com betting odds. The panelist’s 2017 records is in parentheses, and we also have panel consensus picks as well as a line where we show how the betting favorites did:

Dave Meltzer (23-10; .697) — Wrestling Observer publisher
Favorites (23-10; .697)
John Pollock (23-10; .697) — Fight Network analyst, Live Audio Wrestling co-host, MMA Report co-host
Consensus Picks (22-10; .688)
Mike Sawyer (22-11; .667) — Tough Talk MMA publisher
David Bixenspan (22-11; .667) – Deadspin pro wrestling columnist, Between the Sheets podcast host
Steve Juon (21-12; .636) — MMA Mania writer, Angry Marks publisher
Mike Sempervive (19-14; .576) — Wrestling Observer Live and Big Audio Nightmare co-host
Josh Nason (19-14; .576) — Host of Josh Nason’s Punch-Out, WrestlingObserver.com assistant editor
Ryan Frederick (18-15; .545) — WrestlingObserver.com UFC writer
Paul Fontaine (16-17; .485) — MMADraws.com publisher, WrestlingObserver.com writer
Front Row Brian (15-18; .455) — MMA newsbreaker, beloved internet personality, podcast host
UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic (16-2) vs. Junior dos Santos (18-4) II

Many, myself included, feel that Miocic won their first fight, which headlined a Fox show in late 2014. Miocic went on to defeat Fabricio Werdum to win the heavyweight crown and will be aiming for his second title defense here against the former champion.

Dos Santos has been relatively inactive as this will be just his third fight since beating Miocic and his first fight in over a year. He has not finished an opponent in nearly four years since stopping Mark Hunt on Memorial Day weekend in 2013.

The betting lines are very close on this one, but our panel doesn’t see it quite that close.

Miocic #1; -125 betting favorite: Juon, FRB, Sawyer, Frederick, Fontaine, Nason, Pollock, Bixenspan, Meltzer, Sempervive
UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk (13-0) vs. Jessica Andrade (16-5)

Andrade has fought more times than any woman in UFC history as tonight marks her 11th time stepping into the Octagon. She will fight for a title for the very first time as she goes up against the unstoppable-to-this-point “Joanna Champion”.

While flyweight king Demetrious Johnson recently tied the long-standing record for consecutive title defenses at 10, Jedrzejczyk is quietly approaching that record herself and has shown no signs of slowing down. Despite her long winning streak, the oddsmakers have set a fairly close line on this one.

Andrade is one of the hardest hitters in the division and the former 135-pounder will likely have the size advantage here as well. She has three straight wins in her new division including two stoppages and a one-sided beatdown of former Invicta champion Angela Hill in her last outing.

Jedrzejczyk #1; -160 betting favorite: Juon, FRB, Sawyer, Frederick, Fontaine, Nason, Pollock, Meltzer, Sempervive
Andrade #2; +165 betting underdog: Bixenspan
Demian Maia (24-6) vs. Jorge Masvidal (32-11)
WELTERWEIGHTS

Many feel that Maia has already earned a UFC title shot as the 39-year-old’s seven-fight win streak is the longest in the division. He’ll once again try to hold serve against former lightweight Masvidal, one of the gutsiest brawlers in the division who will try to pick up his fourth straight win.

Maia has an obvious advantage if the fight goes to the ground, but Masvidal is a very tough fighter to put away. His last three losses have been by split decision and he has not been finished since a submission loss in Bellator to Tody Imada in 2009.

At some point, age has to catch up to the veteran Maia, and the oddsmakers surprisingly have the former middleweight title contender set as the underdog. This should be a very close fight either way.

Maia #2; +113 betting underdog: Juon, FRB, Sawyer, Frederick, Nason, Pollock, Bixenspan, Sempervive
Masvidal #5; -110 betting favorite: Fontaine, Meltzer
Frankie Edgar (21-5-1) vs. Yair Rodriguez (10-1)
FEATHERWEIGHTS

This is a big step up in competition for Rodriguez, who has picked up main event wins in each of his last two fights, beating journeyman Alex Caceres and the legendary BJ Penn. He faces another future Hall of Famer here, although Edgar is much closer to the peak of his abilities than Penn was.

Edgar’s only loss in the last four-plus years came at the hands of division champ Jose Aldo where he took the champ the distance. Sandwiched around that loss at UFC 200 were wins over top contenders Chad Mendes, Urijah Faber, Jeremy Stephens, Cub Swanson, Charles Oliveira, as well as the aforementioned Penn.

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Edgar has already lost to Aldo twice, so his best shot at another title fight would be if Holloway were to win that fight at UFC 212, but should Rodriguez emerge victorious here, he could immediately step into the next featherweight title bout.

Edgar #3; -122 betting favorite: Juon, Fontaine, Nason, Pollock, Meltzer
Rodriguez #26; +110 betting underdog: FRB, Sawyer, Frederick, Bixenspan, Sempervive
Eddie Alvarez (28-5) vs. Dustin Poirier (21-5)
LIGHTWEIGHTS

Alvarez scored one of the most surprising title wins in recent UFC history when he stopped former champ Rafael dos Anjos last July. His reign was short-lived, however, as McGregor blitzed him to capture the belt.

Another past McGregor victim stands in the way this time out as Poirier shoots for his sixth win in his last seven fights. Many have this one pegged as the leading contender for Fight of the Night as Poirier in particular has a penchant for picking up performance awards.

With the division somewhat on ice with champion McGregor focused on a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather, both guys badly need a win here to maintain relevance in a tough weight class.

Alvarez #2; +113 betting underdog: Juon, FRB, Sawyer, Frederick, Nason, Sempervive
Poirier #17; -110 betting favorite: Fontaine, Pollock, Bixenspan, Meltzer

**********
The rest of the card —

Dave Branch (20-3) vs. Krzysztof Jotko (19-1)
MIDDLEWEIGHTS

Branch #16; +135 betting underdog
Jotko #13; -147 betting favorite

Chas Skelly (17-2) vs. Jason Knight (17-2)
FEATHERWEIGHTS

Skelly #17; -123 betting favorite
Knight #36; +113 betting underdog

James Vick (12-1) vs. Marco Polo Reyes (7-3)
LIGHTWEIGHTS

Vick #36; -335 betting favorite
Reyes #178; +353 betting underdog

Jessica Aguilar (19-6) vs. Cortney Casey (6-4
STRAWWEIGHTS

Aguilar NR; +103 betting underdog
Casey #19; -116 betting favorite

Rashad Coulter (8-1) vs. Chase Sherman (9-3)
HEAVYWEIGHTS

Coulter #205; +130 betting underdog
Sherman NR; -126 betting favorite

Enrique Barzola (12-3-1) vs. Gabriel Benitez (19-5)
FEATHERWEIGHTS

Barzola #192; +137 betting underdog
Benitez #66; -140 betting favorite

Gadzhimurad Antigulov (19-4) vs. Joachim Christensen (14-4)
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHTS

Antigulov #25; -345 betting favorite
Christensen #57; +363 betting underdog

Action begins with the Fight Pass prelims at 6:30 p.m. ET and moves over to FX at 8 p.m. ET. The main card airs on PPV at 10 p.m. ET, covered by our Ryan Frederick, who will be live at cageside.

For more UFC 211 coverage —

JNPO: UFC 211 preview with MMA Payout’s Jason Cruz
UFC 211 discussion on the Board, including Ryan Frederick’s extensive preview of the card, along with fighter notes

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