MMA Fight Weekend: Bouts to watch, odds, picks for UFC Fight Island 4

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·6-min read

Aldana focused on Holm

Irene Aldana was born and raised in Culiacan, Mexico, an agricultural city of nearly 800,000 near the country’s western border. She grew up to become a professional fighter, but wasn’t inspired as so many others from her country were by Culiacan’s most famous resident.

It also happens to be the birthplace of boxing legend Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., arguably the greatest sports star in the country’s history. Aldana, though, managed to grow up blissfully unaware of Chavez’s presence.

“I never did contact sports when I was growing up like MMA and boxing,” she told Yahoo Sports in a telephone interview. “I didn’t know who he was when I first started. A lot of people ask me about him, but I didn’t know.”

She laughs out loud, because now that she is a pro fighter and moving inexorably toward a shot at the UFC women’s bantamweight title, she’s learned all about Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., and his exploits.

He’s certainly one of the 50 greatest boxers in history, and perhaps one of the 20 best. You can’t be from Mexico and have any interest in the fight game without knowing about Chavez’s exploits.

“Oh, I know now who he is,” she said with a laugh. “I hear about him so much and people want to ask me about him.”

If Aldana can be half as successful in her MMA career as Chavez was in his boxing career, she’s going to become a legend at home.

On Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), she faces the biggest test of her career when she fights former women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm in Abu Dhabi. Aldana is ranked sixth in the division, four spots behind Holm, and a win would shoot her up the ratings.

That would position her for a championship bout at some point against Amanda Nunes, who has dominated her sport the way Chavez dominated his years ago.

Sep 21, 2019; Mexico City, MEX; Irene Aldana (red gloves) defeats Vanessa Melo (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Mexico City Arena. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Irene Aldana faces the toughest test of her career Saturday at UFC on ESPN 16. (Orlando Ramirez-USA Today Sports)

Aldana is eager to test herself against Nunes, but she’s already learned to tend to the business at hand.

“Of course I want to fight with her,” Aldana said of Nunes. “She is doing so much in this sport and she is the one [we are all judged against]. When you fight, you want to be the champion and that’s my goal. But I have a tough job in front of me. I know Holly Holm is going to be ready and this is a difficult, and important bout for me.

“I’m not even thinking of Amanda now. Everything I am doing is focused on Holly.”

The fight was supposed to happen in Las Vegas — the site of the biggest win of her career, a first-round KO at UFC 245 of Ketlen Vieira — but Aldana contracted COVID-19, forcing it to be postponed.

The virus presented her with a significant challenge.

“I was pretty sick and it was very difficult,” she said. “It was a bad time. I had all of the symptoms. My temperature [was very high]. It was hard to breathe and I had a bad headache. It was a long time that I didn’t feel good and I was pretty sick. I just didn’t feel so good but thankfully, I was able to recover and I had time to train so I’m ready for this fight.”

She said the win over Vieira prepared her both mentally and physically for Saturday’s match with Holm.

“Until you go out there and [defeat] one of the best, you think you can, but you are never sure,” she said. “That fight gave me confidence because Ketlen is one of the best in the world and I showed my abilities. I know Holly is very difficult, but I also have the belief in myself that I can win this.”

Holm (-120) is a slight favorite over Aldana (EVEN), per BetMGM.

De Castro needs to be able to adjust

Yorgan De Castro (-250) will fight Carlos Felipe (+250) in the co-main event Saturday in what should be a slugfest. Both are coming off of losses, but De Castro’s defeat to Greg Hardy was especially difficult for him.

De Castro began strong in the fight, but Hardy, aided by the commentary in the silent arena from former UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, made adjustments and went back to win the fight.

De Castro said he didn’t have anything to go to after Hardy adjusted.

“I took a lot from that fight,” he said of the loss to Hardy. “I know now that every fight, I have to come with more than one game plan. I have to come with game plan A, B, C, so I’m able to adapt and put more things together. This is the big leagues and you have to be able to perform like a big leaguer.”

Condit has high hopes for McGee bout

Former UFC interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit (+110) will fight Court McGee (-130) on Saturday’s main card. He raved about McGee’s game and approach and said he thinks the fight has a chance to be special.

“We’re a couple of dudes who both are passionate about fighting,” Condit said. “Style-wise and the way we approach the game, I think this is going to be an interesting fight. I think it’s going to be something to watch.”

Condit has long been one of the sport’s elite fighters, but he hasn’t fought since Dec. 29, 2018, when he was submitted by Michael Chiesa at The Forum in Inglewood, California at UFC 232.

That loss was the fifth in a row for Condit, which is mind-boggling for someone of his talent. He hasn’t won since stopping Thiago Alves on May 20, 215. He’s also lost eight of his last 10.

He knows a win is critical.

“I don’t know [that I need to win] as far as continuing on in my career, but the UFC is probably going to get sick of me not showing up,” he said. “I should probably win. I’ve put in the work. I did the preparation. I am going to go out there and show up and I’m confident I’ll come away with a win.”

De Randamie’s other job delayed her

Former UFC women’s featherweight champion Germaine de Randamie hasn’t fought since losing a bantamweight title fight to Nunes at UFC 245 on Dec. 14 in Las Vegas. On Saturday, she’ll meet Julianna Peña in an important fight in the division.

De Randamie wanted to come back soon after the Nunes fight, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed that. Her issues, though, are different than most.

“When the pandemic started, as many of you know, I’m a police officer [in the Netherlands] and safety comes first,” de Randamie said. “There was a lot of work to do … When this opportunity came up, we had to see if it were safe for us to travel here and also safe enough for the people at home.”

Per BetMGM, de Randamie is currently a -140 favorite over Peña (+120).

Kevin’s picks

  • Holly Holm at -120 to win over Irene Aldana.

  • Holm-Aldana fight to go the distance.

  • Julianna Peña at +120 to win over Germaine de Randamie.

  • Best bet: Carlos Condit at +110 to win over Court McGee.

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