Dana White and company are putting on a pay-per-view-worthy card tonight for free via Fox Sports One. Headlined by a long-awaited bantamweight title fight between T.J. Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz, UFC Fight Night 81's main card is staffed with some of the promotions best knockout kings. Ross Pearson opens with a battle against Francisco Trinaldo, and heavyweights Travis Browne and Matt Mitrione collide. Anthony Pettis returns for his first fight in almost a year against a title-hungry Eddie Alvarez, and the event is capped by possibly the biggest bantamweight division match that can currently be made. The timing of this free event is not coincidental. The UFC is undoubtedly hoping to capture some of the viewers turning over after tonight's NFL playoff matchups. Here's a look at the event and its main card match-ups.
Ross Pearson vs. Francisco Trinaldo
Knockout artist Ross Pearson (18-9) will be looking to create his latest masterpiece against Brazilian Francisco Trinaldo (18-4), a tough veteran of twelve UFC fights, nine in which he has walked away victorious. Trinaldo lost his first fight in the United States against Michael Chiesa, but he’s currently riding a four fight winning streak, one that the fluctuating Pearson hopes to end. Pearson, winner of the Ultimate Fighter Season 9, has had a significantly more difficult path on his journey up the rankings. Of his seventeen UFC fights, he’s won ten, only amassing consecutive victories twice during his run.
Many consider Trinaldo’s greatest accomplishment so far is defeating Chad Laprise in August of last year, though Laprise himself is still a largely unproven prospect. His losses are against Michael Chiesa, Piotr Hallman, Gleison Tibau, and Iuri Alcantara. That’s not a bad assortment of middle tier lightweights, but Pearson has faced and beaten some of the best in his division. Pearson has six losses and a no contest, but some come from killers like Edson Barboza, Cub Swanson, Al Iaquinta, and there was a squeaker of a split decision loss against Diego Sanchez that could easily have gone either way.
Trinaldo has an effective arsenal to use against his brawling-based opponent. The takedown threat should always be there, but Pearson has serious one punch knockout power and some scary speed behind it. If he gets the fight in the pocket where the two can stand and deliver strikes, Trinaldo will be in his world.
Prediction: Ross Pearson wins by second round TKO
Travis Browne vs. Matt Mitrione
This is the kind of match that good ol’ JR would call a slobberknocker. Travis Browne (17-3-1) walked away from all three of his 2013 fights with a knockout of the night award. He took a tough loss and a savage beating against Fabricio Werdum, a fight that he claims cost him a broken hand, ribs, and a dislocated foot. He spent much of 2015 dealing with issues regarding alleged abuse against former girlfriend Jenna Renee Webb. His only fight ended in a knockout loss against the surging Andrei Arlovski.
“Meathead” Matt Mitrione (9-4) is similar in that he gives no fucks and knocks people out. Only one of his winning fights has headed to the judges, the other eight ended disastrously for someone’s frame of consciousness. Browne has been rocked hard in several of his fights, but he mixes up his striking much better than his opponent. Browne creatively mixes up his striking, and though he doesn’t do anything particularly special with his footwork, he’s still more mobile than Mitrione who tends to move all forward all of the time. This will probably be key in this fight, though in a heavyweight fight like this it just comes down to who lands the hardest punch first. Mitrione seems to be able to handle a bit more damage, though that’s expected when your friends call you Meathead.
Prediction: Travis Browne wins by first round TKO
Anthony Pettis vs. Eddie Alvarez
It’s hard to discuss Anthony Pettis (18-3) without mentioning how he may go down as one of MMA’s greatest disappointments. After easily dispatching Benson Henderson to win the lightweight championship, the former champ spent over a year on the shelf injured and only successfully defended once against Gilbert Melendez. He faced current champ Rafael dos Anjos in March of last year and quietly disappeared back to the injured list. He finally returns to face former Bellator champ Eddie Alvarez (26-4) in a lightweight battle that will show which of these competitors is still near the fringe of title contention in mma’s most frenetic division.
Does Pettis still have it? Can Eddie get over the hump? These are the two main questions poised in this fight. Alvarez is currently 1-1 in the UFC. His loss is against former title challenger Donald Cerrone in a fight that saw him steadily outworked at a distance. His win is over Gilbert Melendez, a hard fought split decision victory. Alvarez dropped the first round of that fight and took serious damage in the process, but he rallied to win the second and third, at least on the cards of two of the judges. There’s no doubt that Alvarez has the heart and the determination to go all three rounds, and Pettis is certainly capable of doing the same when he’s in his top condition.
Pettis is the favorite in this fight, and if you’ve ever seen the Showtime kick you should understand why. He hits from angles on angles, possesses absurd strength for that weight class, and can get the fight to the canvas when it’s needed as well. Alvarez isn’t particularly awesome at anything, though he probably has a slight advantage with the hands.
Prediction: Anthony Pettis wins by unanimous decision.
T.J Dillashaw vs. Dominick Cruz
Nobody breaks down Dominick Cruz vs. T.J. Dillashaw better than Dominick Cruz breaking down T.J Dillashaw during his breakdown of Dominick Cruz vs. T.J. Dillashaw. Cruz basically gives a verbal power point presentation on how he’s going to defeat Dillashaw while Dillashaw feverishly destroys the poor helpless piece of gum trapped in his maw. Savage.
Predicition: Dominick Cruz wins by unanimous decision