Featherweight champion Max Holloway makes his second title defense against undefeated challenger Brian Ortega in the main event, and Valentina Shevchenko and Joanna Jedrzejczyk clash for the vacant women's featherweight title.
As the UFC prepares to say goodbye to 2018 and welcome in 2019, let's take a look at the main card for the promotion's return to Scotiabank Arena.
Max Holloway (C) vs. Brian Ortega
It is what it is.
After their original title fight at UFC 226 was cancelled due to Max Holloway suffering from concussion-like symptoms, the Featherweight Champion and Brian Ortega will finally get a piece of each other at UFC 231.
This bout has the potential to shift the direction of the featherweight division for the distant future. With Holloway at 26-years old and Ortega at 27, the future of the weight class lies in the hands of the victor.
As most "style battles" go, this fight depends on whether it stays standing or goes to the ground. Holloway is an elite striker that uses his reach advantage to perfectly distance himself from his opponents standing. In his last two fights against Jose Aldo, Holloway used his size advantage to take center position in The Octagon® and set the pace via his distance.
Ortega, however, is one of the most lethal finishers on the ground that we've seen in recent memory. While not always focused on winning rounds in a majority of his fights, Ortega is able to bait his opponents onto the mat and tap them out with his Gracie-level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
The question is whether the undefeated Ortega can get Holloway onto his back. We know that this is likely his only route to victory. Sure, he could pull off a rare knockout like he did against Frankie Edgar in his last bout, but it's hard to envision him closing the striking gap with Holloway as easily.
Here's what we know: If this fight stays standing, Holloway will win rounds and likely stave off the first time challenger. If Ortega can get top position on the champ, he will shoot for submission after submission to end his opponent. Given Holloway more veteran-status, I like his ability to command the fight just a little bit more.
OFFICIAL PREDICTION: Holloway via Decision
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
This is a true meeting in the middle of two of the best women to fight in their respective divisions.
Valentina 'The Bullet' Shevchenko made her return to the women's flyweight division in February after making her name in the UFC's women's bantamweight division.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk, the most dominant champion in women's strawweight division history, is moving up to the 125-pound division after consecutive loses to newly-crowned strawweight champion 'Thug' Rose Namajunas.
Both women will be fighting for the vacant flyweight championship — the title was stripped from inaugural champion Nicco Montano after she dropped out of a scheduled championship fight with Shevchenko at UFC 228.
While this fight is a battle between two of the best women's strikers ever to step into The Octagon, it's also a renewal of a rivalry from over a decade ago. Both Joanna and Shevchenko fought in Muay Thai competitions in the late-2000s and wound up in each other's paths. They faced off twice, in 2007 and 2008, with Shevchenko getting the better of her Polish adversary both times.
Whether those competitions from over a decade ago will have any barring on this fight is to be determined. Both women's games have evolved dramatically and they've each earned their spot near the top of their former divisions.
But when it comes down to it, both women will want to stand and trade blows, and while Joanna may be a tad quicker to the punch, the power that Shevchenko possesses from moving down a division might be too much to handle. If anything, expect fireworks to fly in this contest.
OFFICIAL PREDICTION: Shevchenko via TKO
Jimi Manuwa vs. Thiago Santos
Two men heading in opposite directions will meet in this light heavyweight collision.
Thirty-eight year old Jimi Manuwa is looking to avoid a three-fight losing streak after back-to-back losses to Volkan Oezdemir and Jan Blachowicz. Given his age, and the fact that he's lost four out of his last seven bouts dating back to 2015, the British striker could be facing a quasi-career disaster if this fight doesn't go his way.
On the other hand, Brazilian mammoth Thiago Santos is riding a two-fight winning streak that has eased his transition from middleweight to light heavyweight. In his last fight (and debut at LHW), Santos savagely finished Eryk Anders in front of a rowdy home crowd of Brazilians.
It's tough to speculate, but fatigue due to lack of time off could be an issue for Santos. This fight will be his third since August, and fifth overall in 2018. Most fighters are game for a high level of output, but often that overexertion comes back to haunt them at some point.
As a contest, Santos's strength and four-year age difference should play a significant factor. Manuwa isn't being given a warm up fight to get back on the horse, but rather a natural born killer who is trying to re-craft his career in a fresh and new division.
Given everything surrounding the fight, this could be too tall a task for Manuwa.
OFFICIAL PREDICTION: SANTOS via KO
Alex Oliveira vs. Gunnar Nelson
Gunnar Nelson has far surpassed the assumed legacy of just being one of Conor McGregor's guys. With name value that came from being a training partner of McGregor at SBG Ireland, Nelson has shown over the past couple of years that his career can completely stand on its own.
The anticipation of this bout lies in Nelson's return to The Octagon. He hasn't fought in the UFC since July 2017 when he suffered a knockout defeat by the hands of Santiago Ponzinibbio. Nelson tried to appeal the loss, stating that Ponzinibbio won due to an inadvertent eye poke that blurred his vision. He lost the appeal.
After cancelling a fight with Neil Magny at UFC Liverpool in April due to a knee injury, Nelson aims to be back at 100-percent for this fight.
Alex Oliveira presents himself as an interesting challenge for Nelson. With a strong stand up style and capable ground game, Oliveria could be a bad matchup for Icelantic fighter. Nelson finds his home on the ground, and normally wouldn't have a problem with a strike-heavy opponent, but Oliviera's BJJ is sufficient — he even submitted Carlos Condit in their bout back in April.
OFFICIAL PREDICTION: Oliviera via Decision
Hakeem Dawodu vs. Kyle Bochniak
This featherweight bout features two fighters trying to break into the Top 15 of their division.
The 27-year old Dawodu is coming off of a unanimous decision victory over Austin Arnett after losing his UFC debut to Danny Henry by submission. The Canadian fighter will be fighting on his home turf for the second straight fight, so expect that to play a factor.
Kyle Bochniak is looking to bounce back after being decimated over three rounds by Zabit Magomedsharipov at UFC 223. Bochniak has lost three of his five fights in the UFC, so a loss in this bout could send his career within the promotion on a downward trajectory.
OFFICIAL PREDICTION: Dawodu via Decision