Alexander Yakovlev vs. Joel Alvarez
Weight Class: Lightweight (155 lbs)
Joel Alvarez and Alexander Yakovlev are set to open UFC 254 on ESPN+.
The fight will mark Yakovlev’s first Octagon appearance in a little over a year. The Russian last lost via unanimous decision to Roosevelt Roberts last November. Prior to that, he submitted a highly regarded prospect in Alex da Silva in April of 2019. For Yakovlev, the da Silva bout was his first in close to two years. He lost to Zak Cummings and Kamaru Usman back in 2016 before the layoff.
As for Joel Alvarez, the Spaniard is coming off of a huge submission victory over Joe Duffy. Alvarez cashed as close to a 3-to-1 favorite over Duffy in the latter’s UFC return. After Alvarez dealt damage, particularly with heavy low leg kicks, Duffy walked into a guillotine. Alvarez has a very tight guillotine and didn’t have to do much to set that one up.
Duffy would later retire following the bout.
The Duffy fight was very similar to the previous fight for Alvarez, when he submitted Danillo Belluardo. In that fight, Alvarez was even sharper on the feet and again got Belluardo to shoot into a guillotine. He was constantly hunting for submissions off his back in the first round, nearly securing an arm-bar before Belluardo was saved by the bell.
The win improved Joel Alvarez to 2-1 in the UFC following a debut loss to Damir Ismagulov.
In terms of reach and size, both fighters are quite long for the division. Each man is 6’3 while Joel Alvarez possesses a three-inch reach advantage.
Stylistically, I see more paths to victory for Alvarez here. As much as Joel Alvarez is becoming known for his submission game, it is overlooked how effective his striking has been. He always punctuates his combinations and picks his shots well. Sometimes volume can be a bit of an issue, but he’s so effective when he does throw. I expect the combinations to land very well against Yakovlev, who does not fight well while moving backwards. Expect more than one Alvarez combo to send him back-pedaling.
Alvarez does have quite a high guard, but Yakovlev has not done much in the way of volume in recent years.
From a wrestling standpoint, Yakovlev has crafty take downs. However, Alvarez is very comfortable off his back and doesn’t generate much in terms of offensive take downs. He seems to prefer baiting his opponent into an ill advised take down that he will capitalize on. It’s tough to see the ground game being an asset for Yakovlev should he go that route.
For these reasons, I like Joel Alvarez in this one. His game is just more well rounded and I could see a similar result as his previous two outings. If he can get going on the feet, Yakovlev might panic wrestle and fall victim to another Alvarez guillotine.
For some reason, however, I feel as though Alvarez will win by points. Yakovlev will likely be cautious with take downs and ultimately, I think this is a fight where we’ll really get to measure the striking game of Joel Alvarez.
At (-162), Joel Alvarez moneyline has solid value. I do lean Alvarez by points but it’s really 50/50 between a submission or points. For this reason, I prefer to simplify things.
Prediction and play: Joel Alvarez moneyline (-162)
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Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje
Robert Whittaker vs. Jared Cannonier