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UFC Sao Paulo: Bader vs. Nogueira 2 Breakdown

Dan Tom

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Ryan Bader (12-5)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’2″ Age: 33 Weight: 205 lbs Reach: 74″
  • Last Fight: KO win / Ilir Latifi (9-3-16)
  • Camp: Power MMA (Arizona)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Good

Supplemental info:
+   2x Div. 1 All-American Wrestler
+   3x Pac-10 Champion
+   8 KO victories
+   3 Submission wins
+   8 first round finishes
+   KO power
+   Improved striking & footwork
+   Accurate jab
+   Good cardio & conditioning
+   Explosive power double takedown
+   Strong pressure against fence
^   Effective clinch & body lock
+   Solid positional awareness & rides
^   Active ground striker
+/-2-3 against UFC southpaws

 

Antonio Nogueira (22-7)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’2″ Age: 40 Weight: 205 lbs Reach: 75″
  • Last Fight: TKO win / Pat Cummins (5-14-16)
  • Camp: Team Nogueira (Brazil)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Boxing
  • Risk Management: Good

Supplemental info:
+   BJJ Black Belt
+   Pan-American Boxing Medalist
+   7 KO victories
+   6 Submission wins
+   8 first round finishes
+   KO power
+   Solid boxing technique
^   Accurate left hand–right hook
+   Hard knees to the body
+   Underrated wrestling ability
+   Crafty Submission setups
^   Excellent grip/hand-fighting
+   Favors deep half-guard
^   Creates sweeps and scrambles
?   Questionable physical state

Summary:

The main event in Sao Paulo is a rematch between Ryan Bader and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira as they do battle one more time. Coming off an impressive win over Ilir Latifi in Germany, Ryan Bader will once again hit the road as he makes his way back up the ranks. Also fresh off a fantastic performance is Rogerio Nogueira, as he will be looking to avenge a loss to the American in front of his home country of Brazil.

From Nogueira’s point of reference, he has seen this matchup many times before. In fact, the bulk of his UFC career(’10-’14) was spent facing the who’s who of wrestlers in the light-heavyweight division (Ryan Bader, Phil Davis, Tito Ortiz, and Rashad Evans). Despite showing improvements to his surrounding game and making for competitive affairs, Nogueira’s style ultimately scored poorly within the western scenes of MMA as the Brazilian spent most of his Octagon time defending shots & losing rounds.

Six years later, the same factors will likely still apply as wrestling usually has a purpose within the gameplan of Ryan Bader. Whether he uses it to stay standing when the striking is going well–or uses it offensively to change the terms of a fight, Bader will possess the more effective plan B between the two competitors. However, Bader has a tendency to shoot naked(without strikes for disguise), which can put him in precarious positions when his opponent is able to sprawl out and transition(as seen in his bouts with Johnson & Latifi). Although Nogueira is not known for explosive transitions and positional riding, the Brazilian is an underrated wrestler who could once again pose problems for Bader’s shots.

Favoring a power double-leg takedown, Bader can be effective coming forward offensively or using it in a reactive capacity to counter the offense of his opposition. However, we saw Nogueira stuff his shots repeatedly as the Brazilian defends this style of takedown particularly well. Like many southpaws, Nogueira has traditionally shown to defend standard shot entries easier with the given space differentials, whereas single-leg attempts can be harder to stop as the lead leg is forward and vulnerable. We saw Phil Davis discover this in his fight with Rogerio, as the Penn state alum was able to adjust and outwork Nogueira later on in the match.

Rashad Evans and Shogun Rua also had moments of success in taking down Nogueira when switching-off or chaining from a single-leg. With the given information out there, it will be interesting to see Bader’s approach in that department. That said, Ryan’s power double-legs may have success should Nogueira show a further decline in his hip mobility. Regardless of the route, no picnics will take place on the ground as Rogerio should still be competitive given the technical basis for his style. Utilizing superb grip fighting to stifle and set up opponents from guard, the Brazilian also has a renown half-guard that he favors operating from.

Referred to as “Deep Half“, Nogueira will brilliantly dive a deep under-hook followed by his head underneath his opposition. Not only does this make Rogerio hard to hit, but it also obstructs his opponents base and opens up multiple avenues to sweep. This will without a doubt be his most tangible path back to his feet against Bader, who will likely have his own answers to this. Although Ryan had a poor showing against Anthony Johnson on the floor, I do not believe that should be a condemnation of his skills as I feel that performance was a panic-driven downward spiral(and a technically brilliant performance by Johnson).

That said, I feel Bader shows the positional awareness to stay out of danger, but will likely lack the pathways for major advancements if he cannot combat the grip-fighting of Nogueira. Ultimately, I believe Bader will be looking to strike or get back to his feet in this fight. Although Rogerio should still have the striking edge on paper, the Brazilian will be facing a much different fighter than he did six years ago. Working heavily on his stand up with his new striking coach Chaz Turner, we’ve seen clear fight-to-fight improvements in Bader’s techniques. With a huge focus on opening up Ryan’s hips and stance, he’s shown to more fluidly hit and move as he strings his strikes together.

Quietly developing an active and accurate jab, Bader has been able to bludgeon the right eyes of both Phil Davis and Rashad Evans in more recent history. In Ryan’s first fight with Nogueira, we saw very little jabs as Bader lacked the outside-foot-awareness to open up striking lanes, much less find his range. Subsequently, Nogueira was able to abuse the young Bader anytime they would exchange in boxing range. Now moving much better, Bader’s in-and-out approach will serve him well in this fight. However, if he cannot use his improved jab to establish the range on his southpaw foe, his arsenal may not have the effect he desires.

That said, Bader wields some underrated kicks from his right side, as I see his kicks to the head and body being a key factor in this fight. As we saw in Nogueira’s fight with Phil Davis, you can still win rounds against the boxing Brazilian by leaning heavily on kicks and footwork. From that fight with Davis to his most recent bout with Shogun, we have seen Nogueira be traditionally susceptible to body kicks. Considering that the right body kick is Bader’s most effective kicking technique, I suspect we may see a healthy serving in this fight. And although Nogueira does a good job at blocking head kicks, he tends to naturally lean heavy to that side as a southpaw, which could accentuate the impact of oncoming attacks.

However, Bader will not be without worries of his own as he some tendencies worth watching for. Despite his improvements offensively, the All-American still shows the defensive issues that have traditionally troubled him. Although he does not carry his hands as low as before, Bader will still typically retract his hands low when coming forward with strikes. We saw this perfectly demonstrated in his fight with Lyoto Machida, as I suspect the counter left will be Nogueira’s best bet to close the show here. As a fan of both Nogueira brothers, I would love to see Rogerio score the upset in Sao Paulo. That said, I ultimately see the scale being too tilted at this point of these two fighter’s careers.

Official Pick: Bader – Inside the distance

 

Thales Leites (26-6)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’1″ Age: 35 Weight: 185 lbs Reach: 78″
  • Last Fight: Submission win / Chris Camozzi (8-6-16)
  • Camp: Nova Uniao (Brazil)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   Black Belt BJJ
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   4 KO victories
+   15 Submission wins
+   10 first round finishes
+   Improved striking
^   Heavy cross-hook combos
+   Hard leg kicks
+   Strong body lock/outside-trips
^   Favors attempts off the fence
+   Excellent back taker
+   Smooth transitional grappler
^   Dangerous arm-triangles in transit
+/-1-1 against UFC southpaws

 

Krzysztof Jotko (18-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’1″ Age: 27 Weight: 185 lbs Reach: 77″
  • Last Fight: KO win / Tamdan McRory (6-18-16)
  • Camp: Planet Eater (Poland)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   Brown Belt BJJ
+   2x Amateur Polish Champion
+   6 KO victories
+   1 Submission win
+   4 first round finishes
+   Good lateral footwork
^   Unorthodox mover
+   Heavy left hand–right hook
^   Offensively & off of the counter
+   Hard Thai kicks
+   Deceptively strong inside the clinch
^   Competent takedown defense
+   Scrambles well on the floor
+/-Often fights along the fence

Summary:

In a middleweight matchup on the main card, Thales Leites takes on Krzysztof Jotko. A former challenger for the title, Thales Leites will attempt one more run to the top after bouncing back with a win in his last fight. Looking to spoil the party is Krzysztof Jotko, an unassuming talent who has been quietly climbing the ranks.

Starting off on the feet, I give a slight edge to the Polish striker as I see Jotko’s unorthodox movement giving him an intangible advantage. Utilizing odd tempos and deceptive lateral footwork, Jotko will mostly look to counter with crosses and hooks as he sprinkles in sporadic forward attacks. Perhaps it is the Pole’s breakdancing background that is responsible for his odd movement and abrupt timing changes, nonetheless, Jotko is honing in on his style and finding his range more effectively from fight-to-fight.

Although Krzysztof has shown to add in some hard Thai kicks to his arsenal, I doubt he will lean too heavily on them here with the threat of Leites looking to take him down. The problem with Jotko’s game is that he tends to circle along the outside of the cage. In doing so, the Pole has often found himself in ugly clinch battles along the fence. Considering that he is facing a fighter who is most effective within that space, this could be a potentially bad night for Jotko.

Despite not having a huge sample-size of southpaw opposition to draw from, Leites wields an arsenal that translates well to this type of stance. Showing good outside-foot-awareness, the Brazilian will throw his patent cross-hook combinations as he enters space. Although he will often punctuate his combos with leg kicks, Leites is ultimately looking to take his opponents down as I suspect he will attempt to do here.

Given that the Pole does tend to play along the fence, Thales will have ample opportunities to corral Jotko into clinching situations. Although Krzysztof’s potential improvements and athleticism cannot be overlooked, it is hard not to see the persistence of the savvy veteran paying off in these scenarios. In the past, Jotko’s scrambly nature has saved him from precarious positions, but against a world-class grappler, it may only further sink him into the quicksand.

Unless Jotko can catch Leites coming in with a counter, then the Brazilian will likely be able to force his terms of the fight. And although Leites has the striking to close the show, I feel his advantages on the floor should be the clearer path. Despite officially siding with the Brazilian to find a submission, bet cautiously on this one as it has all the makings of a trap fight.

Official Pick: Leites – Inside the distance

 

Pedro Munhoz (12-2)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’6″ Age: 30 Weight: 135 lbs Reach: 65″
  • Last Fight: Submission win / Russell Doane (7-7-16)
  • Camp: Blackhouse/Kings MMA (California)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   Black Belt BJJ
+   RFA Bantamweight Title
+   2x No-Gi Champion (Brazil)
+   3 KO victories
+   6 Submission wins
+   5 first round finishes
+   Improved Muay Thai
^   Accurate elbows & knees
+   Hard leg & head kicks
+/-Favors shell-defense
+   Competent takedown ability
^   Favors double-legs from fence
+   Good base & balance on top
+   Dangerous Guillotine (5 finishes)
+   Good inside the scramble
^   Transitions well w/leg-locks

 

Justin Scoggins (11-2)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’7″ Age: 24 Weight: 135 lbs Reach: 66″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Ray Borg (2-6-16)
  • Camp: Revolution Martial Arts (South Carolina)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Switch-stance / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   Black Belt Kenpo Karate
+   IKF Wold Kickboxing Champion
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   6 KO victories
+   1 Submission win
+   5 first round finishes
+   Excellent footwork & movement
^   Manages distance well
+   Accurate shot selection
^   Counters well w/left-hand
+   Solid kicking variety
^   Favors lead-leg side & hook kicks
+   Superb defensive/positional awareness
^   Inside the pocket & in scrambles
+   Smoothly floats & transitions
^   31 passes in 6 fights

Summary:

Headlining the action on UFC Fight Pass is a fantastic bantamweight matchup between Pedro Munhoz and Justin Scoggins. Coming off an impressive submission win, Pedro Munoz will look to give his home of Sao Paulo something to cheer for with another big performance here. Seeking to spoil the homecoming is Justin Scoggins, who will be moving up in weight and into enemy territory.

Originally slated to face Ian McCall at UFC 201 in July, Scoggins was forced to withdraw due to medical issues stemming from a bad weight cut. Huge for the flyweight division, the young and growing Scoggins decided that it was time to move up to bantamweight as he felt that it would be a healthier fit. Standing in front of him is no easy litmus test as he draws Pedro Munhoz. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and accoladed no-gi grappler, Pedro has steadily developed his striking since moving to the United States.

Spending his time between Blackhouse and Kings MMA, we have seen a diverse Muay Thai arsenal emerge from Munhoz. A carryover from his grappling game, Pedro’s leg and hip dexterity translate nicely to his kicking as he has a natural snap to his assault. Pedro’s flexibility also translates into accurate knees, as we saw Munhoz execute beautiful roundhouse knees in his war with Jimmie Rivera.

Although Munhoz has admittedly lacked a strong boxing presence, his ability to manage distance with his kicks have kept him alive and well in most of his outings. However, the problem with playing the distance game with a Karate striker is not that they are better at it, but that they are operating on different terms as they subtly force traditional combat strikers from their games.

A Karate fighter cut from the same cloth as Stephen Thompson, Justin Scoggins bears the similar traits of stance switches and lateral shifts. When standing orthodox, we will see Scoggins employ more kickboxing based attacks. When standing southpaw, the South Carolinian favors lead-leg side & hook kick variations to keep his opponents honest. From Justin’s counter cross he keeps at-the-ready to his spatial awareness and reaction times, Munhoz may start to get overloaded if Scoggins finds his rhythm first.

Where I see Scoggins having some potential success is in his body kicks. Munhoz often reverts to a shell-defense, which traditionally opens up uppercuts and body shots. It is not that the shell is a bad defense, but it can become a false sense of security when relied upon up heavily while wearing small gloves. Should Pedro continue his defensive trend, he may open himself up to body kicks from Scoggins’ oncoming bombing runs. Where I see Munhoz having his best chances of winning is on the floor.

An on-paper edge in the grappling department, Munhoz could gain some real ground if he can get topside in this contest. However, Scoggins is not an easy striker to takedown as he has been wrestling since he was a small child. Utilizing his preternatural positional awareness, Scoggins can scramble with the best of them. Employing solid hand-fighting and head positioning, Scoggins displays the ability to shut down his opposition on a technical level.

Not afraid to engage in takedowns of his own, Justin will seamlessly change his levels and transition. Carrying over his taste for transitions topside, Scoggins floats from position-to-position with impunity as the 32-takedowns & 31-passes in 6-fights would suggest. That said, the eagerness of Justin has got him caught speeding before as he tends to give his head on entry. We saw Scoggins nearly get Guillotined by Will Campuzano and eventually tapped by John Moraga in this fashion.

Justin will need to be especially careful in this fight as Munhoz has one of the best Guillotine chokes in the division. Not only is this a submission that Pedro consistently looks for in transition, but he also shows the ability to variate and improvise with his attacks. In his last fight, we saw Munhoz jump on an arm-in Guillotine variation that is often referred to as a Boa choke. Regardless of the manner, chokes in transit will likely be the Brazilian’s most potent path to victory.

That said, Scoggins showed major improvements to his head positioning and grip awareness in his last fight with Ray Borg, another dangerous submission artist. Although it is hard to count out a Brazilian fighting at home, I feel that Scoggins’ striking and speed will be too much for Munhoz. And with Justin arguably being the better wrestler, I feel that he will ultimately be the one dictating the terms of this fight.

Official Pick: Scoggins – Decision

Main Card Predictions:

  • Bader def. Nogueira
  • Almeida def. Morales
  • Gadelha def. Casey
  • Leites def. Jotko
  • Usman def. Alves
  • Moraes def. Ottow

Preliminary Card Predictions:

  • Hermansson def. Ferreira
  • De Lima def. Antigulov
  • Eduardo def. Gamburyan
  • Henrique def. Colombo
  • Scoggins def. Munhoz
  • Barroso def. Stewart

For the complete analysis of future & past UFC events visit MixedMartialAnalyst.com and for future breakdowns & your latest in worldwide MMA news, stay tuned & follow @MMALatestnws MMALatestNews.com

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UFC 216 Breakdown: Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee

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As a fight fan, you can’t ask for a much better match up than Tony Ferguson vs Kevin Lee.

This match up is easily one of the most fascinating ones of the year, and with the interim lightweight title on the line, the stake doesn’t get much higher. But the bigger meaning of the fight lies in that fact that a clear number one contender will be determined to virtually guarantee a future opportunity at the current champion, Conor McGregor.

The talks of McGregor next facing rival Nate Diaz next have been circulating for the past few weeks, but once this fight between Ferguson and Lee concludes, and someone walks out of the arena on Saturday with that interim championship around their waist, they will be very hard to deny for McGregor.

Although this fight is a very exciting match up, on paper, it may deceive some people as a mismatch, since Lee’s resume of wins doesn’t include too many top contenders. His biggest win was against Michael Chiesa in June of this year, Chiesa was ranked 6th at the time. But let’s look deeper into it and see what makes this one a must-see fight.

Where Ferguson Flourishes

Ferguson and Lee may be stylistically two completely different fighters, but their ground games and grappling are both extremely high level, possibly the top 3 in the division, a list that can’t leave out Khabib Nurmagomedov. In the grappling department, it is hard to decide a winner here.

Even about five months ago, I would have leaned towards Ferguson, but watching Lee take control against a high level grappler like Chiesa the way he did was beyond belief to be honest. Ferguson will have his hands full if the fight hits the canvas, and likewise for Lee. However, if there is one thing that Lee needs to watch out against Ferguson, it is the unorthodox style he brings, even in the grappling.

“El Cucuy” is a bizarre fighter, but in a good way. Watch him fight against Edson Barboza and do a couple of imanari rolls. Watch him roll while on the bottom against dos Anjos. It is mind-blowing how good he is with such peculiarity and Lee can’t overlook that.

With that being said, advantages for ‘El Cucuy’ are quite clear: Stand-up, cardio and experience. Ferguson showed time and time again what a well-rounded fighter he is, and his record shows it too. Out of 17 finishes on his win column, 9 of them are by knockout and 8 are by submission. He really is a fighter who can do it all.

Tony Ferguson defeated Rafael dos Anjos via Unanimous Decision in November of 2016 at UFC Mexico City.

We also know that his cardio is exceptional, this was displayed in his fight against Rafael dos Anjos, where he went five hard rounds with the former champion in Mexico City, at an altitude of 7,382 feet. Just to give an idea of how high that is, Colorado’s altitude is 6,035 feet.

Ferguson knows what it is like to be in the deep waters. But when a fairly young fighter such as Lee reaches the later rounds, nobody knows how he will respond to the situation, so Ferguson has his advantages in the experience department laid out clearly.

Don’t Count Out Kevin Lee

‘The Motown Phenom’, on the other hand, is a completely different fighter with different strengths. He possesses advantages in the physical department, career mileage, and in the fact that he has less pressure going into the fight. The physical advantage is the most obvious one for Lee. He has spoken before on the fact that he cuts from about 180-pounds, where Ferguson has talked about him being capable of making 145-pounds.

Ferguson may be taller, but it is not difficult to see that Lee is bigger when they stand next to each other. Lee’s second advantage comes from the fact that he is not as battle-tested. In a way, it could be a disadvantage, but he has taken considerably less amount of damage throughout his career compared to Ferguson. The last advantage for Lee listed was explained more specifically on my article ‘Tony Ferguson can’t afford to lose at UFC 216’. Feel free to go and check it out.

Kevin Lee defeated Michael Chiesa by first round submission (rear-naked choke) at UFC Oklahoma City in June 2017.

Now that both guys’ assets are laid out for this fight, it’s time to make a prediction.

Time and time again leading up to this fight, I’ve heard people say that this fight is going to end in a submission, and most say it’s going to come from Ferguson. I would agree with that but here’s one thing. As previously mentioned, Lee’s grappling is top-notch and he is brilliant defensively. This was evidenced when he was on the bottom against Michael Chiesa, a position in which he was easily able to escape.

I don’t believe Lee is a fighter that can be easily submitted. But here’s what I agree with most on: I also see Ferguson winning, because of his experience, cardio, and definitely unpredictability. Kevin Lee, while he is a very talented fighter, I believe it is just a tad bit too early for him at this moment.

Prediction: Tony Ferguson def. Kevin Lee via TKO (punches) in the 5th round.

 

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UFC 216 Breakdown: Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg

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If Demetrious Johnson is able to defend his flyweight title this Saturday at UFC 216, it will be an attempt to break a major record, as he will then have defended his belt for the 11th consecutive time.

It is a remarkable record that he attempts to break, which is currently being held by Johnson and the former middleweight champion Anderson Silva, at 10.

When this fight was first announced for UFC 215, the reactions from the fans were not exactly what the UFC hoped it would be. There were two possible reasons for this, and maybe even both:

1) The talks of Johnson defending his title against T.J. Dillashaw was roaming around at the time, which got fans excited, only to disappoint them in the end when it wasn’t finalized.

2) Ray Borg is not necessarily a fighter that fans are dying to see yet, mainly because he is not the most marketable fighter and he is very young, which made us ask, “Is he ready for this opportunity?”

However, there is one thing we must keep in mind when looking at a fight between a dominant champion and a young rising contender: Expect the unexpected. We saw it last December when Dominick Cruz fought Cody Garbrandt at UFC 207. Who would have ever thought that Garbrandt would be able to outclass Cruz the way he did?

Cody Garbrandt provided yet another shock title change when he defeated Dominick Cruz at UFC 207 in December of 2016.

But don’t get it mistaken. ‘Can’ doesn’t mean ‘will’. And although Borg could shock the world in this fight, it is way more reasonable to lean towards Johnson. After all, if we are being honest, ‘Mighty Mouse’ is the closest thing to a perfect fighter. The only times he lost was to Brad Pickett, which was seven years ago, and to Dominick Cruz, who unlike ‘DJ’ is a natural bantamweight.

This is a tough fight for Borg. The only way for him to win is either catch Johnson with a big shot and finish him or keep up a ridiculous pace for 5 rounds straight and outmatch the champion with skills.

Borg is at a couple of disadvantages here, one being his cardio. “The Tazmexican Devil” has previously shown that he often has a tough time making the 125-pound weight limit, and if you add that to the fact that he never fought past three rounds, his cardio is in question. Whether he will be able to keep up with Johnson, who can put on a ridiculous pace for 25-minutes straight, remains to be seen.

Also, we never know what is going through a fighter’s head, so it will be interesting to see how Borg performs under pressure. He’s never had a title shot, and Johnson has been in the same spot 12-times in his career, so experience also goes to Johnson.

Ultimately, I’m leaning towards the champion in this fight. I do like Borg and what he brings to the table, however, too many questions are unanswered about Borg at this point to pick him over Demetrious Johnson.

Prediction: Demetrious Johnson def. Ray Borg via Unanimous Decision.

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UFC 215 Main Card Breakdown

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The UFC makes its return to Canada as current flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson looks to break the record for most successful, consecutive, title defenses, against Ray Borg. Also on the card is a women’s bantamweight title fight between champion Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko, Gilbert Melendez makes his featherweight debut against power puncher Jeremy Stephens, Ilir Latifi looks to bounce back against Tyson Pedro, and Rafael dos Anjos looks to continue his welterweight journey against Neil Magny. Let’s take a look and see how it each fight plays out.

Jeremy Stephens vs Gilbert Melendez

Gilbert Melendez is a fighter who has built his career on being a talented boxer and being incredibly strong both in the clinch and the ground. For years he has been a monster for most lightweights to deal with. However, since having joined the UFC from Strikeforce he has gone just 1-4. In his last couple of fights, he has found himself slowed down due to unchecked leg kicks and opponents who are quicker than him. In an attempt to resurrect his career ‘El Nino’ has dropped down to featherweight and will meet former lightweight, himself, Jeremy Stephens. Stephens has made a career out of hitting hard, knocking opponents out with either hands, legs, or even his knees. Stephens is a fighter who excels in the pocket and has the durability to stand toe to toe with almost any opponent. In his last five fights, he has gone 2-3 due to his opponents being quicker than him and keeping him on the end of their punches.

How the fight will go

Gilbert will come into the fight as the stronger fighter with the better grappling game and better control of the Octagon. His excellent boxing will match-up well with Stephens. However, Stephens will come in as the faster fighter, harder puncher, and will already be used to cutting down to 145. Melendez will need to gain control of the Octagon early and keep Stephens against the cage both in the clinch and on the ground, in order to tire out “Lil Heathen”. If he can use his boxing to keep Stephens at the end of his punches, control the Octogan, and stay out of the pocket, it’s his fight to lose. Stephens does his best work in the pocket and although he’s slow for a featherweight he will have the advantage speed wise in this match-up. If he can keep his back off of the cage, gain control of the Octagon, land his powerful leg kicks, and mix up his powerful strikes, then he will have a dog in this fight and can very well pull off the upset.

Prediction

Gilbert Melendez fights very similarly to the way he fought in the Pettis fight. He keeps Stephens’ back against the cage and forces him to the ground every chance he gets in order to tire him out. Stephens occasionally finds success using his speed and power in the pocket but eventually finds himself too tired to stop the stronger Melendez from imposing his game plan. Assuming Gilbert’s first cut 145 goes well, he beats Stephen’s via a close but clear decision to put his career back on track and start his journey at featherweight on the right foot.

Ilir Latifi vs Tyson Pedro

Ilir Latifi is coming off of one of the most brutal knockout losses of 2016. He ate a huge knee from Ryan Bader in the second round of their fight and has not returned to the Octogan since. The Swedish ball of muscle looks to bounce back against the undefeated Australian Tyson Pedro. Tyson Pedro is a fighter who has never experienced anything beyond a first round stoppage win, his fight against Latifi represents his biggest test yet. Latifi is a fighter with a game centered around his incredible strength and power. He is a fighter who brings a calm energy in the cage and an interesting physique. He is only 5’10, the same height as former featherweight Anthony Pettis, what he lacks in height he makes up for with muscle. His muscle alone makes him one of the strongest and most powerful fighters in the UFC. Pedro is one of the tallest fighters in his division, coming in at 6’3 he’s used to being the stronger, taller fighter and likes to smother his opponents both on the ground and in the clinch.

How the fight will go

A lot of Pedro’s advantages come from being the taller, stronger fighter. He likes to keep his opponents at range, eat them up with oblique kicks, clinch up, take them down and find the stoppage. Latifi’s strength means clinching and takedowns won’t be easy. He can over power most opponents and avoid trouble in those areas. Latifi does have a tendency to get stuck on the outside and eat leg kicks, his tendency to rush in can lead to counters, like in the Bader fight. Latifi is an excellent wrestler but has trouble taking his opponents down, often expanding a lot of energy in the process. Pedro has been hurt before by his lack of head movement and that can lead to him taking big shots, Latifi can always find a big shot early on and take the Australian out.

Prediction

This fight will all depend on how the first round goes. If Latifi can find his range early on he can land the knockout shot and finish the Australian. If he can’t, he will find himself on the outside where Pedro will pick him apart with body kicks and oblique kicks and hold him against the fence where the Swede will tire himself out. If Pedro stays patient he can tire out Latifi and score the finish. Pedro scores the upset and finishes an exhausted Latifi in the third round by TKO.

Neil Magny vs Rafael dos Anjos

Rafael dos Anjos looks to win his second fight at welterweight as he faces long time contender Neil Magny. Dos Anjos is coming off of a well-fought decision win against Tarec Saffiedine in a fight that helped him discover how he stacked up against a real welterweight and how his body would hold up. He brings into this fight excellent body and leg kicks that he uses to break down his opponents and slow down their movement. He has a game that is perfectly suited for his height as he uses a lot of pressure and forward movement to make sure he stays on the inside. His excellent ground game has carried over to 170 as he uses his top pressure to smother his opponents. Neil Magny last fought against Johny Hendricks in a fight where he used his long range better and showed a new technique with his kicks to create range. Magny’s game uses excellent cardio, as well as good footwork and movement. He’s starting to better understand how to use his long and tall body. He also uses his long legs to create triangle attempts from the bottom.

How the fight plays out

If Magny can use his height and reach correctly he can leave Dos Anjos stuck on the outside, as well as using his footwork to ensure he doesn’t take too many shots. His cardio will keep him fresh throughout the three rounds and he can use that to his advantage if dos Anjos tires out. Dos Anjos will look to use his leg kicks to stop Magny’s footwork as well as use his powerful body kicks to sap his cardio. Dos Anjos’ pressure based game could very well negate Magny’s reach advantage and his smothering top game would keep Magny from using his reach.

Prediction

Although Magny has the tools to beat dos Anjos, the Brazilian remains an elite fighter even at welterweight. Dos Anjos uses his leg and body kicks to slow down Magny as well as using his wrestling to tire the American out. Dos Anjos has fought tall opponents in the past and knows how to use his forward pressure to remove the reach advantage, as he did against Donald Cerrone and Nate Diaz. The former lightweight champion takes a decision win and moves to 2-0 at welterweight.

Amanda Nunes vs Valentina Shevchenko

Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko meet for the second time after fighting each other at UFC 196. The first fight ended in a close 29-28 decision win for the now champion Nunes. Nunes is a long and rangy kickboxer who likes to fight at range, where she uses her jab and cross keep her opponents back. She has been known to finish most of her fights early on, however, if she fails to do so she has a tendency to get tired, gas out, and get finished herself. Shevchenko, although undersized at 5’5, has been beating her opponents using her ever evolving ground game and her excellent Muay-Thai. Her patience and forcing her opponents to lead has brought her victories over top contenders like Holly Holm and Julianna Pena.

How the fight plays out

Amanda Nunes used her strength on the ground to beat Shevchenko in the first two rounds the last time they fought. Nunes didn’t have a whole lot of success on the feet as she was overpowered in the clinch and found herself having trouble with Shevchenko’s patience and lack of counter opportunities. Nunes’ ground game, while she was still fresh, was very dangerous last time out, nasty ground and pound as well as multiple submission attempts. However in the third round of their fight Nunes gassed and found herself too exhausted to overpower her opponent like she had done in the first rounds and found herself eating a lot of shots on the ground and in the clinch. If early on she can force Shevchenko to the ground and use her strength, she can find a submission or a ground and pound TKO. However, if she can’t, she’ll find herself getting tired in the later rounds and seeing her window for victory closing. This fight, being five rounds, heavily favors Shevchenko and her ever evolving game.

Prediction

Much like in their first fight Shevchenko will stay patient and lose the early rounds. Her lack of activity hurt her last time out as well as Nunes’ aggressive ground game. If Nunes can use her strength early on, she can take Shevchenko down and have her way with her as she looks for the early finish. If Shevchenko can weather the early storm, she can take advantage of her tired opponent and finish her late. Shevchenko will force Nunes to lead and although she’ll have to weather the early storm, her patience will eventually pay off as her opponent tires herself out. Valentina Shevchenko finishes an exhausted Amanda Nunes in the fourth round by TKO to become the new women’s bantamweight champion.

Demetrious Johnson vs Ray Borg

Current flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson takes on Ray Borg in an attempt to break the record for most successful consecutive title defenses. His 11th title defense comes against skilled wrestler Ray Borg and his ever evolving striking. Johnson brings to the Octagon one of the most well-rounded games in all of MMA. His excellent stand up paired with his world class grappling has not failed him at 125. His excellent footwork has always troubled his opponents and his lack of clear weaknesses means it’s difficult to exploit problems in his game. Ray Borg started his career as a world class grappler who would immediately take his opponents down and smother them until the fight was over or he was able to find a submission. His striking used to be a big weakness in his game until he started training with Brandon Gibson.

How the fight plays out

Ray Borg used to start his fights by immediately taking his opponents down and smothering them. Now that his striking improved he’s content with staying on the feet and striking with his opponents. This is where he will have problems against Johnson, Johnson is the much quicker fighter out of the two and will keep Borg on the outside. Borg’s incredibly short reach of 63” means he will need to cover a lot of distance, something he struggles with. Borg is not the quickest of flyweights and is a lot slower than Johnson. While Johnson has the bigger advantage on the feet, the wrestling is where it gets tricky. Borg’s ability to find the takedown and stay on his opponent is something he will need to use to tire out Johnson and force him to make a mistake. Johnson’s patience on the ground means he won’t panic if he goes down with Borg and has shown in the past he can easily get back up or even grapple with the best of them. Borg’s gas tank will be a problem in this fight, as Johnson never seems to tire out and is used to going five rounds. If Borg tires, Johnson will completely take over the fight.

Prediction

Borg starts the first round on the feet and ends up getting frustrated as he finds Johnson too quick and gets stuck on the outside. He eventually finds the takedown and forces Johnson to go through some scary moments. Johnson survives the early storm on the ground and starts to run away with the fight in the third round as Borg starts to tire. Although the fight will be close on the ground, it’s obvious Johnson has all the advantages in the standup. Demetrious Johnson beats Ray Borg by unanimous decision to break the record for most successful title defenses in a row.

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