Typically, I’m somewhat lamenting the quality of the UFC’s preliminary offerings as I open up the preview for the upcoming weekend event. I can’t do that this time. The card hasn’t been ravaged too badly – at least not yet – and the UFC had built a strong card in the first place. There’s a lightweight contest with the winner having a very good chance of fighting a ranked opponent next. There’s an upstart moving up a weight class to women’s bantamweight – a division badly in need of fresh blood – against a tough veteran. Hell, even the one contest that features a late notice replacement offers some intrigue.
- Alexander Hernandez was in danger of being a flash in the pan. An explosive debut had him rushed to the top faster than what was good for someone of his experience and it resulted in an identity crisis after a devastating loss left him questioning his approach. Originally an aggressive wrestle-boxer, he was countered to death by Donald Cerrone and ended up trying to become a patient counter striker. It was clearly against his nature and resulted in another KO loss. It served as a good wakeup call as Hernandez, coming back to his aggressive roots against Chris Gruetzmacher, all while making good use of selective pressure, moving in and out of the pocket with excellent efficiency. He’ll get an opportunity to hone his new style further against Thiago Moises, an opportunistic submission artist. While no one denies the athletic talents of Moises, he has struggled to put it all together on the feet. What has saved him is his toughness, durability, and slick submission artistry, catching Michael Johnson with a heel hook out of nowhere. The problem has been passivity on the feet, partially explained by his struggles to make tactical changes mid-fight. Moises is both tough and durable, so Hernandez will have one hell of a chore on his hands to get him out of there. I don’t think he does, but I think he avoids falling into Moises’ mitts and gets the nod from the judges. Hernandez via decision
- There are few greater enigmas on the UFC roster than Alex Oliveira. One of the most explosive athletes on the roster, the talented Brazilian seems to alternate between progression and regression as a fighter. One fight he’s got his timing down perfect, launching jabs and heavy kicks at his opponent that make them reluctant to try and close the distance. Other times, he comes across as distracted, leading to bonehead decisions that have led to him being finished. If he can’t get his outside striking going, Oliveira has frequently resorted to clinching up against the fence and wearing down his opponent. That won’t be an easy task against short notice newcomer Ramazan Kuramagomedov. A young Russian who has alternated between welterweight and middleweight, it’s fair to wonder if the weight cut will be difficult to make in such a short time or if his size will be an advantage. Nonetheless, Kuramagomedov mixes his combinations with good efficiency to all levels and doesn’t mind pulling out the occasional high-risk maneuver. Wrestling isn’t Kuramagomedov’s wheelhouse, but he’s competent and it’s likely Oliveira will struggle to control him. While Oliveira is sure to make his strikes count, he doesn’t throw a lot of volume. Kuramagomedov does. I’m predicting an upset. Kuramagomedov via decision
- Alexis Davis has been on the roster since the UFC first incorporated women into the organization, one of only four women left still employed as an active fighter by the organization from that time. She’s seen just about everything one can see in their career and has stored as much of that knowledge as any one person can store up in their head and made exceptionally good use of it. Given Davis has never been much of an athlete, she has to be able to outwit her opposition. Thus, she knows how to read angles, is physically strong, and has traditionally been difficult to put away. Davis does still have some old-school tendencies that have hurt her, such as being too willing to operate off her back and eating a shot or two to deliver her own. She may not need to worry about takedowns from Sabina Mazo, but there will be plenty of punches and kicks flying in her face that she’ll have to dodge more than a few if she hopes to win. Mazo possesses long legs and arms, showing greater mastery of her length with every contest. Only 23, she’s moving up to bantamweight as she continues to grow into her frame. Some see it as a curious move as she hasn’t indicated difficulties with weight in the past, nor has her stamina suffered. Regardless, the question will be how Mazo deals with Davis’ strength in the clinch as Mazo hasn’t dealt with an experienced opponent with the grappling control of Davis. This contest will be closer than most think, but I think Mazo squeezes it out. Mazo via decision
- It’s been a bit of a fall to earth for Alonzo Menifield. One of the early DWCS products, Menifield used his impressive power and explosion to run through his first couple of UFC opponents, securing first round KO’s in each contest. However, when he came up against opponents with similar athletic abilities that he couldn’t get out of the way in short order, Menifield’s gas tank and compact frame proved to be problematic. There were indications Menifield has attempted to address some of those issues, but becoming less reliant on physical tools and emphasizing technique tends to have growing pains. He is getting a significant step down against William Knight, at least in terms of experience. Knight is another DWCS product who happens to be built similarly to Menifield. However, he’s even more compact than Menifield and hasn’t shown the one-punch power Menifield has put on display several times. That isn’t to say Knight doesn’t have any power – eight of his nine wins have come via KO/TKO stoppage – but those stoppages have come via attrition as opposed to the flash style KO’s Menifield produces. Along with that, he’s proven he can work deep into a fight and overcome early adversity, something Menifield has yet to prove he can accomplish. What Knight doesn’t have is an effective way to keep Menifield at range and Knight’s chin hasn’t been indestructible. Menifield will be in a world of hurt beyond the first, but I think he can short-circuit that. Menifield via KO of RD1
- The combination of COVID-19 and the signing of so many fighters from DWCS has created a plethora of contests which a perfectly reasonable fights at face value, but feel like they belong on a regional card. The fight between Vince Cachero and Ronnie Lawrence perfectly exemplifies that. Cachero already debuted last summer, stepping in on very short notice up a weight class at featherweight. His opponent, Jammall Emmers, had little problem using takedowns, control, and length to dispose of Cachero. However, Cachero gets a full camp this time around and showed the ability to pressure and put together volume despite Emmers significant size advantage. Lawrence isn’t a big bantamweight, but he is a bulldog, proving he can push a heavy pace, landing takedown after takedown on a much bigger Jose Johnson. Perhaps most impressive was his ability to confuse Johnson with constant different looks, whether it was switching stances or hitting double legs or utilizing body lock takedowns. Lawrence doesn’t appear to do any one thing great, but he has enough know-how in all areas to find something in his arsenal that will work against his opponents weakness. Given Cachero’s questionable takedown defense, I think Lawrence can do the same thing to him. Lawrence via decision
- There’s been a fair bit of attention going towards Dustin Jacoby given the long, strange trip it was for him to get back to the UFC – it was over eight years between appearances – but Maxim Grishin’s journey involved a long, winding road to make it for his official debut, not touching down in the organization until his 40th professional appearance. At 6’3” with a 78” reach, Grishin possesses a sniper’s frame and fights in such a manner, proving very selective of his volume. Of course, part of that depends on the aggression level of his opponent as he’s a dedicated counter striker, low kicks being the only consistent strike he throws with the initiative. Of course, low kicks were also Jacoby’s primary form of offense in his first UFC win in October, meaning we could get a lot of shin slapping against shin action. Jacoby’s time as a professional kickboxer has also ironed out many of technical hitches, looking incredibly sharp since transitioning back to MMA full-time. What does give cause for concern is if he can’t get Grishin out of there quickly as he pushed a hard pace early in his DWCS appearance that put him in survival mode late after he gassed. However, it can be surmised Jacoby was trying to get the finish for a contract. Grishin is difficult to put away, but Jacoby is equally durable and will probably have an edge in volume. Jacoby via decision