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UFC Fight Night: Namajunas vs. VanZant - Idiot's Guide Preview to the Main Card

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Are you ready for three cards in three days fight fans? Yes, pugilism winter is coming. And the UFN 80 fun begins with a respectably stacked card this December 10 in Vegas.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

I know you want your Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor but appreciate the fine appetizer cuisine that is UFN 80 this December 10, 2015 at the Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Line Up

Women's Strawweight Rose Namajunas vs. Paige VanZant
Lightweight Jim Miller vs. Michael Chiesa
Lightweight Sage Northcutt vs. Cody Pfister
Middleweight Elias Theodorou vs. Thiago Santos

Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass)
Welterweight Tim Means vs. John Howard
Welterweight Omari Akhmedov vs. Sérgio Moraes
Middleweight Antônio Carlos Júnior vs. Kevin Casey
Bantamweight Aljamain Sterling vs. Johnny Eduardo
Welterweight Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Andreas Ståhl
Welterweight Danny Roberts vs. Nathan Coy
Featherweight Zubaira Tukhugov vs. Phillipe Nover
Women's Strawweight Kailin Curran vs. Emily Kagan

The Odds

Paige Vanzant -180 Rose Namajunas +158 
Jim Miller +105 Michael Chiesa -125 
Cody Pfister +800 Sage Northcutt -1250 
Elias Theodorou -260 Thiago Santos +220  
John Howard +260 Tim Means -320 
Omari Akhmedov -140 Sergio Moraes +120  
Antonio Carlos Junior -240 Kevin Casey +200
Aljamain Sterling -490 Johnny Eduardo +390 
Andreas Stahl +165 Santiago Ponzinibbio -190  
Danny Roberts -155 Nathan Coy +135 
Phillipe Nover +200 Zubaira Tukhugov -240  
Emily Kagan +265 Kailin Curran -325

Idiot's Guide

Women's Strawweight Rose Namajunas vs. Paige VanZant

The fight itself is simultaneously a bad match and a good one for Rose. Good because Paige will indulge Rose's most aggressive impulses. Bad because Paige has the same fight indulgences, but is a lot better in every facet.

Paige reminds me a lot of Frankie Edgar when he was starting out; any one strike or takedown aren't threatening on their own, but the sheer accumulation of both converge to make each element more threatening until soon you're drowning in pugilism. This is what VanZant excels at. What some fans see as unfiltered aggression is actually a pressure deluge.

Namajunas' difficulties in the UFC are directly tied to her schedule. Nothing about Rose's history has prepared her for this bout. It's one of the reasons why I don't like it that much. Don't get me wrong. It's a fantastic bout on its own; both fighters are high output, high octane pugilists, and I'm sure Zuffa doesn't mind that it'll have the focus of the male gaze. But it does for VanZant what the Angela Hill fight did for Rose; nothing much for development.

Namajunas' striking is still too unfiltered. Despite this, her defense isn't that bad. It's quite clear she has a knack for fighting, but VanZant will be able to clinch and grind her way on the ground for a potentially punishing bout.

Lightweight Jim Miller vs. Michael Chiesa

For some reason I thought this fight was a rematch but that;s because I got Miller and Lauzon confused. Miller, after all these years, continues to do his gruffy dog schtick. He's lightweight's version of Liam Neeson with his particular set of skills and accruing resume despite his age. His last win over Danny Castillo wasn't vintage Miller, but it was Miller all the same.

Chiesa is still an enigma to me. He looked great against Masvidal despite losing, but he's been mostly uneven. He looked like a fighter with a Robert Whittaker/Tony Ferguson like presence; the kind of TUF fighter who just comes out of nowhere to dominate. But not lately. And whatever potential who might have tapped into coming straight outta TUF either evaporated, or was never there.

This isn't an indictment on Chiesa. I expect him to win too. He's a massive lightweight, which will contribute to his effectiveness over the diminutive Miller. Chiesa isn't a good striker, but he packs a strong punch when he throws. In general, he'll be looking to bully Miller in the clinch and get top control. Chiesa isn't a better grappler but I can see a Struve like situation happening where Miller simply can't use his otherwise exceptional fundamentals to fend off Chiesa's attack.

Lightweight Sage Northcutt vs. Cody Pfister

First off, let's talk about those odds. You don't need to be feeling lucky to drop a small amount of cash on this bout because Pfister isn't exactly dead weight. Sage is still completely untested, frying pans notwithstanding.

Having said that, there are a ton of things he excels at that should exploit Cody's game. Pfister is a live dog in only the most nominal sense; he hits clean with experienced technique, and will be in Sage's face, probably yelling obscenities about roids and blonde hair.

The problem with Pfister's ability to score the upset is that he has little to no head movement. Not only that but Northcutt, ever improving, has a ghostbuster of a left hook. Cody gets hit by that punch a lot. Sage, with his lower body strength, is often able to manage seamless takedowns from his TKD landscape. With Pfister's lack of movement, and plodding footwork, winning on the ground through top control is not only viable, but expected.

'Expected' because Cody is strong and aggressive on the feet. He has excellent posture when throwing his blue collar combinations. He's by far the best fighter Northcutt has fought, so the idea that he'd uncomfortable with Cody's pressure isn't a crazy thought.

Middleweight Elias Theodorou vs. Thiago Santos

This card. As great as this card is on paper, it's funny how often the styles differ. Even within the realm of two "strikers", the two couldn't be more diametrically opposed. Theodorou has plenty of weapons at range, but it'll be a tall order to sift through Santos' kick heavy attack. Don't expect Thiago to walk away like this:

Elias isn't the former junior league hockey goon your mom warned you about. Despite Santos' strength on the feet, I don't see him having the juice to stay upright going into the third round, nor do I think Elias will fail to pressure him on the feet with his own efficient strikes.

Welterweight Tim Means vs. John Howard

John Howard has somehow managed a constant presence in the UFC. He's not a bad fighter; just one without an identity. I've always felt like Howard was too self aware; he knows he can punch hard, but he's so careful about how he uses it, and whether or not using it all the time will limit his efficiency that he ends up in a halfway hyperspace.

The UFC isn't doing him any favors though. Means is a massive welterweight who will be brutalizing him in the clinch where Howard all too often finds himself in. Tim is already a stout presence in the division, and right at home with the division's power lifters.

Welterweight Omari Akhmedov vs. Sérgio Moraes

Sergio is a late notice replacement who has always had a pretty strong overall game. Despite his grappling prowess, he likes to make a living on the feet for large durations of the bout. This should play right into Omari's hands. Akhmedov has a strong right hand, and chopping but masterful leg kicks. As he showed against Thiago Perepetuo, no matter how wacky and punchy the fight gets, he'll keep going. This fight is a lot closer than it looks, but I like Omari in this one.

Middleweight Antônio Carlos Júnior vs. Kevin Casey

Casey is more than the sum of his cameo in Gi in a Gi , but less than the sum of a rock star. He seemed to display some measure of threatening techniques on the ground on the show, but could never get his cardio to show up. Meanwhile, his striking is limited to one big overhand right.

Junior is a proper TUF product; at 25 years of age, he's at the sweet spot of development. He compliments his elite grappling skills with a sturdy right hand. Even if that was where his strengths and weaknesses ended, it'd still be more than enough to put away Kevin Casey.

Bantamweight Aljamain Sterling vs. Johnny Eduardo

This is one of those fights that are great for both men, and great on paper, but that will have one fighter pull ahead quickly and definitively. Eduardo is coming off a big KO win over Eddie Wineland; Wineland knows the boxing notes but can't sing the music, and Eduardo took advantage of it like the crafty veteran he is. Sterling is an entirely different ballgame.

Sterling lives up to his last name; he's as good a prospect as there is right now. If he were a bigger man, he'd be on the main card where he'd be more at home receiving Dana's frothing graces than Northcutt or VanZant. That isn't to take away from the latter fighters. They're blue chip talents. They're just more raw at this point than Sterling who fights like a specimen halfway between the Alpha Male guys and Demetrious Johnson; Johnson is his ceiling while Alpha Male is his floor.

His striking is still a work on progress, but it's varied enough (and quick) to initiate his unique rhythm. Sterling's 'neowrestling' is where he distinguishes himself from other prospects; his grappling is informed by wrestling techniques that flow like they're outside the vacuum. Though not an easy fight, he'll win comfortably.

Welterweight Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Andreas Ståhl

Another dramatic matchup of clashing styles. Ponzinibbio, whose name I can now spell without going back to it more than once (crosses fingers), finally got smashed in his last outing for fighting a little too smashmouthy for his brain's taste.

'The Ponz' will always have a home in the UFC; he's an entertaining fighter to have on any card, but the fact that you can stick him on a thin card in Brazil just endears him that much more to Zuffa. If he loses three in a row, he could potentially still have a job. With his ridiculous power, he's the rightful favorite.

Stahl is a little like an NHL Swedish defenseman; well rounded, and flashy when the situation requires it.

His plodding movement helps conceal the quick release of his fists. He likes to lunge in with a left hook, or time a well chambered right hand. I recommend watching this fight because it's a good example of the Mike Tyson school of beating the jab. The numbers aren't intriguing enough to go all in on Stahl, betting wise, but he has a good shot of beating the somewhat one note Ponz. Still, the dude has too much power for Stahl to avoid getting touche(d) at some point.

Welterweight Danny Roberts vs. Nathan Coy

There's Roberts in a nutshell; a British throwback of inspired knucklesmithing and uninspired counter wrestling.

To be fair, Wallhead is a cagey veteran with a bunch of wins you'd respond with bug eyes to (Frank Trigg, for example). But needless to say, this is a great value bet for Coy, who should be able to wear Roberts down with a persistent wrestling attack. Coy isn't a great wrestler, but he's committed and doesn't engage in unnecessary striking battles. Robert's striking is powerful but I don't think it's powerful enough to end Coy before he can wear him out in the last round.

Featherweight Zubaira Tukhugov vs. Phillipe Nover

The Chechen-born Russian is still a relative pup in the UFC, but he's amassed a wealth of MMA experience in Russia and is already 2-0 in the UFC. Not bad. He'll be taking on the Pride of TUF Hyperbole, Phillipe Nover.

Apologies to Nover, who is now distanced enough from some now obscure hype to avoid being a punchline. When all is said and done, he's a solid talent who just never learned legitimate fundamentals. Tukhugov is the kind of fighter who would be a monster in the division if he just packed more power; which is to say he's dynamic, and aggressive enough to pick up some solid wins. With his not so latent jab, spinning backfists, and general ability to keep it horizontal, he should get by comfortably passed Nover's limited by imposing Muay Thai attack.

Women's Strawweight Kailin Curran vs. Emily Kagan

Kailin Curran has the most misleading 0-2 record at women's strawweight. Not only did she give Paige all she could handle (losing more to strategy than mechanics), but she was soundly beating Alex Chambers before getting careless (once again losing more to strategy than mechanics). I know. If ifs and buts were candies and nuts...

But younger fighters tend to experience growing pains like this. Curran is still just 24. She's a solid fighter on the ground with a wide array of ways to get horizontal and violent (landed a beautiful hip toss on PVZ). On the feet she's sharp on the draw, though not blisteringly versatile or anything. Lack of power is a real concern for her since her problems all seem to relate to third round struggles; if not maintaining output, then avoiding opponent moxie.

The x-factor in this is whether Curran's trend of losing late, and falling to strategy are a trend. We like to think that physical deficiencies are static whereas mental deficiencies are flexible. But that's just a fallacy; plenty of fighters can't shake their cognitive instincts (like the way Melvin Guillard scrambles on the ground) no more than they can reverse hand speed. So I'm curious to see where Curran goes from here given her talents.

Kagan is the kind of fighter that could give Curran problems if her development has plateaued. She's good on the ground, but most importantly, just plain old durable. Curran doesn't have power to begin with so this will be the kind of drawn out affair Curran has succumbed to in the past. Should be a solid little fight, with Curran getting the slight edge.

Predictions

Van Zant by TKO, round 2

Chiesa by Decision

Northcutt by TKO, round 2

Theodorou by Decision

Junior by TKO, round 1

Means by TKO round 1

Akhmedov by TKO, round 2

Sterling by RNC, round 2

Ponzinnibio by TKO, round 3

Coy by Decision

Tukhugov by Decision

Curran by Decision