UFC 61 opens up the night of February 22nd with a solid welterweight bout is more dynamic in terms of its clash of styles than what it could portend in relation to violent pugilism.
The Match Up
Welterweight Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Sean Strickland
Welterweight Santiago Ponzinibbio +145 vs. Sean Strickland -165
3 Things You Should Know
1. The MMA world will never be ready to spell the name 'Ponzinibbio' with ease, but they better at least get used to it. Besides, what's the big deal?
Listen MMA writers. I have to deal with the name Ponzinibbio more than most, prevewing his fights and all, but he's hardly a symbol of all that is unholy about foreign name spelling. For one, his name follows most of the phonetic and morphemic rules we're used to as English speakers. Ponz-ini-bbio is a chunkable word that gets easier with repetition. Know what makes me want to shove the backspace key in my eyes? Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Or Mariusz Radziszewski. Or Djumber Gamezardashvili. Actually, last one's not that bad but still.
Anyway, with wasted words out the way, Santiago picked himself up a solid win over Wendell Marques. Yes, Marques hasn't proven much, and the fight was more than a little chaotic, but he was part of a pretty deep TUF:Brazil season, and his lone loss was to a very underrated, and very undefeated Ryan LaFlare.
2. Don't let Sean Strickland's poor performance against Luke Barnatt fool you. He's still a ripe 23, with plenty of time to pick up some new pugilism tricks.
Yes, Strickland looked awful against Barnatt. In fact, an argument could be made that he lost, but Barnatt is a solid fighter in his own right, and that was a tough test for a young fighter whose only UFC experience at that point was against Bubba 'what happened to my eye?' McDaniels.
Strickland has always had a pretty conservative style, which is why the Barnatt didn't surprise me in kind; only degree. He's always had a fairly high fight IQ, but with a somewhat limited attack/approach.
3. Careful with those odds. As the old internet Ackbar meme goes, it's a trap!
These is simply one of those awful fights to bet on; not only can watching it be a potential chore, but you don't stand much to gain even in victory.
One of the most underrated parts of Strickland's game is his ability to generate offense in close. He seems to excel with his strikes whenever he doesn't have to worry about distance, and in addition, he's defensively sound, which is something you don't often say about young fighters in MMA. Of course, as everyone saw, being defensively aware can sometimes lead to fight inertia.
Ponzinibbio is a different animal; although he's well rounded, his strength lies in his ability to string offense on the feet. He has good combinations that he can throw with conviction, and what he lacks in polish he makes up for in will and determination. I feel like Ponzinibbio can string together some offense, but I wonder how well he'll do against the top control of Strickland. Strickland can throw pretty good but he's still limited to one strike offense. The rest is developing and that development, as is usually the case with very young prospects, can be sudden in its ability to blossom.
Sean Strickland by Decision. I feel like Strickland can handle Santiago's offense on the feet while neutralizing him on the ground. It could be another ugly win for Strickland, but I think he'll look better against an opponent who is of similar quality. Santiago is good, but I think this is just a tough stylistic matchup.