A potential grapple heavy affair hopes to be more entertaining than Shamrock vs. Gracie this June 6, 2015 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The Match Up
Featherweight Thiago Tavares -170 vs. Brian Ortega +150
3 Things You Should Know
1. Thiago Tavares would be Gleison Tibau's torchbearer if he weren't only a year younger. Still, he's as durable a UFC veteran as there is.
I was worried for Thiago Tavares for a little while. After losing to Kurt Pellegrino to cap off a 1-3 skid following his UFC debut back in 2007, the kid who wowed us with a flying knee and a grappling war with Tyson Griffin seemed destined for Rumble on the Rock, or King of the Cage. Part of the problem is that Tavares wasn't developing fast enough even though his competition was fluctuating between tough, and tougher. If you look at his early bouts, he had zero striking to speak of. Slowly but surely, it began to develop, and now he's in a better spot.
It's still hard to predict where he goes from here. Featherweight seems like a good home for him. He's a much bigger fighter than his FW peers, and hasn't lost much speed. In addition, this seems like a good matchup. Right down to their similarities in PED of choice. About that...
2. We would have seen Ortega earlier but he got busted last July after beating Mike De La Torre for drostanolone.
I've talked about drostanolone and what feels like every other drug even though I know I'm just scratching the surface, here. In case you're wondering what the heck it is.
Ortega has had some excellent experience training, divvying up his time at places like Black House, and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. He's unbeaten thus far, but has yet to face serious competition. Tavares qualifies as serious competition.
3. This fight will either be a questionable grind, or something more interesting, like Sotiropoulas vs. Stevenson (still one of the best MMA grapplefests ever).
Rarely do we get a fight that is tailor made for a grappling war, but not this one. Usually one guy is better on the feet so he just keeps it standing. Or the other guy is a superior wrestler, so he just top controls to death. Or both guys aren't well rounded, so they just engage in a session of Tai Bo.
Tavares is superior on the feet, but he's not so comfortable on the feet that he wants to win with knockouts and head kicks. It's possible, but I don't think he's threatened by Ortega off his back. Ortega is slick on the ground, using economic but swift movements to either scramble or position himself for submissions. As he displayed against Keoni Koch, his striking is brutally raw, but he'll fling his arms hard enough to slingshot himself into threatening punches. And Tavares, despite his improvement, is still vulnerable on the feet, possessing little in the way of defense or variety for a fighter often thought of as 'upper echelon'.
Still, this one seems pretty mathematical. Tavares is superior on the feet, and will land on the feet as well as the ground, where his heavy base should be able to counter Ortega's scrambles. Ortega might be good for at least one ground scare though.
Thiago Tavares by TKO, round 3 (which isn't later overturned).