The UFC is back! After nearly a month away – unheard of in today’s UFC – the promotion touches down in Mexico City for the first time since sea level-Cain became a common phrase. Offering the conclusion to the TUF Latin America 3 tournament, the card is surprisingly strong. Too bad for the preliminary contests that almost all of the strength of the card lies in the main portion.
We come back to a different UFC than the one we last saw. Roster cuts have been far more common and it is expected that many of the losers on this card will be unemployed. Expect that to be the case for the two opening contests for the night. The Fight Pass feature highlights fan favorite Sam Alvey, seeking his third win since this summer, against a controversial Alex Nicholson. None of these contests will provide any movement of the UFC Richter scale, but they could be very fun.
The Fight Pass prelims begin at 6:30 PM ET/3:30 PM PT.
Sam Alvey (28-8) vs. Alex Nicholson (7-2), Middleweight
Polar opposites in terms of personality meet in the cage for what should be a stylistically fun matchup.
Alvey is a bit dorky, but that is the thing that everyone loves about him. After completing the Summer of Sam where he fought three times over the span of three months, Alvey isn’t taking any time off to climb back into the cage. He’ll never be a viable contender, but his power and durability make him an outstanding gatekeeper.
Nicholson is a bit of a wildcard. He too hits hard and has the style to make him a fan favorite. The problem is that he has gotten himself into some hot water recently with some off-color racist remarks while cornering his teammate Mike Perry in addition to some domestic abuse charges. Regardless of how he performs in the cage, he’s making it hard to like him.
Thanks to Alvey’s penchant for KO’s, casual fans often mistakenly view him as an aggressive striker. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Alvey is as pure of a counter puncher as you will find with serious power in his left hand. The southpaw doesn’t throw a whole lot of volume, relying almost exclusively on his KO prowess to land after his opponent has already thrown. Give him nothing to swing back at and he isn’t going to land anything. His durability is a big key in his success as he is difficult to put away while often needing just one good punch to put the opposition on the ropes.
Nicholson has a decent amount of power himself, though it certainly isn’t comparable to Alvey’s ability to end fights with a single strike. He doesn’t have an issue throwing in volume, though he does have an issue with both technique and discipline. Much like Alvey, he has proven to be quite durable. Unlike Alvey, he maximizes that ability which isn’t a positive. His 81" reach is pretty much a moot point as he is as pure of a brawler as you will find on this level. In other words, he’ll probably give Alvey the opportunity he needs to land his punches.
It would be a surprise to see the fight evolve into anything else other than a standup battle. Neither has landed a single takedown in their UFC runs which consists of a combined 10 contests. Alvey did show some surprising submission savvy by catching Eric Spicely in a guillotine choke, though the chances of that happening again are highly unlikely.
Neither are defensive gurus, though Alvey at least makes an honest attempt to avoid eating too much punishment. If it goes the distance, I have to favor Nicholson due to his higher volume and athletic advantage. Then again, Alvey has shown the ability to thrive in a brawling environment. I like his veteran knowhow to pick him up the W as Nicholson tends to be reckless. Alvey via TKO, RD1
Marco Polo Reyes (7-3) vs. Jason Novelli (11-2-1), Lightweight
Pure action contest here as Reyes has turned heads with his power while Novelli is the quintessential regional veteran signed to test young talent while also entertaining the fans.
Reyes is coming off of one of the best fights of the year to kick off UFC 199. He and the other Dong Hyun Kim put on a slugfest for the ages, allowing them to steal the FOTN honors on one of the best PPV’s seen in a long time. Not bad for a couple of fighters with no name value. The sad thing with Reyes is that he will be turning 32 years old soon, indicating that he doesn’t have a lot more room for growth. Then again, TUF Latin America products have been better than expected. Nonetheless, he can still turn in a few more barnburners before he starts to slow down.
Novelli on the other hand is already 37, only making his UFC debut this past August in a losing effort to Swedish striker David Teymur. In other words, the UFC has no real plans for him other than to serve as a measuring stick for some of the undeveloped talents on the roster. That doesn’t mean that he isn’t capable of winning this contest. It just means he isn’t expected to.
If you saw Reyes’ brawl with Kim, it’s easy to see why the brass has taken a liking to the Mexican. An aggressive brawler with major power in his hands, Reyes doesn’t mind eating a hard shot in order to get in his own licks. He seems to have the durability to make the style work to a certain degree, though it’s never very smart to rely on a chin holding up under major duress. This worked against Kim as the Korean had no problem engaging Reyes on his terms. Don’t expect many to fall into that trap as Reyes’ reputation becomes more established.
Novelli is a much more technical striker who looks to exploit his 75" reach on his opposition. He struggled to implement it against Teymur, an experienced Muay Thai competitor. He shouldn’t have the same issues against Reyes who doesn’t have the type of technical striking experience of Teymur. Using a jab to gauge distance, Novelli throws a lot of kicks in his mostly volume-based approach. He doesn’t get a lot of finishes, though he is capable of lacing his opponent with a head kick.
Aside from his striking defense, wrestling and grappling has been another major problem for Reyes. His takedown defense has been terrible with his ability to climb back to his feet being his only saving grace. Novelli isn’t a great wrestler, but he is capable and times his level changes well. If Novelli is to get a finish, it will most likely come via a submission as Reyes has shown a weakness in the grappling department.
Novelli is the more technical fighter in addition to possessing a much longer reach. I would pick the fighter with those advantages most of the time, but I don’t feel comfortable picking him in this case. Novelli was rocked on multiple occasions against Teymur and Reyes has some serious power. Novelli doesn’t have the power to make him pay for his reckless style… provided Reyes’ chin continues to hold up. Reyes eventually gets the finish. Reyes via TKO, RD2
Enrique Barzola (11-3-1) vs. Chris Avila (5-3), Featherweight
Though both possess some promise, Barzola and Avila are about as raw as anyone on the UFC roster…and there isn’t much room for raw fighters on the UFC roster following the recent purge.
One of the winners of the TUF Latin America 2, Barzola has a decent amount of experience against lesser competition in Peru. The problem is that experience doesn’t count for much at the higher levels. He has been receiving better training since winning the tournament and it showed in a contest against Kyle Bochniak where most observers – including me -- believed Barzola emerged the victor. Unfortunately, the judges didn’t agree.
No disrespect to Avila, but he shouldn’t be fighting in the UFC…at least not yet. At 23 years old with just eight professional contests and no signature wins, he’s simply not ready for the big leagues at this stage of his development. The benefits of training and associating with the Diaz brothers got him his opportunity in the UFC. It won’t save him should he lose this contest.
Avila has a lot of the same tendencies as the Diaz brothers. He’s a long and rangy volume striker who isn’t noted for his punching power, though he can hurt his opponent when he sits down on his strikes. He has some submission chops, though he struggles mightily with wrestling. The problem is that he isn’t nearly as polished as his teammates in any one category. The Diaz rarely let off the gas when peppering their opponents with punches whereas Avila will hesitate to attack despite a 72" reach that usually dwarfs what his opponent possesses. Even more troubling was how he allowed the stocky Artem Lobov to easily get inside to piece him up, showing poor range management and defense in general.
Fortunately for Avila, Barzola isn’t the caliber of striker that Lobov is. Then again, Barzola was much improved in his last outing against Bochniak. Confidence was key as he darted in and out with short combinations, doubled and tripled up on his jab, and mixed in leg kicks. That variety kept Bochniak guessing which will help open up Barzola’s takedowns moving forward. Relentless in chaining his takedown attempts together, Barzola’s grappling is still very raw which forces him to rely heavily on ground and pound once the fight goes to the ground.
The x-factor is Avila’s BJJ skills. While it is largely untested at a high level, what has been seen on the regional level is aggressive and effective. Working with Cesar Gracie should produce good results and his long limbs certainly help the likelihood of catching an opponent in some sort of a choke. While Barzola has never been submitted, he has also never faced anyone with a grappling background of note. How he responds to someone who knows what they’re doing on the ground is a mystery.
I pretty much gave away who I thought was going to win at the beginning when I stated that Avila isn’t ready for the UFC. I think he can become a mainstay someday, he’s just not there yet. Against Lobov, he was fighting an opponent who he knew wanted to stand and trade in addition to owning a much shorter 66" reach. In addition to possessing a 70" reach, Barzola will keep him guessing where he is going next. Barzola should score a pretty clear victory. Barzola via decision