Much credit to the matchmakers for this main card. Most of the talk has been centered on the main event between Rafael dos Anjos and Tony Ferguson and rightfully so. It is one of the best possible contests the UFC can put on at this time in any division. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the card is crap. Sure, the choice for co-main event – Diego Sanchez vs. Marcin Held – is a curious choice. And maybe no one really cares about the TUF final. But the other three contests? Must-see contests for any true fight fan.
Charles Oliveira is never in a boring contest. His opponent, Ricardo Lamas, can exploit any opening offered to him in spectacular fashion. Beneil Dariush and Rashid Magomedov are on the verge of bursting through the top of the lightweight division. And Alexa Grasso has the potential to be the next big thing in women’s MMA. She may not end up being Ronda Rousey’s level of fame, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her exceed any other current women’s MMA fighter in terms of popularity when all is said and done.
The main card starts at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT.
Ricardo Lamas (16-5) vs. Charles Oliveira (21-6, 1 NC), Featherweight
Thrown together after BJ Penn’s injury caused the cancelation of the Manila card, Lamas and Oliveira are both in desperate need of a win if they want to continue fighting the divisional elite.
Lamas has struggled to keep his name in the discussion of 145’s best fighters ever since he lost a one-sided decision to former kingpin Jose Aldo. He was decimated by Chad Mendes and handily picked apart by Max Holloway since then, falling short every time he has received a noticeable step up in competition. Wins over Diego Sanchez and Dennis Bermudez, though nice wins, aren’t going to have people talking about you amongst the best in the division.
Oliveira has been a bit more Jekyll and Hyde than Lamas. He too has only lost to the divisional best in Frankie Edgar, Holloway, and recent divisional addition Anthony Pettis, though he has also had moments during those contests where he looked like he would break through with them. He has been on the UFC roster for six years now and has been labeled a rising star for many of those years. This is probably his final chance to break through or forever be labeled an underachiever.
Lamas is a very difficult fighter to prepare for. You watch him and you think he doesn’t do anything particularly well to be picking up the wins that he has. He doesn’t typically throw at a very high volume. He hasn’t been very efficient in getting his opponent to the ground nor is he superb at stopping takedowns. But damn it, the man knows how to win! Opportunistic is the best way to describe Lamas as there are few who capitalize on a mistake the way he does. He’s quick enough to leap into action as soon as he sees an opening, whether it be a defensive snafu or a leaving your neck out for a split second.
Oliveira has been prone to these types of mistakes which is what allowed Pettis to sink in a RNC in his last contest, an outcome that shocked most as Oliveira’s ground game is as vaunted as anyone’s in the industry. Aggressiveness defines him both on the feet and on the ground and his long frame makes him an easy target to hit as he wades forward. It isn’t that he doesn’t know how to use his length as he throws a lot of front kicks and has made strides with his jab to emphasize his 74" reach. It’s that he his style makes him prone to return fire as he doesn’t use angles very well.
Despite his long reach, Oliveira is at his best as a striker in the clinch. From there, he’ll either rip into the body with a series of knees or look for a trip takedown where he can look to sink in a submission. In terms of his grappling, Oliveira doesn’t necessarily have a particular area he’s most dangerous from as he can just as easily get the back for a RNC as he can slip in an anaconda choke. His long limbs make him dangerous from his back too. Lamas has typically done a great job of avoiding those types of situations and he has never been submitted before. Look for him to avoid his usual chain wrestling, attack from the outside with his kicks, and try to counter whenever Oliveira recklessly comes forward.
What is really throwing me off are the intangibles on this one. Lamas was scheduled to fight October 15th. While it means he has had a full training camp – something Oliveira doesn’t have the benefit of claiming – it also means he may be over-trained for this contest by delaying his fight over half a month. On a card with a lot of closely contested fights, this is one of the hardest to pick. I’ll say Lamas due to Oliveira’s tendency to gamble, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see the gamble pay off for the more athletically gifted Oliveira either. Lamas via TKO of RD2
Claudio Puelles (7-1) vs. Martin Bravo (10-0), Lightweight
Even though no one cares about the show any more – and this could be the last edition of a foreign TUF show -- here is your tournament finals matchup for TUF Latin America 3.
With the new ownership looking to cut costs, the foreign versions of TUF look as though they are getting the axe. It needs to be noted that it isn’t because the shows haven’t produced any talent. In fact, this final appears to be producing some solid talent. Puelles in particular has a lot of promise. Only 20-years old with three years of professional experience, the Peruvian is still incredibly raw. He hasn’t received top notch training, but his natural skill set has shined through quite a bit.
Bravo is a bit older, but not by much as he is only 12-years old himself. The Mexican has a few more fights on his resume in addition to an extra year of experience as a pro. However, the experience he has faced has been similar to what Puelles has faced if not worse. Like Puelles, he’s a better fit at featherweight and is full of potential.
Bravo is a bit more aggressive, rarely taking a step backwards as he pressures his opponent for the entirety of the fight. He throws a steady flow of punches with short one-two combinations being his weapon of choice. A hard overhand right and leg kicks are the other staples of his striking arsenal. The issue is that Bravo telegraphs everything which makes it easy for his opponents to know what is coming and counter whether it be a strike or stuffing a takedown attempt. Bravo isn’t the most technical striker either, though he has made strides to throw tighter strikes.
Puelles is very technical for his youth and experience level. A counter striker, he shows a lot of promise with his crisp striking. While Puelles isn’t much of a power puncher, he does show killer instinct by swarming on his opponent once he has them hurt. He also shows a better overall ground game, setting up his takedowns with punches and showing excellent scrambling ability. A solid top game punctuates his simple grappling approach.
This is a pretty tight contest that would probably be best served on a Titan or Legacy card. Nonetheless, both look as though they have the talent that they could end up sticking around for a while even if they are never contenders. Skill and technicality are in the favor of Puelles, though Bravo has been hard to deny thanks to his tenacity. I’m still picking Puelles as he appears to do a better job of sticking to his game plan. Still, I wouldn’t even consider putting money on this contest. Puelles via decision
Beneil Dariush (13-2) vs. Rashid Magomedov (19-1), Lightweight
Perhaps the most overlooked contest on the card, it could also be the most competitive as Dariush and Magomedov are both looking to enter discussions of the divisional elite.
Dariush has received more attention between the two, though it hasn’t always been for the right reason. He followed up a controversial decision victory over Michael Johnson with a surprising loss to Mike Chiesa. Dariush did rebound by completely dismantling James Vick shortly thereafter, but he still needs a quality win to regain the shine that he had going into his contest with Johnson last year. A win over Magomedov would do that.
What has hurt Magomedov more than anything has been his inactivity. He hasn’t fought since November of last year and it had been since December of 2014 before that. It’s hard for fans to get behind you when you don’t give them an opportunity to watch you. His last victory was a one-sided contest against grappling ace Gilbert Burns, which indicates he may not have the grappling issues against Dariush that many would expect.
Though Magomedov can likely avoid being submitted by Dariush, his best chances for victory will come on the feet. A highly accurate striker, Magomedov keeps his just out of striking range masterfully with his footwork while keeping busy with a steady jab. When opponents try to attack, he’s a brilliant counter striker as well, particularly with his hard right hand. What is most notable about his attack is his switchless left kick that he throws with great speed. Due to the lack of people who throw that type of strike, opponents are often caught off-guard by it.
Dariush’s kicks are harder, though they are also a bit easier to see coming. Nonetheless, the Rafael Cordeiro trained Iranian smashes them into the legs and body of his opponents in hopes of deflating them and often does so successfully. Though more comfortable pushing the pace, he’s shown growth as a counter striker as well. His striking could use a bit more polish as it appears his jab isn’t utilized to its fullest quite yet. Regardless, he puts together good punching combinations and has shown burgeoning power to make him just as much of a threat on the feet as he is on the ground.
The problem for Dariush has been getting the fight to the ground when he wants to do so… at least against higher level opponents. Magomedov has shown outstanding takedown defense, only going down when caught off-guard by more athletic opponents. That is what should offer Dariush some hope is that he is far more physically skilled than his Russian counterpart. If the fight goes to the ground, Dariush is as smooth and technical of a BJJ practitioner as there is in the game. He did get overconfident against Chiesa, though it would appear he has since learned his lesson. Don’t let Magomedov’s single submission victory fool you, he can hang on the ground. He simply chooses to emphasize the defensive principles on the ground and keep the fight standing.
Outside of the main event, this is my favorite bout on the entire card. It has a bit of a striker vs. grappler feel as both will look to take the fight to one area or the other, though neither is subpar by any means in the other’s world and could even steal the win from there. This feels like a coin flip for the most part. I’m picking Dariush due to his athletic advantage and better strength of schedule, though I fully admit Magomedov’s composure and steadiness makes me question my pick. Dariush via decision
Alexa Grasso (8-0) vs. Heather Jo Clark (7-5), Women’s Bantamweight
Grasso is one of the top prospects in the sport, making her debut one of the most anticipated of the year for hardcore fans. Can Clark derail the hype train?
The UFC brass has had their eye on the young Mexican prospect for a long time. She has been fighting in Invicta since the fall of 2014 and has beaten some solid names in the process, including Mizuki Inuoe and Jodie Esquibel in her last two appearances. At 23-years old, she is far from her prime and her Mexican heritage should appeal to a market the UFC has been trying to break into for a long time.
At 36-years old, the clock is ticking on Clark’s career. Never viewed as a serious contender in the first place, she is much better than her record would indicate as she has consistently faced some of the best the division has to offer. Her recent loss to Karolina Kowalkiewicz illustrates that perfectly. Her win over Bec Rawlings with a severely damaged knee on the other hand provides an illustration of her toughness.
In a division where finishes are rare, Grasso’s power is highly impressive with half of her wins coming by striking stoppage. Her primary weapon is her jab which doesn’t just establish range, it pieces up her opponents as it has a lot of sting in it. Everything else in her arsenal is set up by that from her hard right hooks to her kicks to all levels. When she sits down on her strikes, they have the potential to end the fight which is what makes her such a special talent to keep an eye on.
Clark will never be considered a great striker, but it is damn near impossible to get her to go away. As often as she gets caught up in firefights, the immediate thought is to call her a brawler. However, she is more technical than that that with sound punching combinations, not to mention her countering ability. The problem is that she is comfortable staying within striking distance and doesn’t have the athleticism, head movement, and footwork to consistently avoid the return damage coming her way. That doesn’t spell a happy ending for her against Grasso.
That doesn’t mean all is lost for Clark. Her true strength comes on the ground where she exercises a suffocating top game and fantastic back control. The problem for her has been getting the fight to the ground. She isn’t a great wrestler and doesn’t have a lot of burst in her shots. Grasso has never been easy to take down and she has been more active in punishing opponent who shoot in on her as of late as well. Clark may also stand a chance if she can take the fight into the clinch and grind away on the smaller Grasso, though the youngster has shown consistent improvement in that field as well.
Let’s call it what it is: this is a showcase contest for Grasso. That doesn’t mean Clark is completely lost as she is tough, savvy, and durable which will make it difficult for Grasso to finish her off. The problem is that Clark’s physical skills can’t even begin to compare to what Grasso brings to the table. Clark will make things entertaining, but Grasso should be in the driver’s seat the entire way. Grasso via decision