The Fight Pass prelims of UFC Utica features a mix of young blood and old blood. Jessica Aguilar and Johnny Eduardo have been doing the damn thing for a long time, Aguilar for over a decade while Eduardo may be the longest tenured professional on the UFC roster. On the flip side, Nathaniel Wood and Jose Torres are making their UFC debuts. Make no mistake, the UFC would much rather have the youngsters win as the older fighters are what they are. The newcomers – Torres in particular – offer a lot of potential for the future.
The Fight Pass prelims begin at 6:30 PM ET/3:30 PM PT on Friday.
Once upon a time, it could be argued Aguilar was the top strawweight in the world. Unfortunately for her, that was before she made her way to the UFC, meaning she isn’t as familiar to fans as she should be as she has declined significantly. At the age of 36, that isn’t much of a surprise. Her wrestling is still as technical as ever, meaning it’s still effective despite not having the same oomph in her shots that she once possessed. She got Cortney Casey down pretty much whenever she wanted. However, she was far too dependent on low kicks for her striking, landing very few meaningful strikes that weren’t leg kicks.
Given Esquibel’s former career as a professional boxer, that could be a huge problem for Aguilar. Despite her short frame and limited reach, Esquibel is most effective from the outside, tossing out a jab and side kicks to rack up points for the judges. She’s been improving her takedowns the last few years, but the natural atomweight’s lack of size limits her ability to power her opponents to the ground. Esquibel’s toughness allows her to take an exceeding amount of damage, making it an unlikely proposition Aguilar ends up finishing her.
There is zero question that Aguilar is on the decline. She does have a little bit left in the tank, but she isn’t going to be winning any fights standing. She’s going to have to take Esquibel down at every possible opportunity. She’ll get her takedowns, so the question is how much the judges weigh the advantage in volume and damage Esquibel will have. My guess is they’ll prefer the striking. Esquibel via decision
Johnny Eduardo (28-11) vs. Nathaniel Wood (13-3), Bantamweight
With Vitor Belfort no longer in the UFC, Eduardo may now be the fighter on the roster who started their career the earliest, debuting all the way back in 1996. While it’s impressive he’s still performing at a high level, it also screams that he’s a strong candidate to fall off a cliff at any moment. Injuries have limited him to a mere six appearances over his seven years on the UFC roster, but he’s proven to be a powerful striker in those limited appearances, showing off his impressive Muay thai chops. With all those years under his belt, he’s seen everything and knows how to counter damn near everything.
Eduardo will have his hands full with the debuting Wood. With only two decisions amongst his 13 victories, Wood’s killer instinct has been so apparent that it’s surprising the UFC didn’t try bringing him into the fold earlier. He’s developed into both an aggressive and disciplined combination striker, probing more with leg kicks than with a jab. There are still plenty of defensive holes that can be exposed by a crafty counter striker such as Eduardo… if Eduardo still has the physical skills to capitalize.
Eduardo didn’t necessarily look like he was physically spent in his last contest against Matthew Lopez, but he did suffer the first loss to strikes of his career. Eduardo is the favorite if he’s still the same fighter who took out Manny Gamburyan in November 2016. However, we don’t know that he still is the same fighter. If he’s declined at all, Wood is the easy favorite. Chances are strong that Eduardo is on the downslide. Wood via TKO of RD2
Brooks has been a controversial figure in the UFC thus far in his career if we’re going strictly off his work in the cage. His UFC debut awarded him a victory most media members didn’t believe he deserved while his sophomore effort was a loss many believe should have gone in his favor. The Monkey God has struggled to deliver any meaningful offense on his feet despite a very effective wrestling game. Given judges have been placing a heavier emphasis on damage over control, that explains part of his problem. Nonetheless, Brooks is young enough in his career that he should continue improving.
Torres has been a favorite of MMA pundits for some time now, getting his chance to join the roster when Hector Sandoval pulled up lame with an injury about two weeks prior to the event. A dual champion at flyweight and bantamweight for Titan, Torres is used to fighting larger opponents. However, he’s going to be larger than Brooks this time around. Known for his slam takedowns and owning surprising pop in his punches, Torres looks like he’ll be able to compete with Brooks’ wrestling at the very least.
While Brooks’ UFC run hasn’t been a complete bust, he has been a bit of a disappointment. Though his wrestling has been what everyone expected it to be, his striking has been more inefficient than most believed it would be. Torres did what he did on the regional scene against a higher caliber of opponent than Brooks did, so his success should translate over to the UFC better than Brooks has. Torres via decision