The ESPN era of the UFC kicks off on the streaming service ESPN is attaching their new asset to in hopes of picking up more subscribers in the process. It’s likely to work to an extent as I’m sure many of you reading this are just like me in becoming new subscribers to ESPN+. Fortunately, I’ve enjoyed a number of the 30 for 30 documentaries on the app too.
Oh right… the fights! The opening contest isn’t worth mentioning, but the other two should be fun. Geoff Neal has looked awesome in his two UFC appearances while his foe, Belal Muhammad, has won four in a row. Dennis Bermudez has hit a rough patch, but he has been an entertaining watch for the most part. It’s a solid start to a new era, an era fans hope can take the organization – and more importantly, the fighters – to a new level.
The ESPN+ prelims are listed to start at 6:00 PM ET/3:00 PM PT on Saturday, though that also includes the pre-fight show.
Dennis Bermudez (16-9) vs. Te Edwards (6-2), Lightweight
Entering the contest on a four-fight losing streak with nine years of professional experience under his belt, it’s reasonable to conclude Bermudez is nearing the end of a solid career. However, the last three of those losses have all been split decisions that could have just as easily gone in his favor. Bermudez has been more a victim of bad luck than a decline in his skill set. Regardless, he has opted to move up to lightweight in hopes that he’ll have more energy to execute his relentless style of pressure and takedowns. The risk is whether he’ll be able to bully his opposition the same way now that he’s the smaller man.
Then again, it could also be stated he’s getting a major step down in competition in Edwards. No one doubts the talents of the former collegiate wrestler. He’s got fight-stopping power in his fists in addition to a wrestling base he hasn’t put on display very often. The problem is he’s incredibly unpolished, lacking very much in experience against notable competition. Add that he has yet to win a fight that has left the opening round, it’s not hard to agree with those who believed he got called to the big dance too soon.
I have no idea if Bermudez’s move to 155 will hurt or help him. While he would tire in fights, he never seemed to have less energy than whoever he was in the cage with and it’s hard to see his wrestling being more effective against larger opponents. Nonetheless, Edwards’ lack of experience came to the forefront in his UFC debut against Don Madge. Madge’s frenetic style was too much for Edwards. There is no reason to believe Bermudez’s won’t be the same as there are still major questions about Edwards’ gas tank. Bermudez via decision
Belal Muhammad (14-2) vs. Geoff Neal (10-2), Welterweight
After a rough start to his UFC career, Muhammad’s hot streak has quieted many of his critics who claimed he lacked the athletic ability to find success in the big leagues. Well… maybe quieted is too strong of a word. With each of the wins coming by way of decision, his inability to finish his opposition still has many maintaining their told-you-so’s. Nonetheless, Muhammad’s constant pressure behind his barrage of jabs and low kicks has proven to be a difficult riddle to solve for those without overwhelming athleticism.
Neal certainly has the requisite athleticism. The question is whether he has the discipline to carry out the strategy needed to carry him to victory. If his contest with noted brawler Frank Camacho is any indication, the answer is yes. Though a pressure fighter himself, Neal picked his spots to attack while effectively using his length to limit the offense from his smaller opponent. While his striking isn’t a question mark, Neal’s wrestling has yet to be tested against someone who consistently uses their wrestling effectively.
At first glance, Muhammad feels like the obvious choice. While Neal has looked good in his UFC appearances, Camacho is an overblown lightweight and Brian Camozzi doesn’t belong on the big stage. However, Neal has some similarities to Vicente Luque, the last man to defeat Muhammad. He has length and a lot of power. However, Luque had also walked through stronger fires than Neal up to that point. I’m sticking with my initial instinct thanks to Muhammad’s wrestling, though a Neal win won’t be surprising. Muhammad via decision
Kyle Stewart (11-1) vs. Chance Rencountre (12-3), Welterweight
It’s been a bit of a merry-go-round since it was announced Randy Brown was forced to withdraw from his bout against Rencountre, but the ride finally stopped with Stewart being the man stepping up to the plate. A product of the Contender Series, Stewart secured what is probably the least impressive victory in the two seasons of the series when his opponent, Jason Jackson, broke his ankle in a freak accident. Up to that point, Jackson was well on his way to victory. Stewart is tough and gritty with some good clinch offense, but he’s a poor athlete by UFC standards and is lacking in the defensive wrestling department.
Rencountre is one of the larger welterweights on the roster at 6’2” with a 75” reach. That alone can cause problems for opposition, but he’s also a poor athlete on the whole. Nonetheless, it’s plausible Rencountre’s awkward striking could cause problems for Stewart. Though he’s considered to be a sound striker, the Alliance MMA’s KO/TKO finishes have dried up since consistently facing stronger competition. Even more disconcerting: Rencountre’s poor showing against the aforementioned Muhammad.
I’m not crazy about the chances of either of these competitors having much long-term success, largely due to a major lack of physical tools for either of them. Rencountre is a bit taller, but Stewart’s reach is comparable. I’ll lean in favor of Rencountre due to him having far more time to prepare for a fight than Stewart, even if this wasn’t the fight he was preparing for. Rencountre via decision