It’s getting harder to figure out what the hell is up with UFC cards. In the FOX era, PPV cards had the most depth, followed by cards on big FOX, cards on FS1 and FS2 coming next, and cards on Fight Pass possessing the least amount of depth. Not that it always followed that model, but it was consistent enough that it was generally accepted to be that way.
I can’t say if it’s a product of the ESPN era quite yet, but that narrative has been flipped on its head in the last three weeks. UFC 243 was the definition of top-heavy, offering the type of depth on the prelims that would have been skimpy even for a Fight Pass card from the FOX era. Last week, the UFC Tampa card on ESPN+ had several intriguing contests on the prelims, offering several contests that wouldn’t be out of place on a PPV main card. This week, UFC Boston on ESPN isn’t very deep, especially comparing it to UFC Tampa. However, it sure as hell is better than what UFC 243 offered.
UFC Boston begins on ESPN2 at 6:00 PM ET/3:00 PM PT on Friday.
Charles Rosa (11-3) vs. Manny Bermudez (14-1), Featherweight
Everyone saw the inevitability of Bermudez eventually moving up 145 as he was unable to get to 135 in his last two contests. The question is how much he’ll lose in moving up in weight. While there has been a rash of fighters who’ve found success being the smaller fighter after moving up a weight class – Thiago Santos, Jorge Masvidal, and Anthony Smith being prime examples – most of those that have succeeded since moving up are also strikers, including those I just mentioned. Bermudez isn’t, making it harder for him to impose his physicality now that he’s no longer the bigger man.
Regardless, Bermudez is still dangerous as hell with his submission abilities. Out of his 14 career wins, 11 of them have come via submission. It isn’t just from the top position either. He’s slick off his back and has shown a consistent ability to snatch standing guillotines if opponents leave their necks out. That type of sub may be a bit harder to come by against larger opponents, but it would be foolish to think he isn’t creative enough to find a way to snatch a neck. Bermudez still has a lot of work to do on his standup, but the tools are there to work with - most notably power.
Rosa is one of the scrappiest members of the roster, relying on work rate and stamina to overwhelm the opposition. Rosa isn’t afraid to stand and bang with anyone, but he’s not a very good athlete and has terrible defense. Nonetheless, he’s a skilled grappler in his own right who is just about as aggressive as Bermudez in going for the sub. However, it has been 30 months since Rosa last stepped into the cage, in part due to a neck injury. Dominick Cruz will claim it isn’t an issue, but will Rosa be affected by ring rust?
Rosa was a consistent action fighter, taking home three FOTN bonuses in his five UFC contests. However, I say was for a reason. There’s no way to know if he still is the same guy until he steps in the cage. I want to believe he is, but even if that’s the case, I’d still probably lean in favor of Bermudez. He should have more energy now that he isn’t cutting an extra 10 pounds and Rosa’s recklessness should make it easy for Bermudez to find an opening and exploit it. Bermudez via submission of RD2
- While most would agree the UFC is bringing Diana Belbita onto the roster a bit too early for her development, no one is upset she’s being paired opposite Molly McCann in her UFC debut. A national kickboxing champion out of Romania, Belbita loves to stand and trade fisticuffs. She’s more diverse in her attack than McCann, though McCann does deserve credit for expanding beyond her boxing to organically include a plentiful amount of low kicks. Did I mention she has begun to implement takedowns too? Belbita has shown more grappling ability than McCann, but it has also been against considerably worse competition. Most of the fight should take place on the feet, so it should be a lot of fun. McCann’s experience should allow her to emerge with the W. McCann via decision
- It’s hard to forget Sean Woodson’s flying knee KO from this past season’s DWCS. In fact, it does a fantastic job of erasing the rest of the fight from people’s memories as he was clearly losing up to that point. That hardly means Woodson is a terrible fighter, but the massive featherweight could have used some more time to marinate on the regional scene. Good hell, that’s becoming a major theme…. Nonetheless, he’s here making his debut against Bostonian Kyle Bochniak. Bochniak is tough as hell and has developed into a smart fighter, but he also has his physical limitations. In this case, he’ll be about seven inches shorter and have a reach that is nine inches shorter. Having seen Bochniak perform against someone else with a long reach in Zabit Magomedsharipov, Woodson is the pick as Bochniak struggles with output, but it’s razor thin. Woodson via decision
- Speaking of fighters who could have used more time to marinate on the regionals – like I said, a theme -- Randy Costa returns to the Octagon for his sophomore effort. A bantamweight product of Joe Lauzon’s school, he’s like his mentor in that he fires out of the gate with pure aggression, swinging fists and looking for the finish. For the first time in his career – all of five contests -- it didn’t work in his UFC debut. Is he going to change things up at all? Unlikely, given Boston Salmon was finished in just 25 seconds in his own UFC debut. Salmon is a good athlete who hits harder than hell, but he also throws one strike at a time at such an infrequent pace, output is a major problem for him. If the fight goes to decision – as unlikely as it would be – Costa would win on sheer volume. The most likely scenario sees Salmon not underestimating his opponent this time around and knocking Costa silly after he exhausts himself. Salmon via TKO of RD2
- One of the ultimate good guys in the sport, Court McGee appears to be at the end of the line. The former TUF winner still pushes a hard pace, but he rarely finishes off his takedowns anymore and has never had a lot of power behind his voluminous punches. However, the most telling sign is his declining durability. Santiago Ponzinibbio is still the only fighter to finish him off, but he gets rocked a lot at this stage of his career. He welcomes newcomer Sean Brady to the UFC. Brady is a well-rounded fighter, but he’s also undersized for welterweight. Sure, others at 5’9” have found success – like Alex Garcia – but Brady lacks the bulk and/or wrestling pedigree those others have possessed. I don’t feel comfortable picking either fighter. I’ll go with McGee to squeeze out one more win as I worry about Brady’s finishing abilities and know McGee will – as always – push a hard pace. McGee via decision
- Here we go again. The eternally janky Kevin Holland steps in for Eric Spicely on short notice. For most, it’s hard to know how to take that. One of the most eccentric characters on the roster, Holland never stops talking in the cage, whether it’s to himself or to his opponent. Given his personality, it should come as no surprise that he’s also highly creative, mostly with his grappling. Fortunately for him, his athleticism and toughness allow his risky strategies to pay off more often than not. Holland’s greatest advantage is his 81” reach, but he still hasn’t fully figured out how to use it. His adversary is the debuting Brendan Allen, a product of Roufusport. Despite his camp being known for its striking prowess, Allen’s wrestling and grappling have been his most reliable fields, largely because his striking defense has plenty of holes in it. He’ll have a hard time navigating Holland’s reach. Holland via decision
- Heavyweights that rely on volume rarely find success at the highest of levels, but newcomer Tanner Boser is going to make a go of it. The Canadian doesn’t exactly present an imposing figure, but he’s an intelligent fighter who is well aware of what he can and can’t do. He mixes his volume up well and does a solid job of staying upright when the opposition would rather drag him to the mat. He’s got a BIG challenge ahead of him in 6’7” Daniel Spitz, a raw big man with surprising grappling skills. Spitz also has a lot of power – see his KO of Anthony Hamilton – but he is very stiff on his feet. If Boser can avoid Spitz’s power, he should walk out of his UFC debut with his hand raised. Boser via decision