While I find the showdown between Raphael Assuncao and Marlon Moraes to be a perfectly acceptable main event, it’s actually the co-main event I’m more excited about. Renato Moicano appears to be on the verge of breaking out as a featherweight star, perhaps even be Max Holloway’s next opponent should he emerge from the event with a win. However, that will be easier said than done as his opponent is Jose Aldo. You know, the longtime featherweight kingpin who was one of the most dominant champions in UFC history. Yeah, that guy.
The rest of the contests aren’t quite to that level in terms of quality, though they all appear to be competitive contests at the very least. The UFC is doing things right thus far with the ESPN era. However, they also started the FOX era in a similar manner. Enjoy the quality of these cards for now… it isn’t likely to last.
The main card begins at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday on ESPN+.
Jose Aldo (27-4) vs. Renato Moicano (13-1-1), Featherweight
It’s been well-publicized that Aldo turned down the opportunity to headline an event as he didn’t want to train for a five-round contest. It’s also been stated that Aldo is looking to fight out his contract without concern for regaining his title. It’s clear Aldo no longer burns with the competitive fire that made him into an all-time great. Is it enough for him to get past Moicano?
Even if Aldo is incapable of getting past Moicano, it isn’t an insult to Aldo’s legacy. Aldo proved in his victory over Jeremy Stephens he’s still one of the best featherweights in the world. Plus, Moicano is just that damned good. Moicano’s only loss came against recent title challenger Brian Ortega in a fight he was winning up until finding himself in a guillotine off an ill-advised takedown attempt. Moicano rebounded by putting a beatdown on respected veteran Cub Swanson, subbing him within the first round. Known as a submission specialist upon his UFC entry, Moicano has developed into a hell of a striker, using his prowess to secure the club-and-sub over Swanson. His lanky frame accentuates his jab and his low kicks can leave opponents limping.
Despite Moicano’s low kicking prowess, no one is about to compare his abilities to Aldo in that area. The former champion is notorious for his thudding kicks, often leaving his opponent’s legs black and blue for days after. However, as Aldo’s original title reign drew near its conclusion, he had developed a reputation as a cautious fighter, rarely willing to take chances. He showed he’s still capable of flurries of brutal violence when he laid on a thick layer of violence onto Stephens to finish him. In addition to his low kicks, Aldo’s takedown defense is amongst the best in the history of the sport.
If Aldo is on the way out, there’s a part of me that wants to see Moicano win. He’s an exciting fighter who has the potential to fight for the title in the very near-future. However, I don’t think Aldo is ready to go quietly into the night. Barring the early KO from Conor McGregor, Aldo’s only losses came from a sustained, voluminous attack from Max Holloway. I haven’t seen enough out of Moicano to believe he can produce that type of effort. Aldo, long underrated for his fight intelligence, methodically outpoints his younger foe, delaying his rise to the top of the division just a bit longer. Aldo via decision
Demian Maia (25-9) vs. Lyman Good (20-4, 1 NC), Welterweight
Yes, Maia is now 41-years old. He’s also riding a three-fight losing streak. There’s also no doubt he isn’t the same fighter physically he once was. But none of that means he is no longer a dangerous opponent. Those three losses in his current losing streak? They came against Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington, and Kamaru Usman, the three fighters embroiled in the controversial welterweight title picture right now. Maia may no longer be a title contender, but he’s still a dangerous gatekeeper.
Perhaps the most technically sound grappler to ever step foot into the Octagon, Maia has never been an impressive athlete. What he has been is a model of how far hard work and precision can take you. For a while, he may have been the most underrated wrestler in the welterweight division, though that drum was beaten so often -- in combination with Maia seeming to have lost just enough of his burst -- that statement no longer appears to be true. Nonetheless, Maia had a string of 12 consecutive matches where he scored at least one takedown prior to his recent losing stretch. Maia received a lot of flak for a stretch of his career when he opted to stand and trade fisticuffs more than grapple. K-1 Maia hasn’t been seen for a few years, but it should be noted he is a good enough striker that he won several of those contests.
Good has long been an underrated member of the roster, though that has more to do with his lack of activity, this marking only the fourth time he has stepped into the UFC cage since signing back in 2015. Nonetheless, the former Bellator champion is a well-rounded fighter who reminded everyone of his KO power when he turned out the lights of Ben Saunders with some stiff uppercuts in the clinch. Prior to that contest, Good had been acting the part of a volume striker operating behind his jab and lots of low kicks. Knowing he can back that up with power should give opponents pause to stand and trade with him.
Good isn’t a bad wrestler. But is he on par with Woodley, Covington, and Usman? Not even close. Maia may not be the wrestler he was in his not-to-distant prime, but he should still be good – and dogged – enough to get Good to the mat. Good has never been finished in his career and for all the accolades Maia has racked up, he hasn’t exactly been a submission machine, more often than not controlling his opponent on the way to a decision. That should prove to be the case here. Maia via decision
Charles Oliveira (25-8, 1 NC) vs. David Teymur (8-1), Lightweight
Oliveira may still want to return to the featherweight division – where he missed weight four times – but at least he has softened his stance on returning to his former home. In the meantime, he’s gone 4-1 since returning to lightweight, all of them coming via submission before the second round. While Oliveira’s submission prowess is legendary – not a hyperbole – his striking isn’t too bad either. His Muay Thai stylings is favorable towards utilizing his lanky frame as front kicks and jabs fly with aplomb, though it is his clinch work that is most dangerous. The reason why Oliveira has never elevated to being a contender is his tendency to crack mentally when the going gets tough. His lone loss in his recent stretch came when he couldn’t submit Paul Felder in the first round. To be fair, Oliveira’s tendency to go gangbusters early on also played a part as he didn’t have the energy to fight off Felder’s assault.
Teymur has flown under the radar despite a five-fight win streak, including over noted grinder Nik Lentz in his most recent win. Teymur never allowed the former collegiate wrestler to take him down, picking apart the Carny with his jab and low kicks. Though the Swede has operated more as a point fighter in recent contests, he can unload with power in the right situations, not just with his fists either. The former professional kickboxer has a notable kicking arsenal, letting the feet fly at an incredibly quick pace that opponents often don’t see the blow coming. Though he has made steady improvement in his offensive wrestling, don’t expect to see him utilize that against Oliveira.
With kudos going to the UFC matchmakers for this one, I favor the Brazilian. It isn’t that Teymur hasn’t improved his wrestling, nor do believe he has topped out. It’s that he hasn’t seen an opponent like Oliveira whose early pressure and trips can be difficult to prepare for. Though there are some who have proven they can fight off Oliveira’s assault once he gets their back – and he almost always gets that spot at least once a fight – they have also had a more notable grappling background. Oliveira hands Teymur his first UFC loss. Oliveira via submission of RD1
Johnny Walker (15-3) vs. Justin Ledet (9-1, 1 NC), Light Heavyweight
Walker was more of an afterthought heading into his UFC debut against Khalil Rountree as Rountree was coming off an impressive KO win over Gokhan Saki. Walker marched Rountree down and bullied the TUF alum in the clinch with knees and short range elbows, putting him down for the count. Given his 6’5” frame and 82” reach, Walker is also dangerous from the outside, though he’s still developing a consistent range finder as he relies on wildly aggressive attacks with mixed results.
Ledet sports a similar frame -- 6’4” with an 80” reach – but fights in a much more methodical pace than his counterpart. That worked well for him when he was fighting at heavyweight as his was able to run circles around his slower opposition. However, Ledet was thoroughly embarrassed by Aleksander Rakic upon dropping down to 205 as he was used to being the quicker fighter. However, Walker is stylistically more favorable for Ledet as the Brazilian tends to attack in explosive bursts that expend a lot of energy. If Ledet can keep Walker at range – a big if – and peck away with his jab, Ledet’s impressive gas tank could carry him to victory.
Prior to Walker’s contest with Rountree, I commented on Rountree’s beard as a reason for picking him. Walker blew that reasoning out of the water, flooring Rountree in less than two minutes. That gives me hesitation to laud Ledet’s durability, though Ledet does tend to have better defensive skills than Rountree. Still, it’s hard not to be impressed by Walker’s physicality and not be reminded of how Ledet was bullied by Rakic. I can see Ledet outpointing Walker, but it feels more likely that Walker lands something from out of left field to bring the Brazilian fans to their feet. Walker via TKO of RD2
Livinha Souza (12-1) vs. Sarah Frota (9-0), Women’s Strawweight
Souza’s UFC debut went about as well as the organization expected, disposing of Alex Chambers in a mere 81 seconds. A world-class BJJ artist, Souza’s confidence on the feet has grown to the point that her power makes her a dangerous opponent, though she’s still sloppy enough that a skilled tactician will piece her up with minimal effort. Even if she’s losing that battle, she can still fall back on her incredible grappling skills as her wrestling has progressively improved as well.
Don’t let Frota’s KO victory on the Contender Series fool you; she’s primarily a grappler herself with over half of her wins coming by way of submission. Frota isn’t nearly the athlete that Souza is, but she’s very methodical in her approach, whether that be walking her opponent down with pressure or passing her opponent’s guard in search for a submission. She has gotten herself into bad situations on the ground and though she has been able to get out of them without too many problems thus far, it’s hard to see her having that type of success if Souza catches her.
This is another contest the UFC is looking to use to bolster Souza’s profile. It isn’t that Frota sucks. She’s a nice addition to the strawweight roster; the type of fighter who makes inexperienced and nervous fighters pay a heavy price for the slightest slip of composure. She just happens to be a reasonable step up in competition from Chambers. Souza’s athletic advantages should prove to be too much for her fellow Brazilian to overcome. Souza via submission of RD2