In the last preview, I crapped all over the prelims of UFC Shenzhen. While the main card is better – the co-main event is a fantastic action-fight – it is still subpar, to say the least. Yes, I like the co-main event between Jingliang Li and Elizeu dos Santos. Even though it isn’t quite up to snuff of most Fight Night co-main events, it still passes the eye test. The rest of the main card… yeah. I’ll just say there is potential for a lot of fun and for some of the combatants to be major players down the road… but potential is the operative word. Of course, not all the contests offer potential, nor is all potential fulfilled.
The main card begins on ESPN+ at 6:00 AM ET/3:00 AM PT on Saturday.
Jingliang Li (16-5) vs. Elizeu dos Santos (21-5), Welterweight
You don’t have to take my word for it that this contest should be awesome. In four of his last five contests, Li has received some sort of performance bonus, also winning six of his last seven contests. Dos Santos has won his last seven while also picking up three FOTN bonuses in that time. The accolades back up my assessment of this contest.
Since his entry into the UFC, dos Santos has been known as a feared striker with one-punch power. Or should I say one-kick KO power? While he still has that type of ability, he’s become a more complete striker in the process, able to pepper his opponent with large amounts of volume if a single strike is unable to get the job done. Even when tired, dos Santos is still dangerous and willing to throw as his firefights with Max Griffin and Lyman Good proved. However, he proved he’s capable of utilizing his wrestling and grappling for more than defensive purposes when he took down and submitted Curtis Millender. Admittedly, submitting Millender isn’t a great accomplishment, but it was something few saw coming. Regardless, the bottom line is that dos Santos has evolved into a more complete fighter.
Despite dos Santos’ improvement on the mat, it’s doubtful he’ll attempt to take Li to the ground. Though Li has become just as known for his willingness to throw fisticuffs as dos Santos, he developed the nickname of The Leech on the regional scene for a reason. Formerly a grind ‘em out, lay-and-prey style fighter that tended to bore audiences to death, Li discovered he stood a better chance of success letting his heavy fists fly than trying to wrest down the larger and better athletes the UFC provides. Despite his brawling nature and tendency to start slow, Li has done a better job of avoiding damage than you’d believe out of someone with his reputation.
There’s a couple of reasons I favor dos Santos. First, his level of competition has been better. His best wins are probably Millender and Sean Strickland. Li’s would be Frank Camacho and Zak Ottow. Plus, dos Santos has also beaten Keita Nakamura, a former opponent whom Li fell to. Then again, MMA math is an inexact science. Secondly, Li’s slow starts can partially be attributed to him getting a feel for his opponent’s tendencies. He may not be able to afford that luxury with dos Santos. Li has proven durable, never being finished via strikes, though there is always a first time for everything. Dos Santos via TKO of RD1
- Perhaps the fight that will feature the most sizeable seismic movements in its respective division is the flyweight contest between Kai Kara-France and Mark De La Rosa, though that’s mostly attributable to the lack of warm bodies in the division. Seriously, why the hell did the UFC begin dismantling it in the first place? I digress. Kara-France has been in two highly entertaining scraps on the back of his counter left since joining the organization, displaying his kickboxing chops to the delight of audiences. However, it’s been the improved takedown defense from his time on TUF that has seen him finding success. Then again, nobody will say he’s faced anyone with a wrestling game of note. De La Rosa isn’t anything special as an athlete, but he’s fundamentally sound in all areas and will test Kara-France’s abilities on the ground. Nonetheless, I still see the native of New Zealand to continue his winning ways in what should be a close contest. Kara-France via decision
- While Movsar Evloev was able to remain on the card due to Zhenhong Lu stepping in a week before the event, it doesn’t have the same zing to it before when it was supposed to be Mike Grundy across the cage from him. It feels like we’ve already seen Evloev do his thing against a prospect without the same type of promise he himself shows as Evloev ragdolled Seung Woo Choi in both of their UFC debuts. Lu doesn’t even seem like he’s on Choi’s level, much less Evloev’s. Even worse, this fight has happened before when Evloev was just beginning his career and the undefeated Russian is far better now than he was then. Lu has also improved, but he already fell once to Evloev despite being the more experienced opponent in their first fight. That isn’t the case this time around. The wrestle-grappler has his way with the kickboxer again. Evloev via submission of RD2
- It’s crazy to think Mizuki Inoue is still only 25 as she has been relevant in WMMA since her win over Bec Rawlings all the way back in 2013. Even crazier, she is only now making her UFC debut, though only due to her being an injury replacement. The armbar expert is fighting a weight class up at flyweight, so there is a possibility she could be outmuscled by her opponent, Yanan Wu. Then again, Wu’s takedown defense has been less-than-stellar. Nonetheless, Wu is younger than Inoue and has quite a bit of potential too. However, potential is the optimal word, not dissimilar from Inoue for several years. Wu is still figuring things out whereas Inoue has developed into a young veteran who knows who and what she is. Wu has more power, but Inoue is more likely to either outwork the Chinese representative or slap on an armbar. Inoue via submission of RD3