Typically, the preliminary fights on foreign cards – Brazil usually being an exception – are underwhelming. The UFC tries to recruit the fans to the event by plugging in fighters who can attract a few more fans into the arena. UFC Montevideo isn’t an exception to this at all. However, there is another thing the UFC typically does with cards like this: they throw in a single fight that stands out amongst all the other middling – by comparison – contests. UFC Montevideo bucks this trend… in a good way. There are TWO contests that stand out. There shouldn’t be much interest in the rest of the contests on the prelims, and rightfully so. But those other two contests... oh yeah, you should pay attention to them.
The prelims begin on ESPN+ at 5:00 PM ET/2:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Tecia Torres (10-4) vs. Marina Rodriguez (11-0-1), Strawweight
It wasn’t that long ago that many were looking at Torres as a dark horse to the strawweight title. She enters this contest on a three-fight losing streak, now on the outside of title talks, perhaps permanently. However, all the career losses on Torres ledger have come against either the present champion or former champions… except one. That one came to Weili Zhang, who is fighting for the title at the end of the month. In other words, perhaps Torres still is as good as many saw her….
In a perfect world, Torres would probably be a consistent contender for the atomweight title as she is amongst the smallest members of the roster. She’s made up for her small stature by utilizing expert angles and technique in her striking. She doesn’t have much power – the lone finish of her career came via submission – but she can rack up the volume in a hurry and holds her own better in the clinch than you’d expect from someone her size. Torres has traditionally been able to hold up in the grappling department too, but she hasn’t impressed as much as usual given she has been facing top competition.
Rodriguez, though a solid prospect, doesn’t appear to be at the same level of Torres’ recent competition… at least not yet. The Brazilian product of DWCS had a tough UFC debut against Randa Markos, taking the Canadian to a draw before Rodriguez rebounded with a one-sided route of Jessica Aguilar. The biggest constant in those decisions was Rodriguez’s clinch work and calf kicks. Rodriguez isn’t a power puncher either, but she has more oomph than Torres and can pile up the volume just as quick.
While I said Rodriguez doesn’t yet appear to be at the level of Torres, Rodriguez made up a lot of ground between her contests with Markos and Aguilar. It wouldn’t be shocking to see her close the distance between herself and Torres, especially given the size advantage she’ll have over the Tiny Tornado. Despite those advantages, I see Torres picking apart her older opponent. Yes, I said older, despite Rodriguez being the prospect in this contest. However, expect the outcome, regardless of which way it goes, to be decided by a razor thin margin. Torres via decision
Gilbert Burns (15-3) vs. Aleksei Kunchenko (20-0), Welterweight
Even though Burns is a natural lightweight, many believe he provides a greater challenge for Kunchenko than the Russian’s original opponent, Laureano Staropoli. There are several reasons for that. First, Kunchenko is a very defensively sound fighter on the feet, leaving it unlikely Staropoli would find the kill shot he’d be looking for against the methodical Kunchenko. Secondly, Kunchenko is a smaller welterweight, clocking in at a stout 5’8”. That should make Burns natural weight class less of an issue.
Despite this potentially being a trickier matchup for Kunchenko, that doesn’t mean Burns is the favorite. Sure, Burns is one of the best pure BJJ grapplers on the UFC roster, half of his 8 UFC victories coming by way of submission, the other victories affected by his opponents reluctance to go to the ground with him. However, Kunchenko has shown some brilliant takedown defense, not being taken down a single time despite constant attempts from Yushin Okami. Burns utilizes a less straightforward approach to getting the fight to the ground than Okami – in addition to being a far superior athlete – so it’s no guarantee Kunchenko will be able to remain vertical.
Perhaps the biggest X-factor in this contest is Burns’ confidence. When he’s feeling good about himself, there is a huge difference in his performance, particularly on the feet. The confident Burns has been seen a lot more than when he first entered the UFC and he’s developed a dangerous boxing game in the process. However, it has also bordered on overconfidence, not showing Daniel Hooker the proper respect. Kunchenko isn’t a powerhouse by any means, but he has enough firepower to catch an opponent by surprise. Though I wouldn’t be shocked to see Burns nab a submission – most likely in the midst of a scramble -- the most likely scenario sees Kunchenko outpointing Burns in what likely ends up being a slow-paced standup affair… the type of fight Kunchenko prefers. Kunchenko via decision
As for the rest….
- A pair of debuting heavyweights square off as French kickboxer Cyril Gane traverses the Atlantic to clash with Brazil’s Raphael Pessoa. Don’t let Gane’s mere three fights on his record fool you. He’s a national Muay Thai champion with enough professional experience in that sport to make up for his lack of MMA experience. Plus, it’s unlikely Pessoa will try to take him to the ground. If it does stay on the feet – as expected – Gane is far more technical, throwing a lot of jabs complimented by single power shots. Pessoa has some fast hands and thudding kicks, but he’s also incredibly reckless. Gane shouldn’t have too many problems putting his heavier opponent to sleep. Gane via TKO of RD1
- Now that the UFC seems to be recommitting itself to the flyweight division, there is a hell of an opportunity for either Rogerio Bontorin or Raulian Paiva to distinguish themselves in a division lacking active bodies. Bontorin secured a controversial win over Magomed Bibulatov in his UFC debut, showing an aggressive ground game as he looked for submissions at every opportunity. Paiva, the younger and bigger of the two, fell short in a similarly controversial contest of his own against Kai Kara-France. Regardless, Paiva has some heavy kicks, a deep gas tank, and tends to thrive in the type of brawling environment on the feet Bontorin also favors. I like the longer Paiva as Bontorin’s preference for fighting off his back should bite him in the ass sooner rather than later. Paiva via decision
- Expectations were low for Geraldo de Freitas when he was signed to the UFC on short notice for a last-minute contest with Felipe Colares. Using a dogged ground attack and good use of his length, de Freitas emerged with a clear-cut victory. In his sophomore UFC effort, de Freitas gets a more disciplined striker in Chris Gutierrez. Gutierrez isn’t a power puncher by any means, but he has proven he can pick apart less athletic opponents with low kicks and likes to work over the body and De Freitas appears to be a lesser athlete. That doesn’t mean the Brazilian doesn’t stand a chance as he’s the superior ground fighter. I just don’t trust he can get the fight there enough. Gutierrez via decision
- Originally scheduled to be a battle of talented strikers before Rafael Fiziev pulled out due to injury, Alex da Silva welcomes a short notice opponent in Kazula Vargas. The 33-year old Vargas has been around for a while, but there’s a reason he never made it to the UFC prior to this point in his career. Da Silva isn’t significantly better than Vargas – yet -- but he’s only 23 with a better arsenal of tools to develop into something better than he is while Vargas appears to be a finished product. Da Silva not only hits harder, but he’s the longer fighter with a greater arsenal. Neither fighter has been KO’d in their career and it would be a surprise to see the fight hit the mat for an extended period. Expect a decision. Da Silva via decision
- This contest is likely the last chances for Veronica Macedo and Polyana Viana to hang around the promotion, the two coming in with a combined 1-5 UFC record. Macedo wasn’t ready when the UFC came calling three years ago, though she has made serious progress since that time. However, despite massive improvements on the ground and a more functional standup attack from her karate base, there still aren’t many winnable contests for her on the roster. Yeah, she was that green when she came aboard. Fortunately for the 23-year old, Viana is a very winnable opponent. Just because Viana is beatable doesn’t ensure Macedo walks out the winner as Viana is a raw talent herself. She has secured a finish in every one of her victories, the armbar being her favorite method. Regardless, Macedo had a full camp – Viana coming in as an injury replacement -- which has me leaning in the direction of the young talent from Venezuela. Macedo via decision