I gave plenty of leeway to the prelims of UFC Vancouver. They were preliminary contests after all. I want to do the same thing for the main card as there are some good fights that I have no problem with appearing on an ESPN+ main card. However, there are other examples that I struggle to understand their placement on the main card. For example, what the hell is Todd Duffee doing on a main card? I know he once headlined a card, but his placement at the top of that card was dubious. Plus, he hasn’t fought in three years. However, I will sing praises to the main event between Donald Cerrone and Justin Gaethje. I’d be willing to pay for a PPV with that as the headliner. It’s that great of a fight. Unfortunately, I don’t break that contest down here. Still, there are fights worth paying attention to.
The main card begins on ESPN+ at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Glover Teixeira (29-7) vs. Nikita Krylov (26-6), Light Heavyweight
Teixeira isn’t the destructive force he was upon his UFC entry back in 2012. Far from it. That doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous anymore. In fact, it could be argued Teixeira is currently a more technical fighter as he no longer has the durability to walk through his opponent’s return offense to enforce his will. Given he was never particularly quick to begin with, Teixeira has largely done away with voluntarily engaging in his opposition on the feet as he tends to take more damage than he dishes out, preferring to take the fight to the mat as quick as possible. Opponents still need be careful with Teixeira on the feet as he still has enough power to turn out their lights with a single punch. It just isn’t as easy for him to land the killshot as it used to be.
Krylov has the physical tools to pick apart type of strategy. Despite being a favorite in the MMA community, it isn’t because Krylov is a thinking man’s fighter. In fact, it’s his propensity for questionable strategic decisions that make him a favorite as his recklessness generally leads to a finish. The question is whether he’s the one getting finished or if he’s finishing his opponent. Krylov’s athletic gifts and wiry frame have allowed him to find success more frequently than his opponent in this endeavor. Unfortunately for him, he’s pretty much hit a ceiling with this approach against top ten ranked opponents. There have been signs of maturity, but the question is whether he has matured enough to break through that ceiling.
Though Krylov is usually gung-ho to take a fight to the mat, this contest should prove an exception. Teixeira has always been a strong wrestler with a smothering top game, just as capable of stopping a contest with a strong-man sub as he is with vicious GnP. Krylov tends to think he can escape just about any sticky situation until he’s either tapped, knocked silly, or asleep. Then again, those signs of a newfound maturity indicate he may be able to put forth the type of strategy that many believe would make him a contender. However, until I have more concrete evidence, I’m siding with Teixeira’s steady wrestling and BJJ to delay Krylov’s ascent just a bit longer. Teixeira via submission of RD2
Uriah Hall (14-9) vs. Antonio Carlos Junior (10-3, 1 NC), Middleweight
It may very well be there has never been a more frustrating fighter in the history of the UFC than Uriah Hall. Infinitely talented, Hall has struggled to get out of his own head at times and has lost more than his share of fights as a result. What usually happens is Hall proves to be reluctant to pull the trigger as his opponent marches him down. He’ll throw out the occasional desperation strike to devastating effect, much like his flying knee to Gegard Mousasi. However, if that doesn’t happen, the end usually comes before too long. There are also contests where Hall looks confident, throwing out a jab with consistency to keep his opponent out at range for his more lethal attacks. Unfortunately for Hall, those contests rarely seem to occur with regularity now that the book has been written on him.
If Hall can keep the fight standing, he has a good chance of imposing his will on ACJ (Carlos Junior) as the Brazilian’s striking game is still far behind his world class BJJ skills. To be fair, when I say world class, that’s no hyperbole. Though the standup is a long way off from being a strength, his striking isn’t as rudimentary as it once was as he can occasionally threaten with his power. However, what has really progressed is his takedown abilities, a far more important ability for him as it allows him to exploit his what he does best. All his submissions in the UFC have come by way of RNC, as he tends to get the back of his opponent with frequency, though you’d be stupid to think RNC’s are the only way ACJ can end a fight.
One of the more underrated aspects of Hall’s game has been his submission defense. While the list of accomplished grapplers he’s faced over his careers is on the low end for someone at his level, going 23 career contests without being submitted is nonetheless impressive. However, if there’s anything to learn from this sport, it’s rare for anything in a fighter’s resume to remain unblemished. Both Hall and ACJ can be broken mentally, but I think it’ll be easier for ACJ to break Hall provided he maintains constant pressure on the ground. Carlos Junior via submission of RD2
Misha Cirkunov (14-5) vs. Jimmy Crute (10-0), Light Heavyweight
It seems hard to believe that Cirkunov was the hot prospect at 205, opening up his UFC career with four straight wins. Even harder to believe it wasn’t all that long ago… unless two years ago is a long time ago. I suppose time flies when you take in an MMA event (or two) every week….
Taking in the names Cirkunov has fallen too – Volkan Oezdemir, Teixeira, and Johnny Walker – softens the blow a bit, but plenty of disappointment remains. It isn’t like Cirkunov’s weaknesses weren’t apparent before his recent skid, his stiff striking being most notable. It’s just that so many of us were desperate for a legit prospect at 205 that we were willing to give him a bit of a pass. What he does do well is outmuscle the opposition in the clinch, secure takedowns, and apply heavy pressure from the top. That pressure has resulted in four submissions out of his five UFC wins as his squeeze is intense.
Crute, a 23-year old prospect, entered the organization with a reputation as a brawler. While that’s still his strength, he’s also shown a lot of resiliency on the mat, surviving nearly 15 minutes of mostly grappling with the submission savvy Paul Craig. In the process, he showed greater grappling acumen than previously thought, scoring with sweeps, escaping several submission attempts from Craig, and securing a kimura for the win. However, he’s also shown a glaring weakness: his takedown defense. Craig is hardly a great wrestler, but he had no problem getting Crute to the mat in the early stages of their contest.
While Crute is fairly easy to counter as well, Cirkunov is unlikely to expose that hole. However, if Craig can get Crute to the mat, I can guarantee Cirkunov can too and Crute won’t be able to reverse his fortunes nearly as easily against Cirkunov. Cirkunov’s chin can be cracked and Crute may be able to do so before Cirkunov can get his mitts on him. Nonetheless, the smart pick is to go with the Canadian to eventually squeeze out a tap from the Aussie. Cirkunov via submission of RD2
- It’s been about a decade since Todd Duffee was tabbed as the next big thing in the heavyweight division. Obviously, that never came to pass due to a slew of reasons – it isn’t just injuries -- resulting in Duffee’s inability to make it in the cage with regularity. Since re-signing with the UFC in 2012, he’s only made three appearances, his last one coming over four years ago. Assuming he’s still the same hard-hitting hulk – and there is no guarantee of that – he should be able to impose his will on Jeff Hughes. The training partner of Stipe Miocic is durable and has impressive stamina, but lacks much else in terms of notable physical gifts. Given Duffee is still very much a mystery, I won’t eliminate the possibility of Hughes outworking his more established counterpart, but I can’t imagine Duffee has changed too much. Duffee via TKO of RD1
- Some of you may be wondering why I’m not giving more ink to Michel Pereira after his once-in-a-lifetime debut, showing more style in two minutes to dispense of Danny Roberts than many fighters show in their entire UFC careers. However, Pereira’s track record is spotty, making it a bit hard to believe what we saw will be a regular occurrence. Nonetheless, his opponent, Tristan Connelly, is taking the contest just days before the event. Basically, he looks like a lamb being led to the slaughter. Connelly is durable, never having been KO’d – his lone TKO stoppage was due to a shoulder injury – meaning it is possible he could outwork the Brazilian if he survives Pereira’s early onslaught that will inevitably come. Chances are the natural lightweight doesn’t, keeping in mind the UFC would love for the uber-athletic Pereira to put on a repeat performance. Pereira via KO of RD1