Last week, I defended the quality of the prelims of UFC Vancouver despite knowing they weren’t the best. Not that I hid that fact, as that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Looking at the prelims for UFC Mexico City, I feel much better about my defense of UFC Vancouver. It shouldn’t be a surprise as the UFC tries to cater to the home crowds, particularly in areas that haven’t been fully opened. Plus, there aren’t a lot of fighters lining up to go to Mexico City after the horror stories of fighting in its high elevation. Remember, the idea of Sea-Level Cain came from the former heavyweight champion’s irregular performance in Mexico City. Thus, the quality of fights on the prelims of Mexico City is more comparable to UFC Shenzhen than last week’s card in Vancouver. I’m not saying the contests won’t be entertaining. Two hobos fighting over a sandwich can be entertaining and these fights, no matter how much I might be crapping on them, are far better than two hobos. I’m just saying that I can’t blame you if you have no interest in these contests.
The prelims begin on ESPN+ on 5:00 PM ET/2:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Sijara Eubanks (4-3) vs. Bethe Correia (10-4-1), Women’s Bantamweight
The road for Correia has been incredibly bumpy since she stopped beating up on Ronda Rousey’s friends. Owner of just a single victory in her last six appearances, she has struggled against the step up in competition she has received since that time. In some ways, her title shot against Rousey has been the worst thing for the success of her career as the UFC has been using her name to boost the recognition of those she has been losing too. Regardless of whether the endeavor has been successful, there is no doubt Correia has been exposed in the process.
In the process of all her losing, this false idea that Correia is a joke has been pervaded. Correia is tough and durable in addition to being a fundamentally sound combination puncher in the pocket. The problem is that Correia is – and always has been – a subpar athlete. There’s only so much Correia can do to work around that problem and she’s pretty much hit her ceiling. She’s not a terrible grappler defensively and is difficult to take down, though her own takedown abilities have been abysmal. Her inability to threaten with takedowns has made her easy to strategize against as she is one-dimensional.
The ability to threaten both on the feet and on the mat is one of Eubanks biggest strengths as she can attack her opponent where they are weakest. Her base is BJJ, having competed in Grapplers Quest tournaments as far back as 2011. Not the most technical wrestler, Eubanks’ strength helps to make up for that, allowing her to take the fight to the mat if she desires. However, given her recent performance, you’d be forgiven if you believed boxing was her base. Eubanks has become a skilled combination puncher herself and has a considerable amount of power to boot. Though she’s still on the inexperienced side, Eubanks has been thrown into the deep end of the pool early in her career, making the lack of contests on her ledger a minor issue.
Eubanks may face some issues as she climbs the bantamweight rankings due to her lack of size – it already reared its head against Aspen Ladd -- but this isn’t going to be one of those contests as Correia is on the short end of the spectrum for 135 herself. Eubanks isn’t quite as technical as Correia, but her physical gifts and ability to attack from two dimensions should ensure a clear victory for her in this one. Eubanks via decision
- While Raoni Barcelos is a quality bantamweight, being dominated by him is an indication of a fighter who may not belong on the UFC roster. Fortunately for Carlos Huachin, he can blame the loss on youth and inexperience. The aggressive Peruvian possesses enough power to make up for some of his mistakes, but it’ll be hard for him to make up for enough of them to consistently win at this level until he tightens up his technique… offensively and defensively. His opponent, Jose Quinonez, isn’t on the level of Barcelos, but he does present a unique set of challenges for Huachin. A large 135er, Quinonez possesses good reach, a stiff jab, and is an enthusiastic wrestler. It would be dumb to write off Huachin’s power, but Quinonez’s experience against higher level competition and fighting in the elevation of Mexico City makes it hard to pick against him. Quinonez via decision
- It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise when Polo Reyes wasn’t finding much success once the UFC began giving him opponents who weren’t on the fringes of the roster. However, despite his three losses in his last four contests, the UFC is keeping him around due to his propensity for action. The hard-hitting puncher is dropping to featherweight in hopes of revitalizing his career, the Canadian Kyle Nelson being the target this time around. Nelson burst out of the gate in his UFC debut, looking pretty good in a losing effort against Diego Ferreira at lightweight before turning in a flat performance against Matt Sayles. Nelson is well-rounded with surprising power, but his poor defense and miserable gas tank has me leaning towards Reyes as the Mexican native has shown the ability to dig deep should the fight go the distance. Reyes via TKO of RD2
- Kudos to Angela Hill for pushing a ridiculous schedule, taking her fourth contest within six months. However, it’s worth wondering if Hill isn’t running herself thin as she lost two of the previous three contests. Even more questionable is if the style she has been implementing since joining Alliance MMA is right for her. She looks great for a round, utilizing a lot of lateral movement and picking apart her opponent from the outside. However, she has faded with regularity even before the second round is out. Now, she’s fighting in Mexico City? Yikes. Nonetheless, she’s the favorite as Ariane Carnelossi is unproven as she makes her UFC debut. The Brazilian shows a varied striking arsenal and good power. I wouldn’t put it past her to score an upset, but her short stature and reach will make it difficult to maintain the pressure against Hill without eating too much volume, likely causing her to fall behind on the scorecards. Hill via decision
- If there is anybody who should be excited the UFC is keeping the flyweight division around, it should be Sergio Pettis. The younger brother of former lightweight champion Anthony discovered he’s too small to avoid being bullied by those in the upper half of bantamweight when Rob Font mopped the mat with him. At flyweight, Pettis has the quickness to keep up with the uber-scramblers of the division in addition to what may be the most technical striking at 125. What he doesn’t have is the power of his opponent, Tyson Nam. Y’all remember Nam, right? He was the darling of the MMA world when he upset then Bellator bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas in 2012. Seven years later and he finally makes his UFC debut. Now 35, Nam’s best days are probably behind him. The Hawaiian striker will have his moments, but will most likely be outpointed by Pettis. Pettis via decision
- After two violent first round losses, Vinicius Moreira is being paired with the perfect opponent: Paul Craig. It isn’t that Craig is a poor fighter. It’s that he’s known for absorbing all sorts of punishment before pulling out a miracle last-minute submission… literally. Given neither Moreira nor Craig is much of an athlete makes this contest, in a weird way, that much more interesting. Moreira is the more technically sound grappler, though Craig’s willingness to take risks and ability to operate off his back has paid off more often than not. However, we don’t know much about the mettle of Moreira as he’s been finished before he can be dragged in deep waters against solid competition. We know what Craig is made of and it’s pure grit. Craig’s activity level and toughness should have him emerge on top. Craig via decision
- When the UFC brought in Marcos Marianos, it was with the intention of getting Lando Vannatta back on track. Why else would they sign a fighter with a 6-4 record without a win over a single quality opponent? Marianos has the physical skills to be an action fighting mainstay on the UFC roster, but he doesn’t put those skills together with any sort of regularity. Nonetheless, he has a chance to win as his opponent, Claudio Puelles, is still incredibly green, despite being on the UFC roster for about three years. The 23-year old has great determinism, enduring a hell of a beating before catching Felipe Silva in a kneebar. That resiliency will probably rear up again as Marianos is primarily a striker and Puelles has proven to be subpar on the feet. Despite that, Marianos is even worse on the mat and Puelles has been opportunistic from there. Puelles via submission of RD2