There would have been much more at stake had this contest taken place a week earlier. However, instead of waiting a week, the UFC announced Jan Blachowicz’s first defense of his light heavyweight belt would be against the middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya. Prior to that announcement, most believed the winner of the main event at UFC Vegas 13 this weekend between Thiago Santos and Glover Teixeira would earn the right to face Blachowicz. Not that anyone believes Santos and Teixeira aren’t going to try any harder to win if the shot isn’t on the line, but those types of intangibles can add a little extra oomph to those contests. Fortunately, there are several other fights worth watching. Most are circling Claudia Gadelha and Xiaonan Yan, but Ian Heinisch and Brendan Allen has an excellent chance of earning FOTN honors as well.
Thiago Santos vs. Glover Teixeira, Light Heavyweight
After having the fight of his life against Jon Jones, nothing has gone right for Santos. He sustained massive injuries in that contest, this being his first contest since then, 16 months later. In the process, it halted much of the momentum he picked up from his near upset of Jones. Some fans have forgotten about him and now, when it appeared he was on the verge of getting another opportunity at the gold, Uncle Dana yanks his hopes out from him a week before.
It’s not like the situation is much better for Teixeira. Though his revival has been a fun storyline, he is 41 with the clock ticking on his career. Even if he wins this and doesn’t have to win another fight before fighting for the title, he’s going to have to wait for Blachowicz and Adesanya to do the damn thing… and potentially heal up. It wouldn’t be out of bounds to say giving Adesanya the shot could potentially cost Teixeira his chance at becoming champion.
There is a clear path for victory for each combatant. Teixeira will look to pressure Santos, get his mits on him, and drag him to the mat. Teixeira even if he doesn’t get the fight to the mat right away, Teixeira can still be highly effective in the pocket with his boxing. Sure, he’s lacking in speed, but Teixeira is technically sound offensively and defensively and hits like a Mack truck. The power really translates if he does succeed in taking down his opponent as Teixeira is one of the most devastating GnP artists in the business. While he doesn’t get a lot of credit for his grappling abilities, Santos won’t have to just worry about Teixeira’s punches on the mat. Power submissions like Americana’s, kimura’s, or arm-triangle chokes are amongst the ways Teixeira can end a fight.
If Teixeira wants to close the distance, it’s clear Santos wants to keep his distance. Long regarded as one of the hardest hitters in the organization, Santos has put out several opponents with a single kick. However, his boxing has improved significantly and his power has transitioned from his legs to his hands without issue. While Santos hasn’t done a lot to make himself a credible threat on the ground, he’s become difficult to get to the ground and even harder to keep down.
Given Teixeira presents a lumbering figure who tends to shield himself behind his forearms for defensive purposes, it’s hard to see him absorbing too many clean shots from Santos. Not that he isn’t durable, but the human body can only withstand so much. Given his age as well, it’s hard to believe he can hold up for all five rounds… unless he can keep Santos down on the mat. He might be able to do so for a round, but Santos tends to attack the body, which will drain Teixeira’s gas tank, making his takedown attempts less effective. Santos should get a late stoppage. Santos via TKO of RD4
Andrei Arlovski vs. Tanner Boser, Heavyweight
No, Arlovski hasn’t been fighting since the days of the dinosaurs, even if it seems that way. The only fighter on the active roster with an appearance in the UFC prior to the Fertitta’s purchase, Arlovski continues his evolution as a fighter despite being in his 40’s. No, he isn’t quite the athletic specimen he once was, but he’s still in the upper echelon of that category of heavyweights. Then again, heavyweights tend to be lumbering power punchers, so it isn’t the accomplishment it might sound like at first.
Nevertheless, Arlovski is no longer the feared KO artist he was in his prime. It isn’t due to a loss of power, but a focus on his avoiding being KO’d in his own right. By taking a safer approach that requires him to be more technical and defensively sound, he’s sacrificed power in the process, his last finish coming in his one-round classic with Travis Browne in 2015. Though he’s been losing more than winning at this stage, he rarely looks out of his element, typically remaining competitive to the very end.
Because he has the notoriety of being a former champion – even if it was all the way back in 2006 when he last held the belt – he’s been a favorite callout of up-and-coming heavyweights. Boser, a charismatic Canadian, is the latest to get a crack. Known as a pillow fisted puncher on the regional scene, Boser has made a few adjustments in his technique and added some lethal power. Even better, he’s been able to do so without sacrificing his stamina.
If this turns into a point fighting contest, Arlovski stands a hell of a chance. He’s added low kicks as a regular part of his arsenal and is a far cry from solely using his right hand as he was for years. Hell, it was just last year he ran up 152 significant strikes up against Ben Rothwell. Of course, Boser is a far cry from the lumbering Rothwell. Boser is far more elusive and would be more likely to catch Arlovski by surprise. Much has been made of Arlovski’s chin and it’s worth questioning it, especially with Boser’s improved power. Regardless, I anticipate Arlovski knows how to protect it, even if I don’t see him outpacing his younger counterpart. Boser via decision
Ian Heinisch vs. Brendan Allen, Middleweight
There is a lot to like about Heinisch, most notably that there’s no quit in him. He’s worked himself beyond exhaustion in every one of his UFC contests that has gone the distance, but his effort never wanes. That’s a skill that you either have or you don’t and there aren’t many that do. Either that or he has a fantastic gas tank while managing to look gassed. Combine that with his impressive durability and those have been the main factors that have allowed him to find the success that he has.
Unfortunately for Heinisch, he hit a wall against Derek Brunson and Omari Akhmedov as their physicality proved too much for his non-stop effort to overcome. Recognizing he needed to tighten up his game, he immediately made camp changes and it appeared to show in last appearance against Gerald Meerschaert, drilling the durable vet with a heavy right hand and finishing him off with GnP. Of course, that happened early enough in the contest that it’s hard to know if he can maintain proper technique beyond the first minute as it’s easy to fall into old habits in the heat of the battle. Then again, his wrestling showed improvement in his loss to Akhmedov, so it looks like he should continue to move in the right direction.
In the case of Allen, he appeared to learn those lessons on the regional scene. Not as frenetic as Heinisch, Allen does have a similar strategy of wanting to tie up and take the fight to the mat. He used to get overzealous on the regional scene and put himself into bad positions in the past. The 24-year old has matured enough so that isn’t the inevitability it once was, but he still found himself in some troubling situations against Kyle Daukaus, who isn’t as polished as Heinisch. Nonetheless, Allen’s tutelage under Duke Roufus has started to produce results on the feet as well.
I’ve waffled on this one a lot. Allen appears to be the cleaner striker and better overall athlete, but Heinisch fights the aggressive type of fight that has given Allen fits in the past as the younger fighter tends to fade late. Throw in Heinisch appears to be in a camp that will help him progress and I’m leaning towards the former inmate, though I’m hardly confident in that pick. Regardless, I’m expecting a bunch of fun scrambles and a split decision that could go either way. Heinisch via decision
Claudia Gadelha vs. Yan Xiaonan, Women’s Strawweight
This may be Gadelha’s final chance to enter the title conversation at strawweight. Ever since she lost to Joanna Jedrzejczyk the second time around, Gadelha has been an afterthought, dropping clear decisions to Jessica Andrade and Nina Ansaroff. While she has picked up five wins in that time as well, all but one have been uninspiring in performance. She may not just need a victory here, but an emphatic win.
As the level of competition has grown at strawweight, Gadelha has been forced to transform her style from an aggressive wrestler and grappler who drains her gas tank in a hurry to someone who can better conserve her energy. She has become more technical on the feet, but she may have sacrificed her natural instincts as she rarely sits down on her punches anymore. Thus, her power, once one of her prime characteristics, hasn’t made it’s presence felt for quite a while. Fortunately, she hasn’t suffered any sort of decline in her ground attack. It’s hard to think of someone in the division with a more effective combination of wrestling and BJJ than Gadelha as her technique and physicality is unmatched.
There’s no doubt Gadelha will look to get Xiaonan to the mat as much as possible as Xiaonan pushes an insane pace, amongst the hardest in the sport. She does an expert job of mixing her punches to the head and body and mixes in quite a few low kicks as well for good measure. It would be a shocker if she doesn’t end up with a significant edge in volume, especially if she forces Gadelha to try and match her output, likely resulting in Gadelha fading down the stretch. The question will be if she can remain upright. Xiaonan has been resilient to her opponent’s takedowns thus far, but none of them have come close to the prowess possessed by Gadelha.
What this all boils down to is if Xiaonan can avoid Gadelha’s mitts. Even if Xiaonan lands more strikes, she’ll have to deal with Gadelha’s control, potential submissions, and GnP. Plus, when Gadelha makes her low kicks a priority, they’re thrown with enough force that they could end up affecting Xiaonan’s mobility quickly. There’s a reason so many have been anticipating this contest as it’s difficult to prognosticate, but Xiaonan’s habit of crashing into her opponents makes it a strong likelihood Gadelha can get the contest to the mat enough for her to negate Xiaonan’s insane pace. Regardless, it should be a good one. Gadelha via decision
- So… when is the UFC going to give Raoni Barcelos a legit step up in competition? Despite four wins in his four appearances, the UFC shows no inclination of giving him a ranked opponent despite Barcelos already being 33. I guess they have no desire to see what he can do before he exits his prime. Either that or the UFC believes Khalid Taha is about ready to burst into the official rankings. While there is no doubt Taha offers promise, the quality of his wins can be called into question. His KO came against a guy who couldn’t remain conscious in his next two contests while his bruising arm triangle choke came against a natural flyweight. Regardless, Taha is talented enough that Barcelos needs to be wary of his power as Barcelos has been willing to throwdown in the pocket in the past. Part of that is Barcelos possessing plenty of power and his lack of attention to technique on the feet. Where Barcelos isn’t lacking technique is on the mat as the Brazilian is one of the better wrestlers to come from that nation and is a fantastic submission artist as well. If Barcelos can get Taha to the mat – and I have no doubt he can – he should be able to end things pretty quickly. Barcelos via submission of RD2