After an incredible PPV, the UFC returns more to its status quo with UFC Brasilia. Given the run of underwhelming contests on recent Fight Night cards, its easy to feel an initial let down, particularly for the preliminary contests. However, it could be argued this preliminary card could hold up next to any Fight Night main card for the year 2020 — minus the main event of course.
Jussier Formiga and Brandon Moreno could very well be fighting for a title fight at flyweight — if the division can ever crown a champion. Aleksei Kunchenko and Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos sport a combined 9-3 UFC record. Enrique Barzola and Rani Yahya combine for a 17-7 record. That’s a far cry from the recent prelim offerings we’ve been getting. I usually don’t mind telling readers they can skip over the Fight Night prelims. I wouldn’t recommend doing so this time.
The prelims begin on ESPN+ at 5:00 PM ET/2:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Jussier Formiga (23-6) vs. Brandon Moreno (16-5-1), Flyweight
While I love this contest, it’s also infuriating that the UFC refuses to give the flyweight division a decent position on the card. It’s more than plausible faces the winner of Deiveson Figueiredo and Joseph Benavidez’s rematch for the title… and it’s buried on the prelims of a Fight Night card. It isn’t hard to figure out why the flyweight division hasn’t taken off. I guess it’s at least the featured prelim….
The established rule of thumb for Formiga is that if his opponent beats him, they receive a title shot — all the more reason to believe the stakes for the contest are high. Formiga has never received an opportunity at the gold himself and this contest could very well represent the last chance he’ll have to earn it. After all, Formiga is 34 and smaller weight divisions tend to age faster. Despite that, Formiga has yet to show a physical decline. In fact, it could be argued he’s never been better. He not only has tightened up his Muay Thai technique, he’s added some power too, using a . However, even with his improvements, his bread and better always has been and always will be his grappling, challenging Maia for the best human backpack award every year.
Moreno’s development from talented prospect to one of the top flyweights in the sport has been a joy to watch. His enthusiasm has proven to be contagious, making his fights a blast to take in. An aggressive wrestle-boxer, he has improved his timing and technique in both his punches and his shots. Even more encouraging, Moreno is not yet a finished product. Despite his improvements, his greatest skill may still yet be his unique opportunism, two of his UFC victories coming when he was well on his way to losing a decision. Don’t forget that Moreno has yet to show any serious signs of fatigue, including a five round decision loss in Mexico City. However, one thing that stills seems fair to question: his takedown defense.
Moreno is easily the physically superior combatant. Even though Formiga has been near the top of the flyweight hierarchy for a decade, he’s never been much of a specimen. Despite that, Formiga has been near the top. The Brazilian is tough, wily, and incredibly difficult to shake if he can achieve a dominant position on the mat. Moreno struggled to shake off the early attack of Askar Askarov just last year. Askarov is a very respectable grappler, but he’s not on Formiga’s level. For at least one more fight, Formiga proves he’s still one of the best flyweights in the world. Formiga via decision
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (21-6) vs. Aleksei Kunchenko (20-1), Welterweight
Given most of his career took place outside the UFC, most people overlooked what an accomplishment it was when Gilbert Burns handed Kunchenko his first career loss. The Russian had faced plenty of top regional competition without much drama in his contests. While Kunchenko isn’t a top athlete, he is underrated in that department in addition to immense physical strength and durability. He’s proven to be a technical kickboxer too, but that technique is also a bit of an issue as he fights at an extremely slow pace. So long as he can dictate the pace for the entirety of the contest, that’s not an issue. He couldn’t do that against Burns, thus why he was handed his first loss.
Dos Santos is a different type of beast than Burns. An explosive striker with a dangerous arsenal of kicks, there’s nothing the Brazilian enjoys more than a wild striking battle. However, he doesn’t sacrifice in terms of power either in addition to having one of the most diverse kicking arsenals, much of that owing to his capoeira background. Dos Santos has worked hard to make himself a reasonable wrestler, but only just enough so that he was able to squeak by in a few of his close decisions. However, it’s worth asking who the best wrestler was in his recent seven-fight win streak. It was either Omari Akhmedov or Sean Strickland and dos Santos found a way to finish them both, Strickland in the first round before he could get his wrestling going. Does he have enough to fight off Kunchenko?
I’m not of the opinion that dos Santos’ recent winning streak was a fluke. However, what was his best win? Strickland? Lyman Good? Max Griffin? Dos Santos wasn’t being afforded the step up in competition he deserved and was simply beating opponents he was supposed to beat. I don’t think he’s supposed to be beating Kunchenko. Kunchenko hasn’t utilized his wrestling much since coming over to the UFC, but it’s hard seeing him ignoring that aspect. A KO from either competitor isn’t out of the picture, but Kunchenko has been playing it safe. I doubt that changes. Kunchenko via decision
Rani Yahya (26-10-1, 1 NC) vs. Enrique Barzola (16-5-1), Bantamweight
A favorite of hardcore MMA fans for his enthusiasm and steady improvements, Barzola is dropping to bantamweight for the first time. It’s a move many have called for given the Peruvian has relied heavily on his wrestling for his success. However, he’s been undersized at 145 and hasn’t been able to get his ground game going as his difficulty of opposition has increased. Case in point: he averaged 6.8 takedowns a fight in his last five wins. In his last two losses – which were two of his last three contests – he averaged 0.5 takedowns.
It’s kind of funny he’s making the move down against Yahya, one of the best pure grapplers in the sport, not just the division. In fact, it could reasonably be argued Yahya is the best technical grappler in MMA… including Demian Maia. However, it could also be reasonably be argued Yahya is the worst athlete on the roster as well. He has no power, little quickness, and a short gas tank. That final trait can be explained from Yahya going for takedowns full bore early in the fight to get the contest into his world: the mat. If Yahya hasn’t exhausted himself too much, he’s upped the ante on his pursuit of submissions, securing each of his last three wins that way after developing a reputation for securing his wins largely through grappling control.
Barzola is going to have to win this contest on the feet, a feat that’s well within reach. Barzola’s boxing has been improving and he throws a large volume of low kicks. However, it’s not like all of Yahya’s opponents don’t know the takedown attempts aren’t coming and most of them haven’t been able to stop Yahya from getting them down early. Plus, it’s fair to wonder how well Barzola handles the cut to 135. My guess is it goes well. Regardless, I’m still favoring Yahya to submit the AKA product. Yahya via submission of RD1
- I would say the beginning of Amanda Ribas’ UFC career couldn’t have started any better, but I’d be neglecting the two-year USADA suspension that went into effect even before she had a fight. Nevertheless, she has since made a hell of a name for herself, submitting Emily Whitmire and completely dominating uber-prospect Mackenzie Dern for a unanimous decision. Despite being known for her submission chops, Ribas dictated the fight with a strong jab and effective counter punching, showing a wrinkle many weren’t aware she possessed. What she’ll face in her opponent, Randa Markos, is anyone’s guess. When Markos is at her best, she’s aggressive in pursuit of takedowns and submissions with the occasional power shot to threaten. However, she’s had just as many tepid performances as of late where she appears to be overthinking her next move and does next to nothing. The safest assumption for Markos is to assume since she’s coming off a strong performance, she’s due for a poor one. I know, it’s not scientific, but a look at her track record indicates there’s a lot of truth to that. Ribas via decision
- There may not be a better example of the importance of how you win shaping perception than Maryna Moroz. Yes, she sports a respectable 4-3 UFC record, but all her wins outside of her debut armbar over Joanna Calderwood have been decisions that would be described as ho-hum at best. Thus, her stock may very well be at an all-time low, even though she’s coming off a win in her flyweight debut. To be fair to Moroz, her striking technique has improved, but she still tends to come up short on most of her punches. Regardless, she’ll want to keep the fight standing as Mayra Bueno Silva is a fantastic BJJ grappler with half her career victories coming via submission. Silva’s wrestling is still very much a question mark, but Moroz’s ability to stuff takedowns is an even bigger question mark. If Moroz can keep the fight standing, she throws enough volume that she should outwork the sloppy but powerful Silva. Regardless, I like Silva’s aggression to find a finish. Silva via submission of RD2
- After having an unsuccessful UFC debut at bantamweight, Bruno Silva is returning to flyweight in hopes of finding more success. Being the smaller man at 135, he struggled to get Khalid Taha down. Given his wild striking, it was imperative to get the fight to the mat. When Silva did get the fight grounded, some of his training with Henry Cejudo became apparent, showing good control. Unfortunately, he didn’t find much success on the feet, showing a major lack of accuracy. Fortunately for him, his opponent, David Dvorak, has many of the same tendencies. However, Dvorak has found more success on the feet than Silva due to his lanky frame and pure aggression. Along with that aggression comes a hell of a killer instinct that’s rare at 125. Not only is he riding a 13-fight win streak, all of them have come not just before the final bell, but before the second round let out. I don’t have a real strong feel for this contest. However, my strongest feeling is that Silva isn’t likely long for the organization. That said…. Dvorak via submission of RD2
- There is a lot to like about Veronica Macedo. She’s a superb athlete with a wide variety of flashy kicks, plus a slick submission game as shown by her armbar of Polyana Viana. Perhaps the most impressive aspect is her youth as she is still only 24. However, while she sports an athletic frame, it’s also a small frame for bantamweight, where she returns after a spell at flyweight. She was bullied in her first spell at bantamweight by Ashlee Evans-Smith. She gets an even bigger opponent in Bea Malecki, a former world Muay Thai champion. Not only is Malecki 5-inches taller, she has a 10” reach advantage. Malecki isn’t the athlete Macedo is, but she is the far more technical striker and has showed some serious development on the mat. Macedo may be the better grappler, but size does matter. Malecki via TKO of RD2