There isn’t a fight on the main card of Fight Night: Smith vs. Teixeira that feels like a fight that NEEDS to happen. However, there isn’t really a bad fight on the main card. Sure, several of the fights could prove to be boring – Ben Rothwell and Ovince Saint Preux is the contest that immediately comes to mind – but everyone one of these fights makes sense. Outside of the main and co-main event, each of the combatants is young enough in their UFC careers, they could end up making some serious noise in their respective divisions down the road. If I were to pick one fighter I’d keep an eye on going forward from this card, I’d highlight Marvin Vettori. Let’s dig in to the action….
Ben Rothwell (37-12) vs. Ovince Saint Preux (24-13), Heavyweight
There has been speculation for a while that Saint Preux might move up to heavyweight at some point given it’s typically harder to make weight the older a person gets. Now 37, he’s far removed from his youthful days as a hyped prospect and clearly on the backside of his career. Despite accepting this contest, Saint Preux is insisting this is just a one-off appearance at heavyweight. It might be wise for him to see how things play out against Rothwell and consider making the move permanent.
With his massive frame and sudden explosion, Saint Preux has long been considered one of the top athletes in the light heavyweight division. Being an impressive athlete doesn’t mean as much at heavyweight as it does at 205, but it’s surely something he’ll be able to take advantage of against a lumbering behemoth like Rothwell. It does mean Saint Preux will have to change things up a bit as he’s used to being the bigger man in the cage. Don’t expect to see Saint Preux utilize his power wrestling game. Instead, look for him to sit on the outside and utilize his burst to pick apart Rothwell with sudden power punches.
Rothwell is a product of a bygone era, debuting as an amateur back in the 90’s. He’s never been much of an athlete, but he’s massive, can absorb an insane amount of punishment, and possesses a sneaky arsenal of front chokes. He’s also glacially slow, making him an easy target for snipers on the outside. No one will classify Saint Preux as a sniper in the traditional sense, but he has the tools to pull it off.
Part of the question with Saint Preux is what version of him we’ll get. There’s some fights where he’ll absorb a beating, only to flip a switch and secure a fast finish. Other times, he’s on the other side of that coin. He also has a tendency to fade late in fights. Rothwell, being the veteran he is, tends to conserve his energy well. The big man has a lot of power and can unleash hell with a flurry of punches. It’s a coin flip, but I’ll go with the traditional heavyweight. Rothwell via TKO of RD3
Alexander Hernandez (11-2) vs. Drew Dober (22-9, 1 NC), Lightweight
One of the sneaky good stories of the UFC, Dober has turned his career around in a big way. After securing a solitary win in his first five UFC contests, Dober has turned things around to put together a 7-2 record since that time. The results have him knocking on the door of the top 15… literally as that’s where Hernandez is currently ranked.
Dober isn’t a quick-twitch athlete, a large part of the reason why his run has been so impressive. He’s gotten to where he is behind dedication and hard work, taking the aspects that worked for him earlier in his career and adding to them. For instance, Dober was a volume puncher with great cardio and an enthusiastic wrestling game when he first joined the organization in 2013. All those things are still true, but he’s added some power by sitting down on his punches and improved the timing and technique on his shots to add efficiency to his enthusiasm. Dober is proof of what good coaching can do.
Hernandez may be proof of how improper coaching can be harmful. He burst onto the scene with a shocking KO of Beneil Dariush in under a minute, utilizing aggression and power. After Donald Cerrone used his aggression against him with a barrage of counters, Hernandez showed up in his last contest a tentative point fighter, barely squeaking by an equally meek Francisco Trinaldo. Hernandez did show technical improvements, but he also looked uncomfortable exercising the restraint he did, as if it was going against his nature. However, Dober’s aggression will likely pull out the natural aggression in Hernandez and allow him to return to his more natural aggressive roots. It’s a tough call, but I like Hernandez’s athletic advantages to allow him to edge his way past Dober in what likely proves to be a controversial decision. Hernandez via decision
Ricky Simon (15-3) vs. Ray Borg (13-4), Bantamweight
After missing weight yet again at 125, Borg is being sent back to 135, apparently for good at this point. Given his short 5’4” and 63” reach, the former flyweight title challenger is going to be the smaller man in just about every one of his contests, including this one. Actually, especially in this one.
Simon checks in at 5’6”, but it’s the 69” reach that’s really going to be an issue for Borg. Simon’s base is still his overwhelming wrestling – and always will be — but he has been making strides in his boxing as his contest with Rob Font showed. He’s still got a long way to go if he’s going to be winning strictly on the back of his fists. Regardless, Simon’s powerful double leg and extraordinary scrambling is the difference maker in his arsenal. In fact, it’s that ability that makes this such an intriguing contest.
As good as Simon is as a wrestler and scrambler, he hasn’t been able to ride that ability to a title shot. Borg has. He’s been amongst the quickest members of the roster since his UFC debut, effectively utilizing those quicks to stick on his opponents like glue. Despite his wrestling pedigree, he has struggled with opponents who own a significant size advantage. Getting them down has proven to be a challenge, much less keeping them down. Much like Simon, Borg has made strides in his striking as well, but he’s even further behind than Simon in that category.
There’s a reason many were proclaiming doom and gloom for Borg when it looked like the UFC was getting rid of the flyweight division. He is a magnificent wrestler, but he’s too one-dimensional and small to have sustained success at bantamweight. Simon owns so many of the features that Borg has struggled with. Unless Borg has made some improvements I’m unaware of, it seems like a clear win for Simon. Simon via decision
Karl Roberson (9-2) vs. Marvin Vettori (14-3-1), Middleweight
There are some who would say Vettori has come the closest to derailing the current middleweight champion on his road to claim the title. That should give you an idea of what the talented Italian is capable of. A plus athlete with a deep gas tank, slick punching combinations, and one of the most underrated grappling games in the sport. Unfortunately for him, his submissions have largely evaporated since coming to the UFC. If Vettori can develop a killer instinct, he could very well end up working his way to the rematch with Adesanya he craves.
Roberson represents the best striker Vettori has faced this side of Adesanya. A plus athlete himself, Roberson’s professional kickboxing experience has served him well. With good short-area power and sound technique, Roberson has yet to be outclassed on the feet. However, though he has made significant strides to improve his submission defense, his ground game overall has been a major Achilles heel. Sure, Roberson managed to submit Roman Kopylov, but nobody is about to refer to Kopylov as a wiz on the mat.
Roberson continues to show more confidence in his abilities on the mat. While he should be proud of the progress he has made, he’d be foolish if he were to try and compete with Vettori in that sphere. I have less reservations about Vettori hanging with Roberson on the feet. While Vettori hasn’t been known to make too much of an effort to go to the ground, he has made a point to go to the mat with those who aren’t known for their mat skills. I’d expect him to do the same here. Vettori via submission of RD2