Much like the prelims for UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs. Harris, the main card is chuck full of intrigue. Angela Hill has been developing a bit of a cult following for her willingness to fight on short notice – despite the pandemic, this will already be her third contest of 2020 – and she’s getting her chance against a top-flight strawweight in Claudia Gadelha. Edson Barboza, who was one of the most consistent action fighting lightweights of the 2010s, is moving down to featherweight. Will his party be spoiled by Dan Ige? Much like Mike Davis and Giga Chikadze in the prelims, it’s hard not to get excited about Marlon Vera and Yadong Song doing the damn thing. For short notice, this is a fantastic card.
The main card begins on ESPN/ESPN+ at 9:00 PM ET/6:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Claudia Gadelha (17-4) vs. Angela Hill (12-7), Women’s Strawweight
Aside from a blowout of Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Gadelha hasn’t been the dominant fighter we all knew and loved heading up to her much ballyhooed rematch with Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the title. While a lot usually does change over the course of four years, Gadelha is 31 and those past four years should have been her prime. Instead, she fell out of contendership. Her last showing, against Randa Markos, was extremely blah, Gadelha taking a tentative point match on the feet. Gadelha talked about her improved technique and stamina after the contest, but is it worth it if it takes away the aggression that made her special in the first place?
One thing critics and analysts agreed on after Gadelha’s last fight was that her opponent, Markos, made a major mistake by not pushing the pace. Hill won’t make that mistake. A protégé of Alliance MMA, Hill has made gradual improvements in her highly active style of out-fighting. Rather than dancing in and out of range for the entirety of the contest – and sapping her gas tank in the process – Hill has made greater efforts to fight in the clinch and on the mat. She’s still not much of a grappler, but she can maintain top control well enough to deal some GnP from there. Then again, it’s doubtful she’ll purposely go to the mat with Gadelha….
Hill’s confidence has never been higher than where it is at right now. She’s understandably the underdog, but given her positive mental state and the constant criticism over Gadelha’s recent performances, an upset is ripe for the making. If Gadelha is the same fighter we saw squeak by Markos, Hill will have the biggest win of her career. However, Gadelha’s current coach is Mark Henry, who notoriously employs a striking style that tends to take some time to get the hang of. In other words, she should almost certainly look better than she did against Markos. Even if Gadelha’s striking doesn’t look better, she could utilize a ground-heavy attack. Many tend to forget Gadelha is thought to be one of the best – if not the best – grapplers in the division. The smart money says Gadelha wins. Gadelha via decision
Dan Ige (13-2) vs. Edson Barboza (20-8), Featherweight
Never, at any point, has anyone ever thought Barboza was a small lightweight. Sure, there have been opponents with strong wrestling games that could manhandle the Brazilian striker, but Khabib Nurmagomedov and Kevin Lee have done that to the majority of their opposition. And yet, despite his size never being a serious issue, Barboza saw fit to drop down to featherweight after a decade in the UFC at 155. This type of move smells of desperation.
If cutting the extra 10 pounds doesn’t sap him of the heart stopping power in his kicks or kill his gas tank, the move could be a boon. That’s a huge ask though. Very few fighters have found instant success after dropping a weight class in recent years. In fact, more have found success in moving up. Think Anthony Smith or Thiago Santos. You want examples in smaller weight classes? Dustin Poirier and Dan Hooker. Nonetheless, Barboza is convinced this is the right move for his career as the biggest hurdle for him at lightweight was the rugged wrestlers such as the aforementioned Khabib and Lee. Barboza has also become an underrated boxer in recent years, largely stemming to his devastating kicking arsenal.
Those takedown chops will be tested by Ige. Though more noted for his grappling than his wrestling, Ige does just enough in every fight to keep fighters thinking about his shots. That in turn has opened up his striking to proportions none thought were becoming of him when he entered the organization. There isn’t a lot of flash to him, but it has nonetheless proven effective. However, against Barboza, he’d likely be advised to go to his bread and butter and ground the fight.
I don’t like this move for Barboza. I know featherweight doesn’t have the maulers lightweight does, but moving down rarely works out for strikers the way they envision. That doesn’t mean Barboza shouldn’t be a favorite in this contest. Outside of his UFC debut – Ige’s lone UFC loss – the Hawaiian has been fortunate to avoid dynamic strikers. I’ll favor Barboza to utilize his reach advantage effectively. Barboza via decision
Eryk Anders (13-4) vs. Krzysztof Jotko (21-4), Middleweight
A roller coaster is the best way to describe the UFC careers of both Anders and Jotko. Anders’ had a more a more sudden climb and decline, but both had recent three-fight losing streaks that saw them on the verge of washing out of the organization only to rebound at the last moment.
Jotko’s decline was attached to a suddenly vulnerable chin, something that had never been a problem through the first 21 fights of his career. Part of that was Jotko completely abandoning the wrestling game that brought him to the dance in favor of a strong counter punching game in the pocket. His last few fights, Jotko has returned to his trip takedowns to limit the exposure of his chin. In the process, he has slowly seen his confidence return, a key element to maintaining consciousness.
Confidence has never been an issue for Anders. A supremely gifted athlete who played for Nick Saban at the University of Alabama, Anders has produced several KO’s from out of nowhere thanks to his exquisite burst. What he’s missing is structure and direction, often floating through fights without a particular directive other than looking for an opening. He’s had limited success thanks to his freakish athletic skills, but more is needed if he hopes to fulfill his potential. To his credit, Anders has looked more structured, adding low kicks, but winning a striking battle with Gerald Meerschaert isn’t exactly encouraging.
Anders can never be counted out thanks to his physical gifts, even against the likes of Israel Adesanya. But until he develops more structure to his game, it’s hard to feel comfortable picking him in a fight against an opponent who knows how to put together a sound strategy the way Jotko can. Anders will look to keep his distance, but Jotko will be all over him in hopes of securing a decision. Jotko via decision
Yadong Song (15-4-1, 1 NC) vs. Marlon Vera (17-5-1), Featherweight
While this fight is taking place at 145, it is actually a glorified bantamweight contest as both typically fight at 135. The short notice of the fight pushed it up… but what a fight it is!
Song is one of the most impressive specimens on the UFC roster, not just in the bantamweight division. At 22, he’s undefeated through five fights in the UFC with increasingly more accomplished opposition and three finishes that all received performance bonuses. It’s not a surprise he’s still fairly raw given his youth, but Song can get away with it to a degree given the power he possesses behind his heavy hooks. However, his lack of stamina and takedown defense were exposed in his recent draw with Cody Stamann.
His takedown defense is unlikely to be tested by Vera, but his stamina will be. For a long time, Vera was a selective striker, circling the outside looking for a killshot. While the amount of success he found with his limited output was somewhat surprising, Vera is currently riding a five-fight win streak with an increased amount of volume being a key part of his increased success. Even better, he hasn’t lost the opportunistic nature that allowed him to win fights even when he struggled with output. Few have a more diverse kicking arsenal than Vera and his jab has become the glue to entire attack.
Song is physically the more gifted fighter. That’s saying something as Vera isn’t a slouch himself. However, Song is also less structured in his attack… similar to the way Vera was a few years ago. Vera has yet to be finished in his career and he’s been in the cage with the likes of John Lineker. Song could finish Vera off, but he could also slow down significantly and leave himself vulnerable to Vera’s tendency to batter his opponents. Vera via TKO of RD3