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UFC 267 Preview: European-heavy prelims feature several bangers

Get the scoop on the preliminary action out of Fight Island, of UFC 267 with plenty of Russian names and a high-level strawweight scrap between Virna Jandiroba and Amanda Ribas.

Virna Jandiroba after finishing Kanako Murata at UFC Vegas 29
Virna Jandiroba after finishing Kanako Murata at UFC Vegas 29
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

I’ll be the first to admit that I rip on the UFC for throwing out crap cards. Hell, I actively encouraged people not to purchase UFC 234 given the poor quality of the card. But I also have to give the UFC kudos when they do something right and for the entire year, the UFC has been doing PPV right. Well... maybe I should say they’re doing numbered events right as UFC 267 isn’t techincally a PPV, but your get what I mean.

Sure, there is a fair amount of filler on the preliminary section of the card – there’s a lot of fighters who’ve had visa issues the UFC needed to get on this card – but that’s where filler is supposed to go and the main card more than makes up for it. That isn’t to say there aren’t interesting fights – there’s a clash between ranked strawweights and another with lightweights who could be knocking on the official UFC rankings – but I’ll also admit, 15 fights is a lot to take in. That’s what you’ll be looking at if you take in the full slate. I won’t blame anyone for choosing to take in a few more Z’s if that’s their preference, but there is a good chance they could miss something spectacular.

Amanda Ribas vs. Virna Jandiroba, Women’s Strawweight

It’s difficult to name a more likeable member of the UFC roster than Ribas. The enthusiasm and joy that permeates from her makes it easy to forget her that she gets paid to punch fellow combatants in the head. Perhaps that sounds odd, but there isn’t an ounce of vindictiveness to her. She’s just a genuinely happy person that the UFC doesn’t see any drawback in pushing.

Of course, pushing someone before they’re ready can set back a fighter significantly and there’s a genuine cause for concern the organization may be doing that by throwing her in there with Jandiroba. In terms of physical tools, Jandiroba is near the bottom of the barrel. However, the BJJ ace makes up for those shortcomings by being supremely conditioned and prepared for whatever her opponent might throw at her. There isn’t a more fundamentally sound grappler on the mat either, going toe-to-toe with Mackenzie Dern on the mat and arguably breaking even in that department despite Dern being a far superior athlete. Perhaps most telling is 13 of Jandiroba’s 17 career wins have come via submission, not to mention the lone TKO win on her ledger coming via doctor stoppage after she jacked up Kanako Murata’s arm with a submission attempt. Make no mistake, Jandiroba is dangerous on the mat.

What does give Ribas hope is the youthful Brazilian hasn’t been easy to take down despite facing a slew of opponents who would want to do just that. It isn’t that Ribas is worrisome in the grappling department. She’s actually pretty damned skilled, half of her UFC wins coming via submission. But Ribas has proven to be a student of the game herself, going into each of her fights with a clearly defined game plan. Thus, she’ll know she wants to avoid going to the mat with Jandiroba as Ribas’ own athletic skills will be far more prominent if she can turn the fight into a striking match.

Ribas best weapon is her jab, beating the aforementioned Dern almost strictly on the basis of that, though it was hardly the only thing she did to take the decision. The most impressive part about her jab it is how she mixes it to both the body and head. While Jandiroba doesn’t have the power or striking variety of Ribas, many have made the mistake of believing Jandiroba can’t hurt them on the feet. Jandiroba is unlikely to win via strikes, but she can sure as hell use her strikes to set up a takedown at the very least.

I’m mixed on this fight. Because of how easy it is to like Ribas, I believe she’s overrated whereas Jandiroba is underrated due to her lack of physical tools. I see this as a clear win for Jandiroba. Jandiroba is hard to hurt and she knows just about all the savvy tricks of the trade to ground the fight. Ribas is skilled enough on the mat that I wouldn’t put it past her to go the distance, but it seems more likely Jandiroba finds a sub. Jandiroba via submission of RD2

  • It’s well known Zubaira Tukhugov can thank being buddies with Khabib Nurmagomedov for remaining in the UFC’s employ following the shenanigans after Khabib’s victory over Conor McGregor. Whether Tukhogov is still employed because of Khabib is a bit more debatable. With just one UFC victory since December 2015, the Tukhugov bandwagon is devoid of passengers at this point. The tools that made everyone initially excited about him when he made his UFC debut in 2014 are still there – punching power and relentless takedowns – but his fight IQ and stamina have held him back. There are some who would say the rose is also off the bloom for Ricardo Ramos, but I would dispute that. While Ramos no longer has the size advantage at 145 that he enjoyed at bantamweight, he’s worked hard on his wrestling to allow him to utilize the dangerous grappling that punched his ticket to the big show in the first place. Ramos has had some stamina issues of his own, but he’s also shown some progress in that department. Even with that said, I favor Tukhugov as he’s a bad stylistic matchup for Ramos. While Ramos’ takedowns have improved, I haven’t seen proof he can consistently stop his opponent’s takedowns and Ramos’ work off his back hasn’t been impressive. Ramos could land a spinning or leaping attack, but Tukhogov’s durability is further reason for me to lean in his direction. Tukhugov via decision
  • Am I the only one getting a Khamzat Chimaev vibe out of Albert Duraev? Duraev isn’t undefeated, nor is he as youthful as the hyped Dagestani, but the look, attitude, and fight stylings have me going back to last summer and Chimaev capturing the attention of the MMA community. The biggest difference is Duraev’s flaws have been exposed as he isn’t the most technical striker and can fade hard down the stretch. Aside from that, Duraev proves to be a whirling dervish in the cage, pursuing takedowns with maddening aggression and hunting for subs once getting the fight where he wants it. Even though Duraev does tend to fade, his opponents tend to wilt under his pressure as well, making a come-from-behind from his opponent a difficult proposition. It’s hard to know what to expect from Roman Kopylov. The fellow Russian entered the organization with some hype, but it has all dissipated with a lone appearance – which was a loss – in the nearly three years’ time since his signing was announced. There haven’t been any major weaknesses readily apparent, and his striking is far more technically sound than Duraev’s. But can he withstand the pressure of the newcomer? It isn’t hard to see Kopylov having added some wrinkles since he last fought two years ago, but based on what I’ve seen thus far, I feel far more comfortable going with Duraev. Duraev via submission of RD1
  • Is it just me, or did Elizeu dos Santos never get his just due when he was amidst a seven-fight win streak? Some might say he didn’t beat anyone notable, but he did beat who was placed in front of him and that included current middleweight dark horse, Sean Strickland. Regardless, the 34-year-old capoeira practitioner hasn’t had the same explosiveness and willingness for calculated risk since absorbing a hell of a beating at the hands of Li Jingliang a few years ago. That said, he’s still an exceptionally dangerous striker who doesn’t need to resort to high-risk maneuvers to deliver a finish. Thus, even if Dos Santos is no longer at his peak, it’s hard to believe he won’t have enough to turn away French newcomer, Benoit Saint-Denis. At 25, Saint-Denis has all sorts of time before he hits his peak, but he’s far from a finished product, his professional debut coming less than three years ago. Though not huge for 170, he shows excellent strength for the division, needed for his ground-based attack. However, his level of competition has been very different than what dos Santos has faced. Not that Saint-Denis has faced bad competition, but dos Santos’ has faced and been competitive against awesome competition recently. Throw in Saint-Denis’ aggressive pursuit of submissions seems more likely to put him in a bad position against dos Santos than resulting in a finish for himself, nor do I see Saint-Denis having the technical base to compete with dos Santos on the feet and I think the UFC threw the Frenchman into the deep end too quickly. Dos Santos via TKO of RD1
  • Shamil Gamzatov is very much a mysterious figure in the light heavyweight division. Sure, he won his UFC debut against Klidson Abreu, but it was hardly an impressive performance. Given the slow pace at which it was fought, it didn’t address the biggest red flag about him prior to his UFC debut, his cardio. We’re about to find out if it has improved as Michel Oleksiejczuk pushes one of the harder paces of anyone at 205. It has cost him as he has faded quickly due to his aggression, but the Pole has demonstrated an increased maturity and selective patience in recent contests. What has really been troublesome for the undersized Oleksiejczuk is larger opponents focused on grounding him and wearing him down. Gamzatov can wrestle a bit and his best feature is his GnP from the top position, but he’s a former middleweight who doesn’t strike the bullying figure that has overwhelmed Oleksiejczuk. At his size, I don’t know if Gamzatov’s wrestling will be enough to overpower Oleksiejczuk. I know Gamzatov has a strong sambo pedigree, but I haven’t seen enough of it in practice to feel confident in that being his path to victory. Throw in Gamzatov probably won’t be able to capitalize should Oleksiejczuk begin to fade due to his own cardio issues and I don’t see enough reasons to seriously consider Gamzatov for the upset. Oleksiejczuk via TKO of RD2
  • It looks like the UFC has given up on Makwan Amirkhani developing into a potential contender at this point. The man known as Mr. Finland has explosive power and a relentless takedown game, but never learned to harness his power consistently, nor has he found a way to manage his energy reserves to effectively pursue takedowns over the course of 15 minutes. However, he has a chance to right his ship as the biggest knock against Lerone Murphy thus far in his UFC career has been his struggles to stop takedowns. While that’s about the only area Amirkhani possesses a clear-cut advantage, it’s a big enough aspect of the fight game that it could be enough for Amirkhani to edge the fight, provided he can do so for at least two of the three rounds. Amirkhani is also a dangerous submission threat, but only through the first round and half. However, while Murphy’s takedown defense is subpar – at least it was when he last faced a wrestler two years ago — his ability to get back to his feet is impressive and his BJJ is underrated. Plus, Murphy is at least as good of an athlete as Amirkhani is and absolutely vicious when he has an opponent on the ropes. Look for Murphy to attack Amirkhani to all levels with all his limbs whenever the fight is standing and do just enough to outpoint the durable Amirkhani. Murphy via decision
  • While I’m unabashedly against the return of TUF – they have DWCS as a more effective method to welcome new prospects into the organization – I will admit that Andre Petroski looks like a product from the show that could manage to stick around for quite a while. Though not particularly large for the middleweight division, Petroski is well-built, has adapted his notable wrestling pedigree to MMA efficiently, and appears to have made improvements in his gas tank issues many were concerned about.. It could be argued Hu Yaozong has managed to stay around for quite a while, but that’s only because the Chinese representative has largely been inactive, only fighting twice in his four year stay on the roster. Doing his best version of the Incredible Shrinking Man, Yaozong moves down another weight class, hoping he can outmuscle the current crop of 185ers. Yaozong is tough, willing to scrap, and may have made massive strides in his three years away, but there are still too many questions for anyone to feel comfortable picking him. Yaozong can pull off the upset if the fight remains standing, but there’s no good reason to expect Petroski not to take the fight to the mat. Petroski via TKO of RD3
  • Despite scoring four clear wins in his first four UFC contests, Damir Ismagulov has found next to no enthusiasm from the UFC brass. With that much success, you’d expect him to be knocking on the door of a ranked opponent. Instead, he’s facing Magomed Mustafaev. Not that Mustafaev isn’t talented enough to break into the rankings himself, but the track record isn’t there due to several long absences from action. An explosive striker who is a skilled enough wrestler to fall back on that if he’s confronted with someone who is more skilled on their feet than the mat, Mustafaev’s gas tank has been the biggest question mark thus far. That has never been an issue with the methodical Ismagulov. The reason why Ismagulov hasn’t gotten a bigger push from the brass is he’s about as buttoned down in his approach as it gets. Whatever the clearest path to victory with the least amount of risk is the path he’ll take. Against Mustafaev, my guess is he’ll be fending off takedowns while throwing effective combination counters and avoiding Mustafaev’s explosive attacks. If there is a finish, it’ll come from Mustafaev, but I don’t think there will be a finish. Ismagulov via decision
  • Tagir Ulanbekov entered the UFC with all sorts hype when he came into the UFC. It’s not that he’s been a disappointment since that time, but most of that hype has dissipated given it’s been over a year since he made his debut and he hasn’t fought since. Like every other fighter attached to Khabib in some way, he’s a gifted and relentless wrestler, pushing a pace that’s hard to keep up, even for the flyweight division. Ulanbekov’s striking is still a work in progress, particularly on the defensive end of things. That’s music to the ears of Allan Nascimento, once considered to be one of the hottest prospects in the flyweight division at one point, if not the hottest prospect. The problem is, it was close to a decade ago that he first started getting noticed. He’s not too old to make a splash at 30, but the luster that once painted him has faded. Prior to his fight in July, it was his first contest in three years. Perhaps the layoff was good for him, but it does leaves questions to his commitment, even if he had fights fall through in the meantime. While Nascimento’s striking has long been vaunted, his wrestling has been his Achilles’ heel. I favor Ulanbekov’s wrestling, though it should be noted the betting odds are far wider than they should be. Ulanbekov via decision