Given UFC Vegas 42 was following two numbered events, I assumed it was going to be a one fight card, with the main event being the only bout most cared about. If the co-main event is any indication, you’d assume that too. Fortunately, there are several fun fights once the top layer is peeled back. There are two fights on the main card that would be favorites to pick up a FOTN bonus on just about any other card. Unfortunately, for Song Yadong, Julio Arce, Miguel Baeza, and Khaos Williams, they’re on the same card as Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez. Holloway owns four FOTN bonuses and Rodriguez owns four himself... and that feels like a low total for both of them given their reputations.
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Max Holloway vs. Yair Rodriguez, Featherweight
There isn’t a more celebrated non-champion in their prime than Holloway. The beatdown he put on Calvin Kattar was one for the ages, landing 445 significant strikes, obliterating the previous record – which he also owned – by 155 strikes. For perspective, that would be like Wilt Chamberlain shattering his record of 100 points in an NBA game by scoring 153 points.
However, given the impressive nature of that performance, it’s fair to question if we’ll ever see something like that ever again. Holloway was in a zone and it’s unrealistic to expect him to replicate a similar performance. But would it be unrealistic to expect him to perform at a level slightly above where he was at when he was the champion? Nope... and that’s still one of the best fighters we’ve ever seen in the UFC.
Holloway’s cardio, pace, and ability to rack up lengthy combinations has been well established. I don’t say that in hopes of denigrating any of those traits; if he isn’t the best in any of those categories – in any division – he’s amongst the best. Holloway’s ability to read angles and find openings are overlooked as people watch him rack up the volume in awe. He has also developed some stout takedown defense. Even if his opponent can take him down, Holloway tends to get back to his feet pretty damn quickly. It isn’t that Holloway can’t be beaten as Alexander Volkanovski proved. It’s that a fighter won’t beat him by exploiting his weaknesses. Holloway can only be beaten by a fighter emphasizing their own strengths. Can Rodriguez do that?
A lot of people appear to be sleeping on Rodriguez. The Mexican representative has a deep gas tank of his own – he has gone five hard rounds in the elevations of Salt Lake City and Denver – and is on the short list for most creative striker in the sport. Rodriguez does have power, but so much of it is from his opponent not expecting him to land many of the strikes he does. The up-elbow he put the Korean Zombie to sleep with is a perfect example. Zombie not only didn’t see it coming; nobody in the arena or in front of the television saw it coming.
However, that appears to be the only route to victory for Rodriguez. He doesn’t have the buttoned-downed approach of Volkanovski to hope to outpoint Holloway, nor does he have the wrestling to make that work. While Rodriguez might be able to outpace about 99% of the roster in a firefight, Holloway is in that one percent that remains. Holloway is in a league all on his own. And while the chances of Rodriguez landing some heavy artillery is pretty damned good, Holloway’s chin has been remarkably tough to crack, never having been finished via strikes. Rodriguez would be near the top of the list of names that would come out of my mouth for fighters who would be the first to put Holloway down, but given Volkanovski and Dustin Poirier couldn’t, I wouldn’t bet on Rodriguez to do it at this time. Holloway via TKO of RD4
- Y’all remember when Ben Rothwell first came into the UFC and his first contest in the organization was as a veteran test for Cain Velasquez? Weird to think Velasquez has been retired for several years and Big Ben is still plugging away. No doubt he has slowed in that time, but the crafty vet is still a credible test due to still being able to take an insane amount of punishment and the ability to rack up volume at a rate that surprises for a man his size. That has gotten him trouble recently as his gas tank has shown a decline, but he can still find a submission if an opening presents itself. Most observers believe that’s how his contest with Marcos Rogerio de Lima is going to end given de Lima’s BJJ black belt appears to be a paper belt. The hard-hitting Muay Thai specialist has fallen via submission in all five of his UFC losses. He also hits like a truck and though Rothwell hasn’t been finished via strikes in 12 years, he’s been rocked several times in recent contests. This is a hard contest to pick. Given de Lima’s bloated frame is indicative of less discipline on his part – he used to be a light heavyweight and now tips the scales at the heavyweight limit – I’ll say Rothwell emerges victorious. Rothwell via submission of RD2
- Even though her loss to Norma Dumont is looking better all the time, the general consensus around Felicia Spencer feels like she’s an underachiever. Given her overwhelming grappling game and her karate stylings on the feet, it’s easy to see how many would develop the underachiever label. It all boils down to Spencer coming up short in just one area: her wrestling. She has some trips, but Spencer tends to crash into the clinch without any real plan to avoid damage, often times not even succeeding in getting to the clinch in the process. That’s going to be the most obvious route to victory for Leah Letson, who enters the contest as a major mystery given she hasn’t fought in three years and endured some health scares in between. In her lone UFC appearance, Letson displayed some of the striking prowess that has sunk Spencer’s ship several times during her UFC run. However, there’s a big difference between Julija Stoliarenko and Spencer in terms of physicality and a big part of the reason Letson won that fight is she was able to outmuscle the smaller fighter. I don’t see her doing that with Spencer. The question is whether she can keep the fight standing and avoid a potential submission.... Spencer via submission of RD1
- There’s a glut of welterweights who sit just outside the official UFC rankings who never seem to be in a boring fight. As two of the newer additions to that list, Khaos Williams and Miguel Baeza feel like they could not only could hang around in that role for a long time, it also feels like they could grow beyond that role. Baeza appears to be the more technical of the two, putting together crisp boxing combinations that he tends to punctuate with a low kick. However, what is most encouraging about Baeza at the moment is his performance against Santiago Ponzinibbio. Yes, he lost the fight, but he proved he can dig deep, putting up a competitive contest against a proven talent. Williams hasn’t had that fight – at least not yet – but he’s displayed rare explosive power in addition to more patience. The patience has allowed him to remain effective deep into his fights, but it’s not like he has been lacking for volume in the process. Despite that, Baeza’s gas tank is the more proven of the two. Combine that with Baeza’s impressive chin and I’m favoring him, though I think there’s a very good possibility both walk home with some bonus money after a FOTN performance. Baeza via decision
- It wouldn’t be fair to say the hype around Song Yadong has been halted for the last two years, but it is fair to say it has slowed considerably. After making his UFC debut as a teenager and bulldozing through his first four UFC opponents, it’s been a considerably different story for the Chinese representative since he started facing a level of competition Song couldn’t just overwhelm with his physical skills. There has been progress in terms of technique – he’s developed a very stern jab – but he can struggle to make adjustments in the course of a fight. That’s the potential opening Julio Arce will be looking for. The Tiger Schulmann fighter offers a very well-rounded skill set, not to mention he looked better than most predicted when he made the drop back to 135. Arce’s best route to victory is most likely on the mat as Song has proven vulnerable when put on his back. The issue is getting him on his back. Arce is also the more diverse striker, but I worry if he can maintain Song’s pace should the fight go all three rounds. It’s an overlooked contest, but I favor Song to find a way to get it done. Song via decision