Once UFC 260 lost Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega as the co-main event due to COVID, it left the PPV entirely top heavy. Like, the main event is about the only thing attracting the viewers. Outside of the main event, six of the eight main card participants are coming off losses, two of those on three fight losing streaks. Given MMA is very much a what-you-done-for-me-lately sport, that makes it a tough sell outside of Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou. Fortunately, there’s a very good chance that headliner can attract the viewers since nothing else will.
Tyron Woodley vs. Vicente Luque, Welterweight
Perhaps the best proof that fighting is more mental than anything else is how several prominent fighters have fallen off a cliff following one-sided losses. Renan Barao is a well-known example. David Louiseau is lesser known. Though that hardly completes the list, the latest entry into that downtrodden club appears to be Woodley. The former welterweight champion has not only lost his last three contests, he hasn’t had a competitive round in that time, a total of 15 rounds.
Some will say Woodley has been fighting the best of the best in the division as Kamaru Usman, Gilbert Burns, and Colby Covington are all championship caliber fighters. While there is some merit to that, his inability to even be competitive with them clearly indicates he isn’t at there level and may be more than a step or two below them. It doesn’t appear to be physical either. Woodley still appears to have heavy hands and a powerful shot. What he doesn’t have is a willingness to pull the trigger.
Pulling the trigger has never been a problem for Luque. You’d never know the Brazilian’s base is actually BJJ given his preference for wading into the pocket and stringing together lengthy punching combinations. Luque has never been known for his defense, but his durability has allowed him to endure whatever his opponent throws at him while Luque continues to throw volume. It’s rarely a single punch or kick that does the trick, but few consistently throw the amount of volume Luque does. If he can’t put them out cold, Luque has secured several chokes in his career as well.
If Woodley has his head right, he’d probably be the favorite. Luque’s takedown defense has improved immensely from his early UFC run, but Woodley’s wrestling has been amongst the best in the sport, even if he rarely utilizes it beyond stuffing takedowns. Plus, Woodley’s one-punch power is legit. Unfortunately, Woodley’s mentally broken. The most likely outcome has Woodley backing himself against the fence and Luque teeing off on him. Luque via TKO of RD3
Sean O’Malley vs. Thomas Almeida, Bantamweight
Once upon a time, Almeida was in the same position as O’Malley. A super-hyped prospect with all the talent in the world. After Almeida suffered his first loss – a violent KO – he lost his edge and now he’s a largely forgotten commodity, having fought just once in the last three years. With O’Malley coming off the first loss of his career – also a violent finish – will he go down the same road as Almeida?
Most would say no. O’Malley has never lacked for confidence, carrying himself with a swagger that leaves no room for indifference towards him. He’s maintained he’s still undefeated as a funky leg injury during his fight is what eventually led to his downfall, but every smart fighter also knows luck is needed for any extended run of success. Luck wasn’t on O’Malley’s side that day and his record now carries a blemish.
O’Malley doesn’t lack for talent either. Possessing a lanky frame with a creative mind, O’Malley’s sense of timing is unnatural. Mixing subtlety with overexagerration into his feints and fakes, opponents tend to have difficulty getting a proper read on him. His kicks get the most attention due to the flash in which they fly, but his boxing has proven to be just as dangerous, if not more. Opponents know to look for his kicks and forget about the power in his fists, not giving that aspect enough respect. If O’Malley’s durability can hold up – he has suffered leg injuries in two of his five UFC contests – it feels like there’s nothing stopping him from being a star.
Of course, many felt Almeida becoming a star was an inevitability too. Almeida’s style is similar to O’Malley’s: pressure and set traps in hopes of setting up the counter. However, the biggest difference is O’Malley tends to set traps for one big single shot and Almeida tends to swarm with a swath of strikes. Either way, both have a plethora of finishes on their records and it would be a surprise if this contest goes the distance.
Almeida’s star has completely faded. Otherwise, the UFC wouldn’t be putting him in this spot as a rebound for O’Malley. He still has the talent to wreck the O’Malley party, but he’s hesitant to pull the trigger. Given some of O’Malley’s recent rhetoric, some believe O’Malley is primed for an upset. It’s certainly a possibility, but I wouldn’t bet on Almeida finding his killer instinct again either. O’Malley feels like the right choice. O’Malley via TKO of RD2
- No one can deny Gillian Robertson has come a long way from when she first entered the UFC. She’s still on the reckless end of things, but she has improved her takedowns and submission abilities in the time since she entered the organization. Given those were her strengths in the first place, they’ve become pretty damned good. However, Robertson’s striking still has a long way to go. Having a short reach has hurt her, but she just can’t seem to obtain any acceptable level of comfort on the feet, even as her technique tightens up. There were some of the same concerns with Miranda Maverick as she made her UFC debut in the fall, but she looked confident in disposing of Liana Jojua with a step-in elbow smashed up Jojua’s nose. Perhaps that wouldn’t be such a big deal, but Maverick’s bread and butter is thought to also be her mat work. Though not as skilled at chaining submissions as Robertson, Maverick is better at maintaining control from the top. Robertson is a threat off her back, but she’s also all too willing to stay there and give away the round. Submission is about the only way Robertson wins and that will be very difficult to come by. Maverick via decision
- Khama Worthy made a hell of a splash in his first two UFC contests, securing a pair of impressive finishes. However, in retrospect, it appears his opportunistic finishes kind of painted over some of the other issues that flared up prior to getting the stoppage. For instance, he’s a little too dedicated to his counter striking, rarely taking the initiative or setting traps to get his opponent to throw. He has been able to make up for that by his ability to make reads and recognize holes in his opponent’s defenses with his plus power often finishing the job. Of course, that’s a narrow path for him to be taking given opponents tend to be more durable the higher one climbs upon the ladder of success. Jamie Mullarkey is no exception. The Aussie appears to be in the negative in terms of athletic ability – by UFC standards – but there is zero quit in him in addition to a chin that has held up extremely well. Though Mullarkey doesn’t mind standing in the pocket and trading fisticuffs, he prefers operating on the mat, his enthusiastic wrestling game proving difficult to escape from. Mullarkey doesn’t make many mistakes either, something Worthy tends to look for in hopes of capitalizing. It’s a tough contest to call as Worthy is the better athlete and has more ways to finish the match, but Mullarkey’s consistency combined with Worhty’s shady takedown defense has me favoring Mullarkey. Mullarkey via decision