It’s a typical Fight Night batch of preliminary contests at UFC Vegas 24. There’s several prospects who offer promise – Tracy Cortez and Alexandr Romanov are the most promising – a few veterans who are looking to hold on to their employment – Jessica Penne and Gerald Meerschaert are the most prominent – and a few contests that most people will be happy to skip over. Wait… you say this isn’t a Fight Night? It’s a UFC on ESPN event? Meh, like there’s a difference in the quality of the cards. I haven’t noticed….
- After competing at bantamweight for her first couple of UFC contests, Tracy Cortez is making the cut back down to 125. Given she’s an aggressive and controlling wrestler, it should prove to be a good move for her given she’ll be one of the bigger flyweights on the roster. Of course, there are questions regarding it’s smart to leave the bantamweight division given the lack of depth in the division, it’s most likely she will be the best version of herself at flyweight. That said, there could be issues in her standup. Though Cortez is improving as a pocket boxer, facing quicker opposition could be problematic. That’s where Justine Kish will find her opportunity to pull off the upset. An aggressive striker with a deep gas tank, Kish tends to overwhelm her opponent with constant offense. Though she is typically a technical striker, her aggression has resulted in breakdowns in her defense, which Cortez should be able to find enough of. However, the biggest concern is Kish’s takedown defense. Kish hasn’t faced many wrestlers, but she has struggled to stay vertical when facing someone with a half-decent takedown game. Throw in that Cortez is the best wrestler she has faced by a wide margin and it’s easy to see which way the wind is blowing. Cortez via decision
- It’s now or never for Juan Espino. Even though it was just two-and-a-half years ago that the big man won TUF, he’s already 40-years old. Granted, heavyweights do have a longer shelf life, but he has yet to enter the official rankings, meaning he’s likely a few years away from competing against the best in the division if that proves to be his long-term goal. Though Espino is just functional on the feet, he does have some power and is an exceptionally slick grappler with a deep bag of submissions. Hell, he secured a submission via scarf hold. Who the hell does that this side of Aleksei Oleinik? Espino is going to have a hell of a chore ahead of him if he hopes to submit Alexandr Romanov, a boulder of a human being who is damn near impossible to move. The big Moldovan is surprisingly quick for his size and is already one of the best GnP specialists in the organization after just two UFC appearances. There’s still a lot of work to be done on the feet – though he has power, there isn’t much technique – and it’s plausible Espino could use his length to outwork Romanov. However, it’s more likely Romanov will bully his way into Espino’s range, wrest him to the mat, and pound away. Romanov via TKO of RD2
- It’s easy to get caught up in the hype around Lupita Godinez. Possessing an aggressive style that produces plenty of excitement, Godinez made a hell of an impression by capturing the LFA strawweight title in just her fifth professional contest. She displayed power unusual of someone her size, knocking down or hurting Vanessa Demopoulos on several occasions. Then again, Demopoulos’ defense is next to nonexistent and Godinez has yet to get a finish due to strikes at the professional level. Regardless, it’s hard to believe Jessica Penne is going to be able to stifle her. Once upon a time, Penne was a lanky grappler with a strong jab. Unfortunately, that version of Penne hasn’t been seen for years. To make matters worse, she hasn’t won a fight since 2014 and is coming off a four-year layoff. Her problems seem to trace back to the severe beating she endured at the hands of Joanna Jedrzejczyk, seemingly losing her fighting desire. Penne might be able to secure a win just going through the motions – which is how it appears – against lesser competition. I don’t think she can do that against Godinez, especially now that she’s 38. Godinez via decision
- Given the UFC has had a short leash with combatants that traditionally operate with a lay and prey style, it’s surprising to see Bartosz Fabinski still maintains his UFC roster spot. It has nothing to do with how good he is; it’s all in the aesthetic. However, there is a possibility his ability to muscle his opposition to the mat will take a noticeable hit given he has moved up to middleweight where he is typically on the smaller side in comparison to his opponent. That won’t necessarily be the case with Gerald Meerschaert, but it’s unlikely he’s ever faced anyone with the wily and savvy of Meerschaert. That could work against Meerschaert as he’s been known to willingly give up a solid position due to his belief in himself that he can snatch an arm, find his opponent’s neck, or slip out someway or another. If Fabinski can keep him down – a very distinct possibility – that could prove to be disastrous for the American. Then again, Fabinski has proven to be prone against those with a strong submission game… just like the one possessed by Meerschaert. Plus, if Meerschaert can stay standing, his funky striking should be far more effective than Fabinski’s. This contest is harder to predict than it would have been a year ago, but I think Meerschaert is still the superior combatant. Meerschaert via submission of RD2
- Why does the UFC maintain a women’s featherweight division? They barely have anyone listed in the division – not even the champion participates full-time in the division – and every time they sign someone to the division, they just drop down to bantamweight as Zarah Fairn is doing. Not that Fairn has exactly proven herself to be a keeper – she was blown out in both of her previous Octagon appearances – but she was a live featherweight body. At bantamweight, she might find more success due to her length and kickboxing experience. Fortunately for her, she’ll get the type of standup battle she prefers against newcomer Josiane Nunes. Nunes is a Muay Thai practitioner out of Brazil who strings together lengthy punching combinations with plus power. Like Fairn, she has a poor ground game, but that’s unlikely to be an issue in this contest. Though Fairn’s kickboxing experience should shine through in this contest, I favor the youth and upside of Nunes over Fairn, even if Nunes is on the small side of 135. Nunes via TKO of RD2
- It’s hard to get a gauge on Tony Gravely two fights into his UFC career. A former collegiate wrestler, takedowns have been the only consistent part of Gravely’s game that has worked for him thus far. He’s shown flashes as a boxer, but tends to eat for more punishment than he dishes out on the feet. Then again, his wrestling might be enough for him to overwhelm Anthony Birchak. An action fighter who doesn’t mind eating a shot or two to deliver his, Birchak’s wrestling has never been a strong point of his. Despite that, he’s had a largely successful career thanks to his opportunistic grappling and scrambling. Basically, he can be taken down pretty damned easy, but he typically doesn’t stay down. Unfortunately for Birchak, he’s starting to get up there in age and doesn’t seem to have the same explosiveness and speed that allowed him to execute his high risk, high reward style. Gravely’s defensive holes – standing and on the mat – still allow for a good chance Birchak can pull this off. However, I’m banking on Gravely’s continued growth to allow him to effectively control Birchak for the majority of the contest. Gravely via decision
- Some may find it hard to take Dakota Bush seriously when they find out his nickname is ”Hairy,” but the youngster is a well deserving of his shot in the UFC, even if it is coming on short notice. Though his reputation was built upon his wrestling and ability to take his opponent’s back, he’s been developing into a solid striker that can’t be taken lightly. Bush also has experience taking contests on short notice, so he’s not new to cutting a large amount of weight in a short amount of time. Awaiting to welcome him to the promotion is Austin Hubbard, a physically limited technician who is difficult to put away. If Hubbard isn’t put away, he doesn’t stop coming forward, throwing punching combinations with a deep gas tank. However, his takedown defense is questionable and he’s not much of a power threat. Given Bush is taking the contest on short notice, it’s plausible his typically solid gas tank is compromised, leaving open the door for Hubbard to take a decision late. However, Bush’s upside and propensity for finding a finish has me leaning towards him ever so narrowly. Bush via submission of RD2