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UFC Vegas 25 Preview: Brazilian Muay Thai specialists square off

Dig into the preliminary fights from UFC Vegas, topped by a scrap between hard-hitting Muay Thai practitioners from Brazil in Poliana Botelho and Luana Carolina.

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Poliana Botelho fighting Lauren Mueller at UFC 236
Poliana Botelho fighting Lauren Mueller at UFC 236
Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

Does anyone want to tell me why the UFC thinks Poliana Botelho and Luana Carolina is the best fight to feature on the prelims this weekend at UFC Vegas 25? I’ll admit both are physically gifted strikers, but they’re also exceptionally unrefined and their showings in the UFC don’t exactly indicate their going to be major players. To be fair, I’ll admit none of the other contests seem to have anyone who have indicated they’re going to future stars either, but why not Luana Pinheiro? Sure, she hasn’t fought in the UFC yet, but I’d be willing to bet the youthful Brazilian has more star potential than either of those two. How about Loma Lookboonmee? I get she’s on the small side, but she has yet to be in a boring fight and her small size could be a selling point as an underdog. Whatever. I guess the way to sum it up is while these preliminary contests are well-matched, they lack any sort of pizzaz.

  • While I admittedly trashed a bit on Poliana Botelho and Luana Carolina in the opening paragraph, it isn’t like I can’t see what the UFC brass was thinking. Botelho and Carolina are lacking in technique, but there’s no doubt they aren’t lacking in aggression. Fans often don’t care about technique if the participants are willing to throw full-throated heat and Botelho and Carolina will do that. Botelho is the better-rounded product of the two, showing she has a bit of a ground game in her most recent win over Lauren Mueller. However, while that’s an indication that she is the obvious favorite, Carolina’s inexperience and youth offer a wrench into that thought process: the potential for rapid development for her. A Muay Thai practitioner originally, she showed a comfort on the ground that wasn’t expected in her last appearance in going for a submission, only to overplay her hand and get submitted herself. It’s possible Carolina learned a valuable lesson and is a smarter competitor following that loss, but that would be a rapid development. I’m not confident, but I’ll side with Botelho. Botelho via decision
  • Ever since the inception of the strawweight division in the UFC, Randa Markos has been a mainstay. With the second most appearances of anyone in the division – only Angela Hill has more – she’s become a familiar face to fans, her bright red hair helping to make her recognizable. Unfortunately, it’s looking like she’s almost on her way out as she has lost three in a row, none of them being particularly competitive contests. Markos has always suffered from something of an identity crisis, not sure if she wants to be a wrestler or a striker, be the aggressor or look to counter. My two cents would say she’s been at her best using her striking to set up takedowns and pursue submissions, taking the fight at her opponent. That could very well play into the hands of newcomer Luana Pinheiro, a judoka known for flipping her opposition on their heads. Pinheiro is on the small side, but she’s also built like a brickhouse and has plus power for a strawweight. However, what might be the most important factor in this contest, her confidence is sky high, something that doesn’t appear to be the case for Markos. Markos’ effort won’t wane in the least, but effort isn’t enough without belief. Markos has done well in the underdog role before, but she also doesn’t appear to be in her physical prime anymore. I like the younger fighter to make a successful debut. Pinheiro via decision
  • Though I’m not completely sure if Gabriel Benitez’s excursion to the lightweight division had more to do with the pandemic or if he initially intended to make the move permanent, the Mexican representative is returning to featherweight. So long as he can continue to make the weight – and there’s no reason to indicate he can’t – it should be beneficial for him as Benitez’s rangy kickboxing has benefitted from him being the longer opponent. Even with the move down, that won’t necessarily be the case against Jonathan Pearce, though there certainly is a major difference in styles. Though Pearce has developed a sound jab, he’s found his success in dragging his opponent to the mat and smothering them from there. Formerly a lightweight himself, he looked absolutely massive upon his featherweight debut, showing no ill-effects from cutting the extra 10 pounds. Though Benitez is generally good at maintaining proper distance to prevent takedowns, it’s very possible to get him down if that’s what his opponent really wants to do. Pearce will likely score his share of takedowns, but he’s also likely to eat his share of Benitez’s counter lefts and body kicks… and both of those have plenty of power behind them. I favor Benitez to find a finish given Pearce’s shoddy defense. Benitez via TKO of RD2
  • If you’re looking for a sleeper pick for FOTN, Kai Kamaka and TJ Brown feel like strong candidates to deliver. Though both are far from known quantities in the eyes of the majority of fans, they’ve proven themselves more than willing to put themselves through hell in hopes of securing a win. The younger of the two, Kamaka also offers more promise. Possessing tight boxing with combinations that work the body over just about as much as the head, the only thing missing on the feet is power, lacking a single KO/TKO stoppage on his resume. He could be in trouble against Brown if he doesn’t develop some in a hurry as Brown won’t stop coming forward. Not a good athlete, Brown makes up for it with a willingness to take risks and dogged determination moving forward. Though he has a few stoppages from strikes, it’s takedowns and submission attempts that define Brown’s game. Given Kamaka is on the small side for featherweight and Brown is on the bigger side, Brown’s first UFC win could be in reach if he can successfully enforce his will. It’s a tough contest to pick, but I think Kamaka is just slippery enough to avoid being controlled for long stretches and pieces up Brown enough on the feet to convince the judges he deserves a competitive scrap. Kamaka via decision
  • Loma Lookboonmee is fast becoming a favorite in the hardcore fanbase. Though she should be competing at atomweight, the absence of that division within the confines of the UFC leaves the Thai competitor fighting larger opposition at strawweight. Thus far, despite the size difference, she hasn’t been overwhelmed. In fact, Lookboonmee has held her own reasonably well in the clinch, utilizing her superior technique to chip away with elbows and knees in close quarters, no surprise given her extensive Muay Thai background. Opponents have made it a priority to get her to the mat, but that’s been easier said than done. Sam Hughes better find a way to do so, otherwise she’s in a world of hurt. There’s a sizeable crowd who thinks Hughes is more than capable of doing that as she’s a big strawweight with strength to spare and surprisingly advanced grappling chops given her relative lack of experience. Though willing to engage on the feet, it could be argued Hughes is too willing to engage as she leaves holes a truck could plow through. If Hughes had a bit more polish, I’d seriously consider picking her to get the upset. As it is, Lookboonmee should be able to exploit Hughes’ defensive weakness and take a safe decision thanks to a sizeable advantage in volume. Lookboonmee via decision
  • At first glance, KB Bhullar looks like he could be a major threat in the middleweight division. He’s got an exceptionally long frame at 6’4” and possesses a technically sound kickboxing game. Plus, he isn’t half bad at stopping takedowns. What isn’t to like about that? Well, being technically sound only goes so far to make up for a lack of athleticism and his ground game is particularly worrisome. Fortunately, the window for victory is still sizeable as Andreas Michailidis is on the chinny side and struggles with getting the fight to the mat. What the Greek does have going for him is plenty of quality experience – something Bhullar is lacking — and credentialled grappling game. Michailidis’ standup isn’t terrible either, utilizing a lot of low kicks and mixing in the occasional high-risk maneuver. While neither screams future contender, Michailidis has found success against several quality opponents in varying degrees while Bhullar’s greatest accomplishments have come in the kickboxing realm. Not that it couldn’t translate, but I very much worry about his ground game. Thus, I’ll go with Michailidis. Michailidis via decision
  • For Luke Sanders, it’s kill or be killed with six of his seven UFC contests finding an end well before the final bell. The Tennessee native has plus power and doesn’t embarrass himself athletically, but he has enough defensive holes that opponents have typically been able to find a way to exploit those deficiencies, both standing and on the ground. Fortunately for his sake, Sanders should have a sizeable enough advantage on the feet that even if he makes a mistake standing, he won’t pay too heavy of a price. That’s because Felipe Colares hasn’t been able to provide any sort of reasonable threat with his standup. The form is there for the Brazilian, but the power and speed is lacking. Then again, he’s been able to make up for that with a tricky ground game… provided he can get the fight to the mat. Colares wrestling and trips haven’t exactly been up to snuff either. What has worked for him has been his resilience and durability, hanging in there when it seems he long would have been put away. That type of mental toughness is something Sanders hasn’t been able to overcome. There’s no good physical reason Sanders should fall to Colares. Unfortunately for him, I expect he’ll make some sort of mental error that Colares will be able to capitalize on. Colares via submission of RD2