Am I the only one who gets a weird vibe from these prelims for UFC 262? Not that there is anything wrong with them, but they just feel… wonky. The contest between Andrea Lee and Antonina Shevchenko is fantastic, but other contests have an element to them that feels out of place. Jacare Souza is a bonafide legend of the sport, but it feels wrong to have him playing the gatekeeper role this far down on a card. Then again, the effects of age have been kicking in. Lando Vannata is considered a top action fighter and the UFC pits him against a wrestler? And the opener to the televised prelims is… well, it’s a fight.
Andrea Lee vs. Antonina Shevchenko, Women’s Flyweight
It’s hard to find a fighter who is currently riding a more unlucky three-fight stretch than Lee. In each of those contests, it could be fairly argued she deserved the W. They weren’t against nobodies either as one of those opponents has fought for the flyweight title and the other two are squaring off for what appears to be a title eliminator. Perhaps a single strike or takedown in each contest could be the difference between Lee being where she currently is and potentially preparing for the other Shevchenko.
Lee’s versatility has been both her biggest strength and her biggest issue. Given her Muay Thai background, most fans identify her as an imposing striker who is particularly strong in the clinch. It isn’t necessarily a lie, but it feels like a stretch given she has a single stoppage via strikes in nearly seven years. A more honest description of Lee would be that of a volume striker whose confidence in her wrestling and grappling has resulted in lengthy ground exchanges that she doesn’t always get the best of.
Of course, given she is facing another former Muay Thai striker whose ground game doesn’t appear to be as developed as that of Lee, this might be the contest to encourage Lee to take the fight to the mat. Not that Shevchenko is lost on the mat. She has shown impressive progress on the mat, controlling Ariane Lipski for over half of their contest with most of that time being on the mat. Of course, Lee represents a big upgrade over Lipski in that department, but given Shevchenko’s relative lack of inexperience on the mat – she spent a long time solely as a Muay Thai practitioner – another major leap in her ground abilities isn’t out of the question.
In terms of pure accolades, Shevchenko is superior to Lee as a striker. Unfortunately, it hasn’t translated as she’s a bit mechanical in her striking out of fear of being taken down. When she feels confident, she has some strong kicks and does an excellent job of utilizing her reach. Will that confidence reveal itself against Lee? I have my doubts. Lee isn’t a bulldozer by any means, but an argument could be made she is the best wrestler Shevchenko has faced. Shevchenko will have moments, but this is Lee’s fight to lose. Lee via decision
- Would you believe me if I told you it has been two-and-a-half years since Jacare Souza won a fight? Thus, Jacare is on the prelims and there is no cry of outrage about the disrespect being shown to the grappling legend. After all, he is 41. Given it was a rarity the former Strikeforce champion faced anyone who rivaled his physical talents, it’s been a bit of a shock for him to not be the more athletic fighter in the cage and the results have been indicative of that. Fortunately for Jacare, it looks like he’ll regain that edge against Andre Muniz. Muniz has a lanky frame, a high fight IQ, and a slick ground game. Unfortunately for him, he still isn’t the most effective at keeping the opposition at the end of his reach and he doesn’t have the physicality to consistently win clinch battles and secure takedowns. In other words, Jacare appears to still be the better athlete, even in his diminishing state. Perhaps Jacare’s chin has deteriorated, but I get the feeling he was caught off-guard by the scrambling Kevin Holland. Even if his chin has grown more brittle, Muniz rarely gets finishes with his fists or feet. Does anyone believe he’ll be able to submit Jacare? Not only has Jacare never been submitted in his career, he’s considered one of the finest grapplers in the history of the sport. The only way Muniz wins is if Jacare is more diminished than most believe. It’s possible, but I don’t think so. Jacare via TKO of RD3
- Has it really been five years since Lando Vannata touched down in the UFC? It doesn’t seem that long ago. Given his stock is lower than it was after his short notice debut against Tony Ferguson, it’s fair to say he’s been a disappointment. Opponents figured out his funky style and while Vannata became a more technical fighter in response – which was a good thing – the book was written. Small for lightweight, Vannata’s wrestling wasn’t effective enough to open things up for him. Thus, he’s making the move down to featherweight, a move many were calling after his debut. Funny enough, he’s clashing up against one of the better wrestlers in the division in Mike Grundy. Of course, Grundy was unable to keep Movsar Evloev down, but it was Evloev. What it comes down to is whether he can keep Vannata down. Given Vannata is no Evloev on the mat, I think he can. That doesn’t mean a win is guaranteed. Grundy also gassed pretty hard in that contest and was picked apart on the feet in the latter stages of the fight. Grundy does hit hard, but he’s fairly stiff, something a fluid Vannata should take advantage of. Expect Grundy to exercise heavy control in the first half of the contest before Vannata finds a late finish thanks to his deep gas tank… provided the weight cut doesn’t zap his stamina and power. Vannata via TKO of RD3
- I really think my colleague Zane Simon is onto something when he says Jordan Wright would be better off fighting at 205. He’s not a bad athlete, but he’s massive for middleweight and not quite as quick as most of the other fighters plying their time at 185. Plus, the best advantage to being the bigger man in the cage is in the wrestling department… something Wright rarely does. Regardless, he’s still a dangerous striker when he lands from outside, not to mention powerful in the clinch. No doubt he’ll look to exploit that with Jamie Pickett, a lanky striker who has struggled with his opponent’s physicality. If he can use his 80” reach to keep his distance from Wright, it shouldn’t be too big of an issue. Unfortunately for Pickett, he hasn’t been the most efficient at maximizing his reach. Still, Wright has yet to win a fight that has left the first round, leaving many questions to whether he can remain effective even beyond that point. After all, he appears to cut a lot of weight to make 185. Pickett has been largely durable, so I’ll guess he survives the opening round and picks apart a tiring Wright from there. Pickett via decision