There’s a very interesting dynamic to this card. Last week, Amanda Nunes was forced to pull out of her title defense against Juliana Pena due to contracting COVID-19. However, it has hardly been noticed for one of two reasons. Either Nunes isn’t a draw or the card is so deep that no one cares. Given Nunes is an all-time great, any card that loses her should be taking a serious hit, meaning at least a part of the truth is that she isn’t a draw, kind of along the lines of Demetrious Johnson. However, UFC 265 is a deep card. Every single one of the main card fights offers a high degree of intrigue, none of the contests being easy to pick. I make no promises with my picks, but I can offer the dynamics to look for at the very least.
Jose Aldo vs. Pedro Munhoz, Bantamweight
Like Nunes, Aldo is an all-time great. Unlike Nunes, Aldo is past his prime, having started in the sport at such a young age that he’s considered the old man in this contest, even though Munhoz is actually two days older. That’s an interesting dynamic.
The longtime featherweight kingpin’s move down to bantamweight has gone better than anyone would have predicted, despite his 1-2 record. After dropping his divisional debut to Marlon Moraes, Aldo was competitive early on with Petr Yan before falling, only to rebound against Marlon Vera. His jab, always a prominent weapon, appears to have gained a higher degree of effectiveness as he deals with smaller opponents. He has even brought back his vaunted leg kicks, even if just sparingly, after a long stretch where they seemed to have been forgotten.
However, despite having a degree of revitalization, there’s still reason for concern. Known for his power, Aldo hasn’t been able to secure a KO since moving down, instead turning to his wrestling against Vera to secure the final round. The belief amongst most is he resorted to that due to his questionable gas tank. Aldo struggled to go the distance at featherweight if his opponent pushed a hard fight. Yan broke him with a hard pace, but that was also a five-round contest.
Expect Munhoz to push a hard pace, hoping to replicate the success Max Holloway had when he exhausted Aldo by the third round. Munhoz isn’t a technical savant, but he makes good use of angles, rarely throws one punch at a time, and while he may not be on Aldo’s level in terms of the reputation of his low kicks, the effectiveness of his kicks aren’t too far off in terms of effectiveness. In fact, it could be argued they have a greater effect given he doesn’t get scared off of throwing them.
It’s hard to see Aldo being able to use his wrestling against Munhoz as he did against Vera as there is a strong argument Munhoz is the most technically sound grappler in the division. Plus, he has one of the most devastating guillotines in the entire sport. It’s almost a surety Aldo will stand and trade with Munhoz, a battle he can certainly win. Aldo’s stellar technique also means he has excellent defense. He could easily outpoint Munhoz. A finish… is much harder to say. Munhoz has one of the most iron-clad chins in the sport and it’s fair to question if Aldo lost some power in the drop to 135. The guess here is Munhoz’s hard pace will put him down on the scorecards early, but doesn’t let up and finds a finish in the third. Munhoz via TKO of RD3
Michael Chiesa vs. Vicente Luque, Welterweight
As Kamaru Usman continues to dispose of the welterweights of greater name value, this contest carries more weight than one would think at first glance. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility to see the winner of this contest challenging for the title within a year.
Though both are well-rounded enough that it would be wrong to call this strictly a striker vs. grappler contest, the simplest way to define this fight would be to simplify it to that level. Chiesa represents the grappler in this dynamic, proving to be a hell of a physical force at welterweight despite having spent the first five years of his UFC run at lightweight. Much of that has to do with him dehydrating himself so much that he was depleting his physical strength at 155, but he has also reshaped his body to the point he’s huge for 170. Though he has a solid wrestling base, Chiesa utilizes more guile that sheer physicality to get the fight to the mat, especially a slick trip he enjoys going to.
Though Luque has shored up his takedown defense significantly from his UFC debut, it could still be considered his biggest weakness. Fortunately, he has been able to avoid opponents whose primary strength is their wrestling and/or grappling. Luque’s BJJ is the most underrated part of his game – seeing as how he rarely puts it on display – so most believe he’d be able to survive Chiesa’s onslaught, but merely surviving doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be controlled for long periods.
Of course, if Luque can keep the fight standing, he’s in fantastic shape. Chiesa does have power, but his lack of defense and janky brand of striking means he’s in for a long night if the fight doesn’t hit the mat. Luque doesn’t know how to move backwards, pressing forward with all variety of strikes, basic boxing combinations being the most consistent part of his arsenal. Though he typically wears down his opposition via attrition, Luque has secured several first round stoppages throughout his career, showing a surprising amount of pop for a volume striker.
Though it’s a very difficult contest to predict, I’m leaning heavily towards Chiesa. Luque’s forward movement should walk him right into a takedown or two and though I believe Luque’s grappling should allow him to survive, I can’t discount Chiesa latching onto his back and finding the RNC, his specialty. Even if Chiesa doesn’t get the finish, he’s great at predicting his opponent’s next move and maintaining control for long bouts of time. I see Chiesa taking a decision in that manner. Chiesa via decision
Tecia Torres vs. Angela Hill, Women’s Strawweight
We’ve seen this fight before, but it has been six years since these two last squared off. Both are different fighters than they were at that time, Hill in particular. In their original contest, Torres utilized long periods of ground control to neutralize Hill. Will that be her strategy this time around?
While no one debates whether Hill is a vastly improved fighter since their original contest, her ground game is still her biggest weakness. Then again, Hill has improved her grappling significantly, avoiding danger against the likes of noted grapplers Claudia Gadelha and Michelle Waterson in recent contests. Torres isn’t on the same level of either of them. Thus, while Torres might be able to get a few takedowns, the long periods of control seems unlikely this time around.
That leaves some high hopes of this iteration being the type of striking contest we were all hoping for the first time around. Hill was competitive on the feet despite her MMA inexperience at the time. Since that time, she has developed a striking identity after going through a long period of evolution. Formerly, she utilized a LOT of movement, but has pared down a lot of the wasted energy, allowing herself to remain fresher down the stretch.
Torres’ recent performances are also encouraging, showing far more aggression and helping negate her short reach in the process. However, her last two wins have been against considerably weaker opposition than what she had been facing during her four-fight skid. Torres can wrestle a bit and is tougher in the clinch than she would appear at first glance, but that could be troublesome as Hill’s wheelhouse is the clinch.
The first contest between these two was easy to pick as Hill was still new to the sport. Now that Hill is no longer a Muay Thai fighter trying to be an MMA fighter, this is a much more difficult fight to call; Hill is a legit MMA fighter now. Torres does appear to be the best version of herself too, which is why this is a difficult contest to call. I’m leaning towards Hill as I think she can make good use of her length and be the more effective fighter in the clinch, but this contest is the main card fight that I believe is most up in the air… and that’s saying something. Hill via decision
Yadong Song vs. Casey Kenney, Bantamweight
Given he’s been on the UFC roster for several years, it’s easy to forget that Song is just 23 with his best days ahead of him, making it far easier to swallow his last three outings that have had some questioning just how high his ceiling can go. Even with the disappointment in those performances, there’s signs that the youngster from China has been making improvements.
Though Song is a pressure fighter at heart, he’s developed enough savvy to become a sound counter striker… at least when he chooses to be. He still prefers to throw his heavy hooks with as much heat as possible, but there’s also signs that he’s developing a jab. If the youngster can continue to add layers to his striking – and perhaps mix in a takedown or two – there’s every reason to believe he’ll be the major player many expect him to become.
In the eyes of most, the other half of the fight has already exceeded expectations. Kenney doesn’t have the same athletic gifts as Song, not even close. The former flyweight is able to make up for it with his fast hands and constant assault. Kenney can be outslicked, outquicked, or outmuscled, but he will never be outworked. Plus, he has a knack of finding a hole in his opponent’s defense and exploiting it time and again.
Song has all the ability in the world to run over Kenney. He may very well do it. However, I haven’t seen enough development in Song’s game to have me thinking he has the nuance necessary to put away the ultra-durable Kenney. I’ve seen it pointed out that Kenney tends to get tired, which is true, leaving open the idea Song could finish him late. However, Song gets tired too and I don’t think he’s faced anyone who pushes a pace like Kenney. Kenney via decision