Are you itching for some fights? I know I am. Not that there weren’t other fights to partake, but there is a reason the UFC is the largest MMA organization in the world. Coming off an unusual stretch in which the UFC only produced a single event over a three week stretch, they’re returning to their hard charging ways with a Fight Night offering. It isn’t the best the UFC can offer, but injuries stole away the main event and two main card fights. Thus, while I could piss and moan about the quality, I’m willing to give the UFC a pass this time around. Some events are just snakebit.
As is, the prelims offer their usual mix of promising prospects and veterans fighting to maintain their employment. Dig in for the bare essentials.
- At this point, we all know what Brandon Davis is: a fearless, well-conditioned scrapper who will scratch, bite, and claw his way to victory if there is any way for him to do so. His fearless nature does get him into trouble from time to time as he tends to lean into the fight chin first in just about everything he does. Davis has been durable enough to survive whatever his opponents have thrown at him, at least up until his UFC return, in which Danaa Batgerel finished him in about two minutes. Has his durability declined, or did he just get caught? Mana Martinez is a good candidate to test the hypothesis. No doubt, Martinez has talent, including plenty of punching power. But the 26-year-old hasn’t been able to put everything together. It didn’t help that his head coach, Saul Soliz, died last year. Based strictly on talent, this is a fight Martinez should have in the bag. However, he does have issues stopping takedowns and Davis, while not a top wrestler, can hit some takedowns and isn’t going to back down. If I were a betting man, I might lay skin on Davis given his underdog status. As a straight up pick, I think Martinez has enough time with James Krause at Glory MMA that I believe he should be the direction to go. Martinez via decision
- For years, Raphael Assuncao was one of the most underappreciated members of the UFC roster, perhaps the most underappreciated. Over a stretch of seven years, he went 11-1, securing wins over the likes of TJ Dillashaw, Aljamain Sterling, and Marlon Moraes. That’s two champions and a title challenger. And yet, Assuncao never sniffed a shot at the title. Now, the 40-year-old is on a four-fight losing streak, clearly having lost a step from when he was in his prime. Assuncao was never a top-flight athlete to begin with, but he was as technical of a counter striker as there was and one of the best pure grapplers on the roster, much less the division. There are still wins out there for him to be had in the UFC if his recent contests are any indication as the organization has been lining him up against top opposition. The question is whether Victor Henry is enough of a step down from what he’s been facing. Henry is a wild card as he upended the respected Raoni Barcelos in his lone UFC soiree thus far. That’s an impressive feat, but a single victory can be a fluke. Henry had an extensive career on the regional scene prior to getting the call, displaying the type of veteran savvy that is unheard of for a newcomer. He displayed impeccable takedown defense and an incredible gas tank, landing over 12 significant strikes a minute. It wouldn’t be fair to say the fight was on short notice, but it wasn’t with a full camp. How much of a difference will that make against Assuncao? At this stage, Assuncao is washed, at least compared to what he once was. While I wouldn’t completely discount Assuncao using his wits and intelligence to secure an upset, it would be foolish of me to pick against Henry at this stage. Henry via TKO of RD3
- It’s hard to get a feel for Nick Maximov. For one thing, some boost his stock for being in the Diaz brothers’ camp; others dock him for that. Given the likes of Chris Avila and Martin Sano have been some of their high-profile products, I understand the hesitation to get excited about Maximov. However, it would be unfair to lump Maximov in with them; Maximov has some genuine talent to work with. He’s got good size for 185, the type of conditioning that the Diaz’s have long been associated with, and a relentless nature. He does have a lot to be desired on the feet, but the same could be said of Jacob Malkoun. In fact, the Aussie is also relentless when it comes to getting his opponent to the mat. Like Maximov, Malkoun isn’t the most technical of wrestler, nor does he have the best submission instincts. It’s just that he never quits coming... which is also like Maximov. I don’t see either breaking the other mentally, which has been key to their success. Thus, I’ll go with the more promising physical specimen, which is Maximov in this case. Maximov via decision
- It makes perfect sense to anticipate Joanderson Brito securing a win over short-notice opponent Lucas Alexander. After all, Brito has proven himself to be an explosive athlete with plenty of power and durability. However, Alexander, while far from a finished product, offers plenty of promise himself. The newcomer possesses a solid Muay Thai base, throwing a large volume of kicks that have proven effective enough to compromise his opponents’ base. The compact Brito isn’t exactly a defensive savant, so an upset shouldn’t be completely out of the realm of possibility. However, in addition to Brito’s aforementioned power and durability, he’s an underrated wrestler and doesn’t appear to be a finished product himself. Brito can fall victim to bouts of inactivity, which is another reason to think Alexander can secure a victory. However, Alexander’s ground game is still very much a question mark and I don’t believe he’s faced someone like Brito on the ground. Look for Brito to maul Alexander on the mat. Brito via submission of RD2
- Quietly one of the better stories of 2022, Sam Hughes was able to go from lucky to having a roster spot to one of the up-and-comers of the division after securing back-to-back wins. She isn’t a fantastic ground operator, nor is she a savant on the feet. What Hughes does have is a seemingly endless gas tank, an unstoppable will, and intelligence. Those factors allow her to maximize her seemingly average striking and ground game. Offering enough of a mix also allows her to keep her opponents guessing. Piera Rodriguez offers a similar type of threat. Rodriguez isn’t quite as big as Hughes, nor is her fight IQ considered to be at the level of Hughes. However, she appears to be a quicker athlete and throws with more power. Plus, Rodriguez is the better natural striker of the two, putting together punching combinations like she’s been a professional fighter longer than the five years she has in the sport. There is zero confidence in my pick, but I’m going with the perceived higher ceiling I see in Rodriguez. Rodriguez via decision
- There has been a major void of UFC talent coming out of Japan for years. Not that the UFC has been making a major effort to mine the talent out of there, but most believe they have something on their hands with the 22-year-old Tatsuro Taira. The youngster has proven to have a about as lockdown of a grappling game as can be expected out of someone his age. His wrestling isn’t terrible either, but he’s got a way to go if he is to fulfill the expectations that many have for him. Not that he doesn’t have time to improve, but he had more problems getting Carlos Candelario to the mat than was expected. It isn’t expected to be any easier for him to get CJ Vergara down either. Not that Vergara is known for his ground game, but the aggressive striker knows he needs to keep the fight standing if he wants to maximize his chances of winning. Vergara isn’t a technician by any means, but he’s got plus power and a dogged determination that won’t allow him to quit. Even if Vergara doesn’t put Taira away, Taira’s striking is also a work in progress. However, couple Taira’s physical talents with the likelihood of him making huge strides given his overall inexperience and it’s natural to expect him to continue to improve. Vergara is a tough test for Taira, but I’d expect him to pass by utilizing just enough ground control. Taira via decision
- Mike Jackson knows he shouldn’t be in the UFC. He’s not unaware of the reality of the situation. But he does have a contract with the UFC and he expects them to honor it by giving him the fights that are on his contract. He hasn’t fought the highest level of competition, but he does have an official victory under his belt... even if that was more unconvincing than his unofficial win. Will his technical Muay Thai be enough to overcome the raw athleticism and power of Pete Rodriguez? The odds aren’t in Jackson’s favor. He’s not a good athlete and given fighting isn’t his full-time profession, it’s hard to imagine him having the time to improve on that, especially at the age of 37. Then again, the odds weren’t in his favor against Dean Barry either. Counting on lightning to strike twice is generally foolish. Just five fights into his MMA career, Rodriguez would have been better off getting more experience on the regional scene. The funny thing is, Jackson might be a step down from what he’d presently be facing there. Rodriguez should get the job done, much to the UFC’s delight. Rodriguez via TKO of RD1