The UFC is upping the ante on the Paddy Pimblett Show. The brash Englishman is getting a big spotlight by getting the co-main event slot of a PPV card. Given the attention he manages to attract, it actually makes a lot of sense for the UFC to put him there. The funny thing about it, a reasonable case could be made that he’s the worst fighter on the main card of UFC 282. I’m not going to advocate one way or another on that idea, he’s a very curious case for the UFC. While he appears to be a future star, there’s a major question of whether he has the talent to hang with the elite. Pimblett isn’t fighting the elite of the lightweight division at this juncture, so that isn’t something that needs to be hypothesized, at least not yet. However, there’s reason to believe Jared Gordon could upend Pimblett, long before the charismatic Pimblett can get anywhere near the top of the division. Throw in the return of former title contender Darren Till and a clash of two of the hottest risers in the featherweight division, the PPV main card appears to be acceptable.
Paddy Pimblett vs. Jared Gordon, Lightweight
In terms of pure resume, Pimblett and Gordon is one of the worst PPV co-main events in a very long time. The UFC matchmakers are probably well aware of that too. What makes it passable is Pimblett entered the UFC proclaiming he was going to be the next Conor McGregor. He isn’t at that point by any stretch of the imagination, at least not yet. But he has yet to take a misstep on his way to that status.
Just as brash and confident as McGregor, Pimblett doesn’t have the same physical abilities as McGregor. Whereas McGregor is a pinpoint striker who marches his opponents down, Pimblett is a crafty wrestler and grappler with an iron chin. Pimblett has been working hard to turn himself into a credibly dangerous striker, even if it seems unlikely he’ll be able to produce constant finishes with his fists. However, what his UFC contests have proven is he’s still prone to getting his chin checked far more than would be allowed by elite fighters.
The question isn’t whether Gordon will touch up Pimblett; the question is whether he’ll have the power to make Pimblett pay the price for his lack of defense. Gordon has developed into a slick boxer who can lay the volume on thick. However, he hasn’t shown the power to put an end to his opponent’s night early. He may not need the power as he is the better striker from a technical standpoint, which could allow him to outpoint Pimblett. Of course, it would be a shock if Pimblett opted to keep the fight standing....
Even though Gordon hasn’t utilized his wrestling too much in his last few years, there aren’t any indications he has declined in that area. Part of the reason he has avoided it appears to be matchup based. No longer trying to trim down to featherweight, Gordon has filled out a bit more and appears to have smoothed over his questionable gas tank. He doesn’t have the craft or instinct of Pimblett, but he’s also had bigger issues with powerhouse opponents. That doesn’t describe Pimblett.
There’s plenty of reason to believe Gordon is the man to derail the Pimblett hype train. He appears to be peaking as a fighter and has a well-rounded skillset. Throw in the fact that it’s hard to believe Pimblett will truly fulfill his potential given the lack of discipline he shows by ballooning up in between fights. What Pimblett does have going for him is a love of the spotlight. The bigger the moment, better for Pimblett. That, more than anything else, makes him similar to McGregor. The spotlight Pimblett ends up sharing with his opponent either blinds them or leads them to shirk back. As much as Gordon has overcome in his life, dealing with the bright lights is a different type of obstacle... and I’m not sure he’s ready for it. Pimblett via submission of RD3
Darren Till vs. Dricuss Du Plessis, Middleweight
This feels like a make-or-break moment for Till. At one point, it looked like he was well on his way to becoming one of the biggest stars in MMA, big enough the UFC opted to fast track him to a title shot when he was competing at welterweight. After that ended in a disastrously one-sided loss to Tyron Woodley, the shine has continually dulled for the Brit. His lone victory in that time – over Kelvin Gastelum – looks worse all the time and Till’s constant injuries have him fighting infrequently.
What Till does have going for him is he hasn’t been given an easy fight. No one should be ashamed of losses to Robert Whittaker or Derek Brunson, his last two opponents. What those losses have proven is Till needs to make adjustments now that he can no longer use his size to impose his will as he could at middleweight. Till has good timing on his counters and enough power that he should be able to regain his superstar aura. However, what Till needs to make the most of his striking skill is a level of confidence that has been gradually eroding in his performance with each subsequent loss. For instance, Till has only attempted two takedowns since moving to middleweight, both on the undersized Gastelum. Till was never a great wrestler, but he’s a skilled grappler who might be able to open up his striking if he wasn’t so one-dimensional.
Perhaps what Till fears is the same type of results that Du Plessis has been delivering. The native of South Africa entered the UFC primarily thought of as a wrestler and grappler, but hasn’t been able to get his ground game going. Fortunately, Du Plessis has been far more dangerous on the feet than anyone expected, allowing him to exceed expectations overall despite coming up short in his ground game. There’s a couple of reasons for that. For one, Du Plessis is a plus athlete with underrated hand speed. The other is that Du Plessis’ ability to read his opponents is another factor that is underrated.
What Du Plessis hasn’t had to do is face someone with the athletic skills of Till. Till may not be the imposing figure he was at 170, but he is still an elite athlete, provided the recent spat of injuries hasn’t permanently affected him. And while Du Plessis has a knack for exposing his opponent’s holes in their striking, he leaves quite a few open himself. Till tends to operate at a deliberate pace, meaning he’d do well to ensure he finds the finish as Du Plessis is almost assuredly to land more volume. Du Plessis could even secure a KO of his own, but I think many are sleeping on how crafty a striker Till can be. I see him providing a solid reminder for everyone. Till via TKO of RD2
Bryce Mitchell vs. Ilia Topuria, Featherweight
It’s hard not to like Mitchell. I understand disagreeing with some of his political stances or other types of beliefs, but he’s got the type of folksy feel that’s impossible to fake without coming off as mocking. The crazy thing is despite not working at one of the larger gyms in the sport – he’s actually at one of the smaller ones, the only UFC talent at his gym – he continues to show growth in each of his subsequent fights.
Though he’s still on the lanky side for featherweight, the Arkansas native has filled out some since debuting in the UFC back in 2018. Always a scrappy and creative grappler, Mitchell’s added strength has allowed him to find more success in his takedowns, whether that’s through shots or body-lock trips. He’s also become more disciplined in his overall grappling, taking less unnecessary risks to grant him great control. He may not be getting many finishes, but his opponents have tend to look broken by the end of their contests, which is often even more demoralizing.
If he can do that to Topuria, there will be no doubt whether Mitchell is the real deal. Despite being about three inches shorter than Mitchell, Topuria is the one who appears on the verge of moving up to lightweight. The native of Georgia is a pure ball of muscle, nary an ounce of fat on his body. It doesn’t help the questions around Topuria that he fought his last fight at lightweight, proving he can overcome an opponent with six inches in height and eight inches in reach over him. Much of that is due to Topuria being used to being the shorter man, so overcoming Mitchell’s length on the feet doesn’t appear like it will be much of a problem.
It’s no sure thing Mitchell will be able to entangle Topuria on the mat either. Topuria took the fight right to submission specialist Ryan Hall, proving more than willing to play on the mat with the ground wiz and brutalizing him until the referee stepped in. Mitchell is just as fearless as Topuria while offering a greater physical skillset to work against than anything Hall would provide. Given both are a whirling dervish on the mat in their own right, it will be interesting to see how Topuria’s brute strength and Mitchell’s savvy creativity collide.
Despite the reach advantage and improvements, I still anticipate Topuria will have the edge on the feet. While Mitchell is showing he can be dangerous in the standup – he did knock down Edson Barboza in his most recent contest – he also had the advantage of facing an opponent leery of Mitchell’s takedowns. Topuria won’t be too concerned about that. Topuria’s durability is proven as well while Mitchell has been fortunate enough to avoid his opponent’s firepower. I’m not 100% sure he or his confidence can withstand some heavy artillery from Topuria. Topuria via decision
- I don’t think there was anyone doubting the gameness of Alex Morono prior to his accepting the fight with Santiago Ponzinibbio with less than a week before the UFC 282. His accepting the fight solidifies his reputation. Morono isn’t a great athlete, but he has proven himself to be one of the more intelligent fighters on the roster and has sharpened his striking technique exponentially from the time he entered the UFC. His technique still isn’t quite as sharp as Ponzinibbio, but Ponzinibbio lost his prime years due to injury and hasn’t been the same since returning. His durability hasn’t completely evaporated, but he doesn’t have the speed or power that made him a top ten welterweight about four years ago. Regardless, Ponzinibbio still has the willingness to get down and dirty in the pocket... something he can probably drag Morono into doing. This is about as good of a barometer to find out what Ponzinibbio has left as he would blast Morono away when he was in his prime. Now? Hard to say. Even as Morono has consistently improved, his defense is still a weak spot for him. Against fighters with less experience who aren’t quite as apt to expose any holes they might pick up on, that isn’t such a concern. Ponzinibbio has plenty of experience. The guess here is he has enough left in the tank to expose Morono, though it is hardly a confident guess. Ponzinibbio via TKO of RD2