While I don’t have an issue with the fights the UFC has put on the televised portion of the prelims, I am scratching my head at the order in which they have placed them. I mean, Andrei Arlovski and Jared Vanderaa is the featured prelim? Why not put Roxanne Modafferi and Casey O’Neill in that spot? The UFC appears to see something special in O’Neill and the ever-likable Modafferi has declared this to be her retirement fight. I know making it the featured prelim doesn’t really mean that much, but shouldn’t it mean something if the UFC is going to announce the final fight of the prelims in that manner? I know I’m just barking at the moon, so I’ll just get on with what I’m supposed to talk about.
Roxanne Modafferi vs. Casey O’Neill, Women’s Flyweight
For my money, there has never been a fighter who is easier to root for than Modafferi. Known as the Happy Warrior, she has never come across as a vicious individual, even as she slashes their face with brutal elbows. Perhaps some of that can be attributed to the lack of pop in her punches, but it’s going to be a bummer knowing we’ve seen the last of one the premier human beings this sport has ever known.
That said, it looks like Modafferi is getting out at a good time. At 39, she’s put a LOT of miles on her body and her last few performances have begun to show some of the wear and tear of those miles. Viviane Araujo and Taila Santos both had their way with her. Even worse, Modafferi never seemed to get into gear against Santos. Granted, Araujo and Santos are some of the better athletes in the division. Seeing as how Modafferi was never much of an athlete in her athletic prime – much less in this stage of her career – it shouldn’t be all that surprising.
The problem is that O’Neill isn’t lacking for physical gifts herself. Perhaps not quick-twitch athlete Araujo and Santos represent, O’Neill’s combination of physical strength and cardio could very well be unmatched in the division. Sure, she could use some refinement in her striking and wrestling technique to bolster her abilities in those departments. Regardless, O’Neill has been able to make up for that with her tenacity, running headlong at her opponents with fists flying and looking to tie them up to wrest them to the mat. From there, it’s either ground strikes or an aggressive pursuit of submissions that typically leads to an early end of the night.
In the past, Modafferi has been able to eat up younger fighters, especially ones who who aren’t tight technically. Who will forget the way she chewed up and spit out the hyped Maycee Barber? Unfortunately, there’s a different feel to this fight. I wouldn’t ever discount Modafferi finding an armbar on an overaggressive O’Neill or scoring a sweep and teeing off with brutal elbows from the top. But O’Neill has an air about her that screams she’s on her way to the top while Modafferi doesn’t seem to indicate a loss in her final fight would define her. While that’s good in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t portend well for her chances of winning this fight. If that’s the case, at least Modafferi is smart enough to recognize there is more to life than fighting. She has a foot out the door already. Not to say this fight doesn’t mean anything to Modafferi, but it means a lot more to O’Neill. O’Neill via TKO of RD2
Alex Perez vs. Matt Schnell, Flyweight
It has frequently been mentioned how big and physical Perez is for a flyweight, but he’s going to be the smaller man in his fight with Schnell. Not that Schnell fights like an imposing figure as the lanky flyweight has taken great measures to be defensive minded following a pair of violent KO losses upon his UFC entry. Regardless, Schnell deserves all sorts of credit for evolving into a skilled and technical striker, revolving his attack entirely around a stiff jab and lots of movement.
Though his jab has turned into a useful weapon, it isn’t his strongest suit. The problem is Schnell’s wrestling hasn’t been up to snuff in the UFC, resulting in his struggles to utilize his fantastic grappling skills. Even though he hasn’t spent a large amount of time on the mat in his UFC run, Schnell has been able to nab two submission victories in that time, both triangle submissions from off his back.
That could be a major cause for concern for anyone thinking about putting money on Perez. A pressure fighter, Perez rarely takes a step backwards, alternating behind utilizing takedowns and forcing his opponents to wilt underneath a constant barrage of strikes. Should Perez look to utilize his wrestling, he has shown a weakness to slick grapplers, two-thirds of his career losses coming via submission, including being caught by Figueiredo when the champion was on his back. Given takedowns are such a large part of Perez’s attack, it’s hard to believe Schnell won’t have any sort of opportunity to get something going from the ground.
That said, betting on someone to find success based on their ground game is foolish. Besides that, Perez’s striking, while not flashy, is extremely effective once he gets into a groove. Though his low kicks have begun to receive a lot of attention following his stoppage of Jussier Formiga via kicks to the legs. However, Perez’s ability to work over the body shouldn’t be overlooked either and he has overwhelmed opponents with his volume before. Given Schnell doesn’t appear to have the power to frighten Perez off, so it’s easy to see Perez staying in his face and throwing enough volume to force Schnell to melt, especially if the low kicks are able to slow the movement of Schnell. Perez via TKO of RD2
- It was over a decade ago when everyone declared Andrei Arlovski’s career to be dead and buried, suffering four consecutive losses. While his career has endured It’s share of ups and downs in that time, he’s currently riding high, a winner of four of his last five fights. Not bad for a 43-year-old. As his formerly elite athletic skills have declined, Arlovski has evolved into a slick technician. Distance, angles, footwork... he’s never been more efficient in those areas than he is in his current state. It’s not like Arlovski hasn’t picked up his share of veteran tricks in that time either. For those reasons, it feels safe to say his winning ways will continue against Jared Vanderaa. Vanderaa is a massive heavyweight, needing to cut weight to make it underneath the heavyweight limit. Despite his huge girth, he tends to show better than average stamina than most heavyweights. However, even though he’s built like a mountain, he doesn’t hit nearly as hard as one would expect looking at him. If Vanderaa can find a way to grab ahold of Arlovski and wrest him to the mat where he can pound away on him, he’s got a chance. For all Arlovski’s declining skills, he’s still proven difficult to take down. Arlovski via decision
- There has never been any doubts about the physical prowess of William Knight. Despite possessing a short frame, Knight’s explosion allows him to make up ground in a hurry. Combine that with plenty of power and it’s easy to see why he’s turning so many heads. However, while Knight has been a willing student, there’s only so much a relative novice can learn in a short time and Knight is still picking up a lot of the nuances of the sport. Thus, why Da Un Jung was able to take him down eight times. It leaves open the question of whether longtime veteran Maxim Grishin will be able to take a disciplined approach from the outside and pick Knight apart with his 5-inch reach advantage. With a total of 42 fights under his belt, Grishin has proven to be fairly durable, only suffering three KO losses over the course of his career. Then again, 42 fights is a lot of mileage and a chin can only take so many shots before it cracks with greater ease. Grishin was never the quickest fighter and it looks like whatever speed he did have is in decline. I’ve been wavering a LOT on this contest as there’s a solid case to pick either competitor. I’d keep an eye on Grishin’s weigh-in as he missed weight in his last fight, but as it stands now, I’ll pick the veteran to outpoint the less experienced fighter with his savvy know-how. Grishin via decision