If the main event of UFC Vegas 55 were to be taking place a year ago, it wouldn’t have quite the same oomph that it’s going to have this weekend.
Amanda Nunes losing the bantamweight title opened up the possibility for Holm to get back into the title picture as opposed to playing the role of gatekeeper to the top. Of course, Holm’s likelihood of getting another title shot dwindles considerably if Nunes dethrones Juliana Pena in their rematch, but Vieira stands a great chance of fighting whoever emerges victorious from that contest if she can upend Holm. Of course, that’s easier said than done. After all, only former or current champions have ever defeated Holm.
Holly Holm vs. Ketlen Vieira, Women’s Bantamweight
Holm’s legacy is secured at this point. While she will always be known as the one who took down Ronda Rousey, she has done enough since that point to establish herself as one of the most successful fighters in WMMA. It can be easy to forget for two reasons. First, the lack of depth in women’s MMA has made it difficult to rack up the highest quality names under her belt. Secondly, Holm’s style of staying on the outside and picking apart her opponents with potshots isn’t the most entertaining style of fight to watch that rarely comes across as dominant. Plus, while Holm’s boxing plaudits are always lauded, they have yet to produce a finish. If a finish is to come, it’s with her head kicks.
Regardless, Holm’s ability to stay on the outside and throw out jabs and side kicks typically keeps her opponents from landing a lot of notable offense, provided her opponent isn’t adept at fighting from the outside. Fortunately for Holm, Vieira isn’t the most mobile fighter out there. In fact, if someone were to pick out the most stylistically favorable opponent for Holm within the top ten of the division, chances are the majority of pundits would pick out Vieira.
That isn’t to say Vieira doesn’t have talent or a way to win. Vieira hits plenty hard. The issue will be landing cleanly on Holm given Vieira’s plodding movement. Vieira will have a massive edge on the mat. Will she be able to get Holm to the mat? Vieira does have some slick trips in close quarters. But even if Vieira can close the distance, Holm’s takedown defense is developed into some of the best in the division. In the nearly six years since her fight with Valentina Shevchenko, Holm has been taken down just once. Plus, Holm is one of the few who would match, possibly even exceed, the physical strength of Vieira. Don’t be surprised if we get long stretches of grinding against the cage as both ladies have proven capable long stretches in that environment.
The wild card is Holm’s health. It will have been almost 20 months since she last fought when she faces Vieira, a knee injury being the biggest culprit to her extended absence. At 40-years-old, it isn’t hard to see Holm being unable to come back at full strength. After all, while her MMA career is just over a decade old, she has an entire boxing career that came before she began in this sport. That is a LOT of wear and tear on her body. However, there’s also the fact that Holm has ALWAYS been exceptionally conditioned, perhaps the best conditioned fighter in the women’s division. There are reasons to doubt Holm looking the same on her return, but there are far more reasons to believe she can come back as strong as she ever was.
This was the right fight to make. Had Pena not upset Nunes, Vieira probably would have had next with Nunes due to a lack of other options. However, Vieira hasn’t done enough to warrant waiting for them to take care of business. But as I said, this is a terrible fight for Vieira. Given MMA is a sport where the contest can end immediately, I would never say someone is a lock. However, I’m about as confident as I can be that this is Holm’s fight to lose.
Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Michel Pereira, Welterweight
I know of several people who are upset Pereira has opted to take a mature approach towards fighting. After all, it’s crazy to see someone attempting to do a backflip onto their opponents on the regional scene; it’s downright insane to do so in the UFC. However, while there’s no doubt Pereira has found significantly more success since he stopped turning his contests into sideshows, it hasn’t been quite as fun.
There isn’t an aspect in which Pereira hasn’t shown maturity. I’m not just talking about in the cage either. After some weight cuts that had him looking skeletal, Pereira has looked healthier on weigh-in days. That has allowed Pereira to remain effective into the third round of his fights after struggles with his stamina early in his UFC run. Not performing backflips and other wasted energy expenditures obviously helps, but professionalism has become more common than what many would deem his shenanigans.
To be fair, Pereira does still throw the occasional flying or spinning maneuver, but he also tends to be calculated when he decides to throw his high-risk attacks. He could still brush up on his fundamentals, but Pereira’s elite speed and quickness have given him a degree of leeway that has allowed him to run off his current win streak. That may not be enough against Ponzinibbio. The Argentinian may be the most technically sound striker in the welterweight division. Possessing the ability to fight longer than his frame would indicate, Ponzinibbio’s ability to judge space and utilize angles has been integral to his success.
The issue for Ponzinibbio is his physical abilities. While he was a solid athlete in his physical prime, he was never elite. After he came back from a long layoff last year due to multiple injuries, Ponzinibbio appears to be a step slower than he used to be. Given his injuries limited his ability to condition himself, there was a thought that he would look sharper as he shook the rust off. That hasn’t really been the case. At 35, it’s plausible he’s never going to be the same fighter physically prior to his injuries.
If the fight remains a straight kickboxing contest, I’d still favor Ponzinibbio. Sure, he isn’t as fast or explosive as Pereira, but he possesses plenty of power and a wicked killer instinct. Plus, he’s proven he can dig deep and slug it out in a dogfight. However, part of Pereira’s success has been his ability to nail takedowns. Ponzinibbio’s ability to maintain space does make it difficult to get in on his hips and it’s likely he’ll chop down Pereira’s legs, making it more difficult for the Brazilian to explode. Regardless, Pereira is on his way up and Ponzinibbio is on his way down. Perhaps this proves to be the last gasp for Ponzinibbio, but more often than not, the fighter on the upward trajectory proves to be successful. Pereira via decision
- About two years ago, Dusko Todorovic looked like he was going to blossom into something special while Chidi Njokuani appeared to be on the downside of his career. It isn’t quite a role reversal at this point, but Njokuani is easily the hotter property of the two, despite being significantly older. Scoring a 16 second KO in his UFC debut did wonders for Njokuani’s outlook within the organization. While it might be a stretch to refer to Njokuani as a KO specialist, his overall striking credentials have never been questioned, keeping everything tight and tidy. It’s when the fight hits the mat that Njokuani has struggled. While Todorovic has some solid wrestling credentials, they haven’t translated to success beyond exerting lots of control time against the cage. If Todorovic can get the fight to the mat, his GnP has successfully secured him his first two UFC wins. However, a bigger problem than Todorovic’s wrestling has been his fight IQ. Even though he’s at his best on the mat, Todorovic has been too content to stand and trade with opponents. For all his shortcomings, Njokuani knows where he’s best and has been content to keep his fights there. In terms of physical tools, Todorovic should take this. Based on his history, I don’t think he fights the fight that gets him the win. Njokuani via TKO of RD3
- It’s easy to get frustrated by Polyana Viana. The Brazilian possesses an ideal frame for strawweight, solid athleticism, and one of the most dangerous submission games in all of women’s MMA. Perhaps that sounds like a stretch, but seven of her last eight wins came via submission, including all three of her UFC wins and a win over Amanda Ribas on the regional scene. If only Viana had confidence on the feet and/or a way to consistently get the fight to the mat. In the case of Tabatha Ricci, she’s not quite the athlete Viana is, nor does she have a frame to be envious of at strawweight. However, she does have a fundamentally sound ground game paired with a functional ability to get the fight to the mat. Plus, despite her size limitations, Ricci is aggressive on the feet. Viana’s standup has always benefitted from her opponents respecting her ground abilities, meaning they weren’t going to take the type of chances that would result in the fight potentially hitting the mat. Ricci isn’t going to give Viana that respect. Throw in that Viana has been overconfident at times and I wouldn’t be surprised if Ricci were able to submit her. Despite that, a decision appears more likely. Ricci via decision
- The UFC loves to let everyone know Eryk Anders played linebacker for the University of Alabama to give everyone an idea of his athleticism. What doesn’t get a lot of attention is Anders is now 35 and doesn’t show the same burst and power that defined him. To balance things out, Anders has figured out what type of fighter he is, making a greater effort to consistently take his opponent to the mat as opposed to aimlessly waiting for his opponent to do something. Given Anders is monstrous middleweight, he’s been able to make up for the lack of traditional wrestling background with his size and physicality. Even if he doesn’t finish his takedowns, he’s proven efficient at grinding things out against the cage. It would be a shock if Anders changed things up against Jun Yung Park given the native of Korea has struggled to keep the fight standing when his opponents would prefer not to. Between the two, there’s no doubt Park is the better combination puncher. He may even be the better takedown artist. However, Anders has proven difficult to take down and just as difficult to keep down. This contest all boils down to Anders fight IQ. If his head is on straight and he focuses on what he’s best at, he should easily control Park to a decision. If a brawl emerges, I’d give the edge in power and durability to Anders as well. However, I can also see him meandering through the fight and letting Park outpoint him. Given Anders’ focus has been gradually improving, I’ll go out on a limb and say he gets the job done. Anders via decision