My apologies if these aren’t the fights that end up on the early prelims of UFC 274, but the UFC won’t stop messing with the lineup! As it sits at the time of the submission of this article, there’s not a bad mix of fights for the early contests. Sure, there are the seemingly obligatory debuting DWCS products, but there’s also some names that might be recognizable to casuals. Tracy Cortez has made a name outside of fighting on her social media. Andre Fialho delivered one of the best KO’s of the year just a few weeks ago. And though they may need to dig into the recesses of their mind, Blagoy Ivanov is a former WSOF heavyweight champion. Perhaps that doesn’t mean much to some, but may I remind y’all a former WSOF champion is headlining this PPV. Just sayin’....
- Just short of two years since he last stepped in the Octagon, Blagoy Ivanov returns with minimal fanfare. There were some who thought the Bulgarian was going to make a big splash when he first touched down in the organization in 2018. While that doesn’t look like it will be the case, he has proven to be exceptionally durable and capable of outworking an opponent who isn’t capable of staying on their game bell-to-bell. That’s not good news for Marcos Rogerio de Lima. The Brazilian striker has shown an unusual amount of maturity in his last two fights. In one contest, he proved he could effectively go the distance after a long stretch of fights that he lost whenever the contest left the opening round. In the other, he blitzed an opponent whose durability looked like it was beginning to wane. Even if the former light heavyweight comes in near the heavyweight limit at this point, it’s fair to say he’s showing the best version of himself. The question will be if he can put away Ivanov. No one has been able to stop Ivanov with strikes, making that a very tall task. If de Lima can go the distance, perhaps he thinks he can use his length and superior striking technique to outpoint the stout Ivanov. However, Ivanov is used to being the shorter fighter and only the most disciplined have been able to outwork him from the outside. I don’t believe de Lima can be disciplined enough over three rounds against the sturdy Ivanov. Ivanov via submission of RD2
- At first glance, it looks like Andre Fialho is taking a step back in competition after blowing the formerly hyped Miguel Baeza out of the water in the first round less than a month ago. However, to be fair, Cameron VanCamp is very much a wild card. Signed to the promotion all the way back in September, it was thought VanCamp had been released by the promotion last month. Instead, about a week ago, he pops up scheduled to fight Fialho. VanCamp has looked like an absolute beast in his recent contests, wresting his opponents to the mat and immediately searching for a submission. However, his level of competition has been questionable. As for Fialho, he has faced as strong of a level of competition as can be expected for a prospect with two UFC contests under their belt. Fialho has also proven he can take a punch, as well as give one out. His takedown defense has been solid thus far too. VanCamp might be able to snag an early submission, but Fialho is a far more proven commodity and appears to be the better athlete. He’ll have to survive an early storm, but Fialho should have his way with VanCamp after that. Fialho via TKO of RD2
- I was beginning to wonder where Tracy Cortez was. Though she began her UFC career at bantamweight, the understanding was that she would eventually drop to flyweight. That was before the division was overflowing with promising prospects and even though she made the drop last year, her absence of over a year has left her a forgotten commodity. She shouldn’t be. Though Cortez’s boxing is simplistic, it’s effective given she doesn’t overextend herself. More importantly, it helps her to effectively close the distance for her takedowns as wrestling is her bread and butter. It had better be working against Melissa Gatto as the Brazilian product has proven to be one of the more explosive athletes in the division. Gatto did struggle to avoid the clutches of another known grappler in Sijara Eubanks, but was able to create enough space as Eubanks faded to put her away with a body kick. Given Gatto still appears to be on the upswing, the possibility of her putting away Cortez shouldn’t be discounted despite Cortez’s history of durability. My initial instinct was to pick Cortez, but upon the limited film study I was able to take in – reminding me of Cortez fading and getting dropped by Justine Kish – I think the more dynamic Gatto can take the shine away from Cortez. Gatto via submission of RD3
- He may not have secured a finish, but Kleydson Rodrigues turned in one of the most dominant performances on DWCS last season. Even though flyweight tends to be full of impressive athletes, Rodrigues appears to stand out in that field, displaying explosive power and a solid ground game on the regional scene. On DWCS, he showed the ability to pick apart an opponent methodically, low kicks being the weapon he chose to book his ticket to the UFC. However, there hasn’t been a lot of hype around Rodrigues as his victims on the regional scene were largely cans. His opponent on DWCS, Santo Curalto wasn’t a can and neither is CJ Vergara. In fact, Vergara entered the UFC on a five-fight win streak in which he finished all his opponents with strikes. Vergara is a technical striker who hasn’t always shown the best takedown defense. That may not be the issue some may think given the Brazilian scene isn’t exactly briming with wrestlers. In other words, Rodrigues ground game isn’t proven. Despite that, I like the younger fighter in this one, though I do believe the odds are tilted too heavily in his favor. Rodrigues via decision
- If Lupita Godinez were just a little bit bigger, it’s hard to believe she wouldn’t already be setting herself up for fights against the best in the division. Despite being on the small side of 115, she’s already proven herself to be one of the better wrestlers in the division. Relying on a relentless determinism to drag them to the mat, Godinez has proven she can control for long stretches, but also snagged any available limb her opponent might leave out. The Mexican representative has also proven to be an effective boxer, but it has made more sense to eliminate whatever reach advantage her opponent might have by going to the floor. She won’t have to worry about that this time as Ariane Carnelossi is just as compact as Godinez. However, while Carnelossi owns one of the bulkier frames in the division and hits just as hard as you’d expect from someone with her muscle definition. What her frame does belie is her ability to push a hard pace as Carnelossi tends to hit just as hard late in the fight as she does early. Given her power and aggression, Carnelossi has a big advantage on the feet. Unfortunately for her, she has terrible takedown defense. Perhaps the bricked up Carnelossi will be ready for it, but I see Godinez’s grit and ground work being too much. Godinez via decision
- I really thought Journey Newson would carve out a UFC career as a fun action fighter at one point. Despite coming from a BJJ background, Newson had shown a willingness to stand and trade fisticuffs and the power to hold his own in those situations. Newson is still capable of winning fights, but a 20-month absence ate away at what was likely his peak physical years and likely fighting for his job after three appearances without an official victory. At the very least, he’ll have a dance partner willing to engage in a likely bonus winning performance in Fernie Garcia. The DWCS product is similar to Newson in many ways. Garcia isn’t bad on the ground, but also prefers slugging things out. He’s also younger and trains out of Fortis MMA, a camp with several talented fighters his size. If you subscribe to the idea of iron sharpening iron, it’s hard not to favor Garcia. However, Garcia’s takedown defense is concerning and his gas tank hasn’t always held up until the final bell. Whether it’s jitters or being overhyped, DWCS graduates tend to disappoint in their UFC debut. It’s very much a coin flip, but I think Newson should pull off the upset. Newson via decision