UFC Long Island is about as good as a card gets without being a PPV. No surprise given it’s an ABC card, but we might as well eat it up.
Headlined by Brian Ortega vs Yair Rodriguez, the main card features ranked fighters almost exclusively and the prelims even features several fighters with numbers next to their names. In fact, one of the fights on the prelims, the contest between Ricky Simon and Jack Shore, could be put up there with some of the main events the UFC has run over the last several years. Who in the hell believes Aspen Ladd and Norma Dumont is a superior fight? And while there have been several occasions when the UFC has a quality fight on the prelims, it isn’t always about the depth on the card. There’s usually one or two – sometimes even three or four – other fights on the main card that would be more suitable on the prelims. In this case, I can understand why all the main card fights are on the main card ahead of Simon and Shore.
Ricky Simon vs. Jack Shore, Bantamweight
Following consecutive losses for the first time in his career, it was fair to question if Simon would take a mental dive and never fulfill his potential. Instead, the hard-nosed wrestler embraced the grind and has rattled off four-consecutive wins since that point. It isn’t like he’s simply been receiving favorable matchups, at least not completely. Simon’s grappling and striking have both shown steady improvements.
Even as Simon sharpens his boxing, he is and always will be a takedown specialist at heart. That isn’t a bad thing by any means. It just means the UFC might be reluctant to throw a spotlight on him, much in the same way it took it’s time pushing Kamaru Usman into the title picture. Not that I’m comparing Simon to Usman in terms of talent, but the UFC favors fighters who will deliver the highlight reel KO as opposed to 15 minutes of controlled domination. Simon’s improving standup is hopeful for his prospects, but the risk is falling in love with a facet that isn’t his bread and butter and paying a price for it as frequently happens to many fighters following their first highlight reel KO.
Then again, there are some who believe he’s most likely to find success if he keeps it on the feet against Shore. Shore has proven himself to be one of the most skilled grapplers on the entirety of the roster, not just within the division. There are some fighters who seem to flow from one position to the next naturally, seemingly without thought. Shore is one of those fighters. Given his exceptional fight IQ, he makes up for the lack of natural physicality with well-timed shots and the type of veteran tricks that belie his youth. The lack of finishes on his resume is due to his dedication to fundamentals, choosing position over submission almost every time.
Given Simon has been difficult to take down himself, there’s a thought that Shore might not have a choice other than to stand and trade. Well, Shore has been improving his own boxing, knocking down Timur Valiev twice in his most recent contest... and Valiev is generally considered to be a better striker than Simon. Make no mistake, Simon appears to be the better athlete, but he has also been prone to mental mistakes. Granted, they haven’t been nearly as egregious or common as they were early in his UFC run, but Shore is the type of guy that will exploit them, no matter the size of the mistake. The most likely route to victory that I see for Simon is putting Shore away with a heavy punch, but Shore is also known for his durability. As for Simon wrestling Shore to the ground, I’m sure the mini-powerhouse will be able to do so, but I see Shore’s superior grappling creating scrambles and reversing positions. Shore via decision
Dustin Jacoby vs. Da Un Jung, Light Heavyweight
Make no mistake, the UFC doesn’t care for either Jacoby or Jung. Jung has never lost in the UFC and Jacoby hasn’t since coming back for another stint in the organization. That’s five fights for Jung and six for Jacoby. And yet, rather than give them an opportunity against an established opponent, they get the opportunity to knock each other off their winning ways.
Given Jacoby has been fighting high-level competition for over a decade, his high fight IQ is hardly a surprise. In the case of Jung, it’s a bit of a surprise given he didn’t face actual decent competition until he joined the UFC in 2019. Aware that Kennedy Nzechukwu tends to start slow, Jung blitzed him and put him away quickly. Against William Knight, he opted to take the explosive striker down to the mat time and again, grinding out a boring decision. Sure, it wasn’t crowd-pleasing, but it was certainly the most direct route to victory.
Jacoby presents an interesting problem for Jung as there isn’t an obvious route to victory. I get it; many will say that’s ludicrous to say given Jacoby’s length, experience as a professional kickboxer, and exceptional striking technique. The way to beat Jacoby is to take him down. However, taking down Jacoby is a completely different ballgame than taking down Knight. Jacoby has built his game around picking his opponents apart from the outside and staying on his feet. He’s had years to hone that strategy too. Plus, keeping Jacoby down has also been a lesson in futility.
Jung’s ceiling is going to be limited by his athleticism. He’s a better athlete than Jacoby, but that isn’t saying much in terms of the top of the division. He’s also been fortunate to feast on fighters with less experience than himself. The lone fight he didn’t win during since coming to the UFC: a draw against Sam Alvey. You don’t hang around as long as Alvey without becoming somewhat cagey. Jacoby is even more cagey than Alvey and a far more consistent striker. It should be a competitive contest, but I feel confident Jacoby can outpoint the South Korean native. Jacoby via decision
- It was about a year ago that Punahele Soriano looked like one of the top middleweight prospects on the roster. Now, he appears to be fighting for his UFC employment. A simplistic boxer with some serious power, his weaknesses have been exposed in his last couple of fights. Punahele has only won a single fight that has ever left the opening round and he’s had major issues stopping his opponent’s takedown attempts. To the credit of Soriano, he has proven to be incredibly durable and difficult to keep down, but there’s no doubt all his opponents moving forward will look to expose his inability to remain standing. Well... almost all his opponents. Even though he’s an experienced judoka, Dalcha Lungiambula has been pretty steadfast in looking for the KO. He does have a lot of power, but he also fights at a very slow pace that makes it difficult for him to win decisions. The problem is, if Lungiambula begins to ramp up his volume, he tends to gas out as his squat frame doesn’t handle the cut to 185 pounds as well as you’d expect for someone of his short stature. In fact, Lungiambula is one of the few whom I feel is less effective outside the opening round than Soriano. Lungiambula could finish Soriano early, but I feel the Hawaiian is just as capable of putting away Lungiambula. Soriano via decision
- Herbert Burns left a lot of questions following his last appearance almost two years ago. That long absence has completely intensified those questions. The younger brother of Gilbert looked like a million bucks in his first two UFC contests, but has struggled to make the featherweight limit as of late and had nothing in his gas tank in his last appearance. Rather than move up to lightweight, Burns is making another go of 145. If he can make the weight comfortably, there’s no reason not to believe he can’t run over Bill Algeo. However, if Burns is even slightly compromised, Algeo is the type of underappreciated veteran who will capitalize on the slightest of openings. Algeo isn’t a great athlete, but he is durable, well-conditioned, and never backs off from his high paced attack. Algeo’s takedown defense has been an issue and Burns is capable of taking advantage of that early. But what happens if the contest leaves the opening round? There’s no doubt Burns is more physically gifted athlete, but I don’t trust he can remain effective out of the first round. Algeo either outworks him or puts him away late... if he gets out of the first round. Algeo via TKO of RD3
- It’s win or go home for Dwight Grant and Dustin Stoltzfus. Many are surprised Stoltzfus is getting a fourth opportunity to pick up his first UFC win, but it appears the UFC has taken his level of competition into consideration. As for Grant, he’s already 37 and has a history of putting his audience to sleep with long bouts of inactivity in addition to his two-fight losing streak. If his opponent is willing to push the pace, Grant is willing to let his fists fly and has serious KO power. Unfortunately, his durability appears to be in decline. Perhaps moving up to 185 will help as he won’t be cutting as much weight – maybe even increase the amount of volume he throws — but it’s also hard to know if it will make it easier for Stoltzfus to drag him to the mat. Stoltzfus proved he can be smothering on the mat if given the right matchup. Grant has been difficult to take down, but that has been at 170. Stoltzfus is competent on the feet, but nothing more than that. Then again, that’s what was said about Sergey Khandozhko and the Russian put Grant away. Stoltzfus is nothing special, but he is durable and doesn’t have a glaring weakness anywhere. As Grant appears to be on a noticeable downslide, that should be enough for Stoltzfus to get his first UFC win. Stoltzfus via decision
- Anyone else find it curious Jessica Penne is still fighting after Joanna Jedrzejczyk retired? When those two collided, Jedrzejczyk was the rising star and Penne was the established product. In some ways, it appears Penne’s long absence from suspension was key to extending her career as she avoid the wear and tear that comes with regularly fighting. In fact, she seems refreshed. With a strong jab and an active submission game, Penne may be able to build on her resurgence yet. It’ll be a tall order to do so against former Bellator title challenger, Emily Ducote. Ducote looked like she was on the verge of peaking too early herself, but a drop down to strawweight proved to be the move she needed to turn things around. Her power has translated down to the lower weight class just fine and she’s now able to be the bully now that she isn’t the smaller fighter. Given that, I don’t like the chances of Penne as she has always struggled with physical opposition. Plus, Ducote has been looking better with every subsequent fight. It should be enough for her to find success in her UFC debut. Ducote via TKO of RD3