The UFC is back in Dallas this weekend for the first time since May 2017. Like that event, this weekend’s pay-per-view fight card features two title fights. In the main event, Julianna Pea defends her bantamweight crown against the woman she defeated in December for that belt, Amanda Nunes. In the evening’s co-main event, former UFC flyweight champion Brandon Moreno matches up against Kai Kara-France in a bout that will determine the interim 125-pound champion.
Ahead of the July 30 event, I look at the storylines to follow during the four-fight prelim portion of the UFC 277 fight card.
Alex Morono vs Matthew Semelsberger
In May 2021, Alex Morono, who was coming off a loss to Anthony Pettis, raised his hand to face Donald Cerrone on short notice. That decision seemed like a bit of a gamble for Morono, who entered the contest as a +175 underdog to the favored Cerrone, who was -210. Morono’s bet on himself paid off as he ended the fight at 4:40 of the first round via TKO. Morono earned his first “Performance of the Night” bonus with the win. Morono’s fellow fighters admired his work. UFC commentators Daniel Cormier and Dominick Cruz described the win as the best of Morono’s career while their cohort that night, Jon Anik, called the win a “monumental career-altering win.” It wasn’t.
Instead of moving Morono up the ranks and giving him the opportunity to face bigger named and tougher opponents, the UFC matchmakers shrugged and matched him up against David Zawada and Mickey Gall. He beat both those men via decision and his reward for that winning streak? A fight against a younger and lower ranked opponent in Matthew Semelsberger.
If Semelsberger follows the pattern he’s established over his five previous UFC outings, he’s due for a knockout win in under 20 seconds. Semelsberger began his UFC career with a decision win over Carlton Minus. He then knocked out Jason Witt in 16 seconds. He followed that with a decision loss to Khaos Williams, but then got back in the win column with a 15-second KO of Martin Sano Jr. In March, Semelsberger once again went the distance, defeating A.J. Fletcher via unanimous decision.
While this matchup does nothing for Morono, who has been with the UFC since 2016, it could mark the next step in the progression of Semelsberger, who joined the promotion in 2020. In his loss to Williams, Semelsberger ceded control of the action to his opponent and he paid the price. Morono is the type of veteran fighter who, along with his wily coaches from Fortis MMA, will use the knowledge they have of an opponent to exploit the weaknesses of that foe. This fight will go a long way toward informing the UFC and its fans if Semelsberger has what it takes to face and defeat top-20 fighters in the UFC welterweight division.
Drew Dober vs. Rafael Alves
Here’s a fun fact. Drew Dober has fought in three decades. He’s had two-fight losing skids in each of those decades. His run of two straight losses in the current decade ended in March when he scored a first-round TKO win over Terrance McKinney, ending the winning streak of the younger fighter at five-straight. All of which had been first round finishes. Another thing to mention, just in case you were wondering, the two losses Dober had before the McKinney fight came to Brad Riddell and Islam Makhachev, which is to say, he is not a fighter to take lightly.
It seems as if the UFC is eager to put Rafael Alves to the test. The 31-year-old scored an impressive win in his last outing, putting Marc Diakiese away in the first round. He looked sharp in that contest, displaying a potent combination of power, skill and fight IQ in getting that win. A win against someone as respected as Dober could pave the way for Alves to face strong competition in his next outing.
Dober is more than a 2-1 favorite in this matchup, but something to keep in mind is that Diakiese was also a heavy favorite over Alves.
Don’Tale Mayes vs. Hamdy Abdelwahab
Don’Tale Mayes is on a two-fight winning streak and coming off a TKO win over Josh Parisian. For a big man, he’s not afraid to work his takedowns and pursue ground control. At heavyweight, that is a relatively safe path to victory as most of the fighters in the division are much more likely to have a striking background and somewhat porous takedown defense. Mayes went 6-for-8 in takedowns in his most recent outing and finished the fight via ground strikes.
The UFC had Mayes booked opposite Justin Tafa at UFC 277, but Tafa withdrew from the fight. With that, the UFC has Mayes facing Hamdy Abdelwahab on the UFC 277 prelims. This fight is high-risk and low reward for Mayes, as Abdelwahab is just 3-0 in MMA and making his UFC debut.
First Round Management represents Hamdy Abdelwahab. He is 3-0 as a pro MMA fighter and 2-0 in bare knuckle boxing. All of Abdelwahab pro fighting experience has come in the past year and each of his fights have been in a Jorge Masvidal (who FRM also represents) promotion (Gamebred Fighting Championship and IKON FC). A member of the 2016 Egyptian Greco-Roman wrestling team, Alin Alexuc-Ciurariu, who finished in fifth place, eliminated Abdelwahab in the round of 16.
Abdelwahab has finished all his fights via knockout. I expect Mayes to put his wrestling to the test early and often.
It was a bit of a surprise to see someone as green as Abdelwahab open as a betting favorite over a fighter who has four UFC fights under his belt, but that happened here. However, those odds didn’t last and oddsmakers installed Mayes as the favorite the day after opening odds were announced.
Drakkar Klose vs. Rafa Garcia
Drakkar Klose went more than two years between fights thanks to an injury he sustained when Jeremy Stephens decided that being a knucklehead was more important than actually stepping into the octagon on fight night. Klose returned to action in April and got a second-round TKO win over Brandon Jenkins. That fight, in which Klose was a monster favorite, seemed to answer most — if not all — questions about Klose’s ability to compete inside the octagon after what could have been a career-ending injury.
The UFC originally booked Klose opposite Diego Ferreira at UFC 277, but that fight fell through. That was a letdown. Despite his three-fight losing skid, Ferreira represented a step up in competition for Klose. A win against Ferreira could have launched Klose into the next level of competition in the lightweight division. Instead, Klose is more than a 2-1 favorite over his replacement opponent, Rafa Garcia. With that, a win at UFC 277 likely puts Klose in a holding pattern.
Rafa Garcia was a perfect 12-0 when he joined the UFC in 2021 after he won and defended the Combate Americas lightweight title. He went 0-2 in his first UFC bouts, but he is coming into this his matchup against Klose on a two-fight winning streak. This fight is far more important and pivotal for the career of Garcia than it is for Klose.