Several of the UFC’s recent PPV’s have been decidedly short on meaningful depth. That’s not me saying the recent cards have featured bad fights; simply that there had been a drop off in the quality of the fights. It appears the UFC is returning to a precedent they had set for most of 2021 and 2022, which saw the preliminary contests feature several meaningful ranked contests. In this case, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to see the winners of two contests from the prelims attached to title fights in their respective divisions in a year or so.
Derek Brunson and Dricus Du Plessis are at opposite ends of the spectrum of their UFC careers, but a win puts them in roughly the same spot. As for Viviane Araujo and Amanda Ribas, I wouldn’t be so inclined to say the same thing given it would be Ribas first win in the division. That said, a win for Ribas will say a lot about her long-term future at flyweight.
Oh, and for those who still believe in former champion Cody Garbrandt, he looks to get back on track against an opponent who has lost three in a row.
For the early prelims preview, click here.
Derek Brunson vs. Dricus Du Plessis, Middleweight
We’ve got a pretty good idea of Du Plessis at this point. The 29-year-old native of South Africa is an impressive athlete with good size and one of the most consistently aggressive games of anyone on the roster. Fortunately for him, he’s extremely durable and has plenty of pop himself as it has delivered him into the top ten of the middleweight division. However, despite 20 UFC fights under his belt, Brunson enters this contest very much a mystery.
There’s plenty of reason for the mystery. Brunson has long been one of the top athletes in the middleweight division, having been on the roster for over a decade. During his UFC run, he has only lost to fighters who have either held or challenged for the UFC or Strikeforce middleweight titles. However, prior to his contest with Jared Cannonier, Brunson was talking retirement. Now 39 and over a year removed from his loss to Cannonier, it’s fair to question if Brunson is no longer near the top of the middleweight heap.
If Brunson can return to the thoughtful and strategic fighter that we saw blaze a five-fight win streak prior to his title eliminator against Cannonier, it could very well negate any possible loss in his physical abilities in the year since we last saw him. When he wants to be, Brunson is a smothering wrestler who can hold down his opponents for long stretches of time. He can be dangerous on the feet too, possessing rare explosion, resulting in seven first round finishes in his UFC run.
However, it needs to be pointed out how many have come in the first round as Brunson’s gas tank has been his downfall at times. Well, perhaps I should say his discipline has been his worst enemy as he has gassed himself out even before getting out of the opening round. The times when he has exhausted himself have become more rare, but he did do so against Cannonier, finding it difficult to hold the strong and explosive Cannonier down without depleting his own resources.
Given Du Plessis’ constant activity, it isn’t hard to see Brunson having a sabotaged gas tank, even if he stays disciplined. Not that Du Plessis has endless stamina himself, but the younger fighter has proven he can hang in there and find a second wind if it comes down to that. For all that we’ve seen of Brunson, I can’t recall him finding a second wind. Recovering from being hurt? That has happened. But not the former.
A factor that is hard to know if it will come into play is the ground game. While I mentioned Brunson can be smothering from the top, he has rarely been put on his own back. Should that happen, Du Plessis’ BJJ is the most underrated part of his arsenal. Brunson has never been subbed in his career, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see Du Plessis be the first should Brunson get hurt or flag down the stretch.
There’s no denying Brunson has the ability to put away anyone. He had Cannonier and Robert Whittaker on the ropes, not to mention arguably beating Anderson Silva in a controversial decision. Hell, he was even on the bad end of one of Yoel Romero’s legendary third round comebacks. Thus, it’s stupid to count him out as he showed no signs of athletic slippage a year ago. If he has declined, I don’t see it being so steep that he falls off a cliff. Plus, he’s been doubted so many times, only for him to turn in a flawless performance. Despite that, Du Plessis appears to be the right pick, even with his defensive holes. He’s younger, still improving, and possesses the tools to put Brunson away. The odds are skewed way too heavily in favor of Du Plessis, but I do expect him to win. Du Plessis via submission of RD2
Viviane Araujo vs. Amanda Ribas, Women’s Flyweight
Araujo is one of the hardest fighters on the roster to get a grasp on. There’s no doubt she’s one of the division’s better athletes. She’s also got plus power and is more than capable on the ground. All of that on its own should add up to her being one of the top flyweights. Some may say she is. After all, she was probably one win away from getting a title shot. Who was the woman she lost to? Alexa Grasso, who is challenging Valentina Shevchenko higher up on the card.
However, despite all the positive, Araujo still feels something like an underachiever. She tends to struggle with in-fight adjustments. Even then, it doesn’t seem like she enters each contest with the best strategy in the first place. Most concerning, she’s now 36. While I understand that isn’t exactly ancient, it’s concerning for someone who relies as heavily on their athleticism as Araujo does. She hasn’t secured a finish since her UFC debut either, another concern given her dynamism is supposed to be one of her strengths.
Some of those concerns can be slightly alleviated by the fact her fight IQ has gradually improved as she has gained more meaningful experience. Even with that said, it isn’t like she’s vaulted to the head of the class in those terms. On the flip side, Ribas has proven to have one of the more underrated fight IQ’s in the sport. Her flyweight debut saw her as a heavy underdog against Katlyn Chookagian. Despite having a significant size disadvantage, Ribas came thisclose to pulling off the upset. There’s no doubt in my mind the cut to 115 was difficult for Ribas, but there’s also no denying she’s losing a big advantage in size and strength moving up to flyweight.
There won’t be any exception to that rule against Araujo. Araujo isn’t massive for the division by any means, but she does have an unusually long reach for her height and has been the stronger fighter every time thus far in her UFC run. Araujo makes good use of her reach too, the most consistent part of her attack being her jab. Ribas has a solid jab too, something Mackenzie Dern could tell everyone about. The question is whether Ribas has a consistent enough attack in her striking besides the jab, something that’s difficult to answer. Ribas can explode and catch Araujo by surprise much like she did against Chookagian, but Araujo has a lot more oomph in her strikes than Chookagian. Should Araujo get Ribas’ timing down, she could make Ribas pay a price Chookagian was unable to enforce.
Where Ribas has found the most success is her ground game. While she has her BJJ fundamentals down pat, she won’t be the bigger and stronger athlete on the mat this time around. That isn’t to say there’s no way she finds success against Araujo, but Araujo has faced larger opposition and has yet to coming out looking worse for wear on the mat despite facing some respectable grapplers. In fact, Araujo’s only losses have come against more disciplined strikers with greater variance in their attack than Ribas. This is very much a coin flip of a fight, but I see Araujo’s size and athleticism being a bit too much for Ribas. Araujo via decision
- It amazes me Cody Garbrandt still has his believers. Since upsetting Dominick Cruz at the end of 2016 for the bantamweight title, he has won just a single fight in six appearances. Not only is the single victory appalling, but the fact he’s only been healthy enough to fight once a year since that point is just as miserable. At 31, it’s worth debating if Garbrandt is on the downside of his physical peak too. After all, the lighter weight classes have a shorter physical peak than the larger classes and Garbrandt can’t be helped by continually getting his block knocked off. That said, he still has fast hands and it’s hard to believe his power has dissipated. There’s fights he should still be winning. It looks like the UFC is doing everything in their power to get him another win by pitting him against Trevin Jones. Not that Jones isn’t dangerous for Garbrandt; Jones has the type of power that has given Garbrandt issues. He’s a solid athlete too, not to mention he’ll probably have the grappling edge. However, he’s not going to be the better wrestler and Garbrandt has regularly been facing some of the best fighters in the division. Jones isn’t a slouch, but he’s a BIG step down from what Garbrandt has been facing. If Garbrandt losses this, it should officially be declared that he’s toast. I don’t see Garbrandt ever coming close to regaining his title, but he should have enough to extend Jones’ losing streak to four. Garbrandt via KO of RD2
- I’m not going to proclaim Marc-Andre Barriault is going to develop into a contender, but he is better than his 3-5 UFC record would indicate. While he’s been finished in his last two losses, he’d proven exceptionally durable before that, not to mention an ability to drag his opponent into deep waters and ensure they’ve earned their victory. Unfortunately, he’s stiff and one-dimensional, only finding real comfort operating in the clinch. Fortunately, he’s pretty damned good there, finding incredible success with his uppercuts. There’s a temptation to call Julian Marquez one-dimensional as well given his only strategy ever appears to be to get into a brawl, but he’s also proven he’s submission savvy, all three of his UFC victories coming via that route. Much like Barriault, Marquez has been thought to be all but indestructible at one point, only for his chin to falter at the hands of a Gregory Rodrigues onslaught. Despite that, he doesn’t appear to be as battle-worn as Barriault. This contest either proves to be a grind against the fence or an all-out slugfest. I don’t have confidence either way, but Marquez has shown a willingness to go where his opponent takes the fight. That has me leaning towards Barriault. Barriault via decision