There’s a price to be paid for running two PPV’s so close together. First, it’s going to be difficult to to maintain high levels of quality in such a short period. In other words, given UFC 285 was a high-quality card on the whole, it shouldn’t be a surprise UFC 286 is suffering a notable fall off.
Part of that can be attributed to the card taking place in the UK. Not that there is anything wrong with the UK, but given the majority of the UFC’s roster is in North America, it can be difficult to convince them to fly over the Atlantic. It’s even harder to convince those out of Brazil to make the journey. Not that there aren’t any Brazilians on the card, but it’s easier to twist the arm of someone new to the organization than someone who has established themselves.
All that said, there’s a wide swath of fighters early in their UFC careers on the card that could prove to be major players in the future. There’s a few that look like they might flush out quickly as well, but there’s a reason the fights take place. After all, if everything went like it does on paper, we wouldn’t be having the trilogy fight with Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman.
- I like Gabriel Santos quite a bit. In other words, he appears to have a higher upside than the average prospect. The recently crowned LFA featherweight champion developed a reputation as a dangerous grappler early in his MMA career, but has proven himself to be a just as big of a threat on the feet, if not bigger. His Muay Thai striking base has really begun to sink in after some discomfort early in his MMA career. Unfortunately for Santos, I believe he’s going to bite off more than he can chew in making his debut against Lerone Murphy. The undefeated Murphy may be the most underrated featherweight on the roster. He’s proven to be a top notch athlete with a surprisingly well-rounded skill set. There may not be one specific area he is dominant in, but the amount of fighters who will overwhelm him in any one area is going to be sparse. Santos is good and I wouldn’t completely eliminate the possibility of Santos having a puncher’s chance, but Murphy is a superior athlete in addition to having more meaningful experience. I hope Santos gets an opportunity to flash some of his talent, but I don’t feel assured of that given the late notice circumstances of him accepting the fight. If I’m to guess, Murphy scores a GnP victory. Murphy via TKO of RD2
- There’s indications Dusko Todorovic is maturing as a fighter. After all, he survived an early onslaught from Jordan Wright before turning the tables on him for the finish. Previously, Todorovic would have likely panicked before his opponent would have touched up his chin. Instead, Todorovic maintained his composure before turning the tables on Wright. Given Todorovic’s chin is still out there to be touched up on the regular, that’s still a reasonable concern. Given he’s welcoming former Cage Warriors middleweight champion Christian Leroy Duncan to the organization, there’s even greater reason for concern. Duncan is a scary and creative striker. Given he’s proven to be just as dangerous with his punches as he is with his kicks, he’s been difficult for his opponents to prepare for. There is concern about his takedown defense and Todorovic isn’t a bad wrestler, giving a path to victory for the Serb. However, I haven’t seen enough that I like from Todorovic in that department that I’d feel confident in predicting he can pull off the upset. Throw in that Duncan has a history of making his opponents pay for attempting to take him down and it’s hard to believe Duncan – a Scot – won’t feed off the UK crowd to secure a highlight reel in his debut. Duncan via KO of RD2
- He may be coming off a loss, but Malcolm Gordon has never seen his stock higher than it is now. That’s because the Canadian veteran showed his grappling acumen, providing Muhammad Mokaev with the stiffest test of his career. Exhibiting confidence that was missing early in his UFC run, Gordon successfully fought off Mokaev’s early attempts to submit him, even reversing position on him and catching him in a deep submission attempt. Given Gordon held up as well against an athlete like Mokaev, there’s every reason to believe he can pull off the upset over Jake Hadley. Hadley is a promising flyweight talent in his own right, but his wrestling and grappling has proven to be disappointing in relation to the hype it received on the regional scene. To be fair, Hadley hasn’t exactly crapped the bed there, but he’s been easier to take and hold down than expected. His improved and varied striking has helped mitigate the disappointment, which will likely be Hadley’s point of emphasis given Gordon’s chinny history. I’m shocked how wide the odds are in Hadley’s favor given his recent struggles plays into what Gordon does well. I’m still picking the younger and better athlete, but I have a hard time believing the betting community won’t be taking advantage of Gordon’s underdog line. Hadley via decision
- It’s safe to say Joanne Wood never lived up to the lofty expectations the UFC had when they signed her back in 2014. In retrospect, it’s clear the expectations were too high as Wood is a bit of a one-note fighter, exceling in Muay Thai. The thing is, when she’s able to play that note, it isn’t hard to see why so many expected her to be in the title hunt. Unfortunately for Wood, her opponents have learned not to let her play that note and it isn’t difficult to prevent her from doing so, resulting in a barrage of losses. To be fair, Wood has only been losing to the best fighters in the flyweight division, all five of those losses having come against women who have fought for the title. The issue for Wood is she’s only comfortable in two areas: either on the outside spamming jabs and wide variety of kicks or in the clinch. While her knees and elbows can do a lot of damage in close quarters, she’s also vulnerable to the takedowns from there and has suffered three first round submission losses in her last five appearances. That shouldn’t be a concern against Luana Carolina as the Brazilian has yet to complete a takedown in her UFC run. Carolina is both bigger and a superior athlete to Wood, but she also borders on reckless. Wood has her issues with the wrestling and grappling, but she also is exceptionally tough to put away with strikes. Thus, it’ll be one hell of a chore for Carolina to land a KO blow. If she doesn’t, she’s likely to be outworked by the technically superior Wood, provided age and wear hasn’t completely caught up to the 37-year-old. Wood via decision
- The UFC hasn’t done Jai Herbert any favors. All three of his losses have come against opponents who were in the official UFC rankings within the last few years, if they aren’t currently ranked. However, because those losses were so one-sided, it makes it easy to forget Herbert has proven in the eyes of most that he is a legit UFC talent. Possessing a lanky frame and the knowledge of how to use it to his advantage in the striking, Herbert presents a challenge many within the lightweight division will struggle to solve. It’s hard to say if Ludovit Klein can solve him. Klein is a dangerous striker best known for his head kicks, though it would be a mistake to assume he’s not just as dangerous with his hands. The concern with Klein is Herbert has been vulnerable to fighters who can threaten him with their ground game. Klein has looked much better since permanently moving up to lightweight, showing improved energy in the process. The concern is he’s short for the division, which could pose problems for him against Herbert. I’m shocked the odds aren’t closer – not that they’re exceptionally wide — but I’ll go with Herbert, believing he’ll get a boost from the home crowd. Herbert via decision
- It blows my mind Veronica Macedo is still only 27. The native of Venezuela made her UFC debut back in 2016, but has only made five appearances in that time, an average of less than one appearance a year. At one point, I thought she had a high ceiling given her athleticism and lack of experience. At this point, she hasn’t shown much progress, leading me to believe she’s to be used as fodder at this point. Given the UFC is pitting her against recent TUF winner Juliana Miller, it looks like they believe the same thing. Miller isn’t much younger at 26, but she only has four professional contests under her belt. What she does have is extensive grappling accolades and a hunger to succeed. It doesn’t take a lot of film study to see she needs work on her standup, but there are signs she’s progressing. Most importantly, when Miller is in the cage, she fights with a mean streak and confidence that Macedo has never shown. Macedo is a good athlete with enough power to surprise and an underrated grappling game. Being married to a top notch analyst like Dan Hardy doesn’t hurt either. That said, she has already retired from the sport once due to concussion issues. I get that she’s young, but it’s not like problems like concussions just go away. Miller should pick up an easy win. Miller via TKO of RD3
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