Welcome to the Suga Show! Though it can reasonably be debated whether Sean O’Malley is ready for the size of the spotlight he’s receiving as one half of the co-main event of a PPV, no one can deny O’Malley’s flash and style – both in a out of the cage – make him a potential star that it’s worth taking the risk on. Then again, his placement in the co-main event – against a tough Marlon Vera – is part of the reason why many are proclaiming this card to be a one-fight card. At least the contest between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier is one hell of a fight. However, should the 25-year-old do what the UFC expects him to do, then no one will be making those assertions after this Saturday’s UFC 252 PPV event.
To be fair, the rest of the main card isn’t trash by any means. It features former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos looking to prove he can still be a presence in the heavyweight division. John Dodson, a two-time former title challenger in his own right, is looking to do the same in the bantamweight division. We are missing the firefight that would have occurred between Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba, but here’s hoping we get that later this month….
Note: It appears the UFC is putting Herbert Burns vs. Daniel Pineda on the main card as opposed to Jim Miller vs. Vinc Pichel. However, at the time the prelims preview was set to publish, the best indication I had was Miller and Pichel would be on the main card. So, the Miller-Pichel preview can be found here and Burns-Pineda can be found on the above link.
The main card begins at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Sean O’Malley vs. Marlon Vera, Bantamweight
There was a LOT to like about O’Malley’s most recent showing against Eddie Wineland. The way the youngster manipulated the former WEC champion into the killshot that O’Malley devastated him with was the type of stuff you don’t see out of developing fighters; it’s the stuff you see out of fully developed fighters. Given that O’Malley appears to still be developing – i.e. getting better – it’s understandable why the UFC has put so many of their eggs into turning the Suga Show into a box office production.
Then again, it makes sense for the UFC to rush him. How many 5’11” bantamweights are out there? Not many. How many are out there that are above 30? Far less than that already miniscule figure. O’Malley’s size is one of his biggest advantages as he makes excellent use of his range, but it’ll be difficult for the rainbow-haired warrior to do so as he gets older and his metabolism slows. Trust me, I’d know.
Nevertheless, he has a very difficult challenge before him in Marlon Vera. The native of Ecuador has made massive strides since joining the organization back in 2014. While he’s always been uber-tough, he’s improved his ability to keep his back off the fence in addition throwing more volume as opposed to waiting for the perfect opening to counter. Vera is far more consistent with is jab and low kicks and still one of the most dangerous finishers in the division. O’Malley will want to watch out for Vera landing a kick upside his head.
The thing is, O’Malley appears to be just as lethal and may even be more creative on the feet. In a pure striking match, I’d favor the younger fighter. However, this is MMA, not kickboxing. Vera has been making greater use of takedowns in recent years and has always possessed a dangerous ground game, even off his back. O’Malley has shown a decent ground game, but he hasn’t exactly faced an opponent whom would create great cause for concern from the mat. Vera is cause for major concern from the ground. Plus, Vera has been through several wars during his UFC tenure. He’s as battle-hardened as they come at 135. O’Malley is favored for a reason, but I see Vera pulling out what should be an incredible battle between these two youngsters. Besides, how often do the UFC’s plans with youngsters they try pushing to the moon work out? Vera via submission of RD3
Junior dos Santos vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Heavyweight
The last time we saw Rozenstruik, he was getting starched by Francis Ngannou in just 20 seconds. That had many jumping off the Rozenstruik wagon, not bothering to consider the fact that Francis Ngannou is one of the scariest human beings walking the face of the earth. That Rozenstruik was willing to call out the man despite being fully aware that he was capable of doing such things should illustrate the size of the cajones Rozenstruik carries.
Besides, it’s not like dos Santos lasted that much longer against Ngannou, stepping in against the big man less than a year before Rozenstruik took his turn at the heavy hitter. In fact, dos Santos’ durability has been questioned for several years following the beating he endured in the last two contests of his trilogy with Cain Velasquez. Given every loss since that time has been a stoppage due to strikes, there’s a lot of evidence to back up that idea.
Regardless of dos Santos durability, he’s still a dangerous boxer just as capable of picking apart his opposition as he is of looking for the kill shot. Feeling comfortable against lumbering hulks like Ben Rothwell and Blagoi Ivanov, he did the former. Wary of Derrick Lewis’ power, he did the latter. Dos Santos willingness to work over the body is a positive attribute too, though he often follows that up with a powerful overhand right. His kicking arsenal is also worth mentioning, though his reputation as a boxer has many forgetting about the potency of what he’s capable of with his feet.
Rozenstruik is very patient, making him liable to fall short should the fight go the distance. However, he may be right behind Ngannou in terms of being a power threat, perhaps right ahead of Derrick Lewis. The former kickboxer may be a better pure striker than dos Santos, but his ground game is still very much a question mark. Dos Santos has never given fans an extended peak at his ground game, but this would be the fight to do it if he were to do so. After all, we’ve heard he has one, but we’ve never seen much to illustrate that. Dos Santos’ fragility makes it a very good possibility that Rozenstruik finishes him off, but I’ll predict dos Santos plays it safe and secures an anticlimactic decision. Dos Santos via decision
John Dodson vs. Merab Dvalishvili, Bantamweight
Once upon a time, Dodson was the fastest man in the UFC. Of course, Father Time taketh as he pleases and that is no longer a title the 35-year old Dodson can claim. However, he’s still plenty fast. Just ask Nathaniel Wood, whom Dodson KO’d earlier this year….
Dodson still relies on the dart-and-move attack that he’s relied on for years. Given the unnatural power he possesses for a man his size, it was extremely effective for him early in his UFC run as he secured a high number of KO’s. As his speed declined – even if just slightly – those finishes began to disappear and he was forced to take decision victories. Perhaps the most impressive statistic of Dodson’s career: despite being a pro since 2004 with 32 fights under his belt – and three exhibition contests – he’s never been submitted or KO’d in his career.
Even if Dodson isn’t as durable as he was in his prime, Dvalishvili is unlikely to be the first man to give him an L before the bell. A grinding wrestler with an endless gas tank, Dvalishvili’s strategy is takedowns, takedowns, and more takedowns. The least amount of takedowns the native of Georgia has achieved thus far in his UFC career is five. There are a lot of solid wrestlers in the UFC who don’t have five takedowns in a single fight, much less five takedowns as the least amount in a contest. However, part of the reason Dvalishvili is able to get so many takedowns is because he struggles to hold down his opposition. Not only is Dodson difficult to takedown, he’s even harder to keep down.
I have no doubt Dvalishvili will secure some takedowns. I just don’t believe he’ll do much with those takedowns. That will leave it up to him to find a KO on the feet. Dvalishvili has power and he’s becoming more technical in his boxing. Unfortunately, he still has a way to go to consistently compete with Dodson standing. Dodson’s ability to find a home for his power tends to happen with far more frequency than it does for the wrestler. Dodson via TKO of RD2
- Jim Miller is the rare example of the UFC utilizing a battle-hardened veteran in the right way. In his prime, it could be argued the proud New Jersey native was a win away from competing for lightweight gold. Now, well past his prime but crafty as ever, the UFC has been utilizing him as a mid-tier gatekeeper without giving him major step up in competition. Vinc Pichel is the latest to get a crack at the career leader of UFC appearances. On the flip side, Pichel’s UFC career has been defined by long absences, this being the fourth time more than a year has elapsed between appearances. Despite the long periods between action, Pichel is just as hard-nosed as Miller. A capable boxer and dogged wrestler, Pichel –much like Miller – has been held back by a lack of natural athleticism. If the fight goes to decision, Pichel is the favorite as Miller has had issues maintaining his effectiveness over the course of three rounds. However, Miller is still an effective striker in short spurts and as tricky as ever on the mat. It’s very much a coin flip, but I’ll pick Pichel to secure the biggest scalp of his career. Pichel via decision
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