Whether fans recognize it, the main event between Michael Chiesa and Neil Magny is exactly the type of contest they ask the UFC to make. With both men riding a hell of a wave of momentum, only one of them will get the opportunity to prove their mettle against the divisional elite as only one of them is going to emerge victorious. That’s why this contest felt like a risk for both men to take as they have a resume indicating they might be worthy of a contest against the elite right now. Regardless, there isn’t much else of consequence being offered on the card.
If another contest were to be singled out, the obvious choice would be Roxanne Modafferi and Viviane Araujo. Not a bad fight, but is generally indicative of a card being underwhelming if it’s the second most consequential contest on the card. Then again, in the age of COVID, it isn’t all that surprising.
Michael Chiesa vs. Neil Magny, Welterweight
Magny has long been one of the more maligned members of the roster. Aside from his 6’3” frame, 80” reach, and impressive cardio, Magny doesn’t appear to have any particular skill that stands out. He’s a good, but not great wrestler. He doesn’t have a lot of power. He’s tough, but not always durable. He’s a sound grappler, but has been submitted by every top grappler he has faced thus far in his career. There’s always something a fighter can pinpoint on Magny they believe they can exploit.
Some have been able to topple him, but Magny has comfortably won more than he has lost. His recent winning streak has been his most impressive stretch as there hasn’t been the close calls that have come in several of his previous wins. He appears to have mastered the use of his reach, keeping his opponents at the end of his jab and mixing in the occasional power shot or takedown. Of course, none of those opponents have been at the level of the opposition Magny has been losing to. So, while he’s looked fantastic, he hasn’t been able to secure a win at the next level, something that has been eluding him for years.
Chiesa is in somewhat of a similar situation with a clear line of delineation: the majority of his UFC career took place at lightweight, only his last three contests taking place at welterweight. There has been a clear increase in his energy levels as he hasn’t had to cut a massive amount of weight to get to 155. Chiesa has been vocal about how it has also allowed him to increase his strength training, meaning he hasn’t been having issues with the size and strength of the larger opposition at 170, securing at least four takedowns in every one of his contests since moving up.
What has held Chiesa back in the past has been his subpar striking. He’s never had good striking defense and he hasn’t dealt with anyone with the combination of length and skill of Magny by a longshot. The one thing that has made Chiesa’s opposition wary is he has always had plenty of power in his fists and can alter the course of a contest if he’s able to land something from an awkward angle. Of course, that hasn’t been his primary form of winning fights as the native Washingtonian proven to be one of the better human backpacks in the game, the RNC proving to be his signature submission.
I favor the fight IQ of Magny in this contest. He’s effectively been able to execute his recent game plans from bell to bell. Chiesa has been able to physically dominate his last few opponents, controlling them on the mat as he searches for the finish and dragging them back down when they get up. It isn’t difficult to see either one successfully executing their strategy. What it comes down to who is most likely able to secure a finish. I don’t see Magny subbing Chiesa and Chiesa’s durability makes it unlikely Magny finishes the job with strikes. However, a sub from Chiesa… that seems like a very strong possibility. Chiesa via submission of RD2
Roxanne Modafferi vs. Viviane Araujo, Women’s Flyweight
We’ve seen this fight before. Well, not this exact matchup per se, but how many times have we seen Modafferi matched up with a younger, sleeker, more athletic model only for the wily veteran to turn them away? Whether it’s the UFC or Invicta, Modafferi has always been viewed as a stepping stone for the better part of the last decade. And yet, while she can never quite get over the championship hump, the 17-year veteran of the sport manages to hang around and turn away the majority of her challenges to the point she manages a legit top ten talent.
Even when she was in her physical prime, Modafferi was never a good athlete, much less a top-flight athlete. She’s always gotten by on guts and guile, though her continued experience has allowed her to refine her training and add several tricks she has picked up over the years. The main factor that has allowed her to tie everything together as well as she does has been her incredible toughness and durability. There’s no quit in Roxy and she’s willing to eat a shot or two to accomplish her objective. Even more important: she knows when she should be willing to take the extra damage.
It’s those type of qualities that is what is holding Araujo back at this stage. It shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise as she’s only been a professional for just over five years and has relied upon being the better athlete almost every time out. That isn’t to say Araujo hasn’t been developing parts of her game. Her jab has developed nicely at this stage and her takedowns have been surprisingly efficient. What has her backers truly excited is the power behind her strikes in addition to efficiency in landing high risk maneuvers. She’s not at Modafferi’s level, but there’s plenty of proof of her fight IQ growing.
A look back at Modafferi’s recent wins indicates a trend that could make or break her: her ability to hit takedowns. For all of Araujo’s obvious strengths and weaknesses, her takedown defense doesn’t seem to get a whole lot of attention… and it’s been extremely good. Modafferi might be able to use her height and reach advantage to outpoint Araujo, but I get the feeling that won’t work out unless Araujo does a poor job of her energy management. It reared its head in her lone UFC loss to Jessica Eye, but she appeared to remedy that against Montana de la Rosa. Throw in the fact Modafferi has been in a consistent win-loss-win-loss pattern since coming back to the UFC and I’ve got to go with Araujo to pick up her biggest win to date. Araujo via decision
- At this point, it feels safe to say Warlley Alves is never going to fulfill the high expectations many had for him when he won TUF Brazil 3 all the way back in 2014. Only just recently having turned 30, Alves is still youthful enough to begin a serious run to the top – Robbie Lawler was 31 when his title culminating run began – but the odds are heavily against that possibility. Nonetheless, Alves is still a top-flight athlete with power and a tight guillotine that opponents have learned to be wary of. However, even though he’s the more established fighter and appears to have leveled off, he’s still significantly younger than his opponent, Mounir Lazzez. Out of Tunisia, Lazzez presents an imposing frame that allows him to lace in his kicks and punches with great accuracy, though step in knees and elbows are his favorite strikes. He also times his takedowns well, but he has a bad habit of leaving his head out there for the taking… much like Alves has taken advantage of on several occasions in the past. Alves has had energy management issues in the past, but has been far more measured as of late, including making greater use of his wrestling. Lazzez’s takedown defense has been poor on the regional scene, leading me to believe Alves has more avenues to victory than Lazzez. There’s no confidence in my pick – largely because Alves is a difficult one to trust – but I’m going with the Brazilian. Alves via submission of RD1
- What the hell is Ike Villanueva and Vinicius Moreira doing on the main card? In five combined UFC appearances, not only have they been unable to record a single win, they’ve only left the first round one time… and didn’t even make it a minute into the next round. Villanueva is a throwback to an earlier era, getting by on a brand of blood, guts, and toughness that defined the sport over a decade ago. Lacking in any distinctive physical skills, Villanueva hopes to turn the fight into a brawl as he isn’t the most technical fighter either. Moreira at least has a plus skill as he’s one of the better submission specialists in the division. The problem is he hasn’t been able to get the fight anywhere near the mat, much less all the way to the floor. As slow-footed as they come in the division, Moreira hasn’t been able to avoid being overwhelmed by his opposition in the UFC. While he hasn’t been facing great competition, they have been better than Villanueva. It isn’t hard to see Villanueva overwhelming Moreira in a brawl, but I’ll go on a limb and guess Moreira gets the old school Villanueva to the mat and subs him. Moreira via submission of RD2
- Lerone Murphy entered the UFC as a late notice injury replacement with little to no hype. Two fights into his UFC run and the still undefeated Englishman looks like one of the brightest prospects in one of the deepest divisions in the sport. A plus athlete, Murphy’s well-rounded game has held up incredibly well as his opponents haven’t been able to overwhelm him in any one area. His biggest weakness has been his takedown defense, but his opposition hasn’t been able to keep him down. Of course, it’s rare for Douglas Andrade to pursue takedowns. The only time the explosive Brazilian has gone that route is against lanky opponents. Of course, Murphy has a significantly longer reach… so it would be wise to anticipate Andrade looking to take the fight to the mat if Murphy’s length gives him problems. Another thing Andrade tends to rely upon is being the better athlete. While it was clear what a freak athlete he was when he first entered the UFC, it hasn’t been as obvious in his last few contests and he is now 35. There’s a good chance Andrade still has the physical gifts to allow him to overwhelm Murphy, but it’s no guarantee. Given they’re on opposite trajectories and Murphy’s durability holding exceptionally well thus far, I’m going with the younger fighter in this case. Murphy via TKO of RD2
- It wasn’t that long ago that Matt Schnell looked like a dark horse contender at flyweight. After all, he was riding a four-fight win streak on the back of vastly improved striking to compliment his dangerous submission game. While his jab has become a consistent weapon to rack up volume, its greatest effect has been its ability to keep opposition at bay to keep them from touching up his questionable chin. Given power is precisely what Tyson Nam is known for, the former bantamweight phenom should be licking his lips. Possessing a lanky flyweight frame, Nam is a rarity in the smaller weight classes in that he plays the role of a sniper rather than rack up the volume. If Schnell can avoid Nam’s power, — and he’s improved his defense quite a bit — he’s got a great chance of escaping with a W. Nevertheless, I still favor Nam. Schnell has a grappling advantage, but Nam has proven difficult to take down. If the contest proves to be mostly a standup battle, it’s hard to believe Nam won’t find a clean home for his powerful right hand at some point. Nam via KO of RD1
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