Enjoy this UFC VEGAS 20 event, as it looks like it’s going to be the last Fight Night that features multiple contests that feel like legit main events. Some may disagree with me, but I would much rather watch Jimmie Rivera and Pedro Munhoz go for 25 minutes rather than heavyweights Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Ciryl Gane and I feel they would deserve it. Nevertheless, I will gladly lap up their rematch even if it is just 15 minutes. It’s worth noting that isn’t even the co-main event, that spot being taken up by Nikita Krylov and Magomed Ankalaev. While I wouldn’t label that contest a main event, it is certainly a credible co-main. Regardless, this card is well worth parking your ass in front of the television for.
Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Ciryl Gane, Heavyweight
How many of you watched last weeks fight between Derrick Lewis and Curtis Blaydes? It broke down to Blaydes needing to avoid Lewis’ KO power. Blaydes was winning basically every second until he wasn’t as Lewis only needed one good punch – a punch he was looking for the entire time – to win the fight. This contest has a very similar feel to it with Rozenstruik taking the role of Lewis.
Much like last week, Gane is both the fighter with the shorter tenure and is a considerable favorite, just like Blaydes. However, as opposed to Blaydes being a bulldozer of a wrestler, Gane is a skilled kickboxer who may be the most technically clean striker in the heavyweight division. He offers all sorts of looks, frequently switching stances, and picking apart his opponents at all levels. It doesn’t produce the oohs and ahs his sparring partner Francis Ngannou produces with his generational power, but it does cause MMA striking coaches to drool.
Perhaps most impressive is Gane has shown a functional grappling game despite having become a pro just two-and-a-half years ago. I’m not saying the opponents he has submitted are world class grapplers by any means, but it’s one thing to be submitting people in the UFC roughly a year into your career and doing so on the regional scene. Even more encouraging for Gane is Rozenstruik hasn’t shown any sort of grappling offense. However, it all boils down to a simple question: Does it matter?
Rozenstruik is a skilled kickboxer in his own right, but he’s a far different beast than Gane. Whereas Gane is more representative of smoothness and grace, Rozenstruik is a powerhouse. He doesn’t expend a lot of energy, waiting for his opponent to come at him before he counters with a brutal haymaker. It has worked incredibly well thus far thanks to Rozenstruik’s incredible reaction time. He even throws counters with his kicks. Given kicks are a big part of Gane’s arsenal, it’s reasonable to assume Rozenstruik will be lying in wait to bludgeon Gane’s legs, perhaps slowing up the Frenchman’s base just enough to make the death blow come that much easier.
There is no doubt Gane is the better all-around fighter. In just about any other division, he’d be the easy pick. However, while the general rules of MMA are applied a little differently in every division, heavyweight has by far the most unique set of standards. He who possesses the power is king… generally. Gane isn’t lacking power himself, but isn’t on the same level of Rozenstruik. Rozerstruik has already demonstrated he can maintain his power deep into the fifth round. The question is whether or not Gane can either stop him or avoid his power for the entirety of 25 minutes. It’s a tall task. Perhaps the Lewis-Blaydes contest is too fresh in my mind, but I’ll say he can’t. Rozerstruik via KO of RD3
Nikita Krylov vs. Magomed Ankalaev, Light Heavyweight
Despite being the co-main event, it feels like this contest is getting overlooked. It’s a shame as both Krylov and Ankalaev look like they’re ready to make a serious move up the standings.
While Ankalaev is the rightful favorite going into the contest, the oddsmakers have been giving him too much credit, coming in as an over 3-to-1 favorite. Not that Ankalaev sucks, but they’re overlooking the improvements made by Krylov. Over his first stint in the UFC, Krylov never went to decision as he’d attack with reckless abandon on the feet and mat. Given his athletic talents, it generally worked out well for him. However, disciplined fighters had little trouble turning Krylov’s aggression against him… something Ankalaev specializes at.
Then again, Krylov has taken a more measured approach over the last couple of years, utilizing a lot of wrestling and clinch work to wear down his opponents. It isn’t nearly as exciting as his go for broke style from before, but Krylov’s maturation has been astounding to watch. Instead of trying to force an opportunity that may or may not be there, he’s allowing opponents to make mistakes as they look to escape his clutches and then he goes for the kill. Perhaps even more impressive is Krylov has gone the distance without stamina issues, long a concern given the lack of decisions on his record.
Stamina has never been an issue with Ankalaev as the Russian is all about efficiency. With no wasted movement – meaning no wasted energy — Ankalaev utilizes a lot of pressure, patiently waiting for his opponent to leave an opening. It doesn’t have to be much of an opening either as Ankalaev has proven effective at exploiting small holes. He doesn’t get much credit for being a creative striker, but he has no problem launching a head kick or other high impact strikes.
Krylov might want to selectively pull out his flair for the wild at some point as it’s going to be a hell of a chore outwitting Ankalaev. Krylov does have a reach advantage and a deeper bag of submissions, but it’s rare Ankalaev is on his back. Krylov might have one of the better guards at 205 – and Ankalaev’s one career loss was a triangle from the guard – he probably doesn’t want to risk being at the mercy of Ankalaev’s brutal GnP for long, it at all. While I maintain the odds are too long, I do favor Ankalaev continuing his ascent up the 205 ladder. Ankalaev via decision
Pedro Munhoz vs. Jimmie Rivera, Bantamweight
A lot more attention is being paid to the rematch for these two as both have now established themselves as firm top ten bantamweights. It wouldn’t be an impossibility to see the winner position themselves for a crack at the title for 2022.
Rivera tends to fade into the background for most fans as there is very little flash to his game. The way most people see him is a compact wrestle-boxer who spends a lot of time putting together punching combinations in the pocket and the occasional takedown. While there’s a lot of truth to that narrative, it isn’t that simple. Rivera’s wrestling has become less of a factor in recent years as he’s only been fighting the top competitors of the division, thus making him almost completely reliant on his standup. While mixing in takedowns would help keep opponents guessing, Rivera’s striking isn’t limited to his fists; it seems to be forgotten how effective he is at mixing a lot of low kicks in there to compliment his boxing.
What has prevented Rivera from gaining a foothold with the rest of the divisional elite has been his lack of pop. Rivera rarely secures finishes, scoring just one amongst his seven UFC wins, that coming in his UFC debut. The lack of wow moments leaves him operating on a thin margin. For instance, he was controlling and winning a sizeable majority of his contest with the now-champion Petr Yan. What separated Yan was the couple of times he clearly hurt Rivera and Rivera being unable to do the same to Yan.
Big moments have never been an issue for Munhoz. In fact, he’s had several fights where he’s lost a significant chunk of the contest only to land a haymaker that instantaneously changes the course of the fight. Even if it isn’t a flash KO – something Munhoz is capable of, just ask Cody Garbrandt – Munhoz has one of the tightest guillotine’s in the business and he knows how to find it after he’s clubbed someone to the mat. In fact, Munhox is thought to be one of the better grapplers in the division. He simply doesn’t have a lot of interest in going to the mat, falling in love with his striking.
Like Rivera, Munhoz has a particular factor holding him back: his defense. Much of the troubles can be attributed to his lack of reach – clocking in at 65” – as he typically needs to come into his opponent’s range in order to get his in. Given his incredible durability and Rivera’s lack of finishing ability, it’s easy to assume Munhoz will go after Rivera, meaning Rivera is likely to rack up a LOT of volume. However, I also feel like Munhoz can hurt Rivera as he’s become a more efficient gambler than the first time these two met. Regardless, this one is going to be fun. Munhoz via submission of RD3
- This could be a make-or-break contest for Montana De la Rosa. Though she’s still relatively youthful at 26, she’s been fighting for quite a while and hasn’t been able to break through to the next level. What’s frustrating is there have been clear progressions in things like her striking – she has developed a sound jab – and her wrestling. Part of what has held De la Rosa back has been her lack of physicality. While her jab has some sting, she doesn’t have enough power in her striking to threaten a KO. The same applies in her wrestling. Not that she isn’t an effective and wily wrestler, but she isn’t a powerhouse takedown artist along the lines of Sara McMann. At least she can fall back on her grappling as she’s not only one of the most aggressive in pursuit of submissions, she’s one of the best. What might excite De la Rosa is Mayra Bueno Silva will probably be willing to go to the mat with her given her own penchant for nabbing the sub. However, Silva’s power and creativity on the feet would make for a more direct path to victory for her if she chose to remain standing. Then again, Silva has no concept of defense, willing to walk straight into the clinch – where she is pretty good – without any attempt of avoiding whatever her opponent throws at her. Between the two, Silva is more physically gifted. Unfortunately, she has quite a bit to still figure out. De la Rosa via decision
- If you’re wondering somewhere in the recesses of your mind that you’ve seen Angela Hill and Ashley Yoder throw down, you’d be absolutely right. In fact, it’s a major credit to Hill that she took this fight – on short notice no less – as she has nothing to gain by beating Yoder for a second time. Of course, Hill and Yoder have both evolved since their first contest in 2017, Hill becoming far more economic with her output and energy usage and Yoder improving as a wrestler and scrambler. However, while Yoder has become a better operator on the mat, she can still be overaggressive and catch herself in bad and/or awkward positions. She has made strides in her striking too, but she can’t hope to compete with Hill, a Muay Thai practitioner who is presently at the peak or her powers. With less wasted motion, Hill has been able to maintain her effectiveness late into her fights, piling up the punch-kick combos by the bunches. Hill has never been a great mat operator, but she has enough defensive know-how at this stage of her career that catching her in a submission is an accomplishment. No doubt Hill wants to make a statement as a competitive decision over Yoder won’t do anything for her, but Yoder is one tough cookie. Hill is most likely to have to settle for the competitive decision, but at least it will snap her losing streak. Hill via decision
- It took Kevin Croom a long time to make his way to the UFC, but he made a hell of a statement when he finally touched down. Though the win over Roosevelt Roberts was vacated due to marijuana use, Croom showed his punching power and his submission prowess, nabbing a standing guillotine. Though Croom has long been known as a reckless striker, he’s looked more disciplined in his recent contests, establishing a jab at times. That recklessness translates to his ground game too, aggressively pursuing submissions, only to occasionally get caught in one himself. It’s hard to say how that will translate against Alex Caceres, perhaps an even more erratic competitor than Croom. Unlike Croom, Caceres operates very crisply, looking as smooth as they come. The biggest issue for Caceres is the same that it always has been: overconfidence. He’ll get too comfortable, let down his guard, and get caught with something he should have been able to avoid. Caceres does a good job using his length and has always been a steady grappler at the very least, so he should take this one given his sizeable advantage in physical abilities. And yet, he makes it so hard to pick him…. I’ll pick him anyway, but there will be zero surprise if Croom wins. Caceres via decision
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