There is a very strong Eastern flavor on the early prelims of UFC 261, every contest featuring a representative from the continent of Asia, three of them debutants from China. There’s no doubt the MMA scene in China has come a long way from the mess it was when the UFC ran TUF China back in 2014. The state of MMA at that time was poor enough that a yoga instructor who had never stepped inside of a cage made the show at that time. Now, there’s a swarm of promising prospects that could make a serious impact ready to make their mark. Oh… and we all know the women’s strawweight champion is from China, right? Yeah, it wouldn’t be surprising if China becomes the next MMA hotbed.
- Thanks to the cultural and language gap between Americans and Mongolia, Danaa Batgerel is going to have a hard time carving out a niche as a fan favorite in the UFC. However, it won’t be an impossibility as his fighting style makes it very easy to take a liking to him if his in-cage work proves to be the only aspect of him one pays attention to. The former kickboxer is a versatile striker capable of leading the dance or countering, but he’d much rather be the one pushing the pace. Batgerel isn’t lost on the mat either, but most of his work from that area is used for defensive purposes. He’d better be prepared to use those chops as Kevin Natividad is sure to make every effort to get him to the ground. The native Hawaiian has long been thought to be a grappler first, but he had been falling in love with his standup as he worked his way up the ladder thanks to his unusually long reach. Unfortunately, he hit an athletic wall in his UFC debut against Miles Johns and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him rethink his approach and go back to his roots. Batgerel doesn’t appear to have the same athletic edge on him that Johns did, so this does seem like a more winnable fight for Natividad. Regardless, I still see Batgerel’s tighter standup and reasonable takedown defense allowing him to edge out the American. Batgerel via decision
- It’s a surprise to many the UFC has kept Kazula Vargas on the roster given he hasn’t been seen in 14 months, is winless in the UFC, and has already seen his physical peak pass him by. Nonetheless, the aggressive Mexican appears to be getting one final chance to prove he deserves his spot on the roster as he welcomes Zhu Rong to the organization. Rong certainly looks the part with a chiseled frame, a plethora of violent finishes, and youth to the extreme as he only turned 21 last month. There’s no doubt the physical tools to be a major player are there, but Rong will need some fine tuning before facing serious competition as his opposition has been spotty at best thus far. Fortunately for him, Vargas isn’t a huge step up. Sure, Vargas has some power in his fists and is more than willing to throwdown, but he’s also a subpar athlete and an even worse wrestler. It isn’t out of the question Vargas could catch Rong with a haymaker as the youngster’s defense is the part of his game that needs the most work, but his superior physical tools should allow him to rule the day. Rong via TKO of RD2
- Qileng Aori isn’t the classic flyweight. In fact, he’s never fought at the official flyweight limit… unless you count what ONE Championship considers the flyweight division. What I mean by not being the classic flyweight is he tends to stalk his opponents as opposed to bouncing around the cage and being scrambly. Aori has developed a hell of a killer instinct over the course of his career, but there are major concerns about his defense. You’d expect that from Jeff Molina given he’s the younger and less experienced fighter, but he’s the more measured and defensively conscious of the two. His use of feints and fakes belies his youth and has become an effective volume striker. However, Molina’s ground game is actually his biggest strength as he’s a strong scrambler and technically sound grappler. Does he have the strength to get Aori to the mat with regularity? Hard to say, but I favor his volume and ground game to give him the edge if it goes to decision, the most likely outcome. Molina via decision
- Na Liang has received a fair amount of attention – at least for someone who has yet to debut in the UFC – for her desire to be the Chinese version of Ronda Rousey. While she is a far cry from what the actual Rousey was, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to the comparison as Liang has snatched a fair amount of arms. Of course, coming out of the Far East, her competition has been typically less-than-stellar. Not that Ariane Carnelossi has been facing a murderer’s row, but there hasn’t been any reason to think she can’t hang on the UFC level. In fact, she landed her fair share of damage against Angela Hill in her UFC debut. Then again, Carnelossi eat an exceeding amount of damage in that contest as her style consists of barreling into her opposition with power shots. Liang doesn’t appear to be easy to bully around – she has a big frame for strawweight – and still has plenty of upside as she’s still only 24. Regardless, I still see the physically imposing Carnelossi bullying her around the cage. Carnelossi via TKO of RD3
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