The televised prelims of UFC 269 are stacked. The opener between Bruno Silva and Jordan Wright is underwhelming in terms of name value, but it’s also a contest that’s as close to a guarantee of delivering a quick finish as you can find. Thus, I get why the UFC stuck where they did as there’s nothing better to warm up an audience than an instant flash of violence. The rest of the prelims feature fighters who have headlined cards in the last few years. The fighter with the longest gap since headlining a card, Dominick Cruz, has fought for a title in a PPV co-main event in that time, not to mention he is considered by many to be the greatest bantamweight the sport of MMA has ever seen. You’d be dumb to pass on these prelims….
For a preview of the early prelims, click here.
Josh Emmett vs. Dan Ige, Featherweight
There are some who believe Emmett could have been fighting for a championship at some point if he didn’t have long stretches of absence as he dealt with injuries. A powerhouse of a featherweight who has secured a knockdown in every one of his fights at 145, he’s now 36 and coming back from a completely remade knee. While most would assume he still hits plenty hard, it’s worth noting Thiago Santos has yet to deliver a finish since he came back from having his knees remade after he blew them out. Just saying….
The reason why it’s such a cause for concern is Emmett is very dependent upon that power. While Emmett hasn’t been overwhelmingly outworked in any of his UFC appearances, he’s been able to get the finish in them or it was the knockdowns he delivered that proved to be the difference maker in a tight decision. If his knee no longer allows him to sit down and deliver with the power he’s been accustomed to generating, he’s in a lot of trouble as it’s doubtful he’d be able to transition into a volume striker as the threat of his power opens up his offense a lot.
If his power is diminish, Emmett’s best hope would be to transition to his wrestling, which would also be a questionable proposition. Though he has solid accolades, he has secured more than one takedown in his UFC run only once, that coming at lightweight. Given he’s a beefy featherweight who cuts quite a bit of weight, would he have the gas tank to secure takedown after takedown? That would appear doubtful.
Of course, that’s all if Emmett isn’t fully recovered from his knee woes. If he is recovered, he should have the edge in several areas over Ige as the Hawaiian doesn’t have a single area in which he is fantastic at. Of course, he doesn’t have a major weakness either. A student of the game, Ige continues to tighten up every aspect. His striking has come along the best, showing power in getting rid of Gavin Tucker in 22 seconds with a single punch. However, Ige also goes through stretches where it seems like he’s trying to get a read on his opponent. The adjustment usually comes, but only after he has given the round away.
There’s a lot to like about Ige. He appears to be the more technical boxer and does a solid job of mixing in takedowns, but that’s the extent of his strategy. Meat and potatoes can take a fighter far, but a certain level of dynamism is needed to climb the elite hump, especially in lighter divisions. Ige’s simplicity could be enough to beat Emmett, but his defense has enough holes that the savvy Emmett should be able to land enough power shots to beat him, even if Emmett has declined a bit since we last saw him. It’s a tough pick, but given Ige’s wrestling hasn’t been nearly as effective as his level of competition has climbed, I’m sticking with the elder statesman. Emmett via decision
Pedro Munhoz vs. Dominick Cruz, Bantamweight
While many are looking at this contest as a young cub looking to takedown the old lion, Cruz is 36 and Munhoz is 35. Sure, Cruz has a lot more miles on his body – even with the long breaks due to injuries – but this fight doesn’t have the dynamic many believe. Both these men need a win if they want to remain relevant at the top of the division.
There’s no doubt Cruz has faded. Yes, he did beat Casey Kenney, but only just barely and Kenney isn’t amongst the bantamweight elite. Nevertheless, Cruz still has something in the tank as his hyperactive footwork is still difficult to contend with, even as opponents have had more success in dealing with it in the last few years than they ever had before. Part of that can be attributed to Cruz not being as quick as he was in his prime, but he’ll still have a speed advantage over Munhoz, never the most fleet of foot fighter in the first place.
In fact, in many ways, Munhoz is an ideal matchup for Cruz. Not only is Munhoz on the slow side, he also has a short reach, something that will make it a problem for him to catch Cruz as he attempts his hit-and-run offense. Given some of the brutal slugfests Munhoz has taken part in, it’s easy to forget the Brazilian is a top-flight BJJ practitioner. However, even that works in Cruz’s favor as not only has Munhoz been looking for takedowns less and less – the last takedown he hit was in 2018 – but Cruz’s takedown defense remains some of the best in the game. Even if Cruz does hit the mat, it’s even harder to keep him down than it is to take him down. That isn’t even mentioning Cruz’s wrestling from an offensive perspective….
That doesn’t mean all is lost for Munhoz. While he isn’t that quick, he is a savvy fighter with a lot of pop in his fists. Cruz’s fighting style might make him hard to catch clean, but it also means it often doesn’t take a fighter landing everything on a punch to catch Cruz off-balance and put him on his butt, especially someone as powerful as Munhoz. In those instances, Cruz is likely to climb back to his feet in a hurry, but who is to say the judges are able to tell how badly Cruz gets hurt in that instance. They’ll see a knockdown and even if Cruz outlands Munhoz by a significant margin, his strikes are unlikely to have the same impact as Munhoz’s. Even if Munhoz does land clean, Cruz is very durable. He’ll be the first to tell you he wasn’t completely out in the lone KO loss of his career.
Even though Munhoz doesn’t get enough credit for his fight IQ – his brawl with Cody Garbrandt was by design, not a happy accident – it isn’t on the level of Cruz. The former bantamweight kingpin can sound like a blowhard on commentary if someone disagrees with him, but his intelligence is a big reason he’s a two-time champion. While Cruz has shown signs of decline, so has Munhoz. It could be said it was the power of Jose Aldo that scared Munhoz off in his decision loss to the living legend, but he faded HARD in that contest. His loss to Frankie Edgar is looking worse all the time too, even if it was controversial. Cruz’s gas tank shouldn’t be in question as he may have looked tired against Kenney, but he didn’t fight tired. Cruz via decision
Augusto Sakai vs. Tai Tuivasa, Heavyweight
The UFC would love for Tuivasa to blossom into a contender. The 28-year-old Aussie has all the tools to become a star. Plenty of power to fill up a highlight reel (which he has already done). A fun personality that’s easy to sell, a big part of which has already gotten over due to his propensity for performing a “shoey” or two following his fights. His flabby frame gives him a bit of an everyman status too.
What saw Tuivasa crash and burn after the UFC accelerated their push of him was two things: nary an indication of a functional ground game and poor game planning. Tuivasa fell in love with the KO and began hunting for it, allowing opponents to sidestep his reckless attacks, not to mention his technique suffering for it too. On the mat, he was taken down time and again by Sergei Spivak and submitted in a performance many would say was embarrassing for the Mark Hunt protégé. To Tuivasa’s credit, he took some time away after that loss and appeared to have successfully reset himself. He stopped chasing after the KO, allowing it to come to him and he’s secured three first round KO’s in the process. Perhaps most promising, he’s made expert use of his low kicks to chop down his opponents and weaken their base.
Sakai has utilized low kicks himself in the past, but not to the extent of Tuivasa, nor have the produced the same type of thud as Tuivasa. Where Sakai has found the most success is pushing his opponents up against the cage, wearing them out with his heavy frame, and landing some heavy artillery. Some have made hay of Sakai fading hard down the stretch in his contest with Alistair Overeem – and Sakai did in fact do that – but that was also a five-round contest in which Overeem forced the Brazilian to wrestle and grapple. Sakai’s gas tank has held up in three-round affairs thus far and Tuivasa hasn’t attempted a takedown since his UFC debut four years ago, much less completed one.
Given he’s coming off two consecutive KO losses, many have concluded Sakai’s chin is broken and it’s academic the powerful Tuivasa will add to his list of scalps. However, Sakai’s loss to Overeem was more exhaustion than anything and Jairzinho Rozenstruik has the power to finish anyone. Sakai’s chin isn’t broken. That doesn’t mean Tuivasa can’t put him away, but Sakai has traditionally been able to take a punch and also tends to have a solid strategy heading into his fights. Though it hasn’t been seen since coming into the UFC, Sakai has a solid top game should the fight hit the mat. Given Tuivasa’s ability to stop a takedown still hasn’t been tested since his loss to Spivak, no one knows how much Tuivasa has shored that up. Even if he has made some strides, it was still a long way from being serviceable. I have to go with Sakai until I know Tuivasa can keep a fight standing against someone who doesn’t want to. Sakai via decision
- After a two-year PED suspension even before he’d made his UFC debut, Bruno Silva has wasted no time in making up ground, securing two KO wins since touching down in June. He’s going for a third before the year’s end against glass cannon, Jordan Wright. Wright has all the tools to be a premier striker: power, a quick burst, and good timing. The issue for Wright is he turns into a turtle on his back once the fight goes past a few minutes as pacing is something Wright doesn’t seem to understand, much less utilize. Silva has been finished plenty throughout his career… but it’s always been via submission. Wright has some submission wins of his own, but they’ve been club and subs and Silva has been through deep waters on multiple occasions both on the feet and on the mat. In fact, Silva only has a single loss over the last nine years with a clear advantage in the quality of competition. It wouldn’t be completely shocking to see Wright catch Silva with something heavy as Wright’s technique is very good, but it falls apart when he gets tired and Silva doesn’t go away easy. Silva via KO of RD1
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