After a shallow showing of prelims at UFC 270, the organization is largely back to form for UFC 271. Not to say it’s MSG deep, but there are several fights on the prelims that wouldn’t be out of place on the main card of a PPV. That said, the early prelims are getting the bottom of the barrel for the card, as to be expected. However, there is one exception: Alexander Hernandez and Renato Moicano.
While I understand why the luster has been lost on both, it wasn’t that long ago both had hype around them. Moicano was circling the top five of the featherweight division and Hernandez obtained a ranking at lightweight, the deepest division in the sport. While I understand why their fight is being placed all the way down on the early prelims, I’d still say it’s the preliminary contest I’m most looking forward to.
Alexander Hernandez vs. Renato Moicano, Lightweight
Many would argue Hernandez never deserved his spot in the UFC rankings. I understand their point. His win over Beneil Darish looks more like a fluke all the time. However, he did what he was supposed to do to get the win and deserved the recognition that came with it. Besides, it could also be argued the Dariush win did more to hurt his career development than anything else.
Part of the reason I’m reluctant to say Hernandez’s win over Dariush is a complete fluke is he has shown enough in several of his other contests. In his last two wins, Hernandez has secured two first round KO’s. When he chooses to wrestle, he has usually found success. He’s a plus athlete. And while he’s certainly had some growing pains in terms of his fight IQ, he appears to be going in the right direction. Hernandez no longer just looks to overwhelm his opponent with his power and explosion, looking to make reads. However, he still struggles to make much of those reads and his offense attack is still one-dimensional, relying almost solely on his boxing. Plus, while I complemented his wrestling, it hasn’t shown itself very often, having officially completed takedowns in just two contests.
While Moicano has his faults, versatility isn’t one of them. A Muay Thai practitioner, Moicano prefers striking from range, his jab being his best weapon when he can establish his distance. He’ll mix in plenty of kicks as well, just as did when he chewed up the front leg of Calvin Kattar. However, where Moicano is at his best is when he’s able to do his human backpack impression, securing all four of his UFC submission wins via RNC. If his last performance is any indication, Moicano recognizes that as well as he more than doubled his UFC best for takedowns against Jai Herbert.
Of course, it could be argued Moicano took that route as his chin has become a serious question mark, suffering three KO losses over a span of four fights. It could be argued each of his opponents that KO’d him were noted strikers, but it’s not like Hernandez doesn’t have the power to do the same to him. The question is whether he has the discipline. Against better competition, Hernandez has struggled to find the right balance, coming across as overaggressive or overly cautious. If he finds the proper balance, this fight is his for the taking. I’m guessing he doesn’t. When Moicano gets his jab going, it’s tough to stop. I think that’s his path to victory. Moicano via decision
- Ronnie Lawrence was awarded a UFC contract through DWCS back in the fall of 2020, but he has only made a single appearance since. A botched weight cut scrapped a scheduled contest, leaving questions about whether Lawrence should even be fighting at 135. However, Lawrence revealed he was dealing with a staph infection and recovering from COVID. Provided there aren’t any issues with cutting down, his modus operandi is his constant pressure and continued takedowns. Lawrence isn’t terrible on the feet, but it’s hard to see him winning a standup battle with Mana Martinez. A diverse and technical striker, Martinez had finished every one of his opponents via strikes prior to his UFC debut. There are concerns about Martinez’s ability to stop takedowns given there hasn’t been a lot of credible tests in that department. I understand hesitancy to make a pick one way or the other in this contest – especially if there are reports Lawrence is struggling to make weight – but I’ve seen enough from Lawrence leading me to believe he can grind out Martinez. A flash KO from Martinez is possible, but Lawrence dirtying up the fight would appear to be the most likely outcome. Lawrence via decision
- While Carlos Ulberg made a hell of an impression in his UFC debut, he also exposed all the reasons why many were concerned the UFC called him up to the big show too soon. Possessing a massive 6’4” frame at 205, Ulberg is a serious KO threat not just because he packs a hell of a punch, but he’s also technically sound thanks to his extensive kickboxing career. However, given there is a difference between kickboxing and MMA, Ulberg found himself gassing in short order after he emptied his gas tank against Kennedy Nzechukwu. The grappling part of MMA is still an issue for Ulberg, which gives Fabio Cherant a chance to pull off the upset. Cherant may be one of the better submission fighters in the division, but the issue for him has been getting the fight to the mat. It isn’t just his wrestling that is worrisome either. Cherant’s chin hasn’t been holding up against those who’ve been able to touch it up cleanly. Cherant’s striking has been progressing, at least from an offensive standpoint, but I wouldn’t trust it to outshine Ulberg’s. Without a takedown, Cherant is a longshot to maintain his roster spot. I don’t think he can get it. Ulberg via KO of RD1
- It’s never a good look when the primary thing known about a fighter is he is the sparring partner of a former champion. That was the schtick applied to Jacob Malkoun when he made his UFC debut just over a year ago and he lasted a whole 18 seconds before he was KO’d. Fortunately for Malkoun, he redeemed himself with a smothering performance against Abdul Razak Alhassan, scoring takedown after takedown. There’s still a lot of questions about him as Alhassan has never been much of a grappler and his striking is still very much a question mark. AJ Dobson will test him in both areas, the lack of professional contests under his belt proving deceptive as he’s been training for a long time, not to mention good experience on the amateur circuit. In other words, Dobson is a better-known commodity than Malkoun despite this being his official UFC debut. I’m willing to say Malkoun likely has the edge on the mat, but Dobson owns him on the feet all day. Dobson’s defense worries me enough that I believe it’s an inevitability someone will clean his clock. I just don’t think Malkoun is the guy to do it. Look for Dobson’s hand speed and power to shine through and secure a stoppage over Malkoun sooner rather than later. Dobson via TKO of RD1
- There were questions if Douglas Silva de Andrade could squeeze his 36-year-old frame down to 135 pounds anymore last October, but the Brazilian did so and blasted through Gaetano Pirello in just over two minutes. He may be old for the bantamweight division, but the Brazilian still maintains plenty of his athleticism to remain a dangerous threat to unleash his plus power on an unsuspecting opponent. The fighters that have given the beefy Andrade problems have been those capable of pushing him backwards with pressure, volume, and takedowns. Unfortunately for de Andrade, that’s exactly the type of approach Sergey Morozov takes. The native of Kazakhstan doesn’t excel in a single area, but he did prove he’s capable of exposing an opponent’s hole if given the opportunity as he did against Khalid Taha. Andrade may have the power to turn Morozov away and he’s sure to stop some of the early takedown attempts. But can he do so over the course of 15 minutes if an early stoppage doesn’t come? I’m not sure about that. Morozov isn’t an uber-prospect – he’s already 32 – but he should be in his prime. He should be able to outwork Andrade comfortably over the entirety of the fight. Morozov via decision
- Given the success of Israel Adesanya, the UFC has been stocking up on experienced kickboxers with minimal MMA experience. Mike Mathetha (also known as Blood Diamond) is the latest addition. Much like Alex Pereira, Mathetha is getting a late start on MMA, debuting in the UFC at the age of 33. Watching his kickboxing contests, his striking prowess can’t be denied. Mathetha is unorthodox in a lot of ways, but that should be seen as a positive. It’s hard to take much from his three MMA fights as they came against a lower level of competition, not to mention his most recent contest came two years ago. At the very least, he appears to have a basic enough understanding of wrestling and grappling, but can it hold up against the likes of Jeremiah Wells? Probably not. While Wells is best known for his explosive KO’s, he’s also a menace from the top position on the mat. It’s hard to believe Mathetha can survive if Wells gets the dominant position on the mat. The question is whether Wells can navigate the distance to wrest Mathetha to the mat. Wells has a bad habit of trusting his chin too much, but I it has served him well thus far. And while Mathetha is the more technical striker by a wide margin, this isn’t a kickboxing contest. There are so many unknowns in this contest that I wouldn’t be willing to lay money down on this contest, but the guess here is Wells is able to get the job done. Wells via submission of RD1
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