Returning from a trip overseas to London, the UFC returns stateside to Columbus, Ohio. The organization will be lucky if it can duplicate the success it found in its return to Europe, especially given it’s a Fight Night card. Fortunately, this UFC Columbus Fight Night card has the depth that it doesn’t appear to be an impossible situation. One of the hottest up-and-comers at women’s flyweight populates the prelims. So does the most promising prospect at women’s bantamweight. Plus, there’s a clash of top ten flyweights. Those prelims qualify as top notch prelims for a PPV. They’re unheard of for a Fight Night.
Sara McMann vs. Karol Rosa, Women’s Bantamweight
It’s hard not to admire McMann. Though she offers a style the organization is reluctant to promote and she continues to stumble every time she’s on the verge of potentially challenging for the title again, the 41-year-old continues to plug away at her dream of becoming champion someday.
When she was in her prime, no one ever doubted the talent of McMann. A former Olympic silver medalist in wrestling, McMann always had the ability to put her opponent on their back and her conditioning was second to none. To my knowledge, Ronda Rousey and Amanda Nunes are the only opponents she hasn’t scored a takedown on and that’s because they knocked the crap out of her early. It’s always been the mental side of the game for McMann. If McMann finds herself on her back or in any sort of compromising position on the mat, panic begins to boil up and she finds herself submitted. Given McMann’s background as a wrestler – where the last place they want to be is on their back – it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.
Fortunately for McMann, Rosa isn’t known for being a slick grappler. Sure, she can hold her own in that sphere. Hell, Rosa has even shown far better takedown defense than anyone thought she possessed when she first entered the UFC. But she also hasn’t faced someone who poses half the threat McMann does to get her down. For all the concerns of McMann being submitted, she is a scary force if she has a position from which she’s comfortable raining down punches. She’s also more than adequate at applying the type of submissions associated with brute strength, such as the arm-triangle. The key will be getting the fight there.
While I have no doubt McMann will ground Rosa at some point, Rosa is unlikely to spend much time looking for the sub. Instead, Rosa will look to get back to her feet… and she’s a pretty damned good scrambler. On the feet, Rosa is even better. There doesn’t appear to be a bantamweight on the roster better equipped to throw punches in bunches than Rosa. It isn’t like she just wings punches to put out volume either. Rosa’s jab is her best weapon, and she frequently follows that up with more punches. Plus, she throws a LOT of low kicks. Many have Rosa targeted as a future title challenger and it isn’t hard to see why. Many already believe McMann’s last realistic chance has come and gone, so I’m sure she’ll be motivated. However, I think Rosa’s sheer volume can be enough to bring the panic out of McMann and give the Brazilian her biggest scalp yet. Rosa via decision
Jennifer Maia vs. Manon Fiorot, Women’s Flyweight
There is a LOT of hype behind Fiorot. Even though Maia is the one who fought for a title within the last few years, is more experienced without having left her physical prime, and has more quality wins on her resume than Fiorot, it is the French striker who enters the contest as a heavy favorite.
It isn’t hard to understand why… and it isn’t just because of how good Fiorot is. Maia fought her way to the title shot despite a questionable fight IQ. Though she is at her best on the mat, the Brazilian is rarely forceful in getting the fight to the ground. If a trip is available in the clinch or she can catch a kick, Maia can get the fight to the ground. However, she is poor at disguising her entries, telegraphing her attempts which makes it easy to stuff them. Essentially, her best attribute is rendered moot since she can rarely get the fight to the mat.
Fortunately, Maia isn’t a bad striker by any means, provided she can get an opponent who is willing to stand in the pocket and trade. Basic boxing combinations are the heart of her attack, and she throws with more power than the lack of KO/TKO’s on her record would indicate. Part of Maia’s success can be attributed to her solid chin as she is not only difficult to put away, she has also been difficult to hurt. However, she’s proven that she’s prone to disciplined strikers who can stay on the outside and pick her apart in the manner Katlyn Chookagian has now done on two occasions.
Fiorot isn’t a strict out-fighter, but her extensive kickboxing experience has made her into a versatile striker who can adapt as needed. She is at her best when she can be a bulldog in going after her opponent, but doing so against Maia also plays into what Maia does well. While I’d be shocked if Fiorot doesn’t occasionally enter the pocket, picking and choosing her spots, I’d expect her to do a lot of sticking and moving and stay on the outside.
Should the fight stay standing, it’s hard to see Maia winning. She doesn’t have the mobility to effectively counter Fiorot. If the fight hits the mat enough times, she has a chance. Maia may be the most physical grappler in the division, though that hardly means she is bereft of technique. Fiorot looks like she can hold her own on the mat, but she hasn’t done so against the likes of Maia. If Maia can get a hold of Fiorot one round and catch a kick in another, she could easily find a way to secure enough control time to steal a win from the ascendent Fiorot. I’m not discounting the possibility of that, but I am discounting the likelihood of it given Maia’s unwillingness to force the issue. Fiorot via decision
Matheus Nicolau vs. David Dvorak, Flyweight
When people talk about potential future title challengers, Nicolau and Dvorak always get overlooked. That’s a mistake. If the logjam at the top of the division created by the eternal rivalry of Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno is ever settled, one or both could easily sneak into the title picture.
It isn’t hard to understand why Nicolau and Dvorak are frequently overlooked. Both have a very buttoned-down approach, a rarity in a division highlighted by speed and scrambles. That isn’t to say either of them is slow or incapable of scrambling, but they prefer to keep the typical flyweight chaos to a minimum, opting for controlling the pace. It leads to a high number of decisions from them, thus, why they are often neglected by fans.
Nicolau has proven to be the more versatile of the two. A counter striker who tries to lull his opponents into a sense of security before landing his hooks, Nicolau’s power is underrated. Sure, he hasn’t scored a stoppage via strikes in over seven years, but he has secured several knockdowns in his UFC run. Plus, there may not be anyone better at working the body at 125. Nicolau also times his takedown entries well and can typically exercise a decent level of control over his opponent should the fight hit the mat. At flyweight, a minute of control in a round frequently serves as the difference maker in who wins the round.
Of course, volume tends to play a greater role in winning rounds and Dvorak rarely lands less than his opponent. It’s rare when the Czech native throws just a single strike and he frequently punctuates his combos with a kick. Dvorak rarely looks for the takedown, at least not during his UFC run, but he has found his way onto his opponent’s back to sink in a RNC several times over his lengthy career. Plus, he’s proven adept at avoiding going to the mat in the first place.
One of the hardest fights to pick on the card, I get the feeling the outcome will be dependent on Nicolau’s ability to score takedowns. Perhaps Nicolau can catch Dvorak clean, but Dvorak’s one TKO loss in his career came via a cut almost ten years ago. Dvorak can also be a slow starter as he takes in his opponent’s tactics, but Nicolau has also been patient to a fault at times. I’ve ebbed back and forth on this pick, but I’ll go with Dvorak being the busier fighter taking a razor thin decision. Dvorak via decision
- There may not be a more underappreciated member of the welterweight division than Neil Magny. For the last five or six years, Magny has hovered in and out of the top ten of the official rankings, having racked up a total of 18 wins over the course of his UFC run. And yet, fans constantly overlook him as one of the better 170ers on the roster. Perhaps it’s because he’s perceived as boring. Magny doesn’t have a lot of power, but utilizes his 80” reach to great effect, touching up his opponents constantly. Should they get past his range, Magny’s happy to clinch them up and leverage his long limbs to both entangle and do some serious damage. Plus, his wrestling seems to be eternally underappreciated. A lot of those same things could be said about Max Griffin. However, Griffin isn’t as lanky as Magny. He isn’t as good of a wrestler as Magny. He’s not quite as efficient in the clinch either. Hell, Griffin’s even older than Magny despite having significantly less fights in the UFC. Griffin might be a more technical boxer and he certainly has more pop, but that’s about it. Magny has been KO’d before, but that was by some of the more heavy-handed punchers in the division. While Griffin might have the power advantage, he doesn’t fall into that category. Plus, Magny’s awkward striking can be difficult to deal with. Magny should take this easily. Magny via decision
- It’s hard to know how to label Chris Gutierrez. His six-fight unbeaten streak is impressive. Any unbeaten streak that long requires a high degree of skill. However, the level of competition he has faced in that time is underwhelming. Half of the opponents during that streak are no longer on the roster, Gutierrez never receiving a definitive step up in competition during the streak for whatever reason. He is getting one now as Danaa Batgerel has made a name for himself by securing three straight first round KO/TKO finishes. There are concerns how Batgerel will react if he can’t get an early finish, his last win outside the first round coming in 2018 and his last decision win in 2013. Gutierrez has his physical shortcomings, but durability isn’t one of them, never being finished by strikes in his career. Despite his shortcomings, Gutierrez is a smart fighter who utilizes good footwork, angles, and spacing to touch up his opponents while avoiding their return fire. Batgerel didn’t slow down the last time he went the distance, so it isn’t crazy to think he’ll win if he can’t get the early win. Regardless, I like Gutierrez to weaken Batgerel’s base with low kicks to stifle Batgerel’s late attack, but my degree of confidence is low. Gutierrez via decision
- Aliaskhab Khizriev has been waiting for a long time to make his UFC debut after picking up a contract through DWCS in 2020. Built like a fire hydrant for 185 at just 5’9”, Khizriev’s basic strategy is to throw his hands wildly in hopes of either landing a haymaker or closing the distance for a takedown. From there, his physical brand of grappling typically results in him finding a RNC or pounding out his opponent from the top position. It’s a simple strategy, but it has worked out well enough for him to remain undefeated thus far. Khizriev came thisclose to having his debut pushed back even further when his original opponent was forced to pull out, but Denis Tiuliulin stepped in about a week out from the contest. Best known as a training partner for Sean Strickland, Tiuliulin looked like he was destined for a career as a regional journeyman until he stepped up. The Russian has a lot of power, but the occasions in which he wins beyond the first round are rare. Tiuliulin’s frame is more functional for the division and Khizriev is reckless enough it wouldn’t be a surprise if Tiuliulin caught him as he charged in. Despite that, Khizriev is the more talented fighter. I favor the shorter fighter. Khirzriev via submission of RD1
- There seems to be a wide range of opinions on Bruno Souza. A karateka with a heavy emphasis on kicks, Souza is short on power, securing only one stoppage via strikes out of his ten wins thus far. Given fighters start with a lower level of competition, it’s not a good sign that he’s going to be able to start putting away fighters now that he’s in the UFC. Throw in the fact that Souza’s wrestling is a major question mark – offensively and defensively – and his route to victory is outpointing opponents without the threat of the KO or takedown. Fortunately for Souza, he’s got an opponent who may be worse at wrestling than himself in Luis Saldana. Even better for Souza, Saldana has struggled to make use of his length to keep opponents. However, Saldana does have a deep arsenal of kicks and throws with plenty of power. Should the fight hit the mat somehow, Saldana’s grappling and submissions has been overlooked by more than one opponent to their detriment. Despite Saldana having more tools to end the fight, Souza is better at recognizing holes and exploiting them. It’s a tough fight to decipher, but it takes a special fighter to make the elusive karateka style to work. Souza is a good fighter, but he isn’t a special fighter. Saldana’s volume provides him the win. Saldana via decision
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