It’s rare the early prelims feature a fight that could have shaped the title picture of a division within a year. While I fully acknowledge Andre Muniz is a dark horse candidate to fight for gold within that time frame, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility. That he not only subbed Jacare Souza, but broke his arm is something that he has in his back pocket no one else can claim. Of course, there were some who believed Maycee Barber could have already fought for a title by this time when she was the it prospect in the women’s flyweight division. Things didn’t go according to Barber’s plan, but it would be foolish to discount her given her immense talent. Basically, the early prelims of UFC 276 are about as good as could reasonably be expected. It’s even more surprising given the televised prelims take place on ABC. For whatever reason, the UFC wanted this portion of the card to be strong.
Uriah Hall vs. Andre Muniz, Middleweight
It would be a stretch to say Hall’s career has been a disappointment, but I think it can be agreed that he never lived up to the expectations that were placed upon him. Of course, it could also be argued the expectations were too high in the first place as his regional career before making it to TUF indicated nothing of what he showed on the show all those years ago. Regardless, there isn’t a fighter on the UFC roster with a greater disparity between their floor and their ceiling in any given fight.
What may be the craziest thing about Hall is his most consistent performances tend to be his losing performances. He gave both Paulo Costa and Robert Whittaker hard fights as they made their way up the middleweight ladder, but he was losing to the likes of Bevon Lewis and a 45-year-old Anderson Silva before he found stoppages. When Hall can establish his jab, he’s still got a great chance of working his way into the fight. Or he could just pull a spinning back kick out of nowhere….
Muniz comes across as the inverse of Hall. Despite not having an abundance of athleticism or power, Muniz continues to win with his savvy and submission prowess. The Brazilian knows what he’s good at and has sharpened the tools of his game to ensure he gets the fight where he wants. While it doesn’t seem likely he’ll ever be accused of being a great wrestler, but excellent timing on his shots and a doggedness to drag his opponent to the ground once he has latched onto them has allowed him to secure three consecutive armbar victories.
Of course, Muniz is still awkward on the feet. That isn’t to say he doesn’t know what he’s doing, but he lacks the fluidity someone like Hall possesses. In fact, Muniz’s clunkiness tends to make him an easy target. Given the incredible power possessed by Hall, it’s impossible to discount to possibility of Hall finding Muniz’s chin. However, it generally takes Hall a little while to get going, needing to get into a groove before his instincts kick in and he lets his power fly. Other time, it requires Hall to get hurt before those instincts let loose. Given Muniz is somewhat pillow fisted, the former appears to be more likely than the latter.
This contest all boils down to confidence. Aside from the Gegard Mousasi upset, Hall’s wins came over opponents who were either head cases or still maturing as fighters. Plus, his issues with his own confidence have been documented since he entered the organization. Muniz doesn’t lack for confidence in the least. In fact, his confidence has only been growing. Hall’s ground game is underrated – he’s never been submitted in his career – but Muniz has the tools to get the job done. Just ask Jacare…. Muniz via submission
Jessica Eye vs. Maycee Barber, Women’s Flyweight
I can’t think of another woman on the UFC roster who has elicited the type of hate Eye has. Her losing record and combative personality are the biggest reason for that. That doesn’t mean Eye is a cakewalk; the former title challenger has routinely faced the best in whatever division she has populated had to offer. Since moving down to flyweight, she has become a more complete fighter, offering the threat of the takedown that was missing when she was plying her trade at 135. Despite that, her bread and butter is still her boxing, supplemented by a steady diet of low kicks.
However, while Eye seemed to find her stride when she initially dropped to 125, she just as suddenly fell into her bad habits that plagued her at bantamweight after she was knocked cold by Valentina Shevchenko. Eye has always been hard to put away, Shevchenko being the only one to do so. It’s too bad her mind hasn’t been as tough to crack as her body as she has had a history of checking out mentally after eating a big shot. Perhaps when she made her run to the title, it had more to do with her facing opponents who were bereft of power than anything else.
That won’t be the case with Barber, one of the most physically imposing members of the division. Still just 24, Barber has been adding craft to her prodigious physical talents, which includes a notable amount of power. When Barber lands clean, her opponents feel it. The problem was her throwing her strikes in a reckless manner, blitzing her opponents in hopes of overwhelming them. After dropping a couple of fights, Barber began to add a few more layers to her striking. She’s far from a finished product, but it coming along.
That said, Barber is still a long way away from being able to outslick Eye on the feet. Fortunately, Barber’s wrestling has also received some polish, picking up some tricks of the trade from Team Alpha Male. Even if she can’t get the fight to the mat, Barber is a handful in the clinch. Roxanne Modafferi proved a crafty grappler can get the better of Barber. That doesn’t describe Eye. Throw in that both are on opposite trajectories and it’s hard to pick Eye despite her massive edge in meaningful experience. Barber via decision
- It really is a shame Jessica-Rose Clark no longer can make the cut to 125. Not that there aren’t fights for her to win in the shallow bantamweight division, but her gritty, grimy style is best suited for her to be the bully in the cage. Being on the smaller side at 135 makes it harder for her to impose her will, as the larger Stephanie Egger demonstrated in Clark’s last appearance. Fortunately, Clark does possesses a meat and potatoes style of boxing that manages to keep her from being overwhelmed at the very least. Against lesser strikers, it’s enough for her outpoint them. That could prove to be the case against Julija Stoliarenko. The Lithuanian armbar specialist hits plenty hard, but is more of a brawler rather than a technical striker. That may not matter if she can get the fight to the mat as there’s no doubt she’ll have a sizeable advantage on the ground. The issue for Stoliarenko has been getting the fight to the ground, not having it in her arsenal a way to consistently get the fight to the mat. However, Stoliarenko has also been facing opposition that could match her physicality. Clark will likely try, but I doubt she matches it. Stoliarenko via submission of RD2
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