It appears the third time is the charm. Too bad that wasn’t the case for Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson.
Anyway, rather than lament what might have been, I should focus on what is right in front of us at UFC Vegas 58. What we have is a pretty damned good fight between the Rafael’s, dos Anjos and Fiziev. While it doesn’t seem likely to have an immediate impact on the title picture, it could prove to be part of the road map for these two to ultimately get to that destination. Plus, it’s a fun stylistic contest, a modern striker vs. grappler.
While the depth is questionable, this card is also chuck full of the B-side to MMA royalty, though to be fair, Said Nurmagomedov isn’t an actual cousin to Khabib.
For the prelims preview, click here. For an audio preview, click here.
Rafael dos Anjos vs. Rafael Fiziev, Lightweight
Where to begin with this breakdown? There’s all the negative intangibles around dos Anjos. For instance, the former lightweight champion is now 37 with second most fight time in UFC history. That’s a LOT of mileage on his body. Plus, he initially moved up to welterweight because he was having difficulty making the lightweight limit… over five years ago. Making weight gets more difficult with age and the only official lightweight win he has in that time came against an opponent who accepted the fight on a week’s notice. That’s not encouraging….
Of course, there’s several other intangibles that break in his favor. For instance, Fiziev has never fought a five-round fight. There are some fighters that are naturals to make the conversion to fighting over the championship rounds. Fiziev isn’t one of them. Not because he’s poorly conditioned; far from that. It’s that he fights at such an intense pace, throwing so much into his shots, there’s every chance in the world he’ll be a sitting duck if he doesn’t adjust his pace.
On the flip side, dos Anjos has a wealth of experience in five-round fights. He’s been in 12 of them, 7 of which that went the distance. Knowing what to expect is a huge advantage for dos Anjos. Plus, the only fighters who have beat him at lightweight in the last decade have all held some form of UFC gold. Fiziev has proven himself to be exceptionally talented, but the jury is still out if he’s at an elite level.
Another aspect people seem to be forgetting is dos Anjos isn’t a slouch on the feet. No, he isn’t at the level of Fiziev, but dos Anjos has won several high-profile fights on the strength of his standup. No one is foolish enough to believe dos Anjos is going to stand for the entirety of the contest, but he does have the ability hurt Fiziev, especially if he can crowd Fiziev. Dos Anjos kicks to the body have traditionally been the most glorified of his regular weapons. If Fiziev’s gas tank proves to be problematic, those kicks could be the key to the fight. It’s not like dos Anjos can’t attack his base with low kicks either….
All that said, there is a reason Fiziev is about to have his breakout performance. Despite how good he has been looking, there’s no reason to believe Fiziev has peaked. At 29, he should be in his physical prime and he’s still young in the sport. While his professional MMA debut came in 2015, he didn’t shift over the sport full-time until late 2017. It’s hard to believe he isn’t still improving. And while Fiziev’s ground game is still very much a question mark – especially against someone as decorated in BJJ as dos Anjos – his takedown defense has been fantastic. And while dos Anjos is a great grappler, he has two submission wins over the last decade as he’s been more position over submission. And while dos Anjos has been durable over his career, the last time he was finished was after a notoriously bad cut to 155… back when he was six years younger and facing an opponent in Eddie Alvarez who wasn’t considered to be as dynamic on the feet as Fiziev. Dos Anjos still believes he has a run in him and Glover Teixeira proved we shouldn’t be so quick to brush aside these crafty old vets. But Teixeira is the exception to the rule. I’m not going against the rule as Fiziev is way too good on the feet for me to pick against the potential rising star. Fiziev via TKO of RD2
Said Nurmagomedov vs. Douglas Silva de Andrade, Bantamweight
I typically praise the UFC’s matchmaking acumen, this was a very curious bit of matchmaking. Nurmagomedov appears to be a rising product who should be fighting his way up the rankings, tearing through Cody Stamann. Instead, he appears to be taking a step backwards by fighting Andrade. Despite it being a puzzling contest, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t appear to be a fun contest.
While I’m scratching my head, the guess here is Andrade needs to make his move right NOW given he’s already 37 and Nurmagomedov was the only one near the fringe of the official rankings who was willing to say yes. I get the feeling most fighter’s managers would have said no from Nurmagomedov’s position as Andrade is one of the most powerful punchers in the division. In fact, in a division chuck full of exceptional athletes, Andrade is right up there with the best, despite his advanced age.
Those who know nothing about Andrade might be asking why it is so late in his career that he’s only getting this opportunity. Andrade has bounced between 135 and 145, struggling to make 135 without severely compromising his stamina while being on the small side at featherweight. Plus, the Brazilian has endured long stretches between fights due to injuries. Andrade can also be too selective in his striking and is one-dimensional, largely ignoring the ground. That doesn’t mean Andrade is helpless on the mat, but it does make him easier to deal with when opponents tend to know what’s coming.
Despite his name, Nurmagomedov isn’t known for his wrestling. It’s his outside striking that he’s best known for, his wide variety of kicks to be most specific. It isn’t to say that his hands are useless either as his jab may be the most steady weapon in his repertoire, though it is his spinning attacks that he has become best known for. Given he’s a dangerous scrambler, an expert at maintaining distance, tough to take down, and possesses underrated power, it isn’t hard to see where Nurmagomedov has been able to run up the bantamweight ladder ahead of Andrade.
One could look at Nurmagomedov’s lone loss in the UFC and see an obvious road to victory for Andrade. Raoni Barcelos is a plus athlete with plenty of power… much like Andrade. In fact, Andrade is the more powerful KO artist. However, Barcelos is also a superior ground fighter and needed to use his ground game to notch the loss on Nurmagomedov. Andrade hasn’t shown the ability to utilize that route to victory and Nurmagomedov’s ability to avoid takedowns is understated. Throw in that Nurmagomedov has proven to be durable as well and Nurmagomedov feels like a safe pick. With a win, expect Nurmagomedov to fight a ranked opponent in his next fight. Nurmagomedov via decision
- While I believe the pairing of Caio Borralho and Armen Petrosyan is a fantastic bit of matchmaking, I very much question the idea of placing them in the co-main event slot. Regardless, both look like they’re capable of making serious moves up the middleweight ladder. Petrosyan has gotten more attention as his striking has proven to be exceptionally dangerous. What’s scary is it should only improve as he has yet to complete four years into his professional MMA career. Throw in that the rest of his game has even greater room for improvement and Petrosyan is a serious name to keep an eye one. That doesn’t mean Borralho is toast in this contest. Though he’s younger by two years, Borralho’s MMA career extends beyond the length of Petrosyan’s by several years. Sure, he isn’t as dangerous of a striker as Petrosyan, but he showed a high fight IQ in neutralizing the wrestling of Gadzhi Omargadzhiev in his official UFC debut. Could he do the same to Petrosyan? Given Borralho’s underrated wrestling and solid grappling, it seems like a very possible reality. I’ve wavered on the pick for this contest as I believe both have very bright futures. Borralho isn’t nearly as flashy as Petrosyan and it’s easy to be blinded by flash. Thus, even though my initial instinct is to pick the flashier Petrosyan, my head says to go with the perplexing Borralho. Borralho via decision
- Based purely on physical talent, Chase Sherman is a superior product to Jared Vanderaa. While owning a shorter reach, Sherman has a more athletic frame, is lighter on his feet, and appears to have more power in his punches. Despite that, Sherman enters the fight a clear underdog as it’s been a while since he looked like he wasn’t just going through the motions of a fight. Sherman looked like he enjoyed fighting when he first entered the UFC. That doesn’t appear to be the case anymore. It’s possible to still win fights when the love of the sport is no longer there, but it also depends on your opponent. Despite his mountainous frame, Vanderaa isn’t a punishing puncher. What he can do is wear on his opponents against the cage or drag them to the ground and smash them out. Throw in the fact Vanderaa is reasonably durable and owns surprisingly solid cardio and it feels like a safe pick to say he upends Sherman. Vanderaa via TKO of RD3
- It’s been over two years since Cynthia Calvillo won a fight. If you think that’s a long drought, it’s been over three-and-a-half since Nina Nunes last won a fight. To be fair to Nunes, she had a lengthy maternity leave and has only fought the top opposition in that time. At her peak, Nunes didn’t excel in any one single area, but she was never overwhelmed anywhere either, proving to be slightly above average in every major area. Well… her cardio was exceptional, which usually allowed her to take control late in her fights. Regardless, at 36, being a relatively new mother, and being the secondary breadwinner in the house, it’s fair to question how much Nunes wants to continue fighting. The fact she’s moving up to flyweight only adds to those questions as she’s going to be on the small side at her new home. Fortunately for her, Calvillo is also a former strawweight and has struggled at flyweight as well. In fact, Calvillo looked like she was broken mentally at the end of her last two fights due to the physical beatdown she endured. For someone whose confidence has always appeared to be unshakable in the past, that’s a terrible sign for her going forward. If her head is on straight, there’s every chance for her to upend Nunes as she’s a slick grappler and reasonably dangerous on the feet. However, there’s too many unknown variables in this contest. I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting money in this contest in the least. As it is, I like what I’ve seen out of Calvillo less than what I’ve seen out of Nunes. Nunes via decision
- At the age of 36, Michael Johnson is still an impressive athlete. He may not be what he was in his prime, but few could compete with him in terms of raw physical skills at that point. And yet, Johnson has never come that close to competing for the title. In other words, it’s always been the mental side of things that has held Johnson back. In his most recent contest, Johnson snapped a four-fight skid with a brutal KO, showing his hand speed is still at an elite level. That could prove troublesome for Jamie Mullarkey. The Aussie entered the UFC with a reputation as a ground fighter, but has steadily cleaned up his striking to the point where he’s become a legit KO threat on the feet. What Mullarkey doesn’t have is the physical gifts of Johnson, meaning it isn’t hard to see Johnson outboxing Mullarkey. Then again, Mullarkey has proven to extremely resilient, necessitating a beatdown for him to be put away. Mullarkey’s nonstop pressure and offense makes it likely that Johnson breaks at some point. From there, he’ll either coast through the rest of the fight in survival mode or ends up being submitted. For all the mental issues Johnson has, he’s never been easy to break physically. Mullarkey via decision
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