On a weekend in which the boxing world is getting far more attention, the UFC is offering what appears to be an underwhelming fight card. As I stated in my prelims preview, it isn’t completely the UFC’s fault as several fights fell off the card, including the original main event between Sean Strickland and Jared Cannonier. Regardless, there’s enough left for UFC Vegas 62 that I have a hard time believing those who follow the fights regularly will find plenty of enjoyment in more than just the main event between Alexa Grasso and Viviane Araujo. Cub Swanson is a longtime fan favorite looking to make an impact in a new weight class. There may even be a potential flyweight title eliminator between Askar Askarov and Brandon Royval. Whether it’s boxing or MMA, it should be a solid night of fights.
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Alexa Grasso vs. Viviane Araujo, Women’s Flyweight
There’s no doubt who the UFC wants to win this contest: Grasso. It isn’t that they have anything against Araujo. Araujo may actually be more personable than Grasso based on post-fight interviews, which is what most fans go off of considering they don’t spend all their time watching interviews leading up to the events. What Grasso has that Araujo doesn’t isn’t Mexican heritage and the Mexican market is still something the UFC wants to bust open.
That said, the odds are skewed far too much in the favor of Grasso, the younger fighter coming in as roughly a 2-to-1 favorite. Most of that has to be attributed to her name value as Araujo’s wins are just as good of quality as Grasso’s, perhaps even better. Ultimately, this is far closer to being a pick ‘em than the odds reflect. So, what does the matchup reflect?
Grasso is one of the better boxers the division has to offer. Not that she’s an example of technical perfection, but she’s tight enough in her form and throws well in combination. Plus, few do a better job of mixing their punches to the body. Throw in a steady flow of low kicks and Grasso does an excellent job of keeping her opponents guessing. In recent fights, she has also shown a greater comfort in pushing a higher pace.
However, Araujo is the more explosive striker. While Araujo may not be the most technical striker, she has a notable power advantage and tends to put everything into her punches. That has led to her flagging at the end of several of her fights, but credit to Araujo as she’ll continue to throw, even after her stamina is clearly affected. While Grasso is likely to secure more volume, Araujo could easily steal rounds with a big moment or two from a clean punch or a spinning attack.
There’s also the question of the ground game. Most would say Araujo is the better grappler, but Grasso has exhibited an impressive ground game of her own. It wasn’t that long ago she came thisclose to submitting the current strawweight champion, Carla Esparza and did submit Joanne Wood. Then again, everyone has been submitting Wood as of late, but the point is that Grasso has been filling in the holes in her game that were evident when she first entered the UFC. However, Araujo is a big step up on the mat from what Grasso has been facing. Esparza is a beast on the mat, but she isn’t as dynamic as Araujo on the mat, nor is she as big. It’s worth remembering that Grasso was fighting at 115 not that long ago and is still on the small side for flyweight.
Given Araujo’s underrated wrestling skills, I can see where a lot of people are coming from in picking her for the upset. She’s not only the more likely of the two to secure a finish – whether it be via KO or submission – but she could take several rounds via mat control. She may not have to steal rounds with big moments. That said, I’m still leaning towards Grasso. She has made consistent improvements and the ability to exploit her opponent’s weaknesses. Plus, I feel quite confident in the idea of Grasso taking the fourth and fifth round as I don’t see Araujo having the gas tank to be effective in those rounds. If by some chance she is, I’d predict it’s because she holds back in the other three rounds. Either way, while I wouldn’t put money on it, I favor Grasso to get the job done. Grasso via decision
Jonathan Martinez vs. Cub Swanson, Bantamweight
Dropping down into a new weight class deep into a career is rarely a good move. I understand many will point to Jose Aldo, but he’s the exception to the rule. That’s why I’m very concerned about Swanson making a go of things at 135. Swanson has been fighting at featherweight since 2006. That’s a long time Swanson has been perfecting the cut, the training camps, and dieting. How well will his body handle cutting an additional 10 pounds at a stage in his career, aged 38, when most have had greater issues with making weight? Plus, sweating out that much more water is likely to make him chinnier.
Given Martinez is thought of as a KO artist in certain corners, it doesn’t sound like the UFC is doing him any favors. Then again, Martinez hasn’t picked up a stoppage in over two years, finishes drying up as he’s faced tougher competition. Regardless, Martinez has improved his ability to throwdown in the pocket after entering the organization as an outfighter primarily known for his kicking arsenal. I would still give Swanson a sizeable advantage should they end up engaging in a boxing match, but I don’t see Martinez opting to keep the fight there for long stretches. Given he’s likely to have the speed advantage, I’d expect Martinez will have the fight in his preferred range more often.
If Swanson is able to maintain his speed, he’s aged better than most figured he would after he endured a four-fight losing streak not too long ago. In fact, he appears to be opening up his arsenal more than he did in the past. Y’all catch his spinning wheel kick on Darren Elkins? However, that’s all the more reason for me to question the move down.
One thought is Swanson could look to use his newfound size advantage and wrestle Martinez to the ground, but three things come to mind. First, Martinez has steadily improved his takedown defense throughout his UFC run. Second, his speed translates to his ability to counter as well. And third, Swanson has secured one takedown in the last five years. Given wrestling tends to sap stamina faster than engaging on the feet, I don’t think Swanson will go that route after cutting an additional ten pounds. I wouldn’t completely disregard Swanson, but I don’t like his chances. Martinez via decision
Askar Askarov vs. Brandon Royval, Flyweight
If Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno didn’t have an eternal rivalry, there’s a good chance Askarov would have already fought for a title. After all, the Russian grappler fought Moreno to a draw and secured wins over the likes of Alexandre Pantoja and Joseph Benavidez. Instead, due to his tendency to smother his opponents as opposed to engaging in fisticuffs in the pocket, the UFC had no problem delaying his opportunity for gold. Instead, the continued to throw high-profile opponents at him in hopes of one of them knocking him off and got their wish when Kai Kara-France did so.
With the end of Figueiredo and Moreno’s rivalry coming to a close early next year, there’s hope for Askarov to get back into the picture. Of course, that will require a win over Royval… hardly a sure thing. There isn’t a more dynamic flyweight on the roster than Royval. That tends to be the case when there is no concern about defense. Nobody throws more flying and spinning attacks than Royval. To be fair, he does tend to have a high success rate with them as there tends to do so without much of a tell. Of course, given that he leaps/spins into action so often, opponents can time them to either avoid or counter his attacks.
Given Askarov is perhaps the most unathletic flyweight on the roster, it won’t be much of a surprise if Royval is successful in landing one of his flashy moves. However, there are other reasons to think those attacks could prove to be the undoing of Royval. While Askarov isn’t much of a threat on the feet, he is perhaps the stickiest flyweight on the roster. Once he gets his mitts on his opponent, he tends to get them to the mat. It isn’t hard to see Askarov wrapping up Royval at the end of his spin and dragging him down. Plus, Royval’s own takedown defense is absolutely pitiful, relying mostly on guillotines to deter his opposition. Hard to believe that will work against Askarov….
Prior to joining the UFC, Askarov was not only undefeated, he had never gone to a decision. Most of that is due to his submission prowess, but all five of his UFC contests have since gone the distance. In some of those contests, his gas tank has held up; in others, it has betrayed him late. Given the pace Royval tends to set, it’s plausible Askarov could fade late. Or it could be he is used to going 15 minutes at this juncture and he holds up. It’s hard to say exactly what happens. What is known is Askarov is durable and is the far better grappler on a fundamental level. Plus, while Askarov isn’t a threat to end the fight on the feet, his awkward striking can be difficult to handle as it is highly unorthodox. In other words, he’s likely to outpoint Royval should the fight go the distance. After, Royval doesn’t look to score points; he’s always looking to end the fight. I prefer Askarov to be savvy enough to avoid Royval’s attempts to do that. Askarov via decision
There has been an unending list of glass cannons over the course of the short history of MMA. Many would claim Jordan Wright is the preeminent version of what a glass cannon is. 16 fights into his MMA career, only once has a fight left the first round… and that only went an additional 18 seconds into the second round. No one can deny Wright’s power. He’s got plenty of that. What is up for questioning is his durability and his fight IQ. Wright goes balls to the wall out of the gate looking for the finish, leaving him devoid of stamina only about halfway through the opening round. In other words, if Dusko Todorovic can make it to the halfway point of the opening round, it’s a near certainty he’s going to be walking out of the event with a W. Unfortunately for Todorovic, he’s not known for his defensive acumen, nor is he known for having an iron chin, making him extremely vulnerable to Wright’s early attack. Todorovic is by far the more well-rounded product in this contest, but it probably doesn’t matter. All that matters is whether he can survive early on. I’d say the odds are against him. Wright via KO of RD1
It’s hard to believe Misha Cirkunov was seen as the future of the light heavyweight division once upon a time. More than anything, it’s an indication of the lack of talent that has filtered through the division at certain times, but a strong argument could be made that he shouldn’t even have a roster spot. He’s 2-6 in his last eight, making his return to 205 after a two-fight excursion to middleweight produced undesirable results. Cirkunov is one of the better grapplers at 205 and has raw punching power, but he’s chinny, has struggled to secure takedowns outside of early in his UFC run – which was against lesser competition – and has lost the confidence that carried him early in his UFC career. Alonzo Menifield has also lost some of his swagger that allowed him to rack up back-to-back first round finishes to open his UFC career, but he’s also been fighting with more maturity and adding to his toolbox. Menifield has never had someone test him on the mat the way Cirkunov might be able to, so a submission victory for Cirkunov doesn’t appear to be a shocking result. However, given Cirkunov’s chin and Menifield’s continued improvements, I far prefer the odds of a Menifield KO. Menifield via KO of RD1
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