As the UFC once again hits the road with their Fight Night events, they are bringing one hell of a card into Orlando, Florida. Offering plenty of depth, most of the preliminary fights for the UFC Orlando card look like they’d be right at home on the main card of a typical Fight Night card out of Vegas. Hell, some of them would be perfectly acceptable PPV main card openers. In fact, the contest I’ve gone back and forth on the most is the women’s flyweight contest between Tracy Cortez and Amanda Ribas, by far the most underrated contest on the card. On paper, this looks like one of the top three Fight Night events for the year.
Tracy Cortez vs. Amanda Ribas, Women’s Flyweight
The list of more likeable members on the UFC roster than Ribas is incredibly short. Maybe even nonexistent. Continually full of exuberance and quick to offer a good-natured laugh, Ribas doesn’t carry herself like a fighter in the least. The talented Brazilian was making her way up the strawweight division before deciding the weight cut was proving to be too much for her. Upon debuting at 125, she was thrown into the fire against perennial gatekeeper, Katlyn Chookagian… and gave the former title challenger a hell of a run for her money.
Of course, just because she showed well against Chookagian doesn’t mean she’s assured to beat Cortez. After all, styles make fights and Chookagian is a vastly different fighter than Cortez. In fact, Cortez offers a stylistic matchup that could prove to be problematic. A big flyweight whose ease on the eyes makes her very marketable, Cortez offers a strong wrestling base that has seen her grind away on larger opponents at bantamweight. She’s been able to compliment that with a solid boxing game that may be short on flash, but looks better every time she steps into the cage.
What we don’t know is how well Cortez’s grinding style will be against Ribas. Ribas has faced fighters similarly anxious to get the fight to the ground at 115 such as Randa Markos and more than held her own, showing excellent takedown defense throughout her career. But can she find success against someone as large as Cortez? Ribas was big for strawweight, but is going to be on the small side for flyweight.
There are indications that won’t be as big of a deal as might be expected. First, this will be Ribas second fight in her new home. She should be able to tinker with her diet and workouts to bulk up just enough without compromising her conditioning. Second, the most underrated aspect of Ribas is her fight IQ. She was the first to defeat Mackenzie Dern, doing so almost solely on the basis of her jab. She also managed to survive long stretches on the mat with noted grappling ace, Virna Jandiroba, indicative of her ability to escape the clutches of her opponent. The close nature of her battle with Chookagian is another point in favor of her IQ.
Even though I’ve settled on picking Ribas, there is a reason I’ve vacillated on this fight. Cortez isn’t quite as speedy as Ribas and has faced a lower level of competition. But she’s easily going to have the strength advantage, has shown an impressive fight IQ herself, looking better every time out. If she can develop her striking further, she looks like she could develop occasional KO power. In the end though, I’m sticking with the more experienced Brazilian. Ribas via decision
- Formerly one of the busiest fighters on the roster, Niko Price hasn’t fought in 14 months thanks to an ACL tear. More troublesome, Price’s performance have shown indications of his decline. For instance, he’s the only fighter incapable of hanging a loss on Donald Cerrone in the Cowboy’s last seven fights. However, there’s also the possibility that Price needed some time to step away and refresh himself both physically and mentally. Given the lack of energy in his recent performances, the guess here is he will benefit from the time away. His opponent, Philip Rowe, would benefit from getting as much cage time as possible. Though he’s still a prospect, Rowe is already 32. Of course, his freakish height and reach for welterweight gives him far more leeway than the average welterweight, especially given he’s learning to make better use of that advantage. However, Rowe has also benefited from fighting opposition with a major reach disadvantage in comparison to him. Price will be at a disadvantage, but he’ll have at least five inches on either of the last two opponents Rowe beat. In general, there’s been a huge disparity in level of competition between Rowe and Price. Price represents a BIG step up for Rowe. Even though Rowe appears to have a way to go before he hits his ceiling and Price is at or near his ceiling, I don’t see Rowe making up the ground he needs to be competitive against the likes of Price. Plus, I anticipate he’ll struggle with the pressure and creativity Price brings. However, I also wouldn’t be surprised if Price looks like he’s fallen off a cliff. Price via TKO of RD3
- There’s no doubt about the role Angela Hill has assumed is that of a gatekeeper. The fan favorite has fallen short every time she has faced an opponent in the top ten of the division… and she’s had more than her share of opportunities against them. Granted, that doesn’t entirely do her justice given several of those losses were controversial, but it’s hard to believe she isn’t brushing up against her ceiling. Of course, based on her regular work in the cage, you’d never guess she’s turning 38 in January, but she has also spent enough time in the sport after crossing over from kickboxing that it’s hard to believe there is much potential left to tap. On the other side of the cage, Emily Ducote appears to just be hitting her stride. The former Bellator washout found herself after dropping back to 115, no longer being at a severe reach disadvantage against most of her opposition. Ducote’s standup has taken off, effectively working all levels of her opponent’s body over while possessing plus power. Even with the power advantage, it’s a tossup at best whether Ducote would outpoint Hill in a pure standup affair. But add in Ducote’s wrestling — if she uses it — and it’s fair to surmise that Hill ends up on the short end of yet another close decision. Ducote via decision
- It’s hard to know for sure if Scott Holtzman is in decline. While the 39-year-old is coming off two consecutive violent KO losses, both of them came against opponents who currently populate the top ten of the division. There’s very few people in the world who should find shame in that and Holtzman isn’t on that short list. However, he’s also been away for 19 months and he’s at the age where he could fall off a cliff at any point. Throw in the fact those KO losses are the first of his career and it’s very plausible he has mentally folded. That has never been the case for Clay Guida. Despite approaching his 41st birthday with this being his 60th professional contest, Guida approaches every fight as confident as ever that he’s going to win. While Guida isn’t quite as energetic and relentless as he once was, part of that can be attributed to maturity as opposed solely to age and wear and tear. That said, even with the maturing fight IQ and improved striking technique, Guida is still very much to wrestling grinder that he always has been. Holtzman has worked hard to shore up his questionable takedown defense, but it would be a stretch to call it a strength of his. Holtzman will assuredly find a way to victory if it remains a striking contest, but that seems highly unlikely. His questionable mental status only makes me further confident in picking Guida, despite his own advanced age. Guida via decision
- Michael Johnson may be the all-time greatest headcase in MMA history. It’s hard to think of someone who has jumped to an early advantage in so many fights, only to end up giving the fight away one way or another. To Johnson’s credit, he appears to be in a good place mentally given his last two contests have seen him either secure a violent finish or perform well bell-to-bell. And while he may not be the athlete he was in his prime, he’s still got the athletic edge over plenty of members of the lightweight division. I’m not so sure I’d say Marc Diakiese is one of those Johnson maintains that edge over. Then again, Johnson and Diakiese are different types of athletes. While both are explosive, Johnson is more akin to utilizing speed and quickness whereas Diakiese tends to overpower his opponents. Both have KO power in their fists, but it doesn’t show up as consistently as might be expected. What could be a red flag for Diakiese is his newfound dedication to takedowns. Not that the strategy in itself is bad overall, but Johnson has traditionally been difficult to take down. What I do like is Diakiese’s developing fight IQ. I anticipate him using his wrestling, but I also anticipate he’ll mix things up enough to trip up the aging Johnson. Hell, Jamie Mullarkey was able to…. Diakiese via decision
- Come Armageddon, all that will be left will be the cockroaches and Darren Elkins. The entire basis of his career success is that he never quits moving forward unless he is completely incapacitated. As he gets older and the miles accumulate, Elkins is slower and less capable of absorbing as much damage as he could in his prime, but the forward movement hasn’t ceased in the least. Even though the longtime veteran typically requires multiple attempts to secure his takedowns, it’s that doggedness that makes all the difference for him. He’s going to need that doggedness in spades against Jonathan Pearce as the younger fighter employs a similar strategy with the added advantages of being bigger, a better athlete, and employing a more diverse attack. Pearce has developed a jab that allows him to fight effectively from the outside, which may be the key to him securing the win as Elkins’ relentless pursuit has ruined several sound strategies in the past. Elkins may have won three of his last four, but those wins have also come against a lower level of competition, two of them no longer on the roster and the third potentially on the chopping block. Even with that said, I wouldn’t be shocked if Elkins scores another upset as he’s so want to do. Despite that, I still favor Pearce to get the job done. The younger fighter still appears to be improving and has all the physical advantages. Pearce via decision
- Unfortunately for Genaro Valdez, he’s best known for getting knocked down at least four times in just over three minutes in his UFC debut against Matt Frevola. While that’s obviously a bad thing to be known for, it shows he isn’t easy to put away in addition to showing heart to continue despite being put in an early hole. Further digging on his record and it’s questionable if he has the skills to hang at the UFC level given he was arguably losing his DWCS contest that picked him up his contract until the stoppage came. Given Natan Levy is more concerned with maintaining control than testing his opponent’s chin, Valdez may be given a sort of reprieve. A ball of muscle, Levy is exceptionally strong with a preference for taking the fight to the mat as often as possible. He has also traditionally had a questionable gas tank, though he did end up not just going a hard 15 minutes in his last outing against Mike Breeden, he finished strong. Then again, Levy struggled greatly in his last contest against a ground based attack… and Valdez was known for his wrestling prior to coming to the UFC. Despite that, Levy has shown an impressive fight IQ and the guess here is he has learned some hard lessons in his loss. It’s hard to know what Valdez learned in getting knocked stupid several times over in his loss. Levy via decision
- It was hard not to be impressed by Francis Marshall in his DWCS showing this past summer. He pushed a ridiculous pace, secured several takedowns and was the fresher fighter down the stretch. At 23 with just six fights under his belt, it’s hard to believe he’s anywhere near his peak. However, that’s also indicative of a premature path to the UFC. Is he ready for the step up in competition he’s sure to receive at this level? It’s hard to think of someone better to test that out than Marcelo Rojo. At 34, Rojo has probably seen his best days behind him already, but he’s got four times the amount of fights under his belt than Marshall and has proven he can be competitive against proven UFC competition at the very least. It would be a stretch to call Rojo a technician, but he there is a certain savvy in his ability to drag his opponents into his kill-or-be-killed style of fight. Rojo’s chin has been cracked, but he’s done far more cracking over the course of his career. If Marshall can stick to a wrestle-heavy approach, it could be an easy win for him. I’m not sure he can avoid a brawl… and that favors Rojo. Rojo via KO of RD1
- While the debut of Yazmin Jauregui was entertaining as hell, there are a couple of caveats to throw out there before getting too excited about her future. First, her opponent was not only making her UFC debut as well, she was doing so on short notice. There are still a lot of questions about Jauregui’s ground game too. Not that it appears to be crap, but it hasn’t been tested against anyone whose own ground game is a known quantity, making it a mystery. Then again, Jauregui has also flashed plenty of power in addition to pushing a hard pace. Most promising: she’s still only 23. Istela Nunes has a similar reputation in that she’s a volume striker who has questions about her ground game. Well, perhaps questions is being too generous as both of her UFC losses have been attributed to her struggles to keep the fight standing. Her striking technique is a thing of beauty, but that doesn’t mean a thing if she can’t stay standing. There’s nothing to indicate Jauregui will look to expose Nunes’ poor wrestling, but it’s also an established weakness for her to attack. While I agree with the oddsmakers that Jauregui is the favorite to win, the odds are way too long in the young Mexican’s favor. I’m picking Jauregui, but wouldn’t be surprised if Nunes steals a win in a striking battle. Jauregui via decision
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