UFC 287: Pereira vs. Adesanya 2 preview – Is Masvidal still motivated?

Get the scoop on the non-title main card action out of UFC 287, featuring recent title challengers Jorge Masvidal and Gilbert Burns clashing.

By: Dayne Fox | 2 months ago
UFC 287: Pereira vs. Adesanya 2 preview – Is Masvidal still motivated?
March 5, 2022, Las Vegas, NV, LAS VEGAS, NV, United States: LAS VEGAS, NV - March 5: Jorge Masvidal at T-Mobile Arena for UFC 272: Covington vs Masvidal on March 5, 2022, in Las Vegas, NV, United States. Las Vegas, NV United States - ZUMAp175 20220305_zsa_p175_238 Copyright: xLouisxGrassex

In some ways, it feels like it was just yesterday Jorge Masvidal was the biggest star in all of MMA. In other ways, it feels like it was an eternity ago. Masvidal, one half of the co-main event of UFC 287, played the game correctly on his way up. It wasn’t just the image change to Street Jesus or the “three piece and a soda.” Of course, those were huge catalysts, but it was also visibility – he fought three times in 2019 – favorable matchups, and securing highlight reel finishes.

Now, he may still be the reigning BMF, but Masvidal needs a win in the worst way to remain relevant. Sure, casual fans still recognize his name, but his fight with Gilbert Burns may be the least interesting main card fight for many. Adrian Yanez has the look of a rising star. Kevin Holland is always interesting. And while Raul Rosas Jr. is a far cry from being relevant in the rankings – much less the title picture – it’s hard not to have interest in an 18-year-old doing their thing against fully mature professional athletes. UFC 287 is looking to deliver the goods.

For the early prelims preview, click here. For the ESPN prelims, click here

UFC 287 Main Card preview

Gilbert Burns vs. Jorge Masvidal, Welterweight 

The good times have been few and far between for Masvidal since he claimed the BMF title over Nate Diaz. Well, at least in terms of his professional fighting career. Masvidal was able to turn his star power into a pair of title fights and co-headlining a PPV in a non-title fight, a rarity nowadays. That isn’t mentioning his successful boxing promotion he started. But Masvidal hasn’t tasted victory since stopping Diaz. In fact, he hasn’t even come close. 

Masvidal’s star power was attained without fighting for a belt. He only had one option if he wanted to fight up and Kamaru Usman was a terrible stylistic matchup for him. So was Colby Covington. It’s been no secret that Masvidal’s Achilles heel since moving to welterweight has been powerful wrestlers as Masvidal’s lanky frame isn’t ideal for stuffing takedowns. After all, he fought at lightweight for a long time for that very reason.

Burns isn’t the wrestler that either Usman or Covington is, but he’s not a slouch either. After all, he got the takedowns he needed against Stephen Thompson, becoming the first to do so against Thompson in a non-title fight in nine years. More importantly, Burns is fantastic at keeping his opponents on the mat with his world-class grappling. Burns has become well-versed enough with his striking that many have forgotten it was his grappling credentials that made many so excited for his MMA future in the first place.

Granted, Masvidal isn’t a slouch on the mat himself. I don’t believe anyone sees him as a serious threat to submit Masvidal, but it has been well over a decade since Masvidal was submitted. Masvidal has fought some noted grapplers in that time too, including Demian Maia. The question with Masvidal comes down to his motivation. He’s unlikely to climb back to the heights he once achieved. Does he still have it in him to continue to want to fight? 

Masvidal has finally achieved financial security. He made no bones about the fact that money was his primary motivation. Will he be willing to dig deep to get himself out of compromising positions with the same aplomb? No one has ever accused Masvidal of being a quitter, but he showed signs of resignation in his first loss to Usman and his loss to Covington. Given those contests were for the title and a blood feud, it’s hard to believe the stakes could have been higher. It isn’t hard to see Masvidal giving in if he falls behind. 

Unfortunately, Masvidal can never be completely written off. He is one of the best pure boxers in MMA with an air of unpredictability. Even his demeanor has proven difficult to read. Remember how casual he looked against the cage before putting Askren out? Burns has been improving his striking, but that could allow for him to develop a false sense of security that he can strike with him. He can probably hang with Masvidal, but why allow for that when everyone knows Burns is the superior ground fighter? Unfortunately, fighters are egotistical. 

Masivdal’s age, inactivity, and heavy mileage has me leaning heavily towards Burns. Burns isn’t that much younger than Masvidal, but he’s been much more active. Plus, while Burns has a combat sports background prior to MMA, grappling isn’t as hard on the body as Masvidal’s street fighting background. I can’t feign to know Masvidal’s motivations to continue fighting either, but even if he’s revved up to keep fighting at a high level, Burns is a terrible stylistic matchup for him. Burns gets closer to fighting for the title again. Burns via decision 

Rob Font vs. Adrian Yanez, Bantamweight 

Given that he’s creeping up on a decade on the UFC roster, Font has long been regarded as one of the better boxers in the bantamweight division. Many have frequently thought it was largely due to Font’s lanky frame, but that would be selling Font short. I’d be lying if I proclaimed his physical attribute didn’t help, but the progression he has made since he entered the UFC has been impressive. For one, his jab has gone from being underutilized in his early UFC fights to his most frequent strike. 

It isn’t just Font’s boxing that’s phenomenal. The New England product has diversified his approach, making greater use of kicks and improving his wrestling. Font has also proven to be extremely durable and resilient. He’s been in the cage with some of the hardest hitters in the bantamweight division, including Marlon Vera, John Lineker, Cody Garbrandt, and Marlon Moraes and has never been KO’d. In fact, the only loss Font has suffered before the final bell was a submission to Pedro Munhoz, another heavy hitter. 

However, while Font’s durability has been impressive, there’s major reasons to believe it is waning. In the last two fights, he’s been officially knocked down five times, not to mention several other times in those contests when he was hurt. Chins don’t hold up forever. At 35, Font is a senior citizen in bantamweight years. It doesn’t help that Yanez is considered to be one of the hardest hitters in the division too. In his five UFC contests – in which he is undefeated — Yanez has averaged one knockdown a fight, with only one of those contests going the distance. 

Yanez may be one of the few 135ers who can compete with Font in terms of pure boxing. His technique is very clean. Yanez is the more diverse striker too, offering some lethal kicks. He’s younger than Font by a wide mile. He hasn’t taken the same damage over his career that Font has either. He’s never been put away in his professional or amateur career. Hell, he may not be quite as tall or long as Font, but he’s within an inch in each manner. So why would anyone think about picking against Yanez? 

It doesn’t take a lot of digging to find out why. Yanez’s level of competition has been bad in comparison to Font. His best win came over Davey Grant in a split decision. He’s also the only remaining member of the roster of those Yanez has defeated. Everyone else has been cut from the roster. Grant is a solid test, but that’s the only real test Yanez has faced in graduating up to fighting someone like Font. Thus, while Yanez’s takedown defense has looked improved from his regional days, none of his recent opponents inspires confidence that Yanez has taken major strides in that area. 

Ultimately, Yanez is the direction I lean. Yes, Font appears to be the best wrestler Yanez has faced since coming to the UFC. But he’s a striker at heart and I don’t trust he’ll take a ground-based approach. Plus, I get the feeling Font’s chin will be cracking very soon. If it isn’t this fight, the next heavy striker he faces should do the job. There will be zero surprise if he cracks Yanez as Font hits plenty hard himself, but he hasn’t been sitting down on his strikes the way he used to. I don’t expect him to do so here, adding more risk to having his own chin cracked. It might happen anyway. Yanez via TKO of RD2 

Kevin Holland vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio, Welterweight 

While there is a wide casual base that isn’t all that familiar with Holland, the motor-mouthed Texan tends to enthrall those who get tangled in his web. That isn’t to say some of his contests haven’t been stinkers – Derek Brunson and Marvin Vettori successfully blanketed him – but his creativity and unique take on life have made him one of the more beloved members of the MMA community. The question is whether he’ll ever begin to focus on winning. 

That may sound like a ridiculous question given all competitors want to win. But Holland is a unique cat in that sense, though that is part of his appeal. Holland often seems more interested in making a point than winning. Granted, Holland has demonstrated some awareness that he needs to be winning – such as dropping down to welterweight after being mauled by Brunson and Vettori – but a full commitment to winning still hasn’t been seen from him. 

That isn’t the case for Ponzinibbio. The aging Argentinian has been making strides to be a better all-around fighter in the last few years, placing a greater emphasis on wrestling. Much of that is due to the signs of age making themselves more visible with every passing contest. Ponzinibbio still has solid hand speed and power, but his overall movement has suffered. In the process, he’s absorbed more damage than he used to, not to mention lacking the explosiveness that used to be one of his calling cards. He can still find the KO, but it’s getting harder for him to uncover.

Another thing that hurts Ponzinibbio is Holland’s freakish reach. At 81”, the list of welterweights with a longer reach than him is short. Ponzinibbio is an out-fighter at heart and his decline in athleticism in combination with Holland’s underrated striking technique look like they could prove problematic for the 36-year-old. Make no mistake, Ponzinibbio is the more savvy striker. He may have more natural power too. But Holland’s creativity and natural feel for striking looks like he could win the striking battle. 

That’s miserable news for Ponzinibbio. Even as Ponzinibbio is improving his wresting, he’s inferior on the mat next to Holland. Ponzinibbio’s last submission victory came over a decade ago, before he entered the UFC. Holland can be overconfident in his mat abilities, but he is also proven to be dangerous on the mat. Perhaps most importantly, Holland is durable as hell. Ponzinibbio probably needs a finish to secure the win. I don’t see him being able to do that. Holland via decision 

Raul Rosas Jr. vs. Christian Rodriguez, Bantamweight 

There’s no doubt Rosas has an incredible story. Fighting on DWCS at the age of 17, he’s proven that he isn’t all hype; the kid can fight. Still only 18, it seems inevitable that he’s going to be tripped up at some point given his inexperience. The question is whether it will be before his large frame proves to be too much for him to continue cutting down to 135 or if he’s tripped up before he’s forced to test himself against larger men. 

It’s possible Rodriguez can be the Bryan Barberena to Rosas’ Sage Northcutt. He’s not lacking for talent, even if his physical gifts aren’t quite on par with Rosas. Rodriguez even looks like he’s technically superior, both on the mat and in his striking. However, he doesn’t have a notable edge in experience, facing similar competition to Rosas on the regional scene. And while Rodriguez is more polished, Rosas isn’t lacking for technique. The UFC knows who they want to win. They aren’t ready for Rosas to be tripped up yet. The youngster proves to be too big and strong for a game Rodriguez. Rosas via decision 

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About the author
Dayne Fox
Dayne Fox

Dayne Fox is a contributing writer and analyst for Bloody Elbow. He has been writing about combat sports since 2013 and a member of Bloody Elbow since 2016. Dayne primarily contributes opinion pieces and event coverage. Dayne’s specialties are putting together the preview articles for all the UFC events and post-fight analysis. Outside of writing on combat sports, Dayne works in the purchasing department of a construction company, formerly working as an analyst. He is also a proud husband and father. In what spare time he can find, he enjoys strategy games and is a movie enthusiast. He is based in Utah.

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