I can’t be the only one perturbed by the UFC’s constant disregard for the flyweight division. Anyone who pays a modicum of attention to the entertainment value provided by each of the weight classes would acknowledge the flyweight division is one of the most consistently entertaining division within the UFC, if not the most entertaining. And yet, rather than promote the one flyweight contest on UFC Kansas City with the dignity it deserves, it relegates it to the prelims. Even then, it doesn’t even get the respect of being the featured prelim.
It’s not like I’m talking about a run-of-the-mill flyweight contest either. We’re talking about a potential title eliminator between Brandon Royval and Matheus Nicolau. This is a fight I would happily have seen granted Fight Night main event status. I’d certainly rather see them go five rounds over 90% of the heavyweight contests that have been granted main event clout. Alas, the disrespect continues. Sigh….
UFC Kansas City Previews
Brandon Royval vs. Matheus Nicolau | Flyweight
Perhaps part of the reason this contest is getting banished to the prelims is Nicolau’s workmanlike style. Whereas most flyweights are about frenetic energy and scrambles, Nicolau has found a way to control the chaos that is the flyweight division. Not that he isn’t capable of winning scrambles or that he can’t win a high paced fight, but Nicolau is all about controlling the pace and systematically pick apart his opponents. Due to that, it could be contended he’s the most boring flyweight on the roster.
That said, it can’t be denied that he’s good. Very good. Good enough that the UFC re-upped him despite his less than aestetically pleasing style, knowing he’s one of the most talented fighters at 125 on the planet. Nicolau isn’t oblivious to the criticism about him, acknowledging as much when he delivered a brutal KO to the chinny Matt Schnell and pointing out he’s capable of delivering finishes. Given it was his first finish in the UFC since 2015, it’s understandable criticism. But his 7-1 UFC record is a damn good rebuttal.
Efficiency is the name of the game for Nicolau. He doesn’t throw at a high clip, but he tends to land when he throws. Much of that can be attributed to his counterstriking manner – he rarely takes the initiative – but he also manages to do an effective job of avoiding what’s coming at him. Given his excellent quick-twitch responses, he’s also proven to be exceptionally difficult to take down. Plus, while Nicolau isn’t often mentioned in terms of the best wrestlers in the division, a solid case could be made that he is.
It’s hard to find a member of the division who is a greater diametrical opposite of Nicolau than Royval. Royval doesn’t try to control the chaos; he is the chaos. Flying attacks. Spinning attacks. Pulling guard. Name the move that is considered to be risky and it’s likely Royval has attempted that more times in a contest than a basic jab. Well, perhaps that’s taking it a bit too far, but Royval has zero hesitation in pursuing the finish. He’s proven he’s more than willing to sacrifice his body in the pursuit, his history of shoulder dislocations providing a firm example.
Of course, there’s a reason those types of tactics are considered risky. While Royval has secured the finish in three of his four UFC wins, he’s also been finished in both of his UFC losses. Perhaps that doesn’t sound like too big of a deal, but flyweight is the men’s division with the lowest rate of finishes. If his high-risk maneuver doesn’t find its target, he puts himself into a highly compromised position that prepared opponents have been able to capitalize on. No one can accuse Nicolau of being unprepared.
Both Nicolau and Royval play with fire. It’s easier to identify Royval’s fire given his hard-charging style. In the case of Nicolau, his measured approach could be mistaken for inactivity. While he has an impressive record, there has typically been plenty of tense moments as the scorecards have been read out. Against someone as hyperactive as Royval, it isn’t hard to see a judge favoring the constant activity of Royval over Nicolau’s measured approach should the fight end up going to a decision, regardless of whether Nicolau lands the more effective offense. Something important to chew on….
Ultimately, I favor the methodical approach of Nicolau. Not that he’s going to make the fight a crawl, but he’s more likely to capitalize on an opening from Royval. Nicolau doesn’t create opportunities in the way Royval does, but he sure as hell knows how to capitalize on them when they appear. I’d be wary of betting on putting money on the contest in any form, but I do anticipate Royval can find a way to squeeze a fun fight out of Nicolau. Nicolau via submission of RD2
Bill Algeo vs. TJ Brown | Featherweight
The road map to defeating Algeo has been established. While Algeo is tough, a technical volume striker, and a skilled grappler, he has struggled to stop takedowns. Even with that known since he touched down into the UFC, Algeo has managed to steal some victories. Though easy to take down, he isn’t easy to control and even harder to put away. The poor takedown defense creates a hard ceiling for Algeo, but his high fight IQ, durability, and impressive cardio have allowed him to work around his issues in particular matchups.
The initial impression is Brown is one of those matches. The funny thing is Brown’s biggest strengths – wrestling and relentlessness – should allow him to beat Algeo. The problem is Brown doesn’t always fight to his strengths, getting dragged into striking battles and giving up grappling position. Even with that said, when Algeo loses, it’s to fighters who are clearly better athletes than he is. Brown doesn’t fall into that category. I don’t trust Brown’s fight IQ enough to ensure he holds Algeo down either. Algeo via submission of RD3
Zak Cummings vs. Ed Herman | Light Heavyweight
The list of people who have been on the UFC roster longer than Herman is very short. Now 42, Herman’s physical decline is something that has been readily apparent, enough so that he’s judicious about when he fights. That said, he’s been busier than Cummings, who last stepped into the Octagon 30 months ago. Like Herman did several years ago, Cummings is moving into 205 after aging out of smaller divisions. The question is whether his gritty style will work for him against bigger opponents who will likely match or exceed his strength, one of Cummings greater advantages in the past.
This is a hard contest to pick. Both are poor athletes in a division where athleticism is king. Both get by on their savvy, exhibiting games that are throwbacks to yesteryear. That said, Herman has been getting thoroughly outworked over the last few years, using his veteran IQ to steal a victory from the jaws of defeat in one of those contests. Plus, he’s talked about retirement. That’s usually a big red flag. Even with the extended break, no such talk has come from Cummings. That pushes me into favoring the divisional newcomer. Cummings via decision
Gillian Robertson vs. Piera Rodriguez | Women’s Strawweight
I’m not sure what to make of Robertson dropping down to 115. While it makes sense for someone with a ground-based approach wanting to be the bigger fighter so they can outmuscle their opponent, there’s other reasons to think it might not be a great idea. For one, Robertson’s grappling isn’t about being a bully. For two, her energy levels dropping down to strawweight is something to be very concerned about. She wasn’t huge at flyweight, but she wasn’t tiny for the division either. If nothing else, I do believe she has a good team that will help her make the cut safely.
That said, Rodriguez has proven to be a physical presence at strawweight, also having proven she can make the weight successfully. Rodriguez isn’t a technical marvel by any means, but she can muscle down her opponent and doesn’t lack for volume. Rodriguez’s takedowns have been a concern given we know Robertson wants the fight grounded, but Robertson’s wrestling is just as suspect, if not more. On the feet, Robertson has never looked comfortable. With the questions about her moving down, I feel more comfortable picking Rodriguez outworking her in the striking department. Rodriguez via decision
Lando Vannata vs. Daniel Zellhuber | Lightweight
Vannata’s experiment at featherweight only lasted two fights, returning to lightweight after splitting the difference. On the surface, it appears to be a bit of a surprise as Vannata wasn’t getting bullied the way he previously was at 155. If Vannata is facing an opponent willing to let him move and strike, he’s in good shape as Vannata is quicker than most of the roster at 155. Fortunately for Vannata, Zellhuber is a primarily a striker who will give Vannata the fight that he wants.
That doesn’t mean a win is guaranteed for Vannata. It’s hard to find a more inconsistent UFC fighter in recent years than Vannata and Zellhuber isn’t without talent. The problem with Zellhuber is he’s young and was completely frozen in his UFC debut against Trey Ogden, one of the worst athletes at 155 on the roster. Vannata will be a trickier proposition for Zellhuber. The youngster should be able to keep up with the volume of Vannata, but I expect the unorthodoxy of Vannata will be too much to deal with should Vannata continue his recent emphasis on fundamentals. Vannata via decision
Bruna Brasil vs. Denise Gomes | Women’s Strawweight
The UFC didn’t do Gomes any favors in her organizational debut when they pit her with Loma Lookboonmee. Lookboonmee’s strengths matched up against Gomes’ and the young Brazilian didn’t have the savvy or technique to match the undersized striker. Nevertheless, there’s reason to believe Gomes could be something special down the road. Given she’s only 23, she has a lot of time to develop. As she is now, she’s a tank whose power belies her smaller frame. While she still needs plenty of polish, what Gomes presently has could pick her up some wins.
It’s questionable if it’ll be enough against Brasil. Brasil is a lanky striker with excellent accuracy and a functional ground game. Her defense is a big question mark, but she does have a sizeable reach advantage over Gomes. There is concern Gomes can close the distance in a hurry and touch up Brasil’s chin since Brasil tends to keep her hands low. That said, given Brasil’s underrated takedowns, timing on the counter, and overall edge in experience, I see her upending the younger fighter. Brasil via decision
Aaron Phillips vs. Gaston Bolanos | Bantamweight
I don’t want to be disrespectful towards Phillips – anyone willing to step into a cage to get punched in the mouth deserves a degree of respect – but he’s in the running for one of the worst UFC fighters in modern history. He hasn’t been competitive in any of his three fights. I’ll admit he’s tough and he put in the work to get back into the organization, but he’s limited. He also appears more committed to running his gym than finding success in his fighting career. However, it looks like he’s got his best chance to secure a win within the confines of the Octagon.
Like Phillips, Bolanos has a Muay Thai background. He’s also short on MMA experience, but that also means he has a higher ceiling. Phillips has been fighting professionally for well over a decade, meaning it’s hard to see him making any large strides. Regardless, Bolanos’ ground game is still enough of a question mark that Phillips might be able to ground and control him. Given Bolanos’ love of spinning attacks, it isn’t hard to see Phillips taking advantage of his overaggression. However, I trust Bolanos’ power to be a bigger difference maker. Bolanos via TKO of RD2
Joselyne Edwards vs. Lucie Pudilova | Women’s Bantamweight
I admit, I was excited to see Pudilova come back to the UFC. Perhaps the most consistent action fighter at 135 in her first UFC run, I expected more of the same. I don’t want to say I was disappointed to see her have a more disciplined approach in her return, but gone was the fan favorite who never met a brawl she didn’t like. In her place was a fighter who saw value in takedowns and control, eventually delivering her first finish in the confines of the UFC. If she maintains that approach, she’s more likely to defeat Edwards.
Edwards is easily the more technical striker of the two, not to mention the rangier. I don’t want to say Edwards is terrible on the mat either as she has some BJJ skills, but her wrestling is still a huge question mark. Both her UFC losses saw her taken down and controlled for long stretches. There are signs she has improved her takedown defense, but she also hasn’t faced someone who would provide her a legit test in that department. I don’t have a lot of confidence in my pick, but I see Pudilova maintaining her grounded approach on the way to victory. Pudilova via decision
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