After a wild weekend in Las Vegas, the world-famous cage is rocking its way over to Sacramento for a prospect-stacked night! Before we get into our main card, we have a great night of prelims, showcasing killers like Livia Renata Souza and Ryan Hall, topped off with a Light Heavyweight showdown between Gian Villante and Mike Rodriguez!
John Allan Arte vs. Mike Rodriguez (LHW)
John Allan Arte (13-5) will be making his UFC debut after Gian Villante fell out. The Brazilian brawler lost his Contender Series shot after being submitted by Vinicius Moreira. We have seen the success rate of Moreira in the UFC (not good) and that doesn’t look the best for him. Arte works as a striker, with 9 knockouts on his record. He doesn’t have the best one-punch power and it has shown itself when he can be pieced up from the outside. He does have 3 subs on his record, but they come off his back and he is not a ground specialist or takedown artist himself.
“Slow” Mike Rodriguez (10-3, 1-1 UFC) made his entry to the Octagon after a flying knee victory on the Contender Series. He lost his Rodriguez is a power puncher, who hides his quick attacks with slow feints and movement. Rodriguez can close the show in an instant and has great fluidity as well as accuracy. Something I truly love is his use of kicks to keeop his opponent in the range he wants them and he has body kicks that make you wince. His bane has been his ground game. Anyone proficient on the mat can stifle Slo-Mike or cruise their way to a decision.
While Mike does have some issues in his striking defense, it would be in his best interest to keep the fight on the feet. The seven-inch reach advantage will work wonders for him against Arte, whose successes have primarily come when he can get in close. He should be easily outstruck by Rodriguez and his wrestling simply isn’t at the level to take down Rodriguez, but is able to win off his back. He just won’t find himself there against the striking-oriented Rodriguez.
Take the Shot: Mike Rodriguez via Round 2 Knockout
Andre Fili vs. Sheymon Moraes (FTW)
Yippee. More Team Alpha Male. Andre Fili (19-6, 7-5 UFC) is pretty much the cutout Alpha Male fighter with his power coming from an overhand right, decent wrestling, and a flashy inconsistency. Fili spices things up with his kicking game and pressure, moving his opponent forward to tee off on them. His wrestling is decent, but nothing groundbreaking. However, that may be the thing to set him apart in this match.
Sheymon Moraes (11-3, 2-2 UFC) lost in his last appearance to Sodiq Yusuff. He showed an issue with his gas tank when pushed and that may be an issue for him here. Still, his only losses are to Zabit, Marlon Moraes, and now Yusuff, making him a tough fighter to take out in there. His Muay Thai kickboxing is ruthless and he packs serious power in his hands and elbows. He is great on his front and back foot and can transition quickly to marching forward with a power right. His issue is in his ground game, which is frankly abysmal.
On the feet, I keep going back and forth. Moraes could piece apart Fili from the outside and he no doubt has the power advantage. The reach that Fili leans so heavily on is only 2 inches here, and that may prove disastrous with the kicking game that Sheymon Moraes brings to the table. However, the ground game is a huge element of MMA and it’s no different here. Fili does not have what I would call a good ground game, but it’s certainly better than that of Moraes. While I don’t see Touchy Fili (yes, that’s his nickname) with any finishing potential as all his subs are off his back, the wrestling may make the difference.
This is the closest fight on the card for me. Moraes has fight ending power with one punch, but he’s the kind of guy who goes to a split decision if he can’t land that. Sheymon Moraes has a skill of slowing down his opponents, but with Fili’s pressure and wrestling game, he should win a close decision.
PREDICTING THIS IS A NIGHTMARE!!!
Take the Shot: Andre Fili via Split Decision
Julianna Pena vs. Nicco Montano (BW)
Julianna Pena (8-3, 4-1 UFC) will be making her return to the Octagon after almost two and a half years. Her only loss in the UFC came to Valentina Shevchenko, which isn’t looking like a bad loss at this point. Pena is a grappler, who excels on the mat and can bully almost anyone with her mat pressure and high tier grappling. On the feet, she isn’t the best. She just shuffles forward with a high guard and little head movement, looking to clinch her opponent or take the fight down.
We have not seen Nicco Montano (4-2, 1-0 UFC) appear in the Octagon since winning TUF 26 in a unanimous decision win over Roxanne Modafferi to become the first Women’s Flyweight champ. Although talking up a return, she skirted her way out of every match and with Valentina Shevchenko on the line, I don’t blame her. Montano uses solid striking at a high rate, peppering her opponent and setting up kicks with her punches, something not many fighters do. On the ground, she is not at all lost and knows how to wrestle into a position.
Neither of these fighters has much power so I’m not sensing a finish unless it’s a submission from Pena. On the feet, Montano will take a clear advantage with her volume and may have some added power with her move up in weight class. However, Pena has beaten many volume strikers with her acute ability to take the fight down, in combination with her four-inch reach advantage to help slow down that striking of Montano.
Take the Shot: Julianna Pena via Round 2 Submission
Darren Elkins vs. Ryan Hall (FTW)
The UFC veteran Darren Elkins (24-7, 14-7 UFC) will be looking to get back on the right track after finding himself on a two-loss streak. Prior to running into Alexander Volkanovski, he mounted a six-fight winning streak. Elkins is still a very real threat at the Featherweight division, maybe not for the title, but he is still a composed and dangerous fighter. “The Danger” of his game comes from his striking and wrestling base. He can fidn. submissions, but also grinds his way to a decision well and holds a comeback opportunity at any point.
Ryan Hall (7-1, 3-0 UFC) has been murdering legends since he got into the UFC. He took out the GOAT Artem Lobov and Gray Maynard in a unanimous decision, then submitted BJ Penn early in the first round with a heel hook. “The Wizard” has one of the best heel hooks I’ve ever seen and can dive on a leg anywhere. He’s done it twice in his pro career and twice during his stint on The Ultimate Fighter. Don’t let his record fool you at first glance, Ryan Hall us one of the best grapplers to ever grace the sport. He will pull guard and just lie on his back to get the fight to the mat. He utilizes a similar style with his striking, taking a sideways karate stance and firing kicks until an opportunity opens to head to the ground.
Hall is as unorthodox of a fighter as you can get. His striking reminds me of the recently cut Elias Theodorou, with his kicking game and way he keeps his opponent at bay. Elkins doesn’t have the high-intensity pressure or elite striking to stop the rangy kicks of Hall. Elkins’ wrestling is threatening to most submission fighters, but not to The Wizard. In fact, the level of wrestling Elkins has is pretty much just what Hall wants. He doesn’t have such dominant top control of a Khabib or Usman, but feels comfortable enough and will gladly take this fight to the ground, and Hall is best off his back.
Take the Shot: Ryan Hall via Round 1 Submission
Pingyuan Liu vs. Jonathan Martinez (BW)
What the hell? We have ANOTHER Alpha Male fighter in Pingyuan Liu (13-5, 2-0 UFC). Pingyuan, riding a nine-fight winning streak, comes in mainly as a striker, with some Alpha Male wrestling to back it up. His offensive striking is good and he will launch into a whirlwind kick or flurry of punches without taking a break. The issue in his striking is that he is open defensively, particularly to kicks. Both his UFC wins have come by decision, but they have been close because of the number of shots he will absorb.
Jonathan Martinez’s (10, 1-1 UFC) Octagon debut against Andre Soukhamthath went south in a decision, but he made it up over Wuliji Buren. He really impressed me in that fight, using his counter-wrestling and growing jiu-jitsu ability masterfully against the superior wrestler. His striking is very unorthodox, throwing kicks and knees to set up his punches. His scrambling ability really stands out to me, being able to reverse a position when it seems nearly impossible.
Martinez came in a huge underdog to the wrestler in Buren, but showed how his defense can quickly become his offense in his position reversal and striking caliber. It mounts an interesting matchup to Pingyuan, who uses a similar gameplan to his countryman Buren, with his wrestling and suspect striking defense. I see Pingyuan as a much weaker wrestler than Buren and he should easily be able to switch position and wind up with his own ground advantage. On top of that, his striking is the exact blueprint to expose the middling defense that Pingyuan Liu offers, and he should find a victory if he can avoid the ground game of the Chinese fighter off of his back.
Take the Shot:Jonathan Martinez via Unanimous Decision
Livia Renata Souza vs. Brianna van Buren (SW)
Livinha Souza is cursed to never have an opponent. A matchup with Calvillo fell flat on several occasions, but she will make another appearance after her win over Sarah Frota in February. Souza was the dominant Invicta champion, before losing to Angela Hill in a split five-round decision. She earned her belt back then moved over to the UFC, where she has scored two wins, one in submission and another split decision war to Sarah Frota. “The Brazilian Gangster” comes from a jiu-jitsu background, but has vicious boxing and great cardio to make her a real threat to the Strawweight division.
We have yet another AKA fighter in Brianna Van Buren (8-2), making her UFC debut in this match. “The Bull” is a wrestler (surprise) who won the Phoenix Rising tournament at Invicta to become the Strawweight queen. Although she started off the ground and also has nice jiu-jitsu, her striking is getting incredible. She uses pressure superbly and is a master at controlling where the fight goes.
Brianna Van Buren has looked incredible, but what will soon become an issue for her is her 4’11 size. She is giving up 6 inches in height, but luckily has only a once-inch disadvantage in reach. Souza is most certainly not the first jiu-jitsu beast Van Buren has fought, and every time her wrestling has negated that threat. On top of that, her pressure in striking should seriously affect Souza with her fight IQ issues she has had in the past.
Take the Shot: Brianna Van Buren via Unanimous Decision
Benito Lopez vs. Vince Morales (BW)
Benito Lopez (9-1, 1-1 UFC) received his first loss in submission to Manny Bermudez in February. Lopez fights mostly as a striker, riding a five-fight finishing streak before beating Steven Peterson in an absolute war on the Contender Series. The Alpha Male fighter has impressive boxing and can dish out a heavy shot for 135 pounds, using his switch-stance style and ruthless knees and elbows up on the cage.
Stepping in for Martin Day on late replacement is Vince Morales (9-3, 1-1 UFC), who emerged victorious over Aiemann Zahabi just last month. Morales comes in as a wrestler, but I actually think his striking is better. His speed and movement mesh together well. Although his Contender Series bout did not go well, Vandetta’s warring style earned him a spot as a late replacement against Yadong Song that ended up as a loss.
Morales’ background as a wrestler has not transitioned to MMA well. He is vulnerable to submissions and is lost on the mat when not in top control. Still, that would be used well against the striker in Lopez. “The Golden Boy” does train at Alpha Male, though, and the wrestling learned there could very well establish itself into a top position in the fight. On the feet, Lopez has an advantage in technical striking. Although Morales can have a war for the ages, the volume and damage of Lopez will hurt the lesser fighter.
Take the Shot: Benito Lopez via Unanimous Decision
Our entire card will be coming to us on ESPN+. We will be back tomorrow with the main card predictions, same time as always!