While the majority of the MMA world will be waiting tonight for the two excellent main events, featuring TJ Dillashaw defending his bantamweight title against former champion Cody Garbrandt and longtime flyweight title holder Demetrious Johnson facing Olympic Gold Medalist Henry Cejudo in two highly anticipated rematches, there are plenty of other excellent matchups on this card. In an interesting setup, all but one of the fights tonight will contested at 145 pounds and lower, making this feel a little bit like a throwback to the WEC. Might as well bust out the sweet blue cage!
Rather than recap the whole thing, looks like at five matchups that should command your attention throughout the night with one on Fight Pass, several on FS1, and one on PPV. Let’s do this.
Alex Perez (20-4, 2-0 UFC) versus Jose “Shorty” Torres (8-0, 1-0 UFC)
Often MMA fans lament when fights or rematches take place too late. Think half the fights in Bellator. But here we get the rare opposite, a matchup that may be taking place way too early in two fighters’ careers, as we may have the best two prospects in the flyweight division right now facing off in the Fight Pass Prelims Feature bout, and I would suggest not ignoring that notification when you see it on your phone.
Perez came into the UFC last year through the Contender Series, sporting a ridiculous twenty-two fights on his record coming in. After running through Kevin Gray that night and choking him out with an Anaconda Choke, he debuted on short notice a weight class up, using the same move to beat Filipino Carlos John De Tomas last December, then beat the very athletic Eric Shelton two months later in Orlando. This is about as experienced of a fighter you will see at this level of the UFC, with strong grappling and a lot of unique chokes in his arsenal. He’s a problem.
But for his third UFC fight he faces one of the most decorated prospects in the sport in Shorty Torres, who comes in on short notice just a few months after a crazy UFC debut. A former amateur MMA champion and black belt in judo, Torres won the Titan FC bantamweight and flyweight titles at the same time, and was actually defending them, relying mostly on his excellent hands. He got a short notice call to fight talented wrestler Jarrod Brooks in May in Utica, New York, and when Brooks tried a huge takedown, Torres hung on and Brooks knocked himself out, in a move that can only be called a Canadian Destroyer (Google It). Now, Torres comes in short notice a second time, against another guy who a lot of people are watching in the division.
What makes this fight even more interesting as that both of these dudes like to come forward. Torres likes to come forward, get in your face, and let go with his combinations. Perez likes to come forward, put his hands on you enough to take you down, beat you up, and choke you out. This could be really exciting. Perez’ hands have set up everything he’s done on the ground in his UFC fights, but can he trade hands with Torres? And can Torres handle another wrestler? And more than anything, will he bust out that Canadian Destroyer again? I can’t wait!
Matt Sayles (7-1) versus Sheymon Moraes (9-2, 0-1 UFC)
A very interesting UFC debut kicks off the action on FS1 as the first of this seasons Contender Series contract winners, Sayles, makes his UFC debut. Sayles is an excellent striker out of Alliance MMA, who jumped onto the hardcore fan’s radar on the San Diego episode of Dana White: Looking For A Fight, where he should excellent savvy in proving Dana White wrong, knocking out top prospect Christian Aguilera with a right hand in the first round of a CFFC show. His Contender Series encore was a demolition of kickboxer Yazan Hajeh, also in the first round. This is a very smart dude who can punch and has been one of Dominick Cruz’ main training partners for years. He’s definitely someone to watch.
Moraes meanwhile a WSOF veteran who once challenged Marlon Moraes for the title in the organization, only to be choked out in the third round. Moraes is an excellent Muay Thai fighter who has trained with the Nogueira brothers for years, but he had the terrible misfortune of having to make his UFC debut last November against Zabit Magomedshapriov, the best prospect in the entire sport.
Given that Sayles isn’t the wrestler Zabit is, I would expect Moraes to try and start fast and impose his Muay Thai style on Sayles. As both men like to strike, I don’t have any problem with that. The key to this fight is how Sayles handles the UFC jitters and if he can get into his striking flow and land his hard counters. He will have to be on look-out for Moraes excellent switch kick, but I think he gets into the flow and let’s his hands go. Then we see what exactly Moraes has in him…
Ricardo Ramos (11-1, 2-0 UFC) versus Kang Kwung Ho (14-7, 3-1 UFC)
This is a very interesting bout between two guys who aren’t getting enough attention in what has become an increasingly stacked bantamweight division. Ramos, another ‘Looking for A Fight’ prospect, came into the UFC with a reputation as a submission specialist, but his striking has vastly improved since coming into the UFC. This was evident in his last fight at UFC 217, when he knocked out undefeated prospect Aiemann Zahabi with a ridiculous spinning back elbow. Now he has moved from Brazil to train at Team Alpha Male, which means all of his game should be coming together.
Meanwhile Kang, who looks huge for this weight class, lost two years because of mandatory Korean military service, which happened to come after two straight wins in the UFC. He got back into the swing of things in January in a crazy bout against another TAM product, Guido Cannetti. The crazy battle saw Kang lock in a high triangle and survive a hellacious slam in order to get a first-round submission victory.
Both of these men are high level grapplers, with the majority of both of their wins coming by submission. But with Kang probably having a strength advantage and with Ramos probably thinking he’s a better striker, expect the Brazilian to try to keep this fight at range and use his strikes. Kang will be looking to close the distance and if he does, it will be very intriguing to see what happens. Both men have shown they can be slick off their backs. Either way, this is not one you should ignore.
Ricky Simon (13-1, 1-0 UFC) versus Montel Jackson (6-0)
What was probably going to be the most anticipated match on this undercard has been downgraded a little but is still a very intriguing battle between two vets of the Contender Series, which are all over this freaking card. We will start with Simon, who carries a six-fight winning streak into this fight but his biggest claim to fame is still when his teammate Chael Sonnen said he was “better than Conor McGregor.” He’s actually started to live up to his potential in the last year. When he didn’t win a contract on the Contender Series, he went to the LFA and beat UFC veteran Chico Camus for their bantamweight title, and then defended it fifty seconds.
He then got his call to the UFC to fight Merab Dvalishvili, a Georgian fighter out of the Serra Longo camp in New York. A tough, pretty close fight ended up being one of the most controversial endings in UFC history, when Merab’s very unique way of getting through a last second guillotine choke ended up with Simon getting a submission victory, even though Merab never tapped out or passed out. Shaking off the controversy, Simon called out another Contender Series alum Benito Lopez and that was the scheduled opponent, but Lopez pulled out several weeks ago. Enter Montel ‘Quick’ Jackson.
Jackson, out of Milwaukee turned pro last year and quickly rattled off five straight wins. He proved himself to be an excellent prospect when he dominated and took out a very experienced fighter named John DiSciullo, stopping him with a plethora of strikes in the third round. Especially on short notice, Jackson will provide a very unique challenge to Simon, given that he will come into the fight with a significant height and reach advantage as he is 5’10 to Simon’s 5’6.
The good thing for Simon is that Jackson’s explosive style has similarities of that of Lopez. Simon will need to impose his wrestling and grappling game against Jackson, but he has to be smart about. Jackson’s takedown defense and speed are dangerous enough that he can make Simon pay for an errant shot. Simon will need to set things up, smartly use the clinch, and take his time. Because it wouldn’t be that far of a reach for Jackson to catch Simon with something and walk away with a hell of a UFC debut. It could happen.
Polyana Viana (9-1, 1-0 UFC) versus JJ Aldrich (6-2, 2-1 UFC)
Female fighters were conspicuous with their absence on during UFC 226, so seeing a female on this fight card feels very welcome, and when it’s someone who only has one fight in the UFC, it especially stands out. Polyana Viana will be fighting in the United States for the first time and PPV for the first time, a strong vote of confidence for the former Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world champion who had a bang-up UFC debut in February, choking out the very tough Maia Stevenson. The high-profile spot shows the UFC sees something in her and with her backgrounds, looks, and experience-plus her ability to make weight, why the heck not.
She will get a tough test in Aldrich, a fighter from Colorado who thrives on a breakneck pace. JJ, who is a training partner of the champ herself, Thug Rose, loves to get close, use the clinch and pound her opponent with knees, elbows, and uppercuts. She has won two in the UFC but she herself is making a big step-up in class, especially when it comes into the grappling realm. She has to have made big improvements in her standup at distance coming into this fight if she wants to be competitive, as Viana will have no issue clinching with her.
With both of these young women (they are only twenty-six years old), it may come down to who handles the spotlight better. Staples Center on PPV is about as big as it gets and its interesting to see if that throws of the game plan. But for Aldrich, the imperative is on her to keep it standing because the moment this gets to the ground, expect it to be all Polyana, all the time. For the Brazilian, it’s not matter of winning, it’s about winning impressively, which of course be just the opening JJ needs…