The UFC makes a momentous debut this Saturday, as they venture into the South American nation of Chile for the first time, which is also their first show on the continent outside of Brazil.
It marks the latest push for the promotion into the Latinx market and a successful show will go a long way towards those efforts. It also marks their first show on FS1 in four weeks, which honestly, kinda feels like forever.
The main event will feature two welterweights in desperate need of a win pitting former title challenger Damien Maia, who is stepping in on a little more than three weeks notice against the powerful Kamuru Usman, thought by many to be the most feared man in the welterweight division. This also features a pivotal battle between strawweight prospects, a homecoming for a promising male bantamweight, and the debut of a female flyweight who many see as a serious future title threat.
Let’s get it.
1) Vincente Luque (12-6-1, 5-2 UFC) vs. Chad Laprise (13-2, 6-2 UFC) (170 lbs)
The main card kicks off with this banger of a battle between two of the most overlooked fighters in the stacked welterweight division.
The Brazilian American, Luque, has won five of six fights since dropping his UFC debut, with all of his UFC wins coming by stoppage. An excellent kickboxer who also has a penchant for unique chokes, Luque has finished three fights by either D’Arce or Anaconda Choke, after he’s usually after he’s hurt his man on the feet. His only loss in the last three years was a close one last March, when he was outgrappled by the excellent Leon Edwards, but he bounced back with submission victory over the otherwise undefeated Niko Price. Luque will be the favorite here.
But Laprise is far from a pushover, as the TUF Nations winner has bounced back from two tough losses to Francisco Trinaldo and Ross Pearson to win three in a row, all by the stoppage, the last being a come from behind stoppage against the very dangerous Galore Bofando. Laprise was able to get the wilder fighter to the ground and pound him out, and Laprise will need a similar approach here with Luque. He needs to close the space and try to wear out Luque the way that Edwards did. If he lets Luque get into a rhythm with his striking, he’s gonna have problems.
Laprise does have his own unique way of moving so Luque will have to neutralize that early with leg kicks. If he can get his rhythm going, the Canadian might be in trouble. While both are red-hot at the moment, the biggest difference is that Luque has fought much better opposition. That should serve him well come Saturday night.
2) Andrea Lee (8-2, UFC Debut) vs Veronica Macedo (5-1-1, 0-1 UFC) (Women’s 125 lbs)
When the UFC announced the formation of the women’s flyweight division last year, there was a contingent of the cult of Women’s MMA fans that thought of one fighter first — Andrea “KGB” Lee.
The first ever LFA Flyweight Champion, who has also fought extensively in Invicta, Lee comes into the UFC with a reputation as one of the best flyweights in the world. A former kickboxer and Louisiana state Golden Gloves Boxing Champion, Lee has been sharpening her grappling over the last few years and is riding a four-fight winning streak. With her skills, looks, and personality, there are a lot of people who see big star potential with Lee.
She won’t have an easy debut with Macedo, a Judo black belt whose making UFC flyweight debut. Macedo’s UFC debut, which took place nearly two years ago in Germany, saw her face a much bigger Ashlee Evans-Smith on short notice at 135 pounds. She fought well in the first round, but the American’s size and strength were too much for her and she got stopped in the third round. She will be much better suited for the 125-pound weight division.
That being said, she will be giving a lot of height and reach to taller and longer Lee. It’s good matchup as Lee will be looking keep Macedo at bar with her hard kicks and combinations and look for a submission late in the fight. The Venezuelan Macedo will have the home continent advantage and there is a ton of pressure on Lee, but she will certainly behind the eight ball Saturday night.
3) Diego Rivas (7-1, 2-1 UFC) vs Guido Cannetti (7-3, 1-2 UFC) (135 lbs)
Currently the only UFC fighter from Chile, there will be a lot of pressure this night on Diego Rivas, a legitimate bantamweight prospect, who is coming off of a close decision loss to the very tricky Jose Quinonez — one of the trickiest fighters you could ever see.
Before then, Rivas had burst into the public consciousness with an incredible flying knee knockout of Noad Lahat, one of the very best knockouts of 2017. Rivas is an excellent striker who while he has good submission defense, has shown himself vulnerable to takedowns. But all of the strategy may get thrown out the window for his return to his home country, especially considering his opponent.
Across the cage will be Guido Cannetti, another guy who is coming off a tough loss. He was dominating Kyung Ho Kang this January but before being caught a triangle and submitted at the end of the first round. But what makes this fight really interesting is that Cannetti is from neighboring Argentina, which should make the crowd in Santiago even more amped for this fight.
The crowd could really play a factor here. Both of these guys like to strike and this is a fight where all fifteen minutes could conceivably be fought on the feet. But if one can stay in control and maybe force the fight to the ground, that may be the fighter who gets the advantage here. It is a little hard to see Rivas going down in his home country however…
4) Dominic Reyes (8-0, 2-0 UFC) vs Jared Cannonier (10-3, 3-3 UFC) (205 lbs)
The light heavyweight division, once the glamour division of the UFC, is starting to slowly rebuild itself, and two of those young prospects clash here as Reyes, out of San Diego, steps up the competition against Cannonier, a former heavyweight who has shown flashes of brilliance.
Reyes smashed his way through Jacob Christensen and Jeremy Kimball in a round a piece last year, but this is his first start of 2018. He has the look of someone who might able to do something, with his height (6’4), his athletic background, and his finishing ability. But so far, he has been matched low key soft.
Cannonier, out of Alaska, was 1-1 as heavyweight before dropping to 205, where he proceeded to get his most impressive win over Ion Cutelaba (the Hulk Guy). But he has gone 1-2 since, including coming up very short against Glover Teixeira at UFC 211. As strong and athletic as this guy is, he is wildly inconsistent. His counterpunching style might do well against the aggressive Reyes, but he desperately has to keep a better pace and he can’t accept bad positions, as he did against Teixeira, and in his last loss against Jan Blachowicz.
Reyes just might be the real deal. We are counting on Cannonier to show us what he has.
5) Tatiana Suarez (5-0, 2-0 UFC) vs Alexa Grasso (10-0, 2-1 UFC) (115 lbs)
The narrow channel between prospect and legitimate contender is the home of these two up and coming young women in this deeply interesting co-feature bout.
Since she came to the UFC from Invicta in 2016, Mexico’s Grasso has been hyped as a possible future UFC Champion. The truth of the matter as that attention should be on Suarez, the TUF 23 Strawweight Champion, who may be the ‘Best Kept Secret’ in all of women’s MMA.
Grasso, the ninth ranked strawweight, went undefeated in Invicta and tore through everyone, and then ripped apart Heather Jo Clark in her UFC debut. But in her last two fights, she looked almost uninterested. She laid back too much and let Felice Herrig steal a victory from her in January 2017 and then she almost got herself out hustled against Randa Markos last July in Mexico City. You almost have to wonder if she wants to be a star as much as the UFC wants to make her one.
Meanwhile, Suarez’s career has been held back by injuries. After she ran through TUF and beat the crap out of Amanda Cooper in the final, she was out for a year with a severe biceps injury. She came back in fine style last November, dominating the previously undefeated Viviane Peralta.
Most of Suarez’s dominance comes from her ground game, as she was twice a bronze medalist at the world championships in wrestling and probably would have been on the 2012 Olympic team if not for a cancer diagnosis. Yep, cancer. So not only has Suarez gone through the kinds of challenges that most fighters haven’t, she is also probably the best wrestler in all of women’s MMA. Can you tell I’m high on her?
This fight comes down to one thing — does Grasso really want this? Does she have the grit inside of her that its going to take to fight off Suarez’s takedowns for three rounds. Can time something and catch Suarez coming in? Those are big ifs. It’s a “Mom’s Spaghetti” moment for sure.
6) Demian Maia (25-8, 19-8 UFC) vs Kamaru Usman (11-1, 7-0 UFC) (170 lbs – 5 Rounds)
Interesting, but not thrilling. Those are the words that come to mind when I think of this main event-an interesting clash between two ground specialists heading in opposite directions.
You have to start with Usman, a killer of a man who is in some ways a throwback to the origins of the UFC-a big, tough, athletic power wrestler who hasn’t really been touched in the UFC. A former D2 National Champion, he wants to take you down, beat the crap out of you, and look good doing it. He was supposed to face the dangerous Argentinian striker Santiago Ponzinibbio, but he dropped out of the fight several weeks ago. Enter Maia. Enter Death by Jiu-Jitsu.
Demian Maia will go down as one of the best fighters in the UFC to never hold a world title. He fought for both the 185 lbs and 170 lbs pound titles and lost lackluster five round decisions both times. But against just about everyone else, he has been dominant.
The three-year, seven fight unbeaten run that saw him choke out Neil Magny, Matt Brown, and Carlos Condit was one of the most dominant streaks ever at 170. But he couldn’t make good in his challenge of UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley (although in his defense, he had only a three-month turnaround for that). Then he gassed out against some guy whose name I refused to write. Maia may be a little past his best…
The thing about that last dude is that he fights very similar to Usman, but Usman is probably a better wrestler and definitely a better striker. Logic tells you that Usman should be able to stop Maia’s weird ass takedowns and stay on his feet, and outkickbox Maia enough to win the fight. But if Maia can get this anywhere near the ground, even at this point in his career, Usman is trouble. “The Nigerian Nightmare” is going to have to prove his fight IQ here and it may be the best possible fight for his future. But he better protect his neck…