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UFC Utica ‘Rivera vs. Moraes’ main card preview

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The recent months have seen a lot of UFC fans begin to pick up what has been true for a long time — often times it is the most nondescript looking cards that produce the craziest action. So as the Octagon heads to Utica, New York — of all places — for the first time for a rare Friday night offering, fight fans should pay attention to what is going on the cage, because it while it may not look like a barn burner on paper-we have the ingredients from some crazy shit that might just burn Utica to the ground.

1) Sam Alvey (32-10, 9-5 UFC) vs Gian Villante (16-9, 6-6 UFC) — 3 Rounds — Light Heavyweights

Well, what the hell do you say about this matchup, between Alvey, who I am convinced is either a genius or the craziest son of a bitch alive and Villante, one of the most frustrating fighters in the entire UFC?

Alvey says a lot of weird things, has a smokin’ hot wife who always seems to be with him, and seems to have more kids than Heath Slater and more fights than Russell Crowe. But the guy also wins a lot, including six of his last eight, and has beaten the likes of Daniel Kelley, Cezar Ferreira, Nate Marquardt, and Rashad Evans. That’s a pretty enviable resume.

Meanwhile, Villante is one of the most athletic guys in this division, a former college football star with huge power in both hands. He has had some excellent wins, including knocking out Corey Anderson with one shot, and has left a few big ones on the table, none bigger than when he was ahead in a fight against Shogun Rua and stood in front of him and let the Brazilian legend knock him out. You get the sense that Villante should be a serious threat in this division, but he’s his own worst enemy most of the time.

On paper, Alvey’s counterpunching style seems will suited to handle the gaps that Villante has in his defense, as he tends to throw a combination and just stay there to be hit. But while Alvey starched newcomer Marcin Prachnio with a single right hook in his first fight at 205 in year in February, Villante is a big dude with his heavy hands and Alvey might not be able to take his punch. Plus, Villante does seem to fight better closer to home, and Utica should qualify. No matter what happens here, this one should be something of a spectacle.

2) Julio Arce (14-2, 2-0 UFC) vs Daniel Teymur (6-1, 0-1 UFC) — 3 Rounds — Featherweights

If you’re looking for a sleeper for Fight of the Night, look no further than this battle between featherweights as Queens’ Arce, out of Team Tiger Shulman, who has a big night this night, facing one of the Syriac-Swedish kickboxing brothers, Daniel, not to be confused with his brother David, who will be fighting on the undercard, who notably beat Lando Vanatta in the co-main event of UFC 209.

Arce came to the UFC through last summer’s excellent Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, as one of the most experienced fighters on the show that season. He had only lost twice in fourteen fights, to current UFC bantamweight Brian Kelleher, and that night he handled an explosive striker named Peter Petties, stopping him in the second round. Then he made his official UFC debut, out striking another DWTNCS product, Dan Ige, over three highly competitive rounds. Meanwhile, Teymur made his UFC debut last July in Scotland, a decorated kickboxer who actually has pretty good ground skills. He lost a close decision to hometown fighter Danny Henry, but walked a with 50G Fight of the Night bonus that night.

Both these men are excellent strikers, with Arce being more boxing heavy while Teymur is a world-class kickboxer. If those two men stand and bang, we are going to have some fun stuff. But if one person chooses to grapple and take it to the ground, they might have the advantage. IF one chooses to do that, it might be Teymur, who is coming down for lightweight and has three wins by submission. But let’s just hope they stand, and swing away…

3) Jake Ellenberger (31-13, 11-8 UFC) vs Ben Saunders (21-9-2, 9-6 UFC) — 3 Rounds — Welterweights

Two welterweights who badly need a win clash here as Ellenberger ends a year-long layoff against Saunders, who is coming in on short notice, replacing Bryan Barberena. Frankly, that makes it a much better fight and a much more even fight.

Ellenberger was once of the best welterweights in the world, but somewhere along the way he started to freeze up in his biggest fights, most notably against Robbie Lawler and Kelvin Gastelum. He is 2-7 in his last nine fights, the last one being a brutal one-elbow knockout to Mike Perry last April. Meanwhile, Saunders returned to the UFC in 2014 and was on a pretty nice run, winning five out of six, but then he was knocked out by Peter Sobotta last May, then again, a brutal fight against Alan Joubin last February. It is about survival for both of these guys.

Normally, this might be a simple fight to pick-bigger, strong, faster in the favor of Saunders. But Killa B got done real dirty by Jouban. He was kayoed with a big punch, but he was getting hurt badly with strikes before the final blow. In all honesty, he should not be fighting this soon. And then you have Ellenberger, who has taken a year off, a break that is most likely long overdue. He should be fresher, faster, and more ready than he has been in years, and it might be just what he needs to beat Saunders.

4) Walt Harris (10-7, 3-6 UFC) vs Daniel Spitz (6-1, 1-1 UFC) — 3 Rounds — Heavyweights

There’s gonna be a lot of height in that cage when this battle of former college athletes kicks off as surprising veteran and former basketballs star Harris faces Spitz, a former college offensive lineman who’s just finishing his first cup of coffee in the Octagon.

After a rough start in the UFC, the 6’5 Harris was starting to put things together, winning three of four before taking a no risk fight against Fabricio Werdum on about twelve hours’ notice last October. He got submitted in less than a minute, but he locked worlds better (getting the rub, as Daniel Cormier would say) against Mark Godbeer, before taking a dodgy disqualification loss in a fight that he was dominating. Entering his tenth UFC fight, Harris looks to finally reach his potential. Meanwhile, we still don’t know what we have in the 6’7 Spitz, who gassed out in his UFC debut against Godbeer last March and then caught Anthony Hamilton with a right to temple and finished him in twenty-four seconds.

At his core, however, Spitz is a tall dude with pretty good hands. But Harris has finally developed a full MMA game and is more versatile on both the feet and the ground. He will be forced to use his head movement to get inside the taller guy, but in actuality, Spitz is probably just what “The Big Ticket” ordered.

5) Gregor Gillespie (11-0, 4-0 UFC) vs Vinc Pichel (11-1, 4-1 UFC) — 3 Rounds — Lightweights

The UFC’s lightweight division is so full that it seems like there are ten guys that you could look at and say, “why is no one talking about this guy!” Of all those dudes, none may be more dangerous than Gregor Gillespie, a four-time NCAA All American in wrestling and 2007 National Champion who comes from Long Island and slowly climbing his way up the ladder.

Gillespie has been matched very well in the UFC. He had one of the best fights of 2017 that no one talked about, a war with the 6’2 Jason Gonzales that saw him survive some hellacious strikes before submitting Gonzales in the second round. He followed that up with a dominant performance over Jordan Rinaldi this February in Charlotte, smashing the hometown boy in less than a round. Also on that Charlotte card, was Pichel the former TUF semifinalist who took a two-and-a-half-year break before returning to stop Damien Brown in New Zealand last July before he outdueled Joachim Silva in Charlotte. Now he gets the big fight he called for.

It’s an interesting matchup mostly because you’re not quite sure when Pichel is going to bring after his layoff. He has looked really good in his last two fights, but he is taking a huge step up in class and despite being such a strong wrestler, Gillespie has also taken the time to sharpen the other parts of his game. Other than him getting caught early, its hard to imagine Gillespie losing.

6) Jimmie Rivera (21-1, 5-0 UFC) vs Marlon Moraes (20-5-1, 2-1 UFC) — 5 Rounds —Bantamweights

A battle that has been brewing for a long time finally comes to ahead between two bantamweights who may be one win away from title contention. There was talk of the fifth ranked Moraes stepping in to face the fourth ranked Rivera when Dominick Cruz fell out of their scheduled fight at UFC 219. But he had just scored a first round knockout over Aljamin Sterling and couldn’t make the weight. There was talk of even doing it at featherweight, but for whatever reason, Moraes decided not to take the fight, and Rivera, normally a very respectful dude, has been pissed off ever since.

So now we get this battle between two men who was as decorated as any before coming into the UFC. Rivera was the 135-pound champion in King of the Cage, Ring of Combat, and Cage Fury, and has won all five fights in the UFC, including huge wins over Urijah Faber and Thomas Almedia, while building a ridiculous twenty fight winning streak. Meanwhile, Moraes was the WSOF bantamweight champion, successfully defending the title five times, amassing a twelve-fight winning streak of his own. He lost a close decision to Rafael Assuncao (who just can’t get any fucking respect in this division, what the hell), but bounced back with wins over John Dodson and Sterling. This is as elite of a non-title fight as you will get in the lower weight classes.

It’s also a tough one to call. No one has been able to figure out Rivera’s style, as he stays light on his feet and moves very well, timing big strikes and takedowns very well. But Moraes has shown some skill at cutting off and nailing movers and has shown an ability to slow things down. Also coming into factor is that Moraes has a superior ground game as a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and you have to wonder if Rivera will look to take him down. Then there’s the five rounds, Rivera has done it before, but Moraes has done it more and more lately.

That being said, Rivera has twenty freaking fights in a row. Yes, Moraes seems to come out better on paper but he’s facing a guy who functions and believes like an undefeated fighter. It’s one of those you just can’t call.

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