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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Fortaleza: Belfort vs. Gastelum – Main card preview

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community news, Diggin’ Deep on UFC Fortaleza: Belfort vs. Gastelum   Main card preview

Get an in-depth look at the action on this weekend’s main card of this weekends UFC action, featuring a pivotal lightweight contest between Edson Barboza and Beneil Dariush.

Typically, when the UFC runs a six-fight main card on a Fight Night card, there are usually two contests that don’t deserve their placement on the card. Hell, it happens with PPV cards every now and then too. Remember Cynthia Calvillo and Amanda Cooper making its way to the main card of UFC 209 last week? This week, there isn’t a contest that feels out of place. I’ll admit that Bethe Correia and Marion Reneau isn’t exactly a top flight women’s bantamweight contest, but Correia’s ability to get people to care about her fights – plus Reneau’s success as she nears the age of 40 – give it enough intrigue to justify it’s place on the card. Overall, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about this card and very little has to do with the main or co-main event.

The main card begins on FS1 at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Edson Barboza (18-4) vs. Beneil Dariush (14-2), Lightweight

Easily the fight I’m most excited about on this card, Barboza and Dariush are battling it out to position themselves for a chance at… I don’t know what. We don’t know if Conor McGregor will ever defend this belt – let alone any belt – and Khabib Nurmagomedov’s weight cutting situation complicated matters further. Regardless of what they’re fighting for, this should be a good one.

Few specialize more in the striking department more than Barboza. His kicks may be the single most devastating weapon in the lightweight division. We’ve all seen the highlight of his spinning wheel kick on Terry Etim a thousand times to perfectly illustrate that point, though I’m willing to watch it a thousand more. He has also ended three contests – two in the UFC — due to a barrage of leg kicks that left his opponents unable to stand. Early in his UFC career, Barboza relied on those kicks as his primary weapon. Now they serve as a dangerous compliment to his boxing which has been honed under Mark Henry in recent years. He counters effectively while working behind a potent jab and has learned to stand his ground and throwdown when opponents try to pressure him at the right time, something he struggled with earlier in his career.

Dariush has also developed a very sound boxing game in recent years, though his wheelhouse comes from the BJJ world. A no-gi world champion, Dariush has few peers in terms of pure grappling. He was submitted last year by Michael Chiesa with a RNC, though a lot of that can be attributed to overconfidence by Dariush. Don’t expect the Iranian-born fighter to make that same mistake any time soon. When focused, Dariush is very technical with his guard passes who is at his best searching for chokes. His wrestling has come along relatively well too as he utilizes good timing to make up for his lack of explosion.

The question is whether or not he’ll be able to get Barboza down. Once upon a time, Barboza’s takedown defense was a major question mark. Not so much now. He has only been taken down once since 2014 despite having faced the likes of Gilbert Melendez, Tony Ferguson, Michael Johnson, Bobby Green, and Evan Dunham, all plus wrestlers. He’s even begun mixing in his own occasional takedowns, giving his opponents something else to think about.

Dariush’s standup is going to be the key as there is no guarantee that he’ll be able to get the fight to the ground. Though Barboza has responded better to pressure in recent contests, that is still the best option for Dariush to utilize successfully. Having been learning under Rafael Cordeiro, Dariush has the proper tools with a steady jab and a variety of kicks to implement it successfully. Though his clinch isn’t often thought of as a strength, Dariush is very dangerous from there too.

I’m sure most are writing off Dariush as Barboza is in the prime of his career with wins over former champions in Melendez and Pettis now on his resume. It would be foolish to do so as Dariush’s grappling far outstrips what Barboza has to offer. However, Dariush also has enough holes in his striking defense that I think Barboza will be able to land a hard shot to put the Iranian transplant to sleep. Either way, I expect this to be a hell of a contest. Barboza via TKO of RD2

Jussier Formiga (19-4) vs. Ray Borg (10-2), Flyweight

Excellent job by UFC matchmakers with this contest as Borg appeared to have a breakout performance against Louis Smolka to close out 2016. Is he on his way to a title shot? We may be able to get our answer if he can overcome longtime flyweight mainstay Formiga.

Easily the most accomplished flyweight that Demetrious Johnson has yet to dispose of, Formiga has seemingly been near the top of the division forever. It was all the way back in 2011 when Ian McCall beat him to claim the title as the world’s top flyweight. Despite it being six years ago, Formiga is still only 31-years old and has improved since that time. Though his striking and wrestling skills will never catch up to his world-class BJJ, they have become more than respectable enough that he has recent clear cut wins over Dustin Ortiz and Wilson Reis to go along with a split decision loss to recent title challenger Henry Cejudo.

Borg presents a far different kind of challenge than any of those other names present. Small for flyweight – despite him missing weight for the Smolka contest – Borg is the only one who poses as a legitimate challenge to Demetrious Johnson’s title of quickest fighter in the world. Few are better in transitions than Borg as it is almost impossible to beat him to a spot or avoid him getting to a dominant position. That isn’t to say Borg doesn’t have flaws. His strikes merely serve to cover distance on his takedown entries and he has been overpowered in the past by more powerful opponents.

Nobody will confuse Formiga for a powerhouse, but he is bigger than Borg and technically proficient enough to stuff most of Borg’s takedown attempts. He has also developed good timing on his counter punches and it will surprise no one if he is able to catch Borg with a hard right upon his entries. Despite the lack of respect given to his standup, Formiga can stun an opponent with his fists. Like Borg, Formiga exercises great top control. The difference is that Formiga relies more on technique and positioning whereas Borg simply beats his opponent to where they look to go.

Yes, I admit I’ve slanted this preview in favor of Formiga. I do expect him to win after all. That doesn’t mean I’m not giving Borg a fair shake. He can easily win if his speed is too much for Formiga to overcome, a viable possibility. However, Borg hasn’t been able to beat an opponent with a decent wrestling game yet and Formiga’s is very good. Should be a fun contest… if you enjoy grappling. Formiga via decision

Bethe Correia (10-2) vs. Marion Reneau (7-3), Women’s Bantamweight

Who would have thought there would be the slightest chance that Correia would ever be able to climb back up into contention after being dismantled by Ronda Rousey 19 months ago? Given the lack of depth at bantamweight – potentially depleted further depending on who jumps to featherweight – she could be right back into the mix with a win here.

Reneau shouldn’t be ignored either as she does own a victory over strawweight title challenger Jessica Andrade. It’s just that it is kind of hard to see her advancing further than she already has given that she turns 40-years old later this year. Regardless, she does have a few advantages on the more renowned Correia that could lead to her upsetting the Brazilian in her home country. Reneau is a better athlete. She has a four-inch reach advantage. And she has the superior ground game. Add those things up and more often than not you’ll emerge the victor.

Despite all of those disadvantages, Correia is the favorite with sound reasoning. True, she hasn’t shown a very deep ground game nor much of an inclination to take the fight there with one takedown over her six UFC contests. What she has is terrific takedown defense and a very technical boxing game that is still improving. It’s easy to forget that Correia’s pro career began less than five years ago as she rose to prominence so quickly. She operates at a fast pace, replete with slick combinations, well-timed counters, and complimentary leg kicks. She doesn’t have a lot of power, though her pace is enough to wear out her opponents for a late stoppage.

Reneau has improved her striking skills, mostly operating behind a jab with the occasional front and round kick. Despite the advancement in her standup, she can’t compete with the volume or technique of Correia and will likely try to get the fight to the ground. Given Correia’s takedown defense and Reneau’s own shallow takedown skills, it will be tough for her. Reneau is strong in the clinch, using head positioning and underhooks to control and wear her opponents down. That would be her best chance to get the smaller frame of Correia to the ground where Reneau’s superior submission skills and economical ground strikes could come into play.

While Correia is at the physical disadvantage, I can’t recall a contest in the UFC where she has had the advantage. Well… maybe the Shayna Baszler fight as Baszler was at the end of her rope. The point is, Correia is used to outworking and outsmarting her opponents to pick up the win. Reneau is a tough challenge, presenting a blend of brains and brawn that Correia has yet to overcome. I still think the Brazilian will be able to pull it out, but just barely. Correia via decision

Alex Oliveira (16-4-1, 2 NC) vs. Tim Means (26-7-1, 1 NC), Welterweight

Following a controversial ending to their contest at the end of the previous year, Oliveira and Means rematch in Brazil to settle the score once and for all. If it goes down the way of the first bout before the ending, we’re in for a treat.

Oliveira deserved a victory by the letter of the law as he was clearly a downed opponent when Means nailed him with a pair of knees to the head. Nonetheless, it was declared a no contest and a no contest it will be. At least it has taken the focus off of his botched weight cut against Will Brooks…. Regardless, Oliveira has made welterweight his permanent home, so he shouldn’t have any more issues with his weight cut. The physically gifted Brazilian usually has a reach advantage and this contest will be no exception, though he’ll only have an inch on Means. Oliveira prefers to stay on the outside and pick apart his opponents with a jab and rangy kicks. He attempted to do so early in the first contest, but was unable to do so due to Means’ pressure. Instead, he resorted to fighting in close quarters where Means is at his best.

It isn’t that Oliveira is poor in the clinch. He’s very good from there as he uses his natural strength to bully his opponent a wrack them with knees to head and body. It’s that he isn’t nearly as technical as Means and it showed. After years in the fight game, Means has become one of the best at forcing his opponents against the cage and delivering punishment. His elbows aren’t quite at the level of Matt Brown, but they are just a step below and still capable of ending the fight. He also pushes a fast pace, forcing his opposition to expend a large amount of energy. Oliveira likes a more measured approach, so the pace will be an excellent early indicator of which way the fight is going.

Oliveira did have some success in dragging Means to the ground, but was unable to keep him there. That stays true with the traditional narrative of Means as he either makes his opponents pay a severe price for trying to get him down or pops right back up if their efforts prove successful. Oliveira’s success in getting opponents to the ground was either against lightweights or unproven talents. He hasn’t shown great takedown defense either. It isn’t that Means is a takedown artist, but he does hit the occasional reactionary takedown and has shown submission ability too.

I picked Oliveira heading into their first contest, but I’ve got to reverse course this time. The fight was going at a pace more suitable to Means with Oliveira struggling to implement his offense in any one area. He did have some success – his spinning back-kick to the gut of Means comes to mind – though not enough to convince me he can make the necessary adjustments against Means. Regardless of how it plays out, I expect it to be a good one. Means via decision


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