Even though the UFC moved some contests around from the prelims to beef it up, the main card of UFC Rio Rancho still comes across as fairly underwhelming.
Some may see longtime stalwart Diego Sanchez in the co-main and think that is a worthwhile contest, but Sanchez isn’t what he used to be. The women’s flyweight contest between Montana De la Rosa and Mara Romero Borella could springboard one of them in a jumbled division, but it feels like that could be said of any contest in that division. Lando Vannata never came close to becoming the star some predicted he’d be. And given the personal situation of Ray Borg, it’s hard to know if he can ever find his way back to the level he was at a few years ago.
However, for the lack of import on these contests, I can’t deny they all look like they could be strong contenders for performance bonuses. A good way to put it: there aren’t any fights people are clamoring to see, but there are several that could induce people to check out some highlights should they miss them live.
The main card begins on ESPN+ at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Diego Sanchez (29-12) vs. Michel Pereira (23-10, 2 NC), Welterweight
Sanchez tested free agency when his UFC contract expired after his contest with Michael Chiesa, though few believed he’s end up leaving given his relationship with Uncle Dana. Regardless, no one will deny he’s near the end of the line. All the years of intense brawls with little regard for his own well-being have taken their toll and Sanchez can’t take damage the way he used to. As a result, Sanchez has been forced to return to his wrestling and grappling roots to avoid the punishment in the standup. Given the way he handled Craig White and Mickey Gall, perhaps he should have maintained that strategy throughout his career as he looked better than he has in years in dispatching them.
Pereira hasn’t shown much of a ground game himself, getting handled by a much smaller man in Tristen Connelly. His poor showing could be attributed to him depleting his gas tank in a hurry with nonsensical attacks and even a back flip. Yes, a back flip in the middle of an MMA fight. Pereira is a showman first, a competitor second, showing little regret after the contest for how things went down. To his credit, Pereira is an explosive striker who can turn the lights out with a single strike. Given his unpredictable nature, his ability to land the shot they don’t see coming is amongst the best in the business.
This is a two-true outcome contest. Either Sanchez gets blasted by Pereira or Sanchez controls the Brazilian on the mat for the entirety of the contest. Pereira isn’t going to submit Sanchez and Sanchez isn’t going to outstrike Pereira. Sanchez could score a GnP finish, but Pereira is tough. If Sanchez can survive the first round, he’s more than likely got this. He’s aware enough of his limitations he should be able to do that. Sanchez via decision
Montana De la Rosa (10-5) vs. Mara Romero Borella (12-6, 2 NC), Women’s Flyweight
Many people were on the De la Rosa train going into her contest with Andrea Lee. It wasn’t hard to see why. In three UFC fights, she had secured three submission victories with steady improvements in her standup shown in every contest. However, she showed she still isn’t up to par on the feet with Lee and wasn’t able to sink in a submission despite her very best efforts. She couldn’t compete on the feet either as those improvements in her boxing have only gone so far. However, there’s reason to believe she can still jump into the crowded fray to be the next to challenge Valentina Shevchenko: she’s still only 24.
Borella is a hard one to get a read on. Sure, there’s nothing to be ashamed of with losses to Katlyn Chookagian and Lauren Murphy. However, wins over Kalindra Faria and Taila Santos doesn’t reveal what we’d like to know about her either. She has teased an aggressive ground game of her own and has a nice burst on the feet, but hasn’t been able to put everything together on a consistent basis. When she’s on point, the Italian puts together good punching combinations supplemented with a heavy diet of low kicks.
My initial reaction is to pick Borella as she is the better striker with more experience against tougher competition. However, she didn’t respond well to the pressure from Murphy and De la Rosa is going to be up in her face the entire contest. Despite that, I still worry about De la Rosa finding a lot of success with her takedowns and whether she’ll be able to establish her jab. If she can’t Borella is sure to outstrike her and may do so even if De la Rosa is successful in that endeavor. It’s a tough one to figure, but I’m going with the young American. De la Rosa via decision
Rogerio Bontorin (16-1, 1 NC) vs. Ray Borg (12-4), Flyweight
At the present time, Borg is one of the hardest fighters in the sport to get a feel for. After being embarrassed by Demetrious Johnson for five rounds over two years ago, Borg dealt with numerous health issues with his newborn son, which thankfully appear to presently be under control. However, those issues made it difficult for the former title challenger to focus on fighting and he missed weight when he moved up to bantamweight, losing to a debuting Casey Kenney. Borg did get back to his wrestling roots by controlling Gabriel Silva over the summer, but will he be able to make weight as he returns to 125?
If Borg is motivated, he can return to being one of the top flyweights in the world. After all, he’s still only 26 despite being on the roster since 2014. His combination of speed and wrestling make him an exceptionally difficult test for anyone at flyweight. He can strike a little bit after coming into the organization a very one-dimensional competitor, but he won’t want to make it a standup battle with Bontorin.
Bontorin hasn’t been a KO artist by any means, but he does have a 4-inch reach advantage on Borg and did earn his last win by splitting open the face of Raulian Paiva. Despite an active approach on the feet, Bontorin’s grappling is what brought him to the dance, the RNC being his specialty. He scored a win over Magomed Bibulatov despite the Russian taking a wrestling-heavy approach, but that was a very close decision that many believed should have gone the other way. Can lightning strike again against Borg? It feels unlikely, though I wouldn’t discount it completely if Borg’s cut doesn’t go smoothly. Borg via decision
Lando Vannata (10-4-2) vs. Yancy Medeiros (15-6, 1 NC), Lightweight
It would be an understatement to say Vannata has come up short of expectations after an explosive UFC entrance, coming thisclose to upsetting Tony Ferguson, followed by one of the best wheel kick KO’s in the history of the business over John Makdessi. With one victory in his next six appearances, there’s a feeling he might be on his last legs in the organization despite being one of the most consistently entertaining members of the roster. Always full of flash, Vannata has attempted to utilize fundamentals to add a base to his high-risk strikes with mixed results.
Medeiros is similarly on shaky ground, coming into the contest on a two-fight losing streak. However, like Vannata, Medeiros has a spectacular reputation for action fights. There is reason to believe after being involved in several brawls that he has lost some of the durability that was one of his trademarks as he was finished each time in his current losing streak. Regardless, Medeiros is a lanky lightweight with traditionally solid takedown defense. Not the most technical striker, the Hawaiian can put together lengthy combinations and is an underrated grappler.
For my pure viewing pleasure, I love this contest. For the prospects of picking this contest, I hate it. I have no clue what either competitor will bring. Medeiros hasn’t fought in a year and looked horrible. Perhaps the time off will be good for him and he’ll come back reinvigorated. Perhaps he’s only coming back to collect a paycheck. Is Vannata going to attempt to wrestle? He’s looked good when he has as it has helped open up his striking. Or will he throw one spinning move after another. I can’t say anything affirmatively. I’ll pick the more established fighter with great reluctance. Medeiros via decision
- On the regional scene, there’s the type of veteran fighter who is perfect in the role of a gatekeeper. They’re tough as nails, willing to stay up in your face for the entirety of the contest, but are also limited by their own physical abilities. That type of description fits Brok Weaver to a tee. Nonetheless, because he impressed Uncle Dana with his heart and gumption on DWCS, Weaver gets his chance in the UFC to prove he’s more than that. It feels like he’s getting a layup in his official UFC debut as Kazula Vargas didn’t impress in his own UFC debut and there was never much hype behind him in the first place. Vargas does have some power and is more than willing to throwdown, but he also appeared to be inept on the mat. Weaver is much bigger and has shown a more diverse attack, though he hasn’t shown much power. Expect this to go the distance. Weaver via decision