It isn’t very hard to pick out which contest jumps out to the naked eye on paper for the televised prelims of UFC Chile. Brandon Moreno was the event headliner with his opponent Sergio Pettis in his last appearance. At 24, he’s only getting better and has proven himself to be entertaining as hell too. He’s getting a rematch against the guy who booted him from the TUF tournament a few years ago in Alexandre Pantoja. Though the flyweight division continues to get the shaft in terms of attention, these two could force people to look their way for some well-deserved attention. Here’s hoping they do.
The televised prelims begin at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday, this time on FS2 instead of FS1.
Zak Cummings (21-5) vs. Michel Prazeres (24-2), Welterweight
Prazeres was well on his way to becoming a dark horse in the lightweight division. He ended his 2016 with an upset win over Gilbert Burns, giving him three wins in a row at lightweight and five out of six overall. However, it also foreshadowed trouble to come as Prazeres missed weight for the contest. Yes, he ended up winning his next three fights – giving him six in a row – but he also missed weight two more times, leading the UFC brass to force him up to welterweight. Given Prazeres relies on being a bully, how well will he do at a new home where he is no longer the bigger and stronger fighter?
While there may be a few potential opponents at welterweight Prazeres would be able to outmuscle, Cummings isn’t one of them. One of the larger members of the welterweight division, Cummings was the quintessential grinder at one point. While he is still capable of pushing an opponent against the cage and chipping away, he’s become much more comfortable in the pocket delivering consistent pressure with slick counters. Given his lack of athletic ability, Cummings relies heavily on his timing to remain effective. Though he’s given more credit for his wrestling, opponents have paid the price for sleeping on Cummings’ submission abilities.
Prazeres may be more fundamentally sound than Cummings as a grappler, but he’s going to have a hard time getting Cummings to the ground. It isn’t just Cummings’ wrestling he’ll have to worry about. It’s the 6-inches in height and 8-inches in reach Cummings is going to have on him. Cummings knows how to use his length well enough, likely negating the improvements Prazeres has made on the feet over the years.
If Prazeres can find a way to get Cummings on the mat on a consistent basis, he can win this fight. The problem is he has yet to face an opponent who will be as difficult to take down as Cummings. A single takedown isn’t going to be enough either as Prazeres is more of a top control grappler than he is a submission artist despite some recent finishes against smaller opponents. Cummings should be able to cruise to an easy victory by picking apart his smaller opponent. Cummings via decision
Brandon Moreno (14-4) vs. Alexandre Pantoja (18-3), Flyweight
Though the rematch between these two is categorized as unofficial due to the first encounter happening in an exhibition contest for TUF, this is one of the rare occasions it feels appropriate to reschedule. Sure, it was less than two years ago they first met, but Moreno has appeared to grow by leaps and bounds in that time while Pantoja may have topped out as a fighter.
While there is no doubt Moreno is better than he was for the TUF tournament, his 3-1 UFC record comes with a bit of a caveat. His debut came against a Louis Smolka who didn’t take Moreno serious – the Mexico native was taking the contest on short notice – and it has come to light in recent months Smolka was dealing with personal demons at the time as well. Moreno capitalized on a mistake and did the same thing about six months later against Dustin Ortiz, though it could have been argued he was losing both contests up to that point. Yes, being opportunistic is a skill – even if it is one I don’t fully understand – and few are better at it than Moreno. However, his contest against Sergio Pettis also showed Moreno still struggles to put together offense on a consistent basis. Will that work against Pantoja?
There isn’t a definitive answer. Moreno started out strong against Pettis as Anthony’s younger brother was taken and held down by Moreno for the entirety of the first round. After that, Pettis knew what to expect as there isn’t much depth to Moreno’s game… yet. That may sound like an ideal matchup for Pantoja, but the Brazilian tends to fade down the stretch, particularly if he pushes a hard pace early. Nonetheless, Pantoja’s low kicks are among the best in the division and provide a consistent source of offense that is difficult to contain… provided he can stay on his feet. Pantoja’s last contest was a loss to Ortiz. Ortiz controlled Pantoja over the course of the final two rounds by taking him down time and again. Pantoja is a talented grappler, but when was the last time you remember a flyweight scoring a submission from the guard? It doesn’t happen.
Moreno’s most consistent form of offense has proven to be his wrestling, which could be enough to overturn Pantoja. Moreno’s defense on the ground has improved significantly too since Pantoja submitted him in the tournament. Despite that, I still see myself favoring Pantoja. He’s an intelligent fighter who is likely to have learned from his mistakes against Ortiz. Plus, he’s a defensively sound striker who is unlikely to get caught by a powerful right hand from Moreno. Regardless, it should be a razor thin decision. Pantoja via decision
Poliana Botelho (6-1) vs. Syuri Kondo (6-0), Women’s Strawweight
Despite each contestant having a UFC win under their belt, Botelho and Kondo are still very much unknown quantities. Neither of their UFC opponents have secured UFC wins of their own and there is a question as to their success prior to coming to the UFC.
Botelho’s debut was the more underwhelming of the two, spending the majority of the time against the fence fighting off takedown attempts from Pearl Gonzalez. While Botelho’s attempts to remain standing proved to be successful, Gonzalez isn’t exactly known for her takedown skills. What gave Botelho the win was her attack on Gonzalez’s head and body as she pushed Botelho against the fence. Not the most inspiring win. What she does have going for her is a massive frame for strawweight coupled with raw power that she has yet to completely harness into a fully functional striking game.
With that said, you’d never guess Kondo is the less experienced fighter in terms of time in the sport, having only turned pro two years ago. Granted, Kondo does have an extensive kickboxing and professional wrestling background, so there are few women in the organization as comfortable in the spotlight as the Japanese representative. Her kickboxing really shined in her UFC debut against Chan-Mi Jeon, countering Jeon consistently by going over the top of Jeon’s offense.
I really like what I’ve seen out of Kondo in the limited amount of film available on her. She could possibly be exploited by someone who prefers to wrestle and grapple, but I’m not sure that describes Botelho. Yes, Botelho’s size alone will make Kondo weary about stuffing prospective takedowns, but Botelho’s grappling has been limited. I like Kondo’s basic kick-punch combinations and counters to be enough to outpoint the Brazilian. Kondo via decision
Gabriel Benitez (20-6) vs. Humberto Bandenay (14-4), Featherweight
This is a bit of curious matchmaking as Benitez is coming off the biggest win of his career only to get matched up with one of the least proven talents on the UFC roster in Bandenay. Sure, Bandenay’s lone UFC contest was a highlight reel 26 second KO, but no one is going to claim Martin Bravo as a quality W.
While the contest appears to indicate a lack of confidence in Benitez from the UFC, it is still an excellent opportunity for the Mexican native to make a statement as Bandenay showed some piss poor defense from Bravo’s onslaught. Granted, Bandenay was able to get down the timing of Bravo to land the brutal knee quickly, but it isn’t like Bravo’s offensive attack was difficult to get down. Nonetheless, Bandenay has shown impressive power in his fists and feet in addition to the penchant to work over his opponent’s body.
Aside from Bandenay’s poor defense on the feet, he has also displayed subpar grappling skills, every one of his losses having come via submission. Benitez has the submission skills to expose Bandenay, but he doesn’t appear to have the wrestling skills to take the fight to the ground, being unable to secure a single takedown in six UFC appearances. Fortunately for Benitez, he has improved his standup skills considerably during his UFC run, landing a consistent jab, regular low kicks, and the occasional short punching combination from his southpaw stance. His timing, rhythm, and distance control really came together against Knight, putting together the best defensive performance of his career thus far. Will it carry over?
While Benitez has a limited ceiling, it isn’t so limited that he can’t dispose of a talented but inexperienced youngster. Benitez has seen enough that he shouldn’t be caught by surprise by anything that Bandenay throws at him. Perhaps a greater question is whether or not he’ll be able to find a finish. If a scrambling situation ensues, a guillotine from Benitez won’t surprise. Otherwise, don’t count on it. Benitez via decision