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UFC Chile: Maia vs. Usman – Main card preview

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At first glance, the co-main event for UFC Chile is underwhelming. Neither Grasso nor Suarez have proven themselves as top ten talents, much less as contenders in the competitive strawweight division. However, at 24 and 27 respectively, Grasso and Suarez are also far from their prime. What this contest will do is set one apart from the other as the young strawweight to look for as a title contender in the near future.

The rest of the contests are a mixed bag. Some are on the main card because of where one of the participants hails from while others offer some prospects who offer some serious hope for the future… and others who may amount to nothing.

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

Alexa Grasso (10-1) vs. Tatiana Suarez (5-1), Women’s Strawweight

Ultimately, this contest is a clash in styles. Suarez is a former US Olympic wrestler hopeful, her wrestling career short-circuited when she developed thyroid cancer. While it killed her Olympic dreams, it also set Suarez down the path of her MMA career which looks like it could prove to be more lucrative as she has taken to it naturally. Her wrestling is her first, second, and third option, chaining together takedowns with unnatural aggression. Should her opponent get back to their feet – not an easy task as she does a fantastic job of blanketing her opposition – she typically drags them back to the ground in short order.

The key for Grasso will be if she can stop the takedowns of Suarez. Her defensive wrestling has been better than many expected upon her UFC entry, stuffing enough of Randa Markos’ takedowns to escape with a win over the wrestler. However, her defensive wrestling is hardly impervious. If she can remain standing, Grasso has excellent hand speed to piece up her opponent with slick boxing combinations. She works all areas of the opponent’s body pretty well too and not just with her hands. Should she go down, Grasso shows the ability to get back to her feet quickly enough, but doing so against Suarez is a completely different task than she has attempted to accomplish against anyone else.

If the fight remains standing, Suarez is still developing her standup, primarily relying on low kicks to supplement her volume. Fortunately for her, her wrestling has been good enough by itself for her thus far. Grasso will prove to be a tough test for the American, but there is much Grasso still has to learn herself. Expect Suarez to grind out a decision. Suarez via decision

Jared Cannonier (10-3) vs. Dominick Reyes (8-0), Light Heavyweight

It was a little over a year ago when it looked like Cannonier was showing signs of being the next big thing at 205. Granted, there hasn’t been much to get excited about in the division for quite a while, so even though the amount of promise he had displayed was limited, he still offered some hope for the future. Things have changed in a hurry as Cannonier couldn’t get past the roadblocks the UFC set up in front of him and now he’s playing gatekeeper to another potential big thing in Reyes.

For all the hype that was around Cannonier, his best win to date has been over Ion Cutelaba. Granted, Cutelaba is an entertaining fighter, but a win over him is hardly indicative of someone ready for big things. Just ask Misha Cirkunov. To be fair, Cannonier has shown a lot of toughness in each of his contests while enduring a lot of punishment in the majority of those fights. His gas tank is impressive to for a man his size too. What has kept him back thus far has been his lack of takedown defense. Until the Alaska native solves that, it doesn’t matter how hard he hits – and he can hit pretty damn hard – he isn’t going to be more than a fun action fighter in a division badly in need of fresh contenders.

It’s far too early to tell definitively if Reyes can fill the bill as a new contender, but the early returns have been promising. At 6’4” with a 77” reach, Reyes has the physical frame UFC scouts look for in a potential standout and has shown the athleticism too. Given he was a former All-Conference defensive back for a lower level college, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. His striking arsenal isn’t nearly as diverse as Cannonier’s, but he does incredibly well with the basics he knows, including a head kick that may already be amongst the best in the division. Reyes turned professional just over three years ago, indicating he still has a lot to learn. Given the level of skill he has shown on such things such as distance control and timing, that’s a scary prospect for opponents.

If this remains a standup affair, I’m leaning towards Cannonier. The former heavyweight doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to keep his opponent guessing what he’ll throw next, always keeping them on their toes. Reyes hasn’t faced someone with the combination of athleticism and savvy as Cannonier. However, Reyes has displayed a knack for the reactive takedown, even showing off his grappling chops in securing an RNC in his last appearance against Jeremy Kimball. Should the fight go the distance, it’s questionable if Reyes will have the gas tank as he has only had one fight leave the first round thus far in his short career. If Reyes loses this contest, it will likely be a great learning experience for him. As it is, I think he takes a very close contest thanks to his wrestling. Reyes via decision

Diego Rivas (7-1) vs. Guido Cannetti (7-3), Bantamweight

If your confused how in the hell this contest made it on the main card, all you need to know is that Rivas is the only Chile native on the first card to take place in Chile. Remember how I said some people made it onto the main card due to where they hail from?

Rivas returned to the Octagon last summer after an 18-month absence following a bout with testicular cancer. No surprise that he was dealing with some rust as the rehabilitation no doubt interfered with his training. Thus, he fell short against Jose Quinones, unable to get his striking rolling. What was positive from the encounter was his takedown defense and his timing on his counters is still excellent. However, Rivas still doesn’t let his hands loose nearly as often as he should, inactivity being the biggest reason Quinones was able to slip by.

It’ll be a shock if he falls prey to inactivity here as Cannetti is always moving forward looking to land whatever offense he can. Cannetti has never had any standout physical skills to begin with and those issues will only be exacerbated as the 38-year old continues to age. Nonetheless, Cannetti’s aggression has been his saving grace in addition to his downfall. Kicks from the outside are his favorite and he pursues takedowns with reckless abandon. He also tends to walk into plenty of heavy shots or submissions from the opposition.

Rivas’ has always had a natural sense of timing, but attacking off his backfoot hasn’t always served him well when facing an opponent with some patience. Given Cannetti doesn’t have a lot of patience, this matchup should turn out well for him. However, Rivas should still be getting better. Couple that with Cannetti’s advanced age and it’s hard to pick against the Chilean. Rivas via KO of RD1

Veronica Macedo (5-1-1) vs. Andrea Lee (8-2), Women’s Flyweight

Macedo entered the UFC 20 months ago as an injury replacement for Germaine de Randamie – no surprise – and was soundly outmuscled by Ashlee Evans-Smith. She hasn’t fought since. That isn’t a bad thing as Macedo made her UFC debut less than 6 months after making her MMA debut. To say that she needed some additional polish would be an understatement. The addition of the flyweight division was favorable for her as she didn’t have the physicality to find success at 135 at a mere 5’4”. She does have some promise as she has experience in karate and tae kwon do, but she had yet to put consistent power into her striking. However, Macedo is still just 22-years old. She has a long way to go before she’s a finished product.

In addition to being physically larger, Lee is also a more polished product, making her the prohibitive favorite. Lee’s striking background comes in Muay Thai and boxing, two disciplines that have proven more useful in MMA than either of Macedo’s disciplines. Plus, Lee has faced a higher level of competition than Macedo. To put the cherry on top, Lee has twice as many submission finishes as she does via strikes, proving she’s just as capable on the ground as she is standing despite all the accolades as a striker.

I like Macedo’s potential, especially now that she isn’t trying to make her way at bantamweight. However, Lee is too much, too soon for the young Venezuelan. I’ll be shocked if Macedo doesn’t develop into a mainstay on the roster, but I’ll be even more shocked if she is able to pull upset off against Lee. Macedo is tough and I expect her to be much better than she was against Evans-Smith, but Lee’s killer instinct should prove too much. Lee via submission of RD1

Vicente Luque (12-6-1) vs. Chad Laprise (13-2), Welterweight

Laprise is a testament to how far good fundamentals can take a fighter. No longer able to make weight at 155, Laprise is now a vastly undersized welterweight with no special athletic skills to make up for the size disparity he now faces on a regular basis. And yet, he’s won his two contests since moving up in weight quite handily despite rarely straying from jabs, low kicks, and simple boxing combos. Who would have thought?

Typically, Laprise needs to rely on outpointing the opposition as he rarely looks to go for the kill. However, there have been times where he landed a punch in just the right spot, such as when he broke Kajan Johnson’s jaw. Perhaps most surprising has been the success Laprise has had wrestling. Sure, he doesn’t look to go to the ground often, but he times his shots well enough that he usually gets the takedown when he’s looking for it and none of his UFC opponents have been able to consistently take him down. Again, much of that can be attributed to Laprise’s fundamentals as he maintains expert distance, but he can stuff a shot too.

Luque presents a different type of challenge than what Laprise has faced thus far. While Laprise has faced larger welterweights – Brian Camozzi comes to mind – as well as athletic marvels – Galore Bofanco – he hasn’t faced one with the package of size, athletic ability, and skills that Luque possesses. Luque has come out aggressive in his recent contests, throwing some real power early with each of his last five victories ending before the third round commences. Luque’s always had the technical side of striking on point, but now he throws with confidence and authority. His improvement has been notable enough that many have forgotten that he was best known for his grappling early in his MMA career.

If Laprise was facing the Luque we knew two years ago, I’d say his chances of winning were solid. However, Luque’s improvement has been so notable that I struggle to see Laprise stealing this one away. It isn’t just that Luque has a notable reach advantage – 4-inches – it’s that he knows how to use it. The Brazilian continues his run up the rankings. Luque via TKO of RD2

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