Another UFC card with questionable match-ups! At UFC Fight Night 105, Travis Browne looks to end his current 2 fight skid while Derrick “The Black Beast” Lewis keeps on rumbling along the heavyweight ladder, popping Shamil Abdurakhimov’s head on the ground for a TKO win. It’s a little questionable since Lewis is on the rise and Browne has looked lost over his past few fights, bringing up rumors of laziness and a bad camp with Glendale Fighting Club. Browne may or may not return to his former self that saw Browne come a fight away from a title shot before Fabricio Werdum ruined his chance. There’s several other interesting match-ups such as Carla Esparza vs Randa Markos, Johny Hendricks’ debut at 185 pounds against Hector Lombard, and the one I’m looking the most forward to in Jack Marshman vs Thiago “Marreta” Santos. It’s an all right enough card that DK graced us with substantial cash and GPP contests, so here we are. Time to decide who sucks and who’s not awful.
Gerald Meerschaert vs Ryan Janes
I’m just gonna call Gerald Meerschaert Meers, ok? With that said, this is going to be a difficult fight to gauge. Both men had successful debuts, with Meers submitting Gigliotti in the first and showcasing his grappling skills that brought him into the UFC (18 submission wins on record). The vast majority of his fights available to watch are from years ago, so I can only realistically go by recent highlights and his fight against Gigliotti. It’s even worse with Ryan Janes, as he only has film from his fight against Berish (UFC debut and finished in the 2nd) and a fight from 2011. Six years ago!!! So bear that in mind while I break down the fight. Meers is a southpaw with a functional striking gameplan that’s atypical of most southpaw kickboxers – straight left in combination with the left body/head-kick, usually in one hit spurts. He’s not a combination heavy guy and usually relies on blitzes. Asides from that, what seems to set him apart from others is his aggressive grappling, going for dangerous chokes and winning on sprawls. That’s going to be tough against Janes who is a skilled BJJ black belt with all but 1 win by submission. Janes showcased his striking against Berish, and while it was indeed successful against the slower Berish, it really shined a light on Janes’ glaring weaknesses. He doesn’t move his head at all and fights really stiff, resulting in a ton of unblocked potshots and easy counters. Ideally, I would think Meers would want to take advantage of that and not try to test Janes’ grappling skills on the ground as that would be neutral at best as far as an edge. With how stiff Janes looked on the feet and Meers’ striking style, it’s a favorable match-up for the southpaw. If it does go to the ground, I have no idea who has the upper hand, as again neither have enough recent film to really go by on. Meers does have 7 of his 8 losses by submission, so I guess that gives the advantage to Janes? I dunno.
Meerschaert via 2nd round KO
Jack Marshman vs Thiago Santos
This is the fight I think will break everyone’s lineups. It’s a close odds fight with equally close DK pricing. Marshman’s a heavy-handed boxer who likes to stand in front and try to pressure, while Marreta (Santos) likes to be a counter-puncher and try to land devastating head-kicks. Marshman was able to utilize his boxing background perfectly in his debut against Magnus Cedenblad, notching two knockdowns despite the glaring height/reach disadvantage. It proved that Marshman just simply wants to forge ahead and land multiple 2-3 punch combinations that usually end on a swinging hook or overhand. It’s something that could crumble Marreta, with his history of being unable to deal against heavy pressure and trapping himself near the cage. On the flip side, Marshman has been knocked out by no-namers before due to lack of head movement and reaction time, often getting pelted by a stray overhand or clobbered on a counter-hook. He’s also struggled to defend against body kicks and checking kicks in general, which is Marreta’s bread and butter. It’s how Steve Bosse met his demise when he faced against Marreta and ate an unblocked head-kick for lunch, thinking it was a body kick but Marreta set the fake up beautifully. It’s a battle of who can catch the other 1st and put them away, pitting Marshman’s aggressive boxing and tendency to over-pursue against Marreta’s body/head-kick setups and lack of tools to defend against pressure. Both guys can and have tried to swing for the fences, while I’d say Marreta probably has the technical advantage and Marshman has the power advantage. One thing I did notice with Marshman is his short reach (73”) would result in numerous situations of short-arming his punches, which led to easy counters. For that reason and the body kicks of Marreta, I’m going to lean towards a Thiago Santos liver kick TKO. I will be hedging this fight either way, and so should you.
Santos via 2nd round liver kick
Aiemann Zahabi vs Reginaldo Vieira
Aiemann Zahabi is the younger brother of famed MMA coach from TriStar gym, Firas Zahabi. Safe to say that Aiemann probably knows what he’s doing. He’s right in the mold of a prototypical TriStar fighter, armed with a great jab and solid fundamentals on defense. Zahabi stays composed with a low stance and lands speedy but efficient strikes, choosing the right moment to land a great combination. He’s not going to wow others with sheer striking volume, but he is precise and has enough oomph on his punches to really drop someone even at bantamweight. His best assets that I can see is his reaction time and mental work, as he’s able to pick up patterns and hit timing counter-strikes that do more damage than you’d think. That’s great news considering the match-up against Vieira, who’s a big brawler that has a bad habit of spamming winging hooks and overhands under duress. A skilled tactician such as Zahabi can pick apart an undisciplined brawler like Vieira, so what comes down to the key of the fight is does Zahabi have enough power to put away Vieira? I say yes, as Vieira has been dropped before on clean hits and tends to overreact on striking exchanges. Vieira will have to rely on his solid double leg take-down to have any real chance at stopping the patient but efficient striking offense of Zahabi’s, as Zahabi is largely untested on the ground. Don’t think that’s going to happen and even if he does get stuck on the mat, I have faith in his coaching and genes that Zahabi will quickly escape back to the feet.
Zahabi via 3rd round TKO
Carla Esparza vs Randa Markos
Esparza was the inaugural women’s strawweight champion, winning the TUF 20 show that Randa Markos was also a part of. It’s a dominant wrestler with mediocre stand-up against an overall decent fighter that doesn’t excel in one area over others. Markos will want to keep it standing, where she should have a big edge on Esparza, who often looks indecisive and nervous when involved in exchanges. Markos doesn’t have strong take-down defense, so that will probably be the easiest avenue for a win for Esparza, whose offensive wrestling is as good as it gets in the division. What she may lack in a variety of offensive take-downs, Esparza makes up for it with tenacity and being relentless on take-down attempts. It’s really only two ways this fight can go – Markos dominates the fight on the feet and maybe gets a late finish, or Esparza puts on a take-down clinic with strong ground control. Esparza’s probably the safer bet to force the fight into her strengths rather than Markos picking on Esparza’s weaknesses.
Esparza via unanimous decision
Nordine Taleb vs Santiago Ponzinibbio
Taleb’s a big welterweight with a strong gym in TriStar, but hasn’t really evolved into a dangerous fighter. He’s still essentially the same fighter he was when he debuted years ago, an athletic wrestler with choppy striking fundamentals but enough power to make it work. Sitting behind the famed TriStar jab, Taleb often leaves his chin wide open on overhands and especially on his left body kicks. It’s led to some bad counters landed on Taleb, forcing him to retreat into his wrestling roots. That led to a guillotine choke loss against Warlley Alves, but a stifling (boring) win over Chris Clements. Ponzinibbio is a brawler through and through, but has great BJJ chops and is just simply the better fighter overall with sharper combinations and effective power counters. His biggest issue is his chin which has left him wobbly on striking exchanges on numerous occasions. Taleb doesn’t really have the striking expertise needed to catch Ponzinibbio enough times to test his chin, and Ponzinibbio is already very good on the ground so there goes Taleb’s strength. It’s a bad match-up for Taleb unless he can grind his way to a win by limiting his movement from top control and just holding on for dear life. Blah.
Ponzinibbio via 3rd round TKO
Alessandro Ricci vs Paul Felder
Ricci had an unsuccessful debut against Jeremy Kennedy, losing the battle to take-downs and cage holding. He gets an even tougher test against the Irish Dragon in Paul Felder, coming off a TKO loss to Francisco Trinaldo. It’s a great stylistic match-up for Felder as Ricci has no use for any take-downs or wrestling, preferring to sit back and be a counter-striker with his strong Muay Thai base. Felder’s been up and down during his time in the UFC, displaying the acrobatic and great technical striking many thought would propel Felder into the top ranks. Then came the Barboza/Pearson fight, where Felder was getting consistently caught and battered by quicker and cleaner combinations. That is what Ricci will have to do if he wants to earn the W over Felder, but his fighting style doesn’t favor him against Felder. Ricci elects to sit back and depend on one hit and runs instead of loading up on combinations or landing heavy leg kicks. Felder may struggle against more technical boxers and those who can keep their distance on him, but that’s not who Ricci is. Felder should be able to pick apart Ricci from a safe distance and continually back up the always back-pedaling Ricci and land enough strikes to win the rounds. Problem with the fight is I don’t think Felder has enough aggressiveness to knock out Ricci outside of a well-timed head-kick of sorts. Ricci just doesn’t have the volume to instigate dangerous exchanges and prefers to sit back, minimizing counter-windows for Felder. Either way, it should be a good showcase for Felder to return back to top 10 status.
Felder via unanimous decision
Gina Mazany vs Sara McMann
Mazany will be subbing in for Liz Carmouche on 2 weeks’ notice, bringing an undefeated 4-0 record with her. Unfortunately for Mazany, her opponent will make this an extremely lopsided fight as Sara McMann is the much better all-around fighter and has an Olympian wrestling background. With only 4 professional fights under her belt and time lapses of 3 years in between her last and previous fight before, there is very little film on Mazany. She did participate in the TUF 18 show, losing in the elimination round against now #7 ranked bantanweight Julianna Pena. That fight will probably be what plays out against McMann, struggling in the clinch and getting double legged then heavily controlled on the ground. Mazany did show she was able to hold off Pena’s advances and survive the round, so that may lessen McMann’s opportunities to rack up DK points. McMann is just better everywhere and will be the much bigger and stronger fighter of the two, with a massive wrestling edge. I don’t see any chance of an upset from Mazany, so let’s just leave it at that. McMann should be the top dog in cash lineups as she should still garner enough points to maybe hit at least 80 DK points while providing a very high floor as the safest play on the card.
McMann via unanimous decision
Gavin Tucker vs Sam Sicilia
Tucker will be bringing his undefeated 9-0 record into the UFC as he debuts against Sam Sicilia, a fighter with not much of note. Tucker’s an interesting prospect at 30 years old but with tremendous grappling talent and if he can make quick work out of Sicilia, he could have a nice 2-3 years in the featherweight division that’s a little low on outside of top 10 talent. He’s a black belt in BJJ with some very good reactive take-downs and what appears to be a good fundamentally sound double leg take-down. There’s not much full fights available on Tucker, but he does have plenty of grappling videos and the moves this guy makes is legitimate. That’s all I need to know in order to pick him by whatever he wants on the ground against an underwhelming Sicilia. Why is he underwhelming? He doesn’t excel at anything, attacks as if he has power in his hands with barrages of hooks and overhands, but doesn’t scare anyone and lacks consistent wrestling to take down those who are already better strikers than Sicilia. He’s been submitted in the majority of his UFC losses, including an embarrassing RNC by Kikuno who is not known at all for his grappling. Not being good on scrambles and constantly leaving his neck out on failed take-down attempts may have something to do with that. I might be a little too mean with Sicilia, but the obvious talent from Tucker and Sicilia’s lack of anything dangerous just leaves too big of a gap between the two. Tucker seems relatively unknown so I think there’s a chance he can be lower owned than he should be, and he should be able to either get a couple take-downs or hit some advances before winning which equals tasty, tasty DK points.
Tucker via 1st round RNC
Cezar Ferreira vs Elias Theodorou
Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira was at a crossroads in his career. His chin had kept betraying him despite the obvious talents he had in both striking and grappling. Mutante then reeled off 3 straight wins including a great submission win over Jack Hermansson. He’ll get Elias Theodorou, who’s sort of an enigma in my opinion. Is he a wrestler? Is he a freestyle striker? Is he actually good at either of them? Theodorou won the strange TUF Nations show with a dominant win over Sheldon Westcott, thrashing him on the ground with slicing ground and pound plus great timing on take-downs. Then for whatever reason Theodorou decided he’d rather try to win by tossing out acrobatic but ineffective and inaccurate kicks all over the place, then holding near the fence for eons. His win over Sam Alvey was one of the worst fights I’ve had to watch, as they both did nothing for 3 rounds. Back to the point, Mutante is one of the better grapplers in the division and has been improving on his take-down offense, while staying smart on the feet and not taking unnecessary lunges to preserve his brittle chin. Theodorou has no power in his striking, nor any rhyme or reason to whatever he throws out. Despite seemingly having a great wrestling background and base to work with, we haven’t really seen Theodorou wrestle anyone since a laughter of a win over Roger Narvaez. Mutante seems to be better everywhere than Theodorou, so unless Elias actually realizes he could either KO Mutante with real combinations, I think it’s an easy enough win for Mutante. Maybe a late submission.
Ferreira via 3rd round RNC
Hector Lombard vs Johny Hendricks
Well, Hendricks’ weight cutting issues finally caught up to him as he’s now debuting at a new weight division for the 1st time in his UFC career. Will it help or hurt him even more since he won’t have to train as hard to cut down? Lombard hasn’t has weight cutting issues, but his one biggest glaring weakness time and time again has been his instantly dissolving gas tank. It seems as if Lombard only has 1 round of full power in the tank before wasting all of his ammunition for a fruitless attempt at a knockout victory. This happened twice in the last two fights as he lost to Dan Henderson despite getting a knockdown and almost finishing the old man. Neil Magny was dropped TWICE and nearly finished before easily taking down a deathly gassed Lombard for the comeback TKO victory. Hendricks can do the same thing Magny did with quick take-downs that Lombard simply has no energy to spend on defending them. Problem with that is Hendricks also has cardio issues himself and Lombard probably won’t want to exert too much energy this time around in the 1st.
Hendricks has a clear wrestling advantage and a great chin, but will be at a size disadvantage most likely against a hopefully smarter Lombard. It’s hard for me to see a finish from Lombard as Hendricks has a strong chin and will probably end up gassing both of them with his take-down attempts, successful or not. That would mean Lombard HAS to finish it in the 1st if he gets close to a knockdown. Hendricks could in theory land a big left on a dead Lombard late and walk away a winner, but man….the gas tanks on these guys? Whew. Lombard has shown in the past he can have great take-down defense when focused and at full strength, so I’ll favor him in an unexciting and somewhat lethargic fight between two guys who need a win but don’t know how to get it. Shrug.
Lombard via unanimous decision
Derrick Lewis vs Travis Browne
As I said earlier, the current version of Browne is not very good. A tall (6’7”) and lanky striker who took unorthodox angles and had the athletic ability to uncork powerful punches on the run would be the best way to describe the best version of Browne. That hasn’t been seen since his KO victory over Josh Barnett via nasty elbows while defending a take-down, all the way back to 2013. Outside of a victory via eye poke over Matt Mitrione, Browne hasn’t looked good at all and has been badly beaten on the feet while displaying little energy and a surprising lack of take-down defense that used to be a strength of his. Derrick Lewis, on the other hand, is riding a great 5 fight win streak with 4 finishes in those 5 wins including a couple of thunderous ground TKOs. He’s got an uncanny ability to turn the tide of the fight in an instant if he’s able to get top control at any point of the fight. Once in top control, Lewis sledgehammers away at his foe Gregor Clegane-style as the ref is forced to step in before Lewis squeezes their head into oblivion. He’s easily top 5 as far as power in the division, which gives him an edge against anyone he faces. So why is Lewis such a short favorite?
Browne has the length to bother Lewis and ideally test his chin while keeping away at a safe distance from Lewis’ earth-shattering power. Lewis doesn’t have the reach or speed to close the distance against someone who knows how to utilize footwork and cage movement, something Browne used to be good at. Used being the operative word here. Lately, Browne has allowed opponents to lunge into his private bubble and eliminate him as if he was a ruffian on the run. Lewis can be inactive at times and stays idle for too long, needing an exchange just to close the gap. That’s really the only way Browne can win against the Black Beast, using muscle memory to dance his way around the octagon and land crazy kicks ala Shawn Jordan who KO’d Lewis with an incredible hook kick. Lewis is quite literally a mountain of a man who’s improved his ground defense enough that he can reverse positions, so I don’t see Browne taking Lewis down or even coming close to coughing on him lest he be ousted by a Lewis right hand. Unfortunately for Browne, Lewis is just on a roll right now and has the confidence to take on anyone. Browne has no confidence right now and this may end up being a retirement fight for him if his defensive struggles continues. Let’s not forget the Arlovski/Browne fight. By the way, this is a 5 round fight so let’s not assume it’s going to decision.