This weekend Ben Askren and Damien Maia look set to see who the best grappler is at 170 in their main event match at the Singapore Indoor Arena, Kallang, Singapore. Askren is fresh of his now infamous knee destruction KO at the hands of Jorge Masvidal and is looking to rebound with a win over Maia in dominating fashion. Maia is currently riding a two fight win streak and is continuing to show that at 41 years old, he still has plenty to offer the UFC and the sport of MMA. This bout is a tantalising treat for the lovers of the ground game and expect to see transitions galore. No man will want to give an inch in this battle.
In the co-main Michael Johnson and Steven Ray are going at it in the lightweight division. Whilst this fight has no implications at all, it is an interesting match up nonetheless. Johnson will look to use his striking prowess to defeat a well rounded and tough Ray. Ray on the other hand will need to mix it up to gain the advantage of his veteran opponent. This has the understated makings of a potential fight of the year candidate, a bold claim I know, but they are evenly matched in skill terms. Ray is the larger of the two men, but Johnson is quicker. Ray has a better ground game and Johnson has better striking. Making it your classic styles make match ups bout.
However as usual I like to look further down the card and see the fight that none of you expect to be a corker, but ends up being a blinder. This week, that fight is Enrique Barzola (16-4-1) vs Movsar Evloev (11-0). Peruvian Barzola is 30 years old and an 8 fight veteran of the UFC going 6-2 so far, he is a well rounded fighter coming out of the AKA camp. Evloev on the other hand is 25 years old, having only fought in the UFC once and looks like a huge prospect for the future of the sport.
The reason I am intrigued by this fight is due to the styles. Barzola is a guy who likes to use his striking to set up the takedown so he can dominate and smother you on the ground with strikes. In his 8 UFC fights so far he has an average of 5 successful takedowns per fight. The fights he wins however are all by decision so far in his UFC days and so I don't suspect his game plan will be anything different agains the young up and comer Evloev. In Barzola's two losses in the UFC, these have been at the hands of fighters with great takedown defence and a solid striking game.
Evloev in contrast is a finisher. His first fight in the UFC was a decision win vs Seung Woo Choi in a dominating performance, where Evloev took down his opponent 5 times also in that fight. Evloev and Barzola have similar traits in the respect they use striking to get in for a takedown, however Evloev will always search for the finish. He has 3 finishes by strikes and 4 via rear naked choke. Evloev appears to have the better striking of the two standing up and thats why this fight intrigues me. Barzola runs out of ideas if he can't get the takedown, whereas Evloev is confident to strike standing up.
The battle for the takedown is where this fight will be decided. I believe that so much so, that they may become so evenly matched it will turn into a stand up fight. If Barzola can get the takedown, then he will dominate the younger fighter, however if Evloev can stuff the takedowns, he will take advantage on the feet. We haven't seen much of either fighter fighting off their backs so this will be another interesting dynamic to look out for.
Another part of this battle is the psychological aspect. Barzola needs a win. Not in the sense that his job is on the line, but in the sense he is 30 years old and needs to make his run up the division now, or it will never happen. Evloev however does not have the same pressure, he is undefeated, confident and has no fear of being on the chopping block or advancing age. Evloev has all the time in the world to further his career. Evloev's pressure could come within though. Being undefeated has its pitfalls psychologically for a fighter, who will always be concerned with a dreaded number appearing next to their win column.
I personally think Evloev has the advantage here. He is younger, improving more by the day in the gym and has nothing to lose in the grand scheme of the sport. Barzola however realises that his time is narrowing in a sport that is unforgiving, he will put too much pressure on himself and when he struggles to get the takedown, he will wilt mentally, as evidenced in his previous fights. Either way I'm sure it'll be a corker. We could either see a dominating performance from one or the other or a barnburner of a striking match up.
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