The UFC has put together a great card for its first show in Orlando since 2018.
Last time the promotion was in ‘O-Town’, future PFL fighter Jeremy Stephens knocked out future interim featherweight title challenger Josh Emmett in the main event, Sam Alvey was winning fights and the UFC was still on FOX. A respectable card, but Saturday’s UFC Orlando lineup beat it.
Longtime welterweight contender Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson finds himself in another headliner, this time against the ever-lively Kevin Holland. Both years were tough for Thompson, who rarely fought and struggled when he did. He is coming off back-to-back lopsided decisions to Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns.
Thompson, a two-time UFC title challenger, still holds No. 10 in the MMA Fighting World Rankings, but the 39-year-old has clung to that ranking by a thread and Holland could be the man to take it. “Trailblazer” has impressed since dropping to 170 pounds (outside of an unexpected catchweight bout against Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 279). A win over Thompson guarantees a number next to his name.
In other main card action, welterweight Bryan Barberena takes on a former UFC champion for his second straight fight when he meets former lightweight king Rafael dos Anjos, flyweight contenders Matheus Nicolau and Matt Schnell face off, top-ranked heavyweights Tai Tuivasa and Sergei Pavlovich go knockout hunts, Jack Hermansson takes on short-notice replacement Roman Dolidze in a middleweight bout, and middleweights Eryk Anders and Kyle Daukaus pitch the show.
What: UFC Orlando
Where: Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.
When: Saturday 3 December. The eight-fight preliminary card begins at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN+, followed by a six-fight main card at 10 p.m. on ESPN and ESPN+.
(Numbers in parentheses indicate that you stand World MMA Fight Rankings)
Stephen Thompson (10) vs. Kevin Holland
At 170 pounds, Kevin Holland has lost none of the startling creativity and finishing power that made him a top 10 middleweight contender. He also has a considerable advantage in length and youth, which makes me lean towards him for this choice.
Stephen Thompson remains one of the most confusing puzzles to solve in MMA, especially if you’re a striker. Now the secret is that if you have a strong wrestling game you can anchor ‘Wonderboy’ so if Holland can focus on his offensive fight now it would be a good time to start. However, Holland’s submission opportunities usually stem from his striking, so it would be somewhat surprising to see him focus solely on taking out Thompson.
So why go with Holland? Size matters. Age matters.
Thompson lost a decision to another standing fighter, current middleweight Darren Till. This fight was tough to watch and unfortunately fans might be in store for a similar match of inches on Saturday. Holland can generate incredible bursts of attack when he finds the range and as hard as it is to do against Thompson, I expect Thompson to be a step slower than the fighter who tangled Geoff Neal and Vicente Luque few years ago. A step that will make all the difference.
Expect Holland to give up a round or two to Thompson before turning him back in Round 3 en route to a convincing decision victory or possibly a late finish.
Rafael dos Anjos (10 AG) against. Bryan Barberena
Let me start by saying that I love Bryan Barberena’s current matchmaking strategy. After picking up a decisive victory over a bona fide legend in Matt Brown, he followed that up by knocking out former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler and could now add another former UFC champion to his roster. of success with Rafael dos Anjos. Even if “RDA” were a champion in a lighter division, it would still be one hell of a three-fight run for Barberena.
Unfortunately for Barberena, dos Anjos is just better than him at mixing martial arts.
While Lawler has the kind of fighting style that was destined for diminished returns as he got older, dos Anjos could train lower level fighters for years with his diverse skill set. Barberena isn’t the biggest welterweight either, so dos Anjos shouldn’t have much trouble engaging him in a boxing match or bringing him down if the situation arises.
Barberena is a busy striker, but lacks the kind of one-hit power that should make us fear that dos Anjos is about to become a sudden downfall risk like Frankie Edgar or Marlon Moraes. That day may come soon for dos Anjos, it just won’t be Saturday.
Look for dos Anjos’ performance to be closer to Victor Henry’s recent formation by Raphael Assuncao, another comfortable decision victory for a Brazilian veteran.
Matheus Nicolau (10) vs. Matt Schnell
Matt Schnell excels at chaotic scraps, but don’t expect Matheus Nicolau to adapt.
Nicolau is one of the most underrated contenders in the UFC flyweight division, though that’s somewhat understandable considering he’s known more for his consistent performances than his explosive production. The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 4 standout has won five straight fights and 11 of his last 12, passing former title challengers Tim Elliott and John Moraga, and former RIZIN champion Manel Kape.
He’s methodical and won’t be in a hurry, although Schnell certainly has the tenacity and experience to test this approach. If Schnell can make this one ugly, he might be able to push Nicolau out of his comfort zone, but Nicolau is so solid with his hands and masterfully controls distance. On the pitch, I am also in favor of Nicolau.
If Nicolau wants to make a championship statement and gain fans, he’ll take some risks and take the fight to Schnell; if he just wants to take care of business as usual, he will continue to fight like Matheus Nicolau.
Nicolau by decision.
Tai Tuivasa (4) vs Sergei Pavlovich (6)
I’ll tell you something: I think Tai Tuivasa could be the new Derrick Lewis.
Let me finish.
For years, Lewis was the ever-dangerous top-5 keeper at heavyweight. Good enough to knock out anyone outside of a handful of names, good enough to earn a title shot, not good enough to win it all. That sums up where Tuivasa is at this point in his career and I believe when he knocked out Lewis two fights ago the caretaker torch was passed on to a more than worthy successor.
So it falls to Tuivasa to avenge his brother by swangin’ and bangin’, with Sergei Pavlovich also coming off a recent win over Lewis.
All that to say, we’re talking about a heavyweight puncher matchup here and I can’t predict for sure who’s going to win this one. I said Tuivasa was overlooked as a serious contender and he proved it in a loss with a thrilling effort against Ciryl Gane, an opponent he had little chance against on paper. But Pavlovich is legit, a Russian machine that just got through the opposition. He has everything to be UFC champion in 2023.
My heart says Tuivasa because I don’t want to believe the good times are over. My instinct says Pavlovich. I go there with my guts.
Jack Hermansson (13) vs. Roman Dolidze
There’s no doubt that Roman Dolidze is going there to finish, but he faces a huge step up in the competition with Jack Hermansson and on short notice no less.
Dolidze is so aggressive, even on his back, which is both an advantage and a disadvantage when calculating his chances of beating Hermansson. His willingness to fight on the ground could come back to bite him as Hermansson is a poor finisher on the mat himself. Expect some aesthetically appealing hustle and bustle in this one, as both are looking to rip off a neck or limb.
On the feet, Hermansson’s reach and durability give him the edge, although Dolidze is yet to complete his 12-fight career. Again, I view Hermansson as a considerably tougher challenge than the one Dolidze has faced thus far, one that would greatly affect how I assess Dolidze as a future competitor.
Even with a loss, I still think Dolidze has a ton of potential because he’s relatively young in the MMA years. So even if I go with Hermansson to snatch a submission in a fun fight, Dolidze should consider this a learning experience.
Eryk Anders vs. Kyle Daukaus
Eryk Anders has always had all the tools to be a 185-pound letter carrier, but he’s rarely been able to put them all together. By comparison, Kyle Daukaus knows who he is, a submission specialist, and he knows he needs to use that skill as soon and as often as possible.
There’s a clear path to victory here for Anders, one that sees him stuffing takedowns and stifling submission attempts until Daukaus grew tired and vulnerable in the second half of the fight. However, Daukaus is such a strong grappler that I don’t see Anders lasting long enough to implement this game plan. Anders is effective on the feet, but doesn’t have the kind of power that will scare Daukaus. Daukaus fights his way inside, knocks Anders down and gets to work.
It may take a round or two, but Daukaus wins by submission.
Niko Price beats. Phil Rowe
Angela Hill (13) beats. Emilie Ducote (14)
Scott Holtzman beats. clay guide
Michael Johnson beats. Marc Diakiese
Jonathan Pearce beats. Darren Elkin
Nathan Levy beats. Genaro Valdez
Francis Marshall won. Marcelo Rojo
Yazmin Jauregui defeated. Istela Nunes
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