I appreciate that the UFC is making genuine efforts to expand its heavyweight division. From Cain Velasquez to Shawn Jordan, I count only 20 heavyweights who can fight at an adequate level in the UFC, and that number is going down to 19 if Dana White succeeds in convincing Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira to never fight again. It’s been a while since a genuinely good heavyweight prospect made his way to the UFC, so it makes sense for the promotion to bring in guys like Ruan Potts and see what they can offer.
But if Potts’ performances for EFC Africa are any indication, he’s not going to be a quality addition to the heavyweight roster either. I want prospects to dominate their early career opponents in such a way that it’s obvious the opponent has no business being in the cage with them. I didn’t get that impression with Potts at all.
The one thing that stood out more than anything was that Potts fell to his back very easily in multiple fights. Potts’ opponents didn’t even shoot on him to take him down, they would clinch with him and just push him onto his back. This isn’t just a problem against fighters like Velasquez, it’s a problem against Jared Rosholt and even Soa Palelei.
Potts has clearly trained in submissions to some extent, because he’s been able to escape bad positions, execute sweeps, pass guard, and win by submission or ground and pound. However, and with all due respect to Potts and his EFC Africa opponents, that doesn’t say anything about how well Potts will execute the ground game against much tougher opponents in the UFC. Unless Potts’ takedown defense is vastly improved, he’s going to be taken down by almost any UFC heavyweight, and his ground game isn’t going to be good enough to get him out of trouble.
Potts’ best chance to win in the UFC is to land a big punch or knee and win by knockout. I’d love to say Potts is a masterful striker but he’s really not. He’s more of a slugger who throws one big strike and wins by knockout. As much as Potts is a respectable athlete by heavyweight standards, I saw him throw a lot of single shots standing and not a lot of combinations or setups. Potts also was very easy to counter and hit hard.
So I have to come down on the side of believing Potts is not going to make it as a successful UFC heavyweight. The good news is that he’s facing Soa Palelei, who ranks 24th out of 25 active UFC heavyweights in Fighter Performance Rating. Palelei’s overall statistics are fairly respectable; he’s landed more significant strikes than he’s absorbed and he’s landed eight takedowns to four for his opponents. The problem is that Palelei has earned those statistics against Mu Bae Choi, Eddie Sanchez, Nikita Krylov, and Pat Barry. Those are fighters Palelei needs to dominate if he aspires to be anything more than a low-level gatekeeper in the UFC, and that simply has not happened.
The biggest key in this particular matchup is that Palelei has landed eight takedowns in 42 minutes of fighting. From what I’ve seen, I believe Palelei should be able to add to that total against Potts without too much difficulty. I also don’t believe Potts’ success on the ground in EFC Africa will translate well to the UFC… although it wouldn’t shock me if he was able to find a way to submit Palelei in this fight. Otherwise, I see Palelei’s ground and pound working for him in this one.
Pick: Soa Palelei by TKO