Jussier Formiga vs. Zach Makovsky
There are a lot of wrestlers who compete in mixed martial arts, but they don’t all compete the same way. Some are fighters who relentlessly pursue the takedown and the top position that comes with it. Some use their wrestling as positional advantage, forcing grapplers to strike and strikers to grapple. Some blend takedowns with striking skills.
Zach Makovsky is a great example of a wrestler who always seeks out top position, regardless of who the opponent is. He doesn’t really like to strike (although he’s not too bad standing) and he’s not known for his submission game either. Makovsky is a grinder whose fights usually go to decision – with Makovsky being the winner almost every time due to his wrestling ability.
With Makovsky currently listed as the 3-1 favorite to defeat Jussier Formiga, it seems the betting public expects this fight to go down the same way. When Formiga was set to fight Joseph Benavidez, I dismissed the idea that he would even be competitive, as Benavidez was the superior wrestler and had never shown vulnerability on the ground. This fight is different because Makovsky enters with three career losses by submission.
Formiga is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist with eight career wins by submission, taking on an opponent who A) always goes for takedowns and B) is vulnerable to being submitted. It’s actually a really good style matchup for Formiga. I have to pick Makovsky to win straight-up as top position is a huge advantage and Makovsky is likely to win any fight that goes the distance, but I also see significant betting value on the underdog in this one.
Pick: Zach Makovsky by decision
Sara McMann vs. Lauren Murphy
Murphy is a grinding type of fighter who chains combination punching with takedown attempts and ground and pound action. She enters the UFC undefeated at 8-0 with three consecutive wins in Invicta FC, over Miriam Nakamoto, Sarah D’Alelio, and Kaitlin Young. After watching the tape, I see Murphy as being a good but not great striker and wrestler, but a fighter lacking a polished submission game.
Murphy has six wins by TKO but the first five were against opponents with a combined seven wins in professional MMA. Her most recent TKO victory was against Nakamoto, whose knee was injured during a Murphy takedown attempt. Murphy doesn’t strike me as a fighter who will be much of a finisher in the UFC, instead winning decisions with a combination of strikes, takedowns, and top control.
With that in mind, I can’t think of any non-Rousey bantamweight worse for Murphy to fight than Sara McMann. Trust me when I say that Murphy isn’t going to take McMann down at any point in this fight. Instead, it will be McMann charging forward and taking Murphy to the ground, probably without much difficulty in the process.
McMann’s ground game is flawed and it’s possible a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace could submit her from the guard. Murphy is not that fighter – she has yet to win a fight by submission. It’s more common for Murphy to be the one fighting off submission attempts. Keep in mind also that McMann is now 7-1 in MMA and should still be improving her skill set. It’s a point I’ve made with fighters like Chris Weidman and T.J. Dillashaw – fighters with fewer than 12 or so fights can be expected to improve rapidly. I see no reason why that shouldn’t be the case with women’s MMA as well. If that is indeed the case and we see McMann significantly improved… then it figures to be a very tough night for Murphy.
Pick: Sara McMann by TKO
Sam Alvey vs. Tom Watson
Watson fights as if there’s no such thing as the “ground game” in mixed martial arts. With four UFC fights and 55 minutes of UFC fighting on his record, Watson has been credited with exactly zero takedowns, guard passes, or submission attempts. This would be fine if Watson had great takedown defense or striking defense, but he doesn’t. His takedown defense is 47 percent and he’s absorbed 3.73 significant strikes per minute.
All of Watson’s opponents have taken him down exactly five times each. The result is that Watson is now 1-3 in the UFC and 0-3 in fights going to decision. Volume striking is the only plus skill he brings to the table.
With those limitations in mind, Watson actually matches up well with the debuting Sam Alvey. Alvey is a counter striker with big knockout power but doesn’t throw strikes with volume and only grapples when his opponent forces him to. Alvey is likely to give Watson what he wants – a striking match at distance.
Even then, I find myself leaning towards Alvey as being the favorite in such a fight. Alvey does hit genuinely hard and enters with a record of 14-0 in fights ending by knockout or TKO. Often, when a fighter with plus knockout power meets an opponent with middling (at best) striking defense… it’s a recipe for a knockout victory. It’s also not out of the question that Alvey could mix in a few takedowns. Watson could possibly win on points if the fight stays standing, but I think Alvey has more paths to victory here.
Pick: Sam Alvey by decision
Frankie Saenz vs. Nolan Ticman
Ticman is a fighter with a record of just 4-1 and very little available footage to break down. If his fight against Adriano Goncalves is any indication, Ticman has good punching power for a bantamweight and a diverse arsenal of punches and kicks. However, Ticman’s striking defense needs a lot of work. He backed up a lot, had a tough time anticipating strikes and left a lot of openings for his opponent to attack. I know nothing about Ticman’s ground game other than he has a background as a wrestler in college.
There’s nothing about Ticman’s fight history that indicates he’s ready for the UFC. None of his five fights were against particularly strong opponents. Unless Ticman has greatly improved in the 22 months since he last fought (possible), he’s more likely than not to get cut from the UFC bantamweight roster within three fights.
As I was watching Frankie Saenz, a thought exploded into my head… “this guy looks like Johny Hendricks.” It’s not just because he has a beard. His fighting style is very similar: he’s a powerful wrestler who hits hard, likes to work punches and knees in the clinch, doesn’t have much of a ground game and struggles when forced to just straight-up kickbox. Don’t get me wrong, Saenz looked the same against King of the Cage competition as Hendricks against world championship level competition… so think of Saenz as a very poor, nearly destitute man’s Hendricks.
If Ticman comes in and shows off good takedown defense and improved striking, he could certainly win on points or perhaps by knockout. Otherwise, I think Saenz deserves to be favored as the more developed and proven fighter.
Pick: Frankie Saenz by decision