Well, UFC’s expansion into Mexico has been a success, at least thus far. UFC’s international expansion has been fairly hit or miss – for every United Kingdom or Ireland, there’s a Germany, who has a great economy but little interest in the sport of MMA, or a Poland, who has a talent base, but favors their native MMA scene rather than the UFC brand. But Mexico has been ready and willing to accept MMA, and UFC’s been able to thrive there, discovering talent like Yair Rodriguez and this week’s headliner, Brandon Moreno, as well as a surprisingly deep roster of Latino action fighters.
Of UFC’s four offerings from Mexico City thus far, this is by far the lowest in terms of starpower – Moreno was an unknown less than a year ago, and there really isn’t a strong co-main event – but in terms of action, this may be the best of any of UFC’s cards out of Arena Ciudad, offering pretty fun fights up and down the card. So while it may seem skippable on the surface, this is probably a show worth tuning into, particularly since Mayweather/McGregor has made sure this is all we get for the month of August.
MAIN CARD (Fox Sports 1 – 10:00 PM ET):
- Flyweight: (#6) Sergio Pettis vs. (#7) Brandon Moreno
- Women’s Strawweight: (#9) Randa Markos vs. Alexa Grasso
- Welterweight: Alan Jouban vs. Niko Price
- Featherweight: Humberto Bandenay vs. Martin Bravo
- Middleweight: Sam Alvey vs. Rashad Evans
- Bantamweight: Alejandro Perez vs. Andre Soukhamthath
PRELIMINARY CARD (Fox Sports 1 – 8:00 PM ET):
- Middleweight: Jack Hermansson vs. Bradley Scott
- Flyweight: (#12) Dustin Ortiz vs. Hector Sandoval
- Bantamweight: Henry Briones vs. Rani Yahya
- Bantamweight: Jose Quinonez vs. Diego Rivas
PRELIMINARY CARD (UFC Fight Pass – 7:00 PM ET):
- Flyweight: Joseph Morales vs. Roberto Sanchez
- Lightweight: Alvaro Herrera vs. Jordan Rinaldi
Sergio Pettis (15-2 overall, 6-2 UFC) vs. Brandon Moreno (14-3 overall, 3-0 UFC):
This is some pretty great matchmaking, pitting two of the brightest prospects at flyweight against each other, but I’m a bit of two minds when it comes to it as a main event; on the one hand, it’s nice to see UFC actually treating the flyweight division as something important, given that it’s typically been somewhat of a red-headed stepchild, but I also dread that this means the winner just becomes the latest interesting prospect to get thrown against Demetrious Johnson way too early in their career. Either way, it’s pretty crazy that Tijuana’s Brandon Moreno is headlining Arena Ciudad just four fights into his UFC career, given that he wasn’t much of a concern in the MMA landscape even just a year ago. A champion of Arizona-based World Fighting Federation, Moreno basically seemed like a token addition to make the “all-flyweight regional champion” season of TUF seem more global and was slotted as the bottom seed accordingly, even though he did give one-seed Alexandre Pantoja a surprisingly tough first-round matchup. But strangely enough, by the time the season finished airing, Moreno was already a ranked flyweight on the main roster; after his fight had aired, but before the season wrapped, Moreno got the call as a late replacement and scored one of the biggest upsets of 2016, nabbing a guillotine and tapping out then-top-ten flyweight Louis Smolka in just two and a half minutes. It was a big statement win, but one figured UFC should still bring Moreno along rather slowly, and indeed, he pretty much just got rounds in against Ryan Benoit; but after that, UFC gave him another tough test against Dustin Ortiz, and after getting out-wrestled for a round and a half before scoring another comeback submission win, Moreno suddenly finds himself in a main event slot.
And in that main event, he’ll face fellow 23-year old Sergio Pettis, who’s sort of taken the complete opposite route to get here. While Moreno burst onto the scene out of nowhere, Pettis was pretty much a top prospect as soon as he took up the sport; for one thing, he’s the younger brother of former lightweight champ Anthony Pettis, and for another, he had a ton of success on the regional scene, winning titles at both bantamweight and flyweight. Pettis first plied his trade at 135 in the UFC, and it soon became apparently that he was no Anthony, both in terms of his fighting style and his success; while Anthony’s style was mostly built on dynamism and athleticism, Sergio’s a fairly steady boxer-wrestler, and Sergio has also been prone to “come-from-ahead” losses thanks to defensive lapses, as both Alex Caceres and Ryan Benoit, the latter in Pettis’s UFC debut at flyweight, were able to score a finish with instant bursts of offense. Since the Benoit loss, Pettis has retooled quite effectively, obviously improving fight by fight, mixing up his skills, and even eating damage a bit better, but the specter of those two losses still remain; while on offense, Pettis isn’t really built for defense, so there’s always the tension that Pettis could suddenly find himself caught for a loss at any moment.
This is a ridiculously hard fight to call. For one thing, both guys are just 23 years old and still improving greatly fight to fight, and in general, it’s part of the eternal struggle between process and dynamism. Pettis has a much better put together game at the moment, showing steady boxing and mixing in takedowns as needed, but he’s prone to getting suddenly finished, and Moreno, if nothing else, has shown the ability to suddenly finish fights. His debut win over Smolka was a solid advertisement for Moreno’s venomous submission skills, as he’s a former BJJ champ in Mexico and can find his opponent’s neck without much trouble, but while his striking is a work in progress, his win over Ortiz showed that he can be dangerous; Ortiz was handling Moreno fairly easily just through wrestling at a strong pace, but when the two separated, Moreno managed to nail Ortiz with a kick upside the head, stunning him enough to jump on the fight-ending submission. Pettis is there to be hit when he’s throwing, and still sometimes tends to watch his work, so one could easily see a scenario where Moreno can catch Pettis standing, let alone if things head to the ground. But I still think Pettis, at least based off their last few fights, has the better overall game, and if he fights smartly, he should be able to box Moreno up. I expect a fun back and forth fight, and I’m probably going to sweat out this pick as long as the fight lasts, but as long as Pettis doesn’t try to mix in his wrestling (and God help him if he does,) my pick is Pettis via decision.
Randa Markos (7-4 overall, 3-3 UFC) vs. Alexa Grasso (9-1 overall, 1-1 UFC, 4-0 Invicta):
A strange little fight here; Alexa Grasso might be UFC’s most marketable Mexican prospect, and with her coming off a disheartening loss, they’ve decided to put her against…a top-ten fighter, inconsistent as she may be, coming off her best career win? Okay. It was expected that Grasso would wind up in UFC pretty much as soon as the promotion started running Mexico; still in her early twenties, the Guadalajara native was pretty much tearing through Invicta in exciting fashion, and looking good (both technically and cosmetically) while doing so. It took a little bit longer than expected, thanks to some injuries, but Grasso finally got the call for last year’s card in Mexico City, and made good with a pretty clear decision win over Heather Jo Clark. And from there, UFC pulled out the Paige VanZant playbook and gave her a prominent fight against division gatekeeper Felice Herrig…only for Herrig to show up in the best form of her career and pretty much derail the hype train. Whoops. Herrig chose to give Grasso a stand-up fight and pretty much made her look rote and one-dimensional, hanging back and basically making Grasso wait for openings to counter that never came. And Grasso never really got out of first gear, as apparently she thought she was winning the fight simply by not getting hurt, since she seemed to be the only surprised person in the building when the decision was read. One figured the matchmaking would take a step back and give Grasso some time to figure things out, but instead, UFC’s remaining aggressive with Grasso in both the card placement and the opponent choice, as she gets another tough test in Randa Markos.
Markos was a member of UFC’s initial tournament on TUF to crown a strawweight champion, and probably elevated her stock during the season more than anyone, between coming off as a likable personality and going from non-factor to semifinal participant. But after a disappointing loss to Jessica Penne coming off the show, Markos struggled to find much of a foothold on the main roster, changing camps and not really finding much success, with 2016 in particular being quite disappointing. Markos fought eventual top contender Karolina Kowalkiewicz close in a loss to end 2015, but decided to leave Tristar to return to her old camp at Michigan Top Team, and the results were…eh. She was able to get a win over Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger, even though it was kind of a sloppy, flat affair, but gave up an armbar in fairly short order to Cortney Casey as she continued to look for answers. Come 2017, the matchmaking didn’t seem to be offering her many favors either, as UFC surprisingly matched her up with former champ Carla Esparza; yes, the two feuded on TUF, but with Markos scuffling and Esparza still entrenched as a top-tier strawweight, it was strange timing. But Markos came through; having apparently mixed up her camps again, choosing to train at a number of different places, she mostly neutralized Esparza’s wrestling game and got a narrow win on the scorecards – now the only question is if this is just Markos’s career continuing to be inconsistent, or a sign of things to come.
The matchmaking is strange on the surface, with Grasso coming off a bad loss only to get a higher-ranked fighter, but when you break down the fight, it does seem UFC knows what they’re doing. Herrig gave Grasso a ton of trouble by hanging back and being technical, while Markos will probably give Grasso the fight that she wants; while Markos showed a ton more movement on the feet against Esparza, she was still mostly there to be hit, and the big improvements that she showed in defensive wrestling probably won’t amount to much against a pure striker like Grasso. Plus, it remains to be seen whether or not Markos’s more movement-heavy game was a reaction to facing a strong wrestler like Esparza; if she doesn’t have to worry about the takedown, which she won’t against Grasso, Markos may be more content to go back to trying to pressure in the clinch, where Grasso can use some dirty boxing and cause some damage in the process. Now, the flaw in the plan is if Markos can take Grasso to the ground, since that’s the big risk for the Mexican, and I don’t think Markos can pull that off; for one thing, Grasso’s takedown defense has been pretty solid, and again, that’ll probably require Markos to head into the clinch, where Grasso can probably beat her up. It’s a risky fight for UFC to make, but I have to think that risk pays off, as my call is Grasso via decision to re-establish herself as a rising strawweight.
Alan Jouban (15-5 overall, 6-3 UFC) vs. Niko Price (9-0  overall, 1-0  UFC):
It’s a bit of an odd fight for this card – though not the weirdest – unless either fighter has Mexican heritage I don’t know about, but it should fit right in as a strong action matchup. Alan Jouban’s loss to Gunnar Nelson in March was a reminder that the Louisiana native has a ceiling, but all in all, he’s established himself as appointment viewing, fighting fairly often and almost always bringing the violence while doing so. Jouban’s other job is as a male model, but amusingly, he fights completely against type, almost at times relying on his ability to recover from getting punched in the face just to get openings where he can do the same to his opponents. As his level of competition has ticked up, Jouban’s shown that he can fight a smart technical fight – his December 2016 bout against Mike Perry saw Jouban pretty much go out of his way not to spark things off into a brawl – and while that loss to Nelson showed he’s not a top-fifteen fighter just yet, there’s still enough to suggest that Jouban is improving while he acts as a bit of a gatekeeper, even at 35 years old.
UFC’s made a habit of feeding Jouban a steady diet of prospects, and the latest man up is Florida’s Niko Price. Price is still a bit of an unknown, but early returns are pretty solid; a knockout artist on the regional scene, Price looked good in his UFC debut, showing some solid grappling skills and tapping out Brandon Thatch within a round. Price’s follow-up was a bit more of a mixed bag, as he was the better athlete than Alex Morono but just found himself missing power punches and getting hit, but Price eventually found his groove and was pretty frightening once he started rolling downhill, knocking out Morono in brutal fashion as the horn sounded in the second round.
So, yeah, this seems like a lot of Jouban’s other fights; he’s against a dangerous foe, but he’s sort of positioned himself as the best of the action welterweights, flashing some technical ability when he needs to and possessing a ground game that’s well-regarded, even if we haven’t seen much of it. Price is a horse of an athlete, but he’s pretty much all-offense, no-defense and there to be hit, and, well, Jouban can hit him. It’s not like Jouban is invincible, so there’s still, say, a twenty percent chance that Price can tag him given his athleticism, but Jouban has the advantage pretty much everywhere; my call is Jouban by second-round knockout.
Humberto Bandenay (13-4  overall) vs. Martin Bravo (11-0 overall, 1-0 UFC):
This should be a fun one if nothing else, even if it’s hard to find much to say since both guys are fairly unknown quantities. UFC has seemingly stopped production of international seasons of TUF, so the last ever TUF: Latin America winner might be Baja California’s Martin Bravo, who won season three of the series this past November. Thankfully, the final came down to the two best prospects on the show – which happens less often than you’d think – in Bravo and Peru’s Claudio Puelles, so when Bravo put away Puelles with body shots in the second round, he was a worthy winner. But Bravo’s a prospect in the truest sense; while he has eleven fights under his belt, he’s still fairly raw; but he’s apparently been doing some work in the U.S., and at age 23, the sky’s still the limit. UFC, thankfully, is bringing Bravo along slowly; he was initially supposed to face Chris Gruetzemacher, a scrappy grinder who, if nothing else, would’ve tested Bravo’s ability to deal with UFC-level wrestling. But with Gruetzemacher hurt, Bravo instead faces another tall Peruvian in the debuting Humberto Bandenay.
Of all the non-Brazil countries in South America, Peru might be the one cranking out the most talent (even if Argentina’s Santiago Ponzinibbio is the best fighter,) so when I say that Bandenay is one of the best featherweights in Peru, it actually carries a bit of weight, at least relative to this level of things. Watching Bandenay’s footage, he fits right into the lower-level Latin American scene, since he’s full as hell, all-offense no-defense and hunting for submissions where he can get them. And, well, on the level of Peruvian MMA, he can get them. He’s also giant for featherweight, and generally seems like a projectable athlete, but much like Bravo, he’s still super-young, super-raw, and probably needs some breaks in matchmaking to keep evolving at this level.
I’m not exactly sure I would call this a “UFC-level” fight, such as it is, but it should be fun as hell; both guys are aggressive in pressuring and looking for openings, and don’t really have a ton of regard for defense at the moment. Plus, thankfully, both seem to be getting the right training; it looks like Bravo has at least done some work with T.J. Dillashaw and Elevation, while Bandenay has joined countryman Puelles as part of California’s Team Oyama. Each of these guys are so far from fully-formed, and have the potential to improve greatly since their last fight, so this is more or less a pick ’em, but I’ll take Bravo to win the decision; his pressure game seems to have more process, and there’s probably something to be said for having at least one UFC fight. Plus, hey, he’s already knocked out one tall Peruvian from Team Oyama.
Sam Alvey (30-9  overall, 7-4 UFC, 1-1 Bellator) vs. Rashad Evans (19-6-1 overall, 14-6-1 UFC):
So it’s come to this for Rashad Evans, as the former light heavyweight champ sees his lowest card placement since 2006. (Though, admittedly, this is probably still the second-most relevant fight on the card, need to feature Mexican fighters aside.) Evans’s fall was sudden, in a way; he was right in the mix of title contenders at the end of 2013, after pretty much obliterating Chael Sonnen, but was forced to back out of a fight with Daniel Cormier due to a knee injury, and, well, that was more or less the end of Evans’s career. After the two-year layoff, Evans returned and got outboxed by Ryan Bader, and there’s no shame in that; as uninspiring as Bader can be, he’d still be a title contender in UFC if he wasn’t Bellator champ right now. But then Evans got obliterated by Glover Teixeira, and turned to the desperate veteran’s last resort, moving down a weight class – to middleweight, in Evans’s case. Evans looked in great shape cosmetically at 185, but it took a while to find out if he could actually fight here. First, the state of New York flagged something in Evans’s brain, taking him off the UFC 205 card even though Evans had fought with whatever the issue was throughout his entire career. Ontario followed suit, scuttling Evans’s fight when he was placed on UFC 206, so it wound up being UFC 209 in Vegas where Evans made his middleweight debut, taking on Dan Kelly. And, well, Rashad Evans lost to Dan Kelly. It was a close fight, which kind of stings the blow a bit, but if a 39-year old judoka with one working knee, tough as he is, can take you to a pick ’em decision, that probably doesn’t portend a late-career renaissance. I’m not sure when the end is for Evans, but it’s not just yet, as he returns once again to take on another middleweight stalwart, “Smilin'” Sam Alvey.
Smilin’ Sam is just a weird fighter. Congrats on the dude for living his best life, though; a giant affable ginger from Wisconsin, Alvey’s married to a former America’s Top Model Winner (who he met at a Renaissance Faire) that also serves as one of his cornerpeople, often while visibly pregnant. And Alvey’s also managed to get UFC to basically give him paid vacation after paid vacation, as he fights as often as possible, taking the brood everywhere from Adelaide to Mexico City. Inside the cage, Alvey’s style is just as bizarre, as he’s as dedicated to inactivity and counterpunching as anyone in the entire promotion, standing up stiff and essentially just waiting for his opponents to give him opportunities so he can knock them senseless. When it works, the whole package is a thing of beauty; Alvey comes in to the dulcet tones of Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister,” waving at everyone along the way, delivers a walloping knockout, then gives an almost concerningly chipper post-fight interview to win any last stragglers over. But when things don’t work, Alvey’s fights tend to turn into slogs where he’s too patient to do anything, and his opponents are too scared to offer any openings.
This will be a funky fight. There are a few fighters on the UFC roster whose styles so overwhelm things that a fight can’t help but be sort of, I don’t know, bent towards what they do. And Alvey’s one of those guys; his fights sort of get infected with “Sam Alvey-ness” and come down to a binary result more often than not: can Alvey find enough of an opening to starch his opponent, or will things just drag on towards a decision, likely a loss? I tend to lean towards the latter, even if Evans has his own issues to work out, but I do think Evans has more just regressed into being an unexceptional fighter rather than being completely shot, like, say, a Johny Hendricks. I also do think Kelly is an exceptionally tough style matchup for someone without knockout power, which, apparently, includes Evans at 185; Kelly’s lone losses are to Derek Brunson and, funnily enough, Alvey, who have enough power to one-shot kill Kelly – otherwise, the Australian just sort of charges forward and manages to win tough, ugly fights. Anyway, I’m not sure Alvey can knock Evans out – well, I’m sure Alvey has the power to, but I’d like to think that this far into his career, Evans still has the defensive chops and should still have the speed to stifle Alvey’s single-shot knockouts – and otherwise, Alvey just sort of likes to take things into the clinch, and I think Evans can overpower him there. God, this fight is so weird, and without thinking Alvey can catch Evans, I sort of have to pick Evans by decision; I’d say if Evans can’t win this fight, then he definitely should retire, but, well, we may already be past that point.
Alejandro Perez (17-6-1 overall, 3-1-1 UFC) vs. Andre Soukhamthath (11-4 overall, 0-1 UFC):
A fun trifle of a fight here between two guys looking to carve out more of a niche as action bantamweights. It was a bit of a disappointment when Alejandro Perez won the bantamweight bracket of TUF: Latin America season one; fellow finalist Jose Quinonez looked like the much better and more marketable prospect, while Perez was sort of an uninspiring young veteran. But after a, frankly, somewhat embarrassing defeat where Perez charged immediately into a guillotine and lost in 23 seconds in front of the Mexican faithful, Perez has been able to remain undefeated. Admittedly, wins over Ian Entwistle and late-career Scott Jorgensen, as well as a draw against Albert Morales that, if not for a questionable point deduction, would’ve been a win aren’t much, but they’re better than expected from Perez as he proves himself to be a pretty fun, well-rounded fighter.
Perez looks to rack up another win in Mexico against Rhode Island’s Andre Soukhamthath, a Laotian-American looking to recover from a debut loss to Morales. Soukhamthath’s a pretty fun fighter, a pure striker who’s had some regional success, racking up both wins and highlight-reel finishes, obliterating both Kody Nordby and Kin Moy with knees leading up to his UFC shot. Soukhamthath’s loss to Morales was a bit disappointing, given that Morales is a fairly raw prospect, but there are some positives to take away from it, given that Soukhamthath was able to earn a scorecard thanks to his striking success before Morales took things to the ground.
This figures to be a close, back-and-forth fight; Perez has proven to be tough and well-rounded, and against someone who’s willing to engage, Soukhamthath’s striking-heavy game can be fun as hell. I really think this comes down to Soukhamthath having the athletic advantage; in his regional fights, when Soukhamthath could be the quicker fighter and sort of chip away at his opponents, the results were quite positive, but in a short-notice fight against a high-level athlete like Morales, Soukhamthath immediately looked less impressive. Perez might be able to pick up where Morales left off and initiate some grappling, but Soukhamthath’s striking can be deadly in the clinch, and in general, I think he can pretty much dictate things and outstrike Perez for the balance of the fight. Perez is so scrappy that this should be fun while it lasts, but I do think Soukhamthath takes the balance of the fight, and winds up uncorking something violent for the third-round knockout.
Jack Hermansson (15-3 overall, 2-1 UFC, 0-2 Bellator) vs. Bradley Scott (11-4 overall, 3-3 UFC):
I am not sure what UFC’s doing here. This is a perfectly fine fight to make, as both men are card-carrying members of UFC’s division of random European mid-tier middleweights, but I can’t help but wonder if something got lost along the way that put these two guys on a card in Mexico City, rather than, say, Rotterdam just a month later. Anyway, Sweden’s Jack Hermansson has proven to be a worthy addition since getting the UFC call about a year ago; one of the top middleweights in Europe, Hermansson’s been able to show off pretty much all aspects of his game in just three UFC fights. Throughout his first two, one of which was admittedly a loss to Cezar Ferreira, Hermansson had a bunch of success with his funky, movement-heavy striking, but his last fight, in Stockholm, was the clear highlight, as Hermansson just took Alex Nicholson down and pretty much beat the piss out of him in two minutes to make the hometown faithful happy.
Hermansson takes on England’s Bradley (or is it just Brad?) Scott, who, frankly, might be the most anonymous guy on the UFC roster with any sort of tenure. Making his UFC debut in 2012, losing the final of TUF: Smashes to current interim champ Robert Whittaker, Scott just sort of occasionally pops up only to be quickly forgotten. This marks the first time that Scott’s fought for the UFC outside of England or Australia, and also marks the first time under UFC contract that Scott has fought twice within a calendar year, despite, again, being with the promotion for almost five years. It’s almost admirable how generic Scott is; he’s alternated wins and losses, and even his game is fairly non-descript, as he’s pretty solid everywhere. Really, Scott’s only distinguishing attribute is his love of a neat little front choke that he used to put away Michael Kuiper in 2013, and almost snagged on Dylan Andrews in 2015.
This should be a fine little fight, but Hermansson should also take it fairly easily. Scott’s well-rounded and all, but Hermansson’s movement-heavy style just makes him seem plodding on the feet; Hermansson should be able to pick him apart standing, and even if things go to the ground, I’m not really sure Scott will have any sort of decided advantage. Scott’s tough, so I’ll say he hangs in there and makes Hermansson earn a decision, but I’m not sure things will ever get particularly dramatic. If anything, I’m more curious to see what the Mexico City crowd makes of a fight between two guys as far away from being locals as you can possibly get.
Dustin Ortiz (16-7 overall, 5-5 UFC, 2-0 Strikeforce) vs. Hector Sandoval (14-3 overall, 2-1 UFC):
A neat little flyweight fight here, fitting right in with all the other action fights on the card. UFC’s flyweight division isn’t many in terms of numbers, but has a ton of talented guys with very little separation, and Dustin Ortiz is pretty much the human embodiment of that jumble, seemingly able to beat or lose to any of his peers at any given moment. After an impressive UFC debut over Jose Maria Tome, Ortiz pretty much set the tone for his tenure, managing to pull off three straight split decisions, losing to John Moraga, but beating Ray Borg and Justin Scoggins. And from there it’s been a series of ups and downs; a big win over Willie Gates gave way to one-sided losses against Wilson Reis and Jussier Formiga, and just when it looked like Ortiz was rounding into career-best form with a win over Zach Makovsky, Brandon Moreno went and grabbed Ortiz’s neck in his last fight, earning a come-from-behind submission win that marred another great performance for Ortiz.
Ortiz looks to get back on track and hopefully find some level of consistency against Hector Sandoval, a Team Alpha Male product who finally gets his first fight in his homeland of Mexico. It remains to be seen if Sandoval is more prospect or curio; a late-notice loss to Wilson Reis was expected in his UFC debut, and Sandoval looked good in wins over Fredy Serrano and Matt Schnell, but he’s ridiculously small, even for flyweight, at a listed 5-foot-2. Admittedly, that comes with its advantages, as Sandoval is a stout wrestler and seemingly has some power in his hands, as he destroyed Schnell with some ground-and-pound, but it still may set a ceiling for Sandoval as he moves up the ladder of a tough division.
Sandoval is a tricky matchup, but Ortiz should take this one; while I love Brandon Moreno as a prospect, I did feel quite bad for Ortiz in the loss, and Ortiz continued to show an excellent evolution of his game focused around his wrestling. That might be a bit tricky against someone as short and strong as Sandoval, but I still think Ortiz should have the advantage in grappling, as he’s strong himself, and Sandoval showed against Schnell that he can be caught in scrambles, where Ortiz has had some success against opponents before. On the feet, it should be a similar story; Sandoval’s tricky, particularly given that he seems to have rare power for a flyweight, but Ortiz’s physical gifts and technical ability should carry the day. This should be a close one – which isn’t a shock to say, as seemingly all of Ortiz’s fights are – but my pick is Ortiz to take the decision.
Henry Briones (16-6-1 overall, 1-2 UFC) vs. Rani Yahya (23-9  overall, 8-3  UFC, 4-3 WEC):
A strange little striker-versus-grappler matchup, if only because I’d think the local favorite would get some more favorable matchmaking. Tijuana’s Henry Briones hasn’t fought much in the UFC thanks to injuries, but when he has, the Mexican faithful have backed him all the way. His loss in Vegas to Cody Garbrandt was fairly flat – though in retrospect, Briones did well to survive three rounds – but Briones choking out Guido Cannetti in UFC’s Mexico debut was a highlight of the card, and he sparked off an absolute brawl with Douglas D’Silva that may have got the best reaction of anything else at UFC’s last trip to Mexico City. After two straight losses, I suppose it’s a bit of a blessing Briones is even around to have a spot on this card, but instead he gets a tough fight against Brazilian vet Rani Yahya.
It’s hard to believe that Yahya is somehow just 32 years old; for one thing, he’s eternally looked like he’s in his late thirties, and for another, it feels like he’s been around forever, competing for the WEC title as far back as 2007. Yahya’s game is pretty simple, but effective, as he uses some funky striking as a means to an end in implementing his high-level Brazilian jiu-jitsu game. It’s one-dimensional, but why mess with success, as heading into 2017, Yahya had only dropped one of his last nine fights, a narrow decision loss to Tom Niinimaki. It looked like Yahya might be on his way to a little bit of a late-career run, particularly impressive in a division brimming with new talent like bantamweight, but instead Joe Soto pretty much blew open a lot of holes in Yahya’s game, stuffing takedowns and basically making Yahya a tired mess late in the fight.
I don’t really see a ton to suggest Briones can stop Yahya from implementing his game, unless he just manages to hit a lucky knockout shot as Yahya rushes into the clinch or something. It’s really kind of a waste; Briones is at his best as a fun brawler, and it’s not like 135 lacks for fun opponents that Briones can fight for his job against, but instead, I just see Yahya implementing takedowns and working towards a finish. If Briones survives, Yahya should tire and Briones could finish him late, but I don’t see things getting that far; my pick is Yahya by second-round submission.
Jose Quinonez (5-2 overall, 2-1 UFC) vs. Diego Rivas (7-0 overall, 2-0 UFC):
A neat little fight here to kick off the televised portion of things, featuring two of UFC’s most underrated Latin American talents. With the rise of Yair Rodriguez and the rest of his TUF: Latin America season one castmates greatly outperforming expectations, it’s easy to forget that Jose “Teco” Quinonez probably looked like the best prospect on the show, between his exciting fight style and some solid charisma. But Quinonez wound up losing the season’s bantamweight final to Alejandro Perez, and since then, has been pretty much out of sight and out of mind, only popping up about once a year deep on some undercard. Quinonez has looked good in those fights, tapping out castmate Leonardo Morales and beating Joey Gomez fairly handily, but one does wish he’d fight a bit more often and finally get some momentum going.
For the third time in four UFC fights, Quinonez faces a TUF: Latin America castmate, and this time it’s Chile’s Diego Rivas. Coming off the season, Rivas pretty much looked like roster filler; he didn’t do much on the show, his post-TUF win over Rodolfo Rubio was fairly unimpressive, and then he sort of vanished, not getting booked for all of 2015. But 2016 saw Rivas score one of the biggest upsets of the year; even though he lost a dominant first round to top featherweight prospect Noad Lahat, Rivas came out in the second round and absolutely obliterated Lahat with a flying knee that also doubled as one of the best knockouts of the year. But Rivas never really got an opportunity to follow up on that win; shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, and despite only being given one month to live at one point, he’s seemingly beat it and makes his return here, albeit now at bantamweight thanks to all the lost weight.
I feel a bit bad saying this, given all that Rivas has gone through, but I think Quinonez should take this fairly easily. Quinonez is the better physical talent – and as a large bantamweight, shouldn’t have a problem even with Rivas moving down from 145 – and has a more functional game based around constant pressure and hunting for submissions. Frankly, Rivas is still at the point where I’m not sure what he does at a UFC level; his fight with Rubio was just a bunch of mediocre grappling exchanges, and he pretty much accomplished nothing against Lahat before uncorking that knee to finish things. Rivas has at least shown the ability to survive submissions against both Rubio and Lahat, so I’ll say Quinonez has to work fifteen minutes to get the win, but my pick is Quinonez by fairly one-sided decision.
Joseph Morales (8-0 overall) vs. Roberto Sanchez (7-0 overall):
Hey, don’t you worry; just because Dana White has his own Tuesday Night Fights show doesn’t mean that he’s forgetting about Lookin’ For A Fight, as this fight features the latest prospect “discovered” on the show. Joseph Morales demonstrates some MMA intersectionality; not only is he right in the mold of a Dana White prospect, young, athletic, and raw as hell, but he’s also right in the mold of being a Team Alpha Male prospect, with a game focused around strong wrestling and various chokes. I swear, it’s like Alpha Male cranks out these types of guys on a conveyor belt or something.
Morales faces Roberto Sanchez, who also makes his UFC debut and is an interesting prospect in his own right. A math teacher in Texas who’s also already 31 years old, Sanchez may not seem like much at first blush, but he’s an impressively slick grappler, winning every fight save his MMA debut via submission. Admittedly, Sanchez is pretty much a submission hunter first, second, third, and eighth, but fight after fight sees Sanchez get out of trouble by latching on some sort of fight-ending technique, and he’s had a bunch of success doing so, winning the LFA title in June.
It’s a pretty fun fight between two guys who haven’t been at this all that long, particularly if it heads to the ground; between both guys, ten of their fifteen wins have come via submission. I have some reservations picking against Sanchez, since he always seems to just pull something out of his bag of tricks to win, but I’m just not sure he has the athleticism and horsepower to compete with Morales. This should be a fun, back-and-forth fight – and again, I really hope it goes to the ground – but my pick is Morales via decision.
Alvaro Herrera (9-4 overall, 1-1 UFC) vs. Jordan Rinaldi (12-5 overall, 0-1 UFC):
Well, this is certainly a fight. There’s not a ton to say about Jordan Rinaldi, as the North Carolina native has only had one UFC fight to date, dropping a decision to Abel Trujillo in May of last year. Rinaldi showed off a bit, particularly winning the second round with his wrestling, and in general pretty much all his fights just show him to be a solid, well-rounded fighter that’s a jack of all trades and master of none. Basically, he’s the perfect type of guy to act as a test to see if guys can stick on the UFC roster; only problem is, he still needs to make sure he can stick on the UFC roster himself.
Rinaldi looks to get his first win against Guadalajara’s Alvaro Herrera, a relatively anonymous alum of the TUF: Latin America season two cast. Herrera didn’t really accomplish much on the show, but at the very least had a big UFC debut, knocking out castmate Vernon Ramos in just thirty seconds. From there, UFC weirdly matched him against rising prospect Vicente Luque, where he didn’t really show much of anything, so now he cuts down to lightweight in search of his second UFC win.
I remember being surprised that Herrera even got a UFC shot, since, as I put it right after watching season two of TUF: Latin America (someone had to,) he was advertised as a grappler, but pretty much got out-grappled. Knockout of Ramos aside, Herrera hasn’t really shown a whole hell of a lot, and while he may have improved in the last year while training at Greg Jackson’s, if Rinaldi is a benchmark to see if you can stay on the UFC roster, I don’t think that’s a test that Herrera can pass. My pick is Rinaldi by second-round submission.