The Apex in Las Vegas hosts this week’s UFC Fight Night, while next week’s UFC 262 is set to take place in front of a raucous crowd at T-Mobile Arena. Things are slowly returning to normal in the UFC, Nevada and the world, and it’s exciting to anticipate viewing events that will be open to public attendance.
I speak often about uncovering opportunity when the athlete I prefer in a bout is primed to present his absolute best effort.
Going into last week’s fight, Dominick Reyes fit that description perfectly. However, Reyes fought a fight that would have toppled any light heavyweight in the UFC that night except for Jiri Prochazka. Reyes earned my respect for he displayed heart, grit, guts and mettle throughout the nine minutes of complete beatdown he endured at the hands, feet, knees and elbows of Prochazka.
Handicapping Reyes to fight his best fight last Saturday was successful. Handicapping his best effort against the effort of Prochazka was not.
Insight the octagon 2021: 9-7 + 3.15 units
MARINA RODRIGUEZ -175 VS. MICHELLE WATERSON + 155
Women’s Flyweight (125 pounds) Main Event
The original main event was Cory Sandhagen vs. TJ Dillashaw. That fight was postponed because of a Dillashaw injury, leaving this relatively uninspiring fight slate without a main event headliner or a co-main event bout until Monday.
Rodriguez and Waterson step in on very short notice for a most obscure, unusual matchup that makes little sense other than the UFC was simply out of time and options for a headline fight.
Rodriguez, ranked seventh in the strawweight division (115 pounds), is a tall, gangly, long Muay Thai-trained striker. She’s also a blue belt in BJJ and should benefit immensely by only having to cut weight to 125 pounds for this fight.
Waterson, who is a black belt in Karate and well-versed in BJJ, is really an atomweight (105 pounds) fighter by physique and statue, but the UFC does not feature that division, so the feisty “Karate Hottie” competes with slightly larger women in the strawweight division.
Waterson will be forced to compete against a fighter who, at 125 pounds, will be physically imposing, which is a discernable advantage for Rodriguez.
That this fight was not finalized until Monday forces hesitation to pull the trigger on Rodriguez now as I believe she may have only recently left to get here for this event. Travel from Brazil to the United State under normal circumstances requires more time than a few days to prepare for a bout, let alone in this COVID-19 strained environment.
Provided Rodriguez breezes through the weigh-ins without issue Friday morning and looks fully prepared to compete, then my judgment is that Waterson’s only real path to victory will be to discover a way to force Rodriguez into a long, arduous fight. Waterson must hope that her vast experience in main events provides the edge she needs to earn a decision, but I’m stretching just to say that.
Rodriguez seems very well-positioned for a workmanlike and one-sided win Saturday, but weigh-ins must transpire before making any monetary commitment.
Total for this fight: 4.5 rounds Over -250
GEOFF NEAL -185 VS. NEIL MAGNY + 165
Welterweight (170 pounds)
At 6-foot-3 and sporting an 80-inch reach, the ninth-ranked Magny is one tough fighter to navigate. He is at his best when using space and distance while on his feet to accrue points through volume.
Magny must avoid the ground game. Once taken to the mat, his lack of effective wrestling/grappling exposes him despite his blue belt in BJJ and, more importantly, his belief that he is a capable enough grappler to compete with the division’s top 10, which he is not.
Magny’s results have been uneven over his last several fights. One through line is he has faltered against the division’s elite, as evidenced by his last fight against Michael Chiesa.
Magny’s plan was to try to compete with Chiesa at the grappler’s strength, and the result was a very one-sided loss for Magny, who never really opted to keep the fight standing and at distance, nor was he really able to compete while the two were rolling on the mat.
Neal enters this fight ranked 10th in the division and off a loss to Stephen Thompson, whom I view as THE threat to current champion Kamaru Usman in the welterweight division.
What must be mentioned is that Neal had recently recovered from a life-threatening illness before his fight with Thompson. Further, he was forced to compete in that scrap without his coach, cornerman and mentor Sayif Saud in his corner.
Neal is a blue belt in BJJ, so he’s quite capable of going to the floor for a grope, and while the southpaw gives up height and reach to Magny, he is by far the more compact, explosive, powerful striker of the two.
Should Magny decide to compete with Neal at Neal’s forte, which is standing, then Magny will display the same lack of fight IQ he did trying to outgrapple Chiesa.
On the feet, Magny better be fleet afoot, constantly moving and maintaining distance from the stronger more physical forward-pressing power striker or risk being battered over time.
This is a three-round bout in the smaller confines of the Apex octagon, which means that Magny will have less room to move, maneuver and evade, while Neal should find engagement much easier to initiate and maintain.
I look at these fighters as going in separate career directions. Magny is now a formidable barometer to the elite in the division and Neal makes a pronouncement to all welterweights that he belongs in the division’s elite with a win.
Leg one of a two-fighter parlay, the second leg of which will be filled in an upcoming column should Neal win.
Total in this fight: 2.5 over -140
GREGOR GILLESPIE -165 VS. DIEGO FERREIRA + 145
Lightweight (155 pounds)
This fight will be as compelling as Neal vs. Magny.
Fourteenth-ranked Gillespie was on the wrong end of a highlight-reel head kick KO delivered by Kevin Lee in his last fight in November of 2019. Gillespie has an elite NCAA Division I wrestling background coupled with a blue belt in BJJ.
Gillespie fights like most wrestlers by using unrelenting forward pressure to earn his way into the pocket then clasp onto the opponent. From the clinch, it’s either a maul against the cage before being flung to the floor or just a judo trip to grind and grapple on the ground.
Gillespie, especially after his last outcome, will surely come out with no intention of having this fight play out on the feet for any real amount of time as he’s aware that striking and strike defense are his weaknesses and his opponent’s strengths.
Twelfth-ranked Ferreira had won his last six bouts before losing his last fight against Beniel Dariush in a razor-close decision. Ferreira was away from the UFC for some time, but once he returned, he displayed a focus, fierceness and frenetic pace that has elevated him into this top-10 showdown.
Ferreira will have a certain advantage on the feet, and while he’s a world-class grappler at 36, Ferreira’s one weakness may be his propensity to tire late in fights.
Gillespie will rely on that world-class wrestling foundation to get this bout to the mat and earn top position on Ferreira and maul him as well as force him to use energy trying to escape.
If/when this fight does hit the floor, Ferreira’s size as well his third-degree black belt may help him overcome Gillespie’s wrestling early on, but Ferreira does not want to compete on the floor long term just as Gillespie must avoid standing with Ferreira.
Angelo Dundee would call this the “Styles make Fights” bout of the night.
I believe Ferreira is a live underdog here based on the fact that Gillespie has been away and returns off such a devastating loss, but I’ll be patient until later in the week to commit to this fight.
Total for this fight: 2.5 rounds Over -190