Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweights Darren Elkins and Lucas Martins go to war this Saturday (Oct. 25, 2014) at UFC 179 inside Ginásio do Maracanãzinho in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
After winning his first five bouts at featherweight, Elkins has run into a rough patch. The grinding wrestler inched out a win over Hatsu Hioki, but it's sandwiched between dominant losses to Chad Mendes and Jeremy Stephens. Now, "Damage" is looking to recover some momentum and prove that he's still a quality featherweight.
Since his debut loss to Edson Barboza, Martins has jumped around weight classes. Though he's won all three bouts since, his performances haven't been entirely consistent. Still, his bouts have all been action heavy affairs.
Let's look at the keys to victory for each man.
Key Wins: Hatsu Hioki (UFC Fight Night 27), Diego Brandao (UFC 146)
Key Losses: Chad Mendes (UFC on FOX 7), Jeremy Stephens (UFC on FOX 10)
Keys to Victory: Elkins is the perfect example of a grinder. His punches pack a decent amount and his jiu-jitsu game is above average, but really Elkins excels at wearing away his opponent with constant little strikes and heavy top pressure.
Outside of his surprising knockout victory over Antonio Carvalho, each of Elkins' wins relied upon his ability to get his opponent to the mat. When he failed, he absorbed quite a bit of damage or was finished quickly.
This fight is no blue moon. If Elkins is forced to stand with Martins, he's going to have to rely on his sturdy chin a bit more than is comfortable.
To avoid that situation, Elkins needs to apply the pressure early and often. Martins' defense is not particularly sound, so Elkins should be able to touch his chin if he's aggressive. Even if he doesn't hurt Martins, earning the Brazilian's respect on the feet is vital.
If Martins is wary of Elkins' punches, then the takedown will come. From the top, Elkins is in his wheelhouse, as he controls, stymies his opponent's offense, and looks for his own. After the first successful takedown, it will only get easier for Elkins.
At worst, Elkins will have to rely on his cardio to get the victory. Even if he's not able to force Martins to react to feints and punches, Elkins can just push forward regardless and absorb damage as necessary. He's durable enough to keep on wrestling after taking a hard shot, something he proved repeatedly against Hatsu Hioki and Diego Brandao.
Key Wins: Alex White (UFC Fight Night 45), Junior Hernandez (UFC Fight Night 28)
Key Losses: Edson Barboza (UFC on FX 7)
Keys to Victory: Martins is the definition of an action fighter. Win or lose, his fights usually end violently and relatively quickly.
As a member of the Chute Boxe Academy, it's no surprise that Martins is such an aggressive Muay Thai fighter. In his short three year professional career, "Mineiro" has already finished 10 of his opponents via knockout.
Against Elkins, it's important that Martins tones down his usual aggression. Elkins is not the best at reactive shots, but it's definitely a part of his game. If Martins were to try walking down Elkins swinging heavy leather, the most likely result is that he'd wind up on his back.
Instead, Martins should rely on his footwork and counter striking ability. He's far from a polished kickboxer, but his movements are more fluid than Elkins. Then, when Elkins looks to awkwardly mask his takedowns with punches, Martins should pick his shots and circle off.
When Elkins is faced with a fighter who can harshly punish his attempts to close the distance, his pressure falters. Without his pressure, Elkins is a much more average fighter, ripe for abuse from Martins.
It's just vital that Martins follows that game plan and does not get over-anxious, as Elkins is definitely tough enough to pull off a comeback.
Bottom Line from Brazil: This fight will very likely determine what direction each fighter is heading towards.
With a win, Elkins proves that he's still a fighter near the end of the top 15 or just outside of it. He'll likely get another up and comer in his next bout, but this fight could be the start of a win streak that gets him back in the cage with top 10 talent.
A loss would be quite dangerous for Elkins. He's not likely to get cut, but his style does not do him any favors. Plus, Martins is neither a top contender or established veteran, like Elkins most recent losses.
This is Martins' opportunity to potentially break into the top 15. More importantly, a win here almost guarantees him a bout with a ranked fighter. At just 25 years old, this could be huge for Martins' career, as the UFC loves to promote explosive young finishers.
On the other hand, a loss would simply mean it's too early for the Brazilian. Elkins is a tough style match up for a good percentage of the division and does not go down easily. A loss, while forgivable, would put a major delay on any of Martins' plans to climb to the top of the division.
At UFC 179, Darren Elkins and Lucas Martins will fight for their position in the featherweight division. Which man will leave the cage as the victor?