Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight grapplers Dan Kelly and Antonio Carlos Junior will throw down this Saturday (March 19, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 85 inside Brisbane Entertainment Centre in Brisbane, Australia.
Kelly is a former Judo Olympian who's actually found decent success inside the Octagon despite being nearly 40 years old. Admittedly, it hasn't been against great competition, but Kelly has nonetheless carved out a position for himself in the division.
Alternatively, Carlos Junior won his season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Brazil" as a Heavyweight. Now, the prospect looks to find a home at Middleweight, where he's currently undefeated.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for both men:
Key Wins: Luke Zachrich (UFC Fight Night 55), Steve Montgomery (UFC 193)
Key Losses: Sam Alvey (UFC Fight Night 65)
Keys to Victory: Kelly represented Australia in the Olympics four times, and that background is undoubtedly his main strength. His striking is a bit awkward, but the large Middleweight is a physical force in the clinch and on the mat.
Kelly is a deceivingly skilled fighter in my opinion. To be frank, I expected each of his younger opponents to out-work and potentially finish the Judoka, but Kelly hung tough, made it ugly, and has won three of four UFC bouts.
In this bout, Kelly needs to continue to rely on his Judo. In Carlos Junior's sole loss, he was ground out by Patrick Cummins, who controlled the Brazilian from top position. While wrestling and Judo are obviously very different, the base game plan of get on top and hold position needs to be copied.
Once in top position, Kelly has proven to be very strong and does have a decent submission game of his own. If that's enough to avoid his opponent's offense and suffocate the Brazilian, it should exhaust him over time and allow Kelly to score with ground strikes.
Antonio Carlos Junior
Record: 5-1 (1)
Key Wins: Eddie Gordon (UFC Fight Night 70), Vitor Miranda (TUF Brazil 3 Finale)
Key Losses: Patrick Cummins (UFC Fight Night 58)
Keys to Victory: Carlos Junior is a decorated jiu-jitsu specialist and something of a physical specimen. The Brazilian is very large for the division and also possesses some strong conditioning, making him a difficult man to beat.
Carlos Junior has two real possible strategies here. Depending on how much his striking has improved in the last year or so, he could looked to strike with Kelly. The Australian is very stiff on his feet and is unlikely to be able to keep up with Carlos Junior for long, as youth is a major advantage in striking battles.
Plus, as Sam Alvey showed, Kelly's chin can be cracked.
Alternatively, Carlos Junior can look for takedowns of his own and try to force a jiu-jitsu battle. Even if he can't score his own takedowns early on, simply grinding against the cage for the trip or shot will force his opponent to work and tire him out.
Even if Carlos Junior gets reversed in his attempts to grapple, it isn't the worst thing. The Brazilian has a nasty bottom game, which should be enough to sweep Kelly if nothing else.
Bottom Line: This is something of a veteran against prospect match up.
It's weird to call a man with just 11 pro fights a veteran, but Kelly is certainly no prospect either. Since he has nearly twice the amount of experience, Kelly is fulfilling that role. Basically, there's no real chance of Kelly making a real impact on the division, but a win would definitely prove that he belongs on the roster.
On that note, a loss won't have him kicked to the curb either. It will, however, show that Kelly likely can only hang with the absolute lowest tier of Middleweights.
This is a much more pivotal bout for Carlos Junior, whose career has been following an odd path. While not entirely his fault, the Brazilian has yet to win consistently and prove himself a serious prospect in any one division. If he comes up short against a less-than-elite foe, it won't look good for his immediate future.
At the same time, Carlos Junior looked really damn good in his Middleweight debut. If he can put on another strong performance here, it may be time for a big step up for the jiu-jitsu ace.
At UFC Fight Night 85, Dan Kelly and Antonio Carlos Junior will square off. Which fighter will have his hand raised?