Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) top-ranked Bantamweights Raphael Assuncao and Matthew Lopez will face off this Saturday (Nov 11, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 120 inside PPG Paints Arena in Ted Constant Convocation Center.
Assuncao is the very definition of crafty veteran. The 35-year-old Brazilian isn’t an overwhelming kickboxer with big power or dominating grappler, but he’s nevertheless won nine of 10 as a Bantamweight.
His only loss in that run? Bantamweight king T.J. Dillashaw.
On the other hand, Lopez is still fairly young in his career and new to the UFC. However, he’s quickly risen into the rankings, bouncing back from a short-notice debut loss to capture a pair of solid victories.
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each fighter:
Key Wins: Marlon Moraes (UFC 212), Aljamain Sterling (UFC on FOX 23), TJ Dillashaw (UFC Fight Night 29), Bryan Caraway (UFC Fight Night 54)
Key Losses: TJ Dillashaw (UFC 200)
Keys to Victory: To be crafty and adjust to opponents, a fighter has to be well-rounded, and that’s certainly true of Assuncao. In general, Assuncao prefers to counter strike, frustrating his opponent with few chances to hit him and scoring takedowns when they arise.
Against Lopez, he shouldn’t have to switch much up.
The closest comparable opponent to Lopez in Assuncao’s past is Bryan Caraway. In that bout, Caraway denied the wrestler any easy entrances to his shots and forced him to kickbox at range. Assuncao was able to dictate the distance perfectly, landing a lot of counter punches and making his opponent look bad.
Lopez seems to be a slightly more natural striker than Caraway, but he’s far less experienced than Assuncao. If the Brazilian patiently pokes his foe from the outside with the jab and kicks, he’ll bait his opponent into counters. Like the Caraway fight, he may even be able to land his own takedowns if his opponent is sloppy.
Key Wins: Johnny Eduardo (UFC 212), Mitch Gagnon (UFC 206)
Key Losses: Rani Yahya (UFC Fight Night 91)
Keys to Victory: Lopez is a wrestler who thrives in scrambles, chain wrestling and grabbing at the neck until he lands in a dominant position. When he gets on top, he’s quite aggressive, leading to eight finishes in his 10 victories.
Getting on top will be difficult, but it’s almost mandatory for Lopez to win this fight. Unless he lands a big, fight-changing shot that really affects Assuncao, Lopez is going to have a tough time landing without eating Assuncao’s right hand counter shot.
Ideally, Lopez will find a way to back Assuncao up to the fence, get in on a shot, and chain wrestle until his foe hits the mat. That’s easier said than done, but Lopez does have the athleticism to help him close the distance.
One thing Lopez can do to better his chances is blend his striking and wrestling. If he’s level changing into overhands or coming up from failed shots with immediate punches and kicks, it will go a long way in helping him actually land a takedown.
Bottom Line: The winner is reasonably close to a title shot.
Assuncao’s record as a Bantamweight is hugely impressive. He probably should have earned a title shot by now, but things just never came together for him. For example, injuries shelved his title shot against Renan Barao. Normally, this a third-straight win over a tough fighter like Lopez would give him a solid argument towards a shot, but now the new champion has a recent win over him.
That’s plain bad luck.
At any rate, a win still pushes him closer. It might not earn him the shot, but it could see him in a title eliminator with Cody Garbrandt next. A loss, meanwhile, will drop him out of the top five and make it incredibly difficult to get back to this spot.
This is a big jump in competition for Lopez. He’s not undeserving necessarily, but it’s also a chance that most fighters don’t receive. It’s a show of faith in his talents from UFC matchmakers, which does put some pressure on the collegiate wrestler. If Lopez comes out on top, he’ll soar up the rankings and suddenly be in the title mix. If not, he won’t lose any ground, but he’ll have to start a new win streak up before getting another shot.
At UFC Fight Night 120, Raphael Assuncao and Matthew Lopez will square off. Which Bantamweight will take another step towards the top?