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UFC 221 card: Jake Matthews vs Li Jingliang full fight preview

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Camacho vs Jingliang David McIntyre-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight prospects Jake Matthews and Li Jingliang will scrap this Saturday (Feb. 10, 2018) at UFC 221 inside Perth Arena in Perth, Australia.

At one point, Matthews was seen by many as a future top contender. A pair of losses saw him gain an extra 15 pounds in a move to Welterweight, and he scraped by Bojan Velickovic to score a lackluster split-decision that did little to impress. On the other hand, Jingliang has grown tremendously since his UFC debut. “The Leech” has won his last four bouts — including a trio of knockout wins — and undoubtedly represents China’s best chance to get a fighter into the Top 15.

Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for both men:

Jake Matthews
Record: 11-3
Key Wins: Johnny Case (UFC Fight Night 85), Bojan Velickovic (UFC Fight Night 121), Akbarh Arreola (UFC 193), Vagner Rocha (UFC Fight Night 55)
Key Losses: Kevin Lee (TUF 23 Finale), James Vick (UFC Fight Night 65), Andrew Holbrook (UFC Fight Night 101)
Keys to Victory: Matthews is an interesting case. He’s undoubtedly a powerful wrestler with a great top game, but the Aussie has been rather inconsistent on the feet. In previous bouts, he showed some developing and hard-hitting kickboxing, but last time out showed almost no confidence on his feet and instead he dove for takedowns from far out.

Matthews was lucky to escape with the decision win opposite Velickovic, who let Matthews get away with some questionable in-fight decisions. Jingliang will not be quite so lenient, so it’s imperative that Matthews puts it all together on Saturday night.

If Matthews is willing to throw down on his feet, his chance of landing a takedown goes up exponentially. Both men are strong wrestlers, but Matthews does have an athleticism advantage that could make the difference. Furthermore, Matthews has a really crushing top game. If he can get Jingliang down, there’s a fair chance he can get him to turn his back and give up the neck.

VS.

Ji Lingliang
Record: 14-4
Key Wins: Zak Ottow (UFC Fight Night 122), Dhiego Lima (UFC Fight Night 66), Bobby Nash (UFC on FOX 23), Frank Camacho (UFC Fight Night 111)
Key Losses: Keita Nakamura (UFC Fight Night 75), Nordine Taleb (UFC Fight Night 54)
Keys to Victory: Jingliang found success early in his career by being more physical and tougher than opponents, using a reasonably solid wrestling game to implement his will. Recently, however, Jingliang has really found confidence in his punching power, which has made him a far more dangerous athlete.

In this bout, Jingliang should do his best to destroy Matthews’ confidence. If he walks out and slings heavy shots — showing little respect for his opponent — Matthews is probably going to get uncomfortable and shoot.

A pressured shot is far easier to defend than one that’s well set up. He may not be quite the natural athlete that Matthews is, but Jingliang has brute strength and will shuck off any poor shot without much issue. Unlike Velickovic, “The Leech” is also quite violent and will follow up a failed shot with heavy punches or a reshot of his own. If Jingliang forces Matthews off his game early, his punches will add up and the finish will come.

Bottom Line: It’s a match up of Welterweight prospects looking to earn a chance at a Top 15-ranked foe.

Uninspired performance though it was, defeating Bojan Velickovic is still a difficult task. If Matthews can figure out his game and shut down Jingliang’s win streak, it would definitely go a long way in building off that victory and establishing Matthews as a serious fighter to watch moving forward. Alternatively, a loss will not see Matthews released — someone has to fight twice a year in Australia. At the same time, Matthews has very obvious potential, and it would be a shame to see him regress and dive for ugly shots a second time.

Jingliang has put together a great win streak and shown consistent improvement, and he’s now knocking on the door of a Top 15 ranking. At the very least, a fifth straight victory should earn the Chinese athlete a match with someone like Dong Hyun Kim. Of course, a loss sets Jingliang back quite a bit, as he’s been steadily building toward bigger things.

At UFC 221, Jake Matthews and Li Jingliang will throw down in a Welterweight battle. Which man will have his hand raised?