Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) hits Santiago, Chile for the first time this upcoming Saturday evening (May 19, 2018) with a pair of Top 10-ranked Welterweight contenders at the helm. The FOX Sports 1-televised main event pits rising bruiser Kamaru Usman (No. 7) against Demian Maia (No. 5), who replaces the injured Santiago Ponzinibbio on short notice, while top women’s Strawweight prospects Alexa Grasso and Tatiana Suarez duke it out in the co-feature. UFC Fight Night 129’s main card also features rising Light Heavyweight prospect Dominick Reyes against Jared Cannonier and a clash between inaugural The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Latin America” alums Guido Cannetti and Diego Rivas.
Three of the seven “Prelims” undercard matches take place on Fight Pass, the rest on the oft-neglected FOX Sports 2. Let’s start with the former:
145 lbs.: Enrique Barzola vs. Brandon Davis
Enrique Barzola (14-3-1) defeated Horacio Gutierrez in his Octagon debut to win TUF: “Latin America” 2, only to lose a controversial decision to Kyle Bochniak his next time out. He’s since rattled off three straight, including a mild upset of TUF: “Latin America” 1 competitor Gabriel Benitez.
He will give up three inches of height and two inches of reach to Brandon Davis (9-4).
“Killer B” defeated Austin Arnett in an excellent slugfest to earn a contract on Dana White’s “Tuesday Night Contender Series.” Though he lost a decision to Kyle Bochniak in his Octagon debut, he returned less than one month later to out-slug Steven Peterson and earn “Fight of the Night” in the process.
He has knocked out three pro opponents and submitted another two.
This has the potential to be the most entertaining fight of the “Prelims” undercard, as both men are more than happy to bring it. Davis in particular is loads of fun, but unfortunately for him, Barzola has the tools to give him just as much grief as Bochniak did. “El Fuerte” is quite good at getting in and out of the pocket, keeping Davis from getting his longer combinations going, and he’s hit 21 takedowns in his last three fights, so any shenanigans from Davis will be punished by a trip to the mat.
If Davis just had a bit more stopping power, this would be infinitely more intriguing. As is, “Killer B” doesn’t have enough firepower to keep Barzola from picking him apart and manhandling him on the inside. In short, Barzola potshots and slams his way to victory.
Prediction: Barzola via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Enrique Briones vs. Frankie Saenz
Enrique Briones (16-7-1) wound up on the wrong end of an incredible upkick knockout on TUF: “Latin America,” but came back strong with a “Fight of the Night” finish of Guido Cannetti at UFC 180. Things went right back to bad, and “Henry Bure” enters the Octagon on the heels of one-sided losses to Cody Garbrandt, Douglas Andrade and Rani Yahya.
His stoppage wins are split 8/6 between knockouts and submissions.
Frankie Saenz (11-4) got off to a red-hot start in UFC, winning three straight and scoring one of the biggest numerical upsets in UFC history over Iuri Alcantara. He went on to lose three straight, including a narrow decision loss to Augusto Mendes that earned “Fight of the Night,” before returning to the win column with an equally narrow decision win over Merab Dvalishvili in Dec. 2017.
Briones is by no means a bad fighter, but this feels like a gimme for Saenz, who has proven he can at least be competitive against strong Bantamweight competition. He can match Briones’ grit and his wrestling, while not elite, should be more than enough to exploit Briones below average takedown defense.
Saenz can hold his own or at the very least survive on the feet long enough to open up his grinding clinchwork and takedowns, which will carry him to a wide decision victory.
Prediction: Saenz via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Felipe Silva vs. Claudio Puelles
A first-round knockout of UFC vet Anton Kuivanen brought Felipe Silva (8-1) to the Octagon, where he made an immediate impression by stopping Shane Campbell in 73 seconds. He was a tiny bit less successful against Mairbek Taisumov, who put the Brazilian to sleep with one punch.
All eight of his stoppage wins have come in the first round.
Claudio Puelles — representing Team Chuck Liddell on TUF: “Latin America” 3 — fought his way to the finals before suffering a technical knockout loss to Martin Bravo. He’s been out of action since that Nov. 2016 bout, as injury scrapped a planned fight with Sage Northcutt.
Though he’s just one inch shorter than Silva, he will give up five inches of reach.
Puelles is a good-sized Lightweight with a wide skillset, but I’m not sure he’s quite UFC-ready yet. He struggled against Bravo’s rudimentary striking offense and his wrestling toolbox doesn’t look all that deep. Silva’s sheer power and lethality in the clinch make this a majorly rough matchup for the Peruvian.
Puelles is just 22 years old, so he has plenty of time to develop, but Silva and his kickboxing pedigree will give him a rude reminder that there are levels to this. He batters Puelles with clinch knees and body shots for an early finish.
Prediction: Silva via first-round knockout
UFC Fight Night 129’s other four “Prelims” undercard bouts include a rematch between Brandon Moreno and Alexandre Pantoja, so be sure to stop by tomorrow at the same time as always.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 129 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 2 at 8 p.m. ET, before the FOX Sports 1 main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.