No steamed hams, but plenty of violence!
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) hits Adirondack Bank Center in Utica, N.Y., for a special Friday night (June 1, 2018) face-punching special, pitting surging Bantamweight contenders Jimmie Rivera (No. 4) and Marlon Moraes (No. 5) against each other in UFC Fight Night 131’s main event. The FOX Sports 1-televised main card also features top Lightweight prospect Gregor GIllespie against Vinc Pichel, Walt Harris vs. Daniel Spitz at Heavyweight, and a potential loser-goes-home clash between Jake Ellenberger and Ben Saunders.
115 lbs.: Jessica Aguilar vs. Jodie Esquibel
Once arguably the top women’s Strawweight on the planet, Jessica Aguilar (19-6) has struggled to find her footing in UFC, fighting just twice in the last three years and losing both times. The former World Series of Fighting (WSOF) champ was last seen losing a decision to Cortney Casey last year, making this her first fight in more than 12 months.
“Jag” has forced eight opponents to tap as a professional.
Jodie Esquibel (6-3) stepped up when the casting call went out for The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 23, but Ashley Yoder ended her run in the elimination round. After splitting fights with Alexa Grasso and DeAnna Bennett, she made her Octagon debut last October in Gdansk, dropping a decision to local favorite Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
She stands an inch shorter than Aguilar, but will have a one-inch reach advantage.
I’m honestly not sure what to make of Aguilar. Losing to Claudia Gadelha is perfectly understandable, but the Casey loss was downright baffling. Despite taking down her opponent four times, she elected to just stand there and let Casey kick her legs with impunity rather than try to establish top control.
That’s not confidence-inspiring stuff.
Luckily for her, Esquibel represents a step down in competition. With a history of making 105 pounds and split decisions comprising half of her victories, there’s very little going Jodie’s way against the infinitely more proven “Jag.” Therefore, expect Aguilar to score regular takedowns en route to a wide decision victory.
Prediction: Aguilar via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Johnny Eduardo vs. Nathaniel Wood
It’s been almost seven years since Johnny Eduardo (28-11) debuted in UFC and he’s fought just six times in that span. Now 37 years old, Eduardo enters the Octagon on the heels of a technical knockout loss to Matthew Lopez last June.
He is one inch taller and 13 years older than Nathanial Wood (13-3).
Unfazed by the first (technical) knockout loss of his career, Wood has won his last five fights by stoppage within two rounds. His last two fights have been pure highlight fodder, knocking out Josh Reed in an insane 2:19 slugfest and sent Luca Iovine faceplanting to the mat in just 50 seconds.
Eleven of his wins have come inside the distance, eight of them via form of knockout.
My first instinct is to pick the red-hot young prospect over the aging, inactive veteran. I just keep second-guessing myself, though. Wood got caught in a wild brawl just recently and doesn’t have the wrestling prowess to shut down Eduardo the way Raphael Assuncao, Aljamain Sterling and Lopez did.
Eduardo’s Muay Thai remains potent enough that standing with him is a terrible idea.
It’s more an instinct than anything else, but I say Eduardo turns back the clock one last time, catching Wood with something unpleasant late in the first round.
Prediction: Eduardo via first-round technical knockout
125 lbs.: Jarred Brooks vs. Jose Torres
Jarred Brooks (13-1) cut his teeth in America, Russia and Japan before debuting in July 2017 and edging TUF veteran Eric Shelton by split decision. “The Monkey King” had a little less luck against Brazil’s Deiveson Figueiredo, who scraped past him in Sao Paulo in Oct. 2017.
Despite their respective nicknames, he is actually one inch shorter than “Shorty.”
Jose Torres (7-0) established himself as the top amateur in the world before making his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) debut in 2016. Since then, he has won and defended Titan FC’s Flyweight and Bantamweight titles, most recently doing so via highlight-reel knockout in February.
He replaces Hector Sandoval on less than two weeks’ notice.
Torres is arguably the top prospect to join UFC since Zabit Magomedsharipov. “Shorty” has an unmatched amateur pedigree and was a double champion in a very legit organization. This kid’s potential is absolutely sky-high, and while Brooks is a top-notch wrestler, “The Monkey King” is in for a rough night.
The key here is size: Brooks has fought at Strawweight before, while Torres has held his own against solid Bantamweight competition. In other words, expect Brooks’ wrestling to become increasingly ineffective as Torres’ takedown defense, tight boxing and knees wear him down for either a late stoppage or clear 29-28.
Prediction: Torres via unanimous decision
Four more UFC Fight Night 131 “Prelims” undercard matches to preview and predict tomorrow, including Sijara Eubanks’ UFC debut and the latest from David Teymur. Same time as always, Maniacs!
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 131 fight card this weekend, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” undercard bout at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by the FOX Sports 1 “Prelims” undercard bouts at 8 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 10 p.m. ET, also on FOX Sports 1.