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UFC Utica predictions for ‘Rivera vs Moraes’ on FS1

Esther Lin

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is back on FOX Sports 1 tonight (June 1, 2018) with its UFC Fight Night 131 mixed martial arts (MMA) event from inside Adirondack Bank Center in Utica, New York, headlined by the bantamweight title match up pitting Jimmie Rivera and his ridiculous 20-fight win streak against Marlon Moraes and his championship experience forged under the World Series of Fighting (WSOF) banner.

That’s really the best thing I can say about this six-fight main card, which also features Gregor Gillespie and Vinc Pinchel battling for a spot in the featherweight title chase. There is plenty of talent being featured in the “Empire State,” but the stakes are low outside of the five-round headliner and thus it’s hard to get too excited about the ramifications of each match up. But hey, if you like to watch two guys in their shorts slug it out, we’ve got plenty of that.

Before we get into my short-sighted and long-winded breakdown, which I drafted on the back on a manila envelope (making it easier to mail in), let’s take a closer look at what Patrick Stumberg spent his words on – courtesy of FOX Sports 1 and UFC Fight Pass “Prelims” – by clicking here and here. Odds and betting lines for all the UFC Fight Night 131 action can be reviewed here.

Let’s get this over with:

135 lbs.: Jimmie “El Terror” Rivera (21-1) vs. “Magic” Marlon Moraes (20-5-1)

At what point is a loss no longer relevant? That’s a question that has to be taken into consideration when deconstructing fighters for the purposes of predicting future performances. Jimmie Rivera is riding a 20-fight professional win streak, but I also saw him go down in flames during episode one of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14. I know those fights are exhibition bouts and therefore don’t get recorded, but he was locked in a cage with Dennis Bermudez, had a referee, judges, and ringside physicians. For our purposes, it counts, though it should be noted he was dominating round one before fading in the second stanza, allowing “The Menace” to rebound and capture the win.

Is that something that can happen against the equally-ferocious Marlon Moraes?

Rivera’s last misstep came in 2011, nearly seven years ago, right around the same time “Magic” was submitted in back-to-back fights. Neither fighter is invincible and Moraes did have problems with the always-problematic Raphael Assuncao in his Octagon debut, dropping a split decision before successfully splitting John Dodson and downright killing Aljamain Sterling. That sums up his 15-1 run since those 2011 taps and Rivera is 13-0 during that same span. Who fought the better competition? That might be too close to call and on paper, looks even across the board.

Moraes: Raphael Assuncao, John Dodson, Aljamain Sterling
Rivera: Iuri Alcantara, Urijah Faber, Thomas Almeida

So much of what they offer in terms of offense also pairs up well, albeit in different ways. Rivera is the better wrestler but doesn’t have the creative jiu-jitsu of Moraes, while the Brazilian is not the nuts-and-bolts boxer of his American counterpart, but is more diverse and far flashier on the feet. That matters when faced with sound fundamentals, as sometimes it takes something out of left field to land clean and turn the tide, or perhaps even win the fight.

No question this will be a fast-paced, exciting contest. I think Rivera’s pressure and high-volume output will capture the early rounds, but Moraes will be fresher as the fight wears on, giving him more opportunities to land (and land clean) without the fear of lights-out conunterpunching. Like most five-round fights between two closely-matched contenders, this might come down to who wins the third frame.

Final prediction: Rivera def. Moraes by split decision

155 lbs.: Gregor “The Gift” Gillespie (11-0) vs. Vinc “From Hell” Pichel (11-1)

After getting bounced from TUF 15 semifinals, Vinc Pichel made his official Octagon debut and got turned into hot dog meat by Rustam Khabilov. Undaunted, “From Hell” rebounded with four straight wins, though let’s not overlook the fact that three of those victories came over fighters who are currently awful. Garett Whitely and Damien Brown have both dropped three straight, while Anthony Njokuani has lost five in a row. Pichel did hand Joaquin Silva his first professional loss, but “Netto BJJ” was wholly unspectacular in both TUF: “Brazil 4” and his four trips to the Octagon.

Not to suggest that Gregor Gillespie has been cleaning out the top 10, but he was able to replicate his success on the regional circuit with a blistering four-fight win streak under the UFC banner, with his last three coming by way of violent finish. A true mixed martial artist, his nine stoppages — seven of which came in the opening frame — are split nearly evenly between knockouts (5) and submissions (4). Pichel looks great on paper, Gillespie looks great on paper and inside the Octagon.

Final prediction: Gillespie def. Pichel by technical knockout

265 lbs.: Walt “The Big Ticket” Harris (10-7) vs. Daniel “Daddy Long Legs” Spitz (6-1)

Walt Harris has been competing in UFC for nearly five years and has 10 fights inside the Octagon, and yet somehow is still not ranked in the top 15 of his division. That should tell you everything you need to know about “The Big Ticket,” now 34, especially in a weight class as putrid as heavyweight. To wit, Marcin Tybura is 3-3 under the UFC banner and is ranked No. 8 at 265 pounds. So why keep him around? Only eight of his 10 fights have seen the scorecards and the promotion favors combatants who live and die by the sword. Sure, he’s just 4-6 for UFC, but he’s exactly the kind of fighter to throw at an up-and-comer like Daniel Spitz.

Standing 6’7” and calling himself “Daddy Long Legs,” the Sikjitsu standout has an 82” reach and a background in coffee, much like the sport’s most famous ex-barista, Patrick Cummins. Spitz is just 1-1 inside the Octagon, dropping a decision to Mark Godbeer at UFC 209 before rebounding with a technical knockout win over Anthony Hamilton roughly six months later. He played football in college and did not come from a fighting background; he was basically a fan who fell in love with MMA and decided to pursue it professionally. Looking at his record, it appears to be a choice that paid off. Spitz is younger, taller, and more athletic than Harris, whose only advantage over “Daddy Long Legs” is experience, none of which is worth bragging about.

Final prediction: Spitz def. Harris by technical knockout

170 lbs.: Jake “The Juggernaut” Ellenberger (31-13) vs. Ben “Killa B” Saunders (21-9-2)

There was a time when Jake Ellenberger was ranked No. 3 in the world and it seemed like only a matter of time before he was fighting for the welterweight title. My, how times have changed. “The Juggernaut” has been knocked out in back-to-back losses and is just 2-7 dating back to mid-2013, which makes me wonder why the promotion is hanging on to the 33-year-old slugger. Probably because he’s only gone to the scorecards once in the last five years (blame the ho-hum Tarec Saffiedine) and hey, it’s not easy populating all these FOX Sports 1 fight cards. His name is still recognizable and Ellenberger at least got a puncher’s chance. Though to be fair, he may have slightly more tonight in Utica.

Opposing him is the equally seasoned Ben Saunders, who like Ellenberger, was finished in his last two trips to the cage. That was a disappointing end to his Cinderella run of 5-1 after returning to UFC in summer 2014. Now 35, “Killa B” can’t afford another loss, especially to a fighter who’s been as putrid as “The Juggernaut” in recent years. Saunders will enjoy a five-inch height and six-inch reach advantage when the cage door closes, but he’s more of a Muay Thai fighter than a distance striker, and that puts him within reach of Ellenberger’s power punch. Saunders is certainly the better jiu-jitsu fighter, but his opponent was a two-time Division-2 All American, so getting the fight to the floor may be easier said than done. As much as I love “Killa B,” he’s facing an uphill battle, stylistically speaking.

Final prediction: Ellenberger def. Saunders by technical knockout

145 lbs.: Julio Arce (14-2) vs. Daniel “Kid Dynamite” Teymur (6-1)

Julio Arce earned his spot on the UFC roster by obliterating Peter Petties on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. His first appearance ended in victory, though it wasn’t the lights-out performance we saw prior to his arrival. While not the prolific finisher his boxing pedigree would suggest, Arce is clean and quick with his hands and sports a sneaky submission game. Consider him a welcome addition to the rapidly-evaporating featherweight contender pool. Assuming he wins, of course, but I’m confident this will be an action-packed fight. One that, perhaps, could be decided by who uncorks the stronger flurry as the clock winds down at the end of the final frame.

Standing in his way is Daniel Teymur, who shares parents with UFC lightweight veteran David Teymur. Like his younger brother, “Kid Lightning” is dangerous on his feet, holding championship titles on the Swedish kickboxing and Muay Thai circuits. Teymur lost a decision in his Octagon debut, but that had more to do with pacing than talent, which happens when you’ve never left the first round in your professional career. I think it’s too soon to look the other way in terms of his potential and wherever Arce wants to take the fight, Teymur will be game, as he’s no stranger to the ground.

Final prediction: Teymur def. Arce by split decision

205 lbs.: “Smile ‘N” Sam Alvey (32-10, 1 NC) vs. Gian Villante (16-9)

Sam Alvey is apparently still alive after he joined the not-so-illustious “cut weight and try not to die” club last October in Gdansk. Back at light heavyweight where he belongs, the “Smile ‘N” slugger will attempt to string together a couple of wins, much like he did as a rising contender back in 2016, capturing four straight with two finishes. What makes him so dangerous is his power, as Alvey can and will shut the lights off when he connects. But it’s not just the knockout that gives him an advantage, it’s the threat of that power that changes the way his opponents attack.

Well, unless you’re Gian Villante, who like Alvey, is good (but not great) at just about everything. One thing he lacks is his opponent’s knockout power, but I defy you to find a light heavyweight who can take more damage and keep coming forward. Blocking punches is great defense. Blocking punches with your face, however, is not. We’re already 12 fights into Villante’s UFC career and what you see is pretty much what you get. I’m expecting this fight to mirror most of his previous fights and that can be good or bad, depending on what kind of MMA fan you are. Alvey will rough him up, but may not be able to finish him, so it’s just a matter of how well Villante can use his wrestling in the second half of the fight.

Final prediction: Alvey def. Villante by unanimous decision

There you have it. will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 131 fight card TONIGHT (click here), 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.

For much more on UFC Utica click here.

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