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UFC Fight Night 148: New Blood - Small men, big finishes

The Flyweight and Bantamweight divisions are something of a circus right now, what with the latter’s champion failing a drug test and the former only tenuously still existing, but that hasn’t stopped Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) from adding fresh talent to both. Before Stephen Thompson and Anthony Pettis duke it out on Saturday (March 23, 2019) in UFC Fight Night 148’s main event, a last-second replacement from the Midwest and a two-time “Contender Series” winner will make their first walks to the cage.

Ryan “Main Event” MacDonald

Weight Class: Bantamweight
Age: 25
Record: 10-0 (3 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: None

MacDonald cut his teeth on the Midwestern circuit, winning the Midwest Championship Fighting Featherweight and Bantamweight titles. He made his LFA debut in Sept. 2018 with a guillotine finish of Trevor Ward.

He steps in for the injured Martin Day on just under one month’s notice.

MacDonald looks to be primarily a combination striker. Standing bolt upright, he delivers rapid punching combinations punctuated by low kicks. He can wrestle if needed and has a trio of finishes via choke, though, and his takedown defense looks solid even if the offense is unspectacular.

Remember that “bolt upright” part? MacDonald’s problem is that he has zero defensive aptitude on the feet. Matt Murphy — who entered their bout with a losing record — managed to drop MacDonald with a telegraphed overhand right and continued to do damage even when his gas tank started to empty. MacDonald doesn’t seem to have the instinct to bring his hands up to protect his face when he leans back and he’s wide open when he starts to unload. There’s a bevy of 135-pound fighters in UFC right now with the power to take his head off for that, so that needs to be fixed sooner rather than later.

Opponent: MacDonald, to his misfortune, faces a superior striker in Chris Gutierrez. Though Gutierrez fell short in his Octagon debut against the excellent Raoni Barcelos and has persistent issues with takedown defense, he’s got slick boxing and crushing low kicks to back them up. MacDonald’s flat-footedness and porous defense have me thinking Gutierrez floors him without too much effort.


Jordan Espinosa

Weight Class: Flyweight
Age: 29
Record: 13-5 (2 KO, 7 SUB)
Notable Victories: Nick Urso, Cee Jay Hamilton, Rilley Dutro

Despite scoring an 83-second submission finish on “Contender Series,” Espinosa wasn’t among those to receive a contract on Season One. He scraped past fellow alumnus Cee Jay Hamilton on the regional scene, then returned for Season Two with a last-second knockout of Rilley Dutro. He was supposed to debut against Mark De La Rosa in Nov. 2018, but withdrew because of injury.

Espinosa is a well-rounded operator who fights in bursts, picking away with heavy kicks at range or exploding in with hard right crosses and takedowns. On the feet, he’s got more pop than that knockout percentage would imply and a nice little check hook for those who try to pressure him. On the ground, he boasts a lethal d’arce that he can hit from multiple angles, making scrambling or even just keeping your head low in the clinch dangerous. He’s flashy, dangerous everywhere, and fun to watch.

So why all the losses?

As Paul Felder noted in the Dutro fight, Espinosa tends to start explosively and fade late. Once he slows, he stops setting up his takedowns and his range management starts to suffer. In addition, we’ve seen from Luke Rockhold what happens when you’re over-reliant on a fade-back check hook and leave your chin up; Espinosa was badly hurt early when Dutro managed to get inside, and only the fact that Dutro was unobservant enough to walk into the same punch over and over kept Espinosa in the fight long enough to drop him in return.

If Espinosa could maintain his first-round pace for 15 minutes, he’d be an immediate contender. As is, we have to wait and see whether he can fix his cardio or at least his pacing.

Opponent: Espinosa debuts against Eric Shelton, who put on an unexpectedly impressive performance on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), but has yet to find his footing in the Octagon. The two appear evenly matched in both the striking and the wrestling and should make for an entertaining scrap; the question is whether Espinosa can keep up for 15 minutes.


Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 148 card on fight night, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance at 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Fight Night 148: “Thompson vs. Pettis” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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