Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight strikers Elizeu Zaleski and Curtis Millender will square off this Saturday (March 9, 2019) at UFC Fight Night 146 (a.k.a. UFC on ESPN+ 4) from inside Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kansas.
Zaleski has to be one of the most under-appreciated action fighters on the roster. The Brazilian — appropriately nicknamed “Capoeira” — has won his previous six fights, stopping three of his opponents and scoring three “Fight of the Night” bonuses as well. Zaleski has been chasing a highly ranked foe, but instead he’ll throw down with another rising striker. Millender is a gigantic Welterweight who takes advantage of his massive frame with punishing Muay Thai, resulting in a perfect (3-0) start to his UFC career.
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each man:
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos
Key Wins: Sean Strickland (UFC 224), Max Griffin (UFC Fight Night 119), Keita Nakamura (UFC Fight Night 96)
Key Losses: Nicholas Dalby (UFC Fight Night 67)
Keys to Victory: Zaleski is something of a wild man. He’s remarkably comfortable in a brawl, packing power in both hands and a solid chin in addition to the ability to suddenly spin into powerful kicks. Perhaps most helpful is his conditioning, which has allowed him to dig deep and pull out the win late in competitive fights.
We’re likely in for a war here.
Realistically, it’s clear where both men want this fight to take place. Millender works at the edge of his kickboxing range, slamming his long legs into opponents from a distance they cannot match. Zaleski is a strong kicker as well, but against such a larger foe, he’ll likely want to force a firefight in the pocket.
To that end, Zaleski needs to kick with Millender only until he’s able to trap him along the fence. Once that happens, Zaleski must take the initiative and go on the offensive with his hands. While close to Millender, I’d like to see Zaleski work the body, which will be an easier target while Millender is leaning back and also benefit him as the fight wears on.
Key Wins: Siyar Bahadurzada (UFC 232), Thiago Alves (UFC Fight Night 126), Max Griffin (UFC Fight Night 119)
Key Losses: Brennan Ward (Bellator 134), Fernando Gonzalez (Bellator 137)
Keys to Victory: At 6’3” with a 78-inch reach, Millender is one of the lankiest fighters at 170 pounds, but he’s not overly skinny either. Millender makes great use of his range, jabbing well and sticking opponents with hard kicks from a very long distance.
Zaleski likes to force wars of attrition, and based on his UFC experience so far, he tends to win them. Millender wants no part of a blood-and-guts brawl with the Brazilian, but luckily he does have many helpful tools to back off Zaleski.
First and foremost, strikes to the leg and body are the absolute best way to cut an opponent down and make him less dangerous — important against a man with 14 knockout victories. While keeping his foe back with the jab, Millender should be taking every opportunity to kick out a leg or slam into his liver.
Intercepting strikes such as the snap kick or step knee will be quite important as well. Running into these blows is not only painful and fatiguing for a bruiser like Zaleski, but it’s an important mental factor as well. If Zaleski is forced to absorb a hard shot each time he attempts to advance, he’ll eventually be far more reluctant to force the issue.
Bottom Line: This is guaranteed to be a fun fight.
This is kind of a side step for Zaleski. Though it’s likely to be a closely contested bout, Zaleski has earned a top opponent and chance to break into the top 10. Instead, he’s being forced into the cage opposite a dangerous knockout artist that will elevate his status little even with victory.
It’s a more a beneficial match up for Millender, who has the opportunity to steal Zaleski’s hard-earned No. 14 spot in the rankings. At 31 years of age with 20 professional fights to his name, Millender is likely in his prime. If he’s going to make a run at the title, it has to begin here with a victory over “Capoeira.”
At UFC Fight Night 146, Elizeu Zaleski and Curtis Millender will go to war. Which man will remain standing when the dust settles?