Seven days after controversially edging Dominick Reyes, UFC Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones will see his next likely contender crowned inside Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M., this Saturday (Feb. 15, 2020) when Cory Anderson once again locks horns with Jan Blachowicz. UFC Fight Night 167 also features a potentially wild Welterweight scrap between Diego Sanchez and Michel Pereira alongside Devin Clark vs. Dequan Townsend.
125 lbs.: Rogerio Bontorin vs. Ray Borg
Rogerio Bontorin (16-1) punched his UFC ticket with an impressive submission on “Contender Series,” then defied considerable odds to edge Magomed Bibulatov in his promotional debut. This set up an all-Brazilian clash with Raulian Paiva, which saw almost three minutes of action before Bontorin opened a fight-ending cut on his foe.
Eleven of his 14 stoppage victories have come by submission.
One misfortune after another kept Ray Borg (12-4) out of action from Oct. 2017 to March 2019, when he lost a razor-thin split decision to late replacement Casey Kenney in Philadelphia. “The Tazmexican Devil” worked his way back into the win column four months later with a decision over undefeated prospect Gabriel Silva for his first victory in 28 months.
He faces a four-inch reach discrepancy.
Scramble fans rejoice — all signs point to this turning into a super-mobile ground battle between two elite grapplers. Both of these men are as technically savvy as they are aggressive, and the momentum figures to change hands staggeringly often as they trade position. Though likely a coin flip, this seems to just favor Borg, who’s found takedown success against a bevy of quality scramblers in the Octagon.
Borg strikes me as the stronger wrestler and is more than good enough to stay out of submission trouble should he end up on the bottom. A few more minutes of top control carry him to an entertaining victory.
Prediction: Borg via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Casey Kenney vs. Merab Dvalishvili
Two tries on “Contender Series” weren’t enough to get Casey Kenney (13-1) a contract, as he won a decision over Cee Jay Hamilton and dropped a narrow one to Adam Antolin one month later. After winning the LFA interim Bantamweight title, Kenney joined UFC in March, upsetting Ray Borg on an eight-day turnaround and doing the same to the far larger Manny Bermudez five months later.
He’s tapped four opponents and knocked out another two.
Despite some strong efforts, Merab Dvalishvili (9-4) struggled to find his first Octagon victory, losing a contentious split decision to Frankie Saenz and falling to Ricky Simon via literal last-second guillotine choke. He finally got on the board with a decision over Terrion Ware, then handed The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) winner Brad Katona his first-ever loss last May.
Though Kenney has competed at Flyweight, Dvalishvili faces height and reach disadvantages.
Dvalishvili is walking proof that hyper-specialization is still a valid strategy in mixed martial arts (MMA), provided that said hyper-specialization is wrestling. He’s a delightful blend of wild, improvisational striking and borderline unstoppable takedowns, and despite Kenney’s grappling pedigree, it’s hard not to see him getting manhandled by a heavier, stronger grinding artist.
Kenney admittedly acquitted himself well against a much larger grappler in Bermudez last time out, but he’s far less likely to find success taking Dvalishvili down or getting anything going off of his back. So long as Dvalishvili doesn’t leave his neck out the way he did against Simón, expect him to rack up another half-dozen takedowns as he grinds Kenney into oblivion.
Prediction: Dvalishvili via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Macy Chiasson vs. Shanna Young
Macy Chiasson’s (5-1) rampage through TUF 28 and trio of dominant Octagon victories had her on the brink of contender status when she stepped into the cage against Lina Lansberg in Aug. 2019. Despite a strong start and -450 odds, Chiasson would ultimately drop a unanimous decision after struggling with her foe’s striking prowess.
She has knocked out and submitted two pro foes apiece.
Shanna Young (7-2) bounced back from her first professional loss with two straight stoppage wins to earn a spot on “Contender Series,” where she fell to Sarah Alpar by second-round submission. “The Shanimal” then tried her hand in Invicta’s “Phoenix Series” Bantamweight tournament, tapping to eventual winner Miranda Maverick in the second round.
She replaces the injured Nicco Montano (details) on less than a week’s notice.
Chiasson’s loss to Lansberg raised questions about her ability to deal with opponents she can’t just physically bulldoze. Montano, though not the biggest in the division, figured to at least have the technical skill to avoid getting rag-dolled. Not sure I can say the same for Young; beyond being a natural Flyweight facing one of the most imposing Bantamweights on the roster, she’s neither difficult to hit or difficult to take down.
Not a good set of weaknesses to sport against Chiasson.
Even the Chiasson who floundered against Lansberg should have no trouble here. Whether through mauling her against the fence or pounding her out, she puts Young away in the opening minutes.
Prediction: Chiasson via first-round technical knockout
125 lbs.: Mark De La Rosa vs. Raulian Paiva
Mark De Las Rosa (11-3) bounced back from a debut loss to Tim Elliott with two consecutive Octagon victories, including a split decision over veteran Joby Sanchez. He’s yet to taste victory since, dropping decisions to Alex Perez and Kai Kara-France.
“The Bumblebee” has tapped five professional opponents via rear-naked choke.
Raulian Paiva (18-3) brought a 12-fight win streak into his Octagon debut, capped by a split decision over Allan Nascimento on “Contender Series.” He is still chasing his first Octagon win, having lost a razor-thin decision to Kai Kara-France and suffered a gruesome cut against Rogerio Bontorin.
He’ll have two inches of height and 4.5 inches of reach on De La Rosa.
It’s hard not to feel for Paiva, who’s far more talented than his 0-2 Octagon record would suggest. I had him winning the Kara-France fight and the Bontorin brawl ended before it could really get going. Luckily, he has a far more winnable assignment here. In my New Blood piece on him, I described Paiva as “built to destroy grapplers,” boasting terrific takedown defense and scrambling ability; considering how badly he has De La Rosa outgunned on the feet and how much the latter has struggled to implement his wrestling against top competition, I’m thinking the Brazilian finally gets into the UFC win column.
De La Rosa is admittedly adept in transition, and him snagging Paiva’s neck mid-scramble isn’t out of the question. It’s far more likely that Paiva sprawls-and-brawls him to death, though, picking up momentum as the fight progresses en route to a wide decision.
Prediction: Paiva via unanimous decision
Three more fights to go, including the latest from Tim Means and top Bantamweight prospect Nathaniel Wood. See you tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 167 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the main card portion that will also stream on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.
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