Two men as lethal on the feet as they are on the mat meet in Brasilia this Saturday when Kevin Lee looks to end Charles Oliveira’s six-fight winning streak in hostile territory. Also on tap for UFC Fight Night 170’s ESPN+ main card are a grapplers’ delight between Demian Maia and Gilbert Burns and what could be a “Fight of the Year” candidate between Johnny Walker and Nikita Krylov.
Three UFC Fight Night 170 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict (check out the first batch here), ripe and ready to be dissected. Let’s get cutting:
125 lbs.: Jussier Formiga vs. Brandon Moreno
A four-fight win streak — capped off by a decision over the red-hot Deiveson Figueiredo — brought Jussier Formiga (23-6) perilously close to the No. 1-ranked contender spot he held early in his career. He wound up falling short against Joseph Benavidez in their rematch, succumbing to a head kick and follow-up punches late in the second (watch highlights).
He’s two inches shorter than “The Assassin Baby” and surrenders three inches of reach.
Brandon Moreno (16-5-1) made his UFC name with an upset submission of Louis Smolka and two subsequent victories, only to find himself released after consecutive losses to Sergio Pettis and Alexandre Pantoja. He claimed the LFA Flyweight title in his first post-Octagon appearance, then returned to draw with top prospect Askar Askarov and take a decision over Kai Kara-France.
He has scored 10 submission wins as a professional.
I have a very bad habit of underestimating Brandon Moreno. If my memory’s correct, I’ve picked against him in every single one of his UFC efforts. I clearly haven’t learned my lesson, as I see this fight going very poorly for him. Formiga boasts some of the best back control in the entire sport and enough wrestling prowess to get to that sort of dominant position against “The Assassin Baby,” who gave up four takedowns against Askarov. Though a beastly scrambler, Moreno will find getting out from underneath the Brazilian a mighty tall ask.
That’s not to say that I see this as a wipeout, of course. That’s because Formiga has improved on the feet, but he’s still a bit fragile, and Moreno packs some sneaky power in those heavy swings of his. After watching Formiga successfully navigate the nightmare of power-punches that is Figueiredo, though, I see him avoiding Moreno’s heavy punches and cruising to victory via ironclad top control.
Prediction: Formiga via unanimous decision
115 lbs.: Amanda Ribas vs. Randa Markos
Amanda Ribas (8-1) first signed with UFC back in 2017, only to run afoul of United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and serve a two-year suspension. She’s made up for lost time in UFC, submitting Emily Whitmire and taking a dominant decision over unbeaten Mackenzie Dern.
She has knocked out and submitted three opponents apiece.
Randa Markos (10-7-1) — the underdog story of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20 — still has yet to win consecutive fights during her five-year tenure in the Octagon. She’s presently 2-1-1 in her last four, rebounding from a loss to Cláudia Gadelha with a split decision over Ashley Yoder.
She replaces Paige VanZant, who broke her arm in January.
As of this writing, this is the second-most lopsided fight on the card odds-wise, trailing only Renato Moicano vs. Damir Hadzovic. I’m not sure I agree. That’s because Ribas tore Dern to pieces, sure, but Markos is a far more effective striker and more experienced wrestler than the BJJ ace. Ribas has a habit of loading up on her punches, opening the door for Markos’ heavy right hand, and Markos’ entries are going to be a lot harder to counter than Dern’s sloppy efforts.
Unfortunately for “Quiet Storm,” her consistent issues with takedown defense may once again prove her undoing. Ribas’ top control is terrific, and the fact that Markos struggled to get out from underneath Yoder is a bad sign. It’s a lot closer than the lines suggest, but Ribas’ grappling should once again thwart Markos’ hopes of a UFC win streak.
Prediction: Ribas via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Elizeu Zaleski vs. Aleksei Kunchenko
From 2015 to 2019, Elizeu Zaleski (21-6) put together one of the most entertaining runs in recent memory, racking up three “Fights of the Night” awards in seven consecutive wins. His streak came to an end last Aug. 2019 at the hands of fellow bruiser Li Jingliang, who put away “Capoeira” in three to earn his own post-fight bonus.
Fourteen of his 17 stoppage wins have come by form of knockout.
Aleksei Kunchenko (20-1) successfully defended the M-1 Welterweight belt four times before joining UFC, where he dispatched faded veterans Thiago Alves and Yushin Okami in successive appearances. “Wolverine” was then set to face fellow mauler Laureano Staropoli, only to drop a decision to late replacement Gilbert Burns instead.
He gives up four inches of height and three inches of reach to the Brazilian.
The main event looks like heaps of fun and Johnny Walker-Nikita Krylov probably has at least one post-fight bonus on lock, but do not sleep on this fight. Zaleski is pure violence and Kunchenko — while not the force of nature he was on the Russian circuit now that he’s in his mid-thirties — can scrap with the best of them. This is shaping up to be 15 minutes of absolute war.
Though it may be some sunk-cost fallacy on my part after hyping Kunchenko up in my “New Blood” piece, I like his chances for the upset. Zaleski’s boxing is the weakest part of his striking, and Kunchenko’s compact combination punching is well-equipped to punish that. And even if “Capoeira” does find the mark with a bomb, we’ve seen Kunchenko battle back from adversity, so it’s unlikely that Zaleski can compensate for his technical shortcomings by overpowering him. In short, “Wolverine” gets back in the win column, edging out Zaleski in a high-octane slugfest.
Prediction: Kunchenko via split decision
135 lbs.: Rani Yahya vs. Enrique Barzola
Rani Yahya (26-10) — now almost 13 years removed from his World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) debut — quietly assembled a 7-1 run that featured five submission finishes, including a 91-second heel hook of Luke Sanders in 2018. He couldn’t quite match the pace of prospect Ricky Simon, however, hurting him in the second round but ultimately losing a decision.
He ends a 13-month layoff on Saturday.
Enrique Barzola (16-5-1) opened his UFC career 5-1, the only blemish a bogus split decision against Kyle Bochniak in 2016. He now finds himself just 1-2 in his last three, a split decision over Bobby Moffett sandwiched between losses to Kevin Aguilar and Movsar Evloev.
This will be his Bantamweight debut.
Yahya’s longevity is pretty damn remarkable. Indeed, like Demian Maia, he’s found a way to parlay his grappling credentials into consistent success despite underdeveloped stand up, even if he does fade late with worrying regularity. That’s the big concern here. That’s because Barzola may not be a finisher, but he has a hell of a motor, averaging more than 4.5 takedowns per fight and a healthy number of strikes besides. If Yahya can’t get the early finish, Barzola has the skills to punish him as the fight goes on.
We’ve seen Yahya punish willing grapplers in the past, notably Michinori Tanaka and Matthew Lopez, but those two were far more committed to ground exchanges than Barzola, who’s more inclined to wear people down with repeated takedowns than look to establish top control. Plus, we just saw Barzola do a great job staying out of trouble against a high-end wrestler and scrambler in Movsar Evloev. So long as the cut to Bantamweight doesn’t prove too burdensome, expect Barzola to escape some shaky spots early and take over down the stretch.
Prediction: Barzola via unanimous decision
UFC Fight Night 170’s main event, as well as Walker vs. Krylov and Zaleski vs. Kunchenko, all have insane violence potential. You don’t want to miss a thing — see you Saturday, Maniacs!
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 170 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.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Fight Night 170: “Lee vs. Oliviera” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.