Both extremes of the fight land spectrum will be on display this Sat. evening (Jan. 22, 2022) when Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight king Francis Ngannou faces surging Interim Champion Ciryl Gane, not long after Flyweight titlist Brandon Moreno looks to make it 2-0-1 against deposed destroyer Deiveson Figueiredo.
Anaheim’s Honda Center will also host a violent Welterweight clash between knockout artist Michel Pereira and Andre Fialho, plus the return of Said Nurmagomedov against Bantamweight stalwart Cody Stamann, as well as the latest from ATG grappler Rodolfo “The Black Belt Hunter” Vieira.
Our usual main card guy got trapped in the Metaverse, so this duty falls to me once again. As always, you can find our UFC 270 “Prelims” card analysis here and here, our Odds dissections here, and Andrew Richardson’s razor-sharp breakdowns here and here.
265 lbs.: UFC Heavyweight Champion Francis “The Predator” Ngannou (16-3) vs. UFC Interim Heavyweight Champion Ciryl “Bon Gamin” Gane (10-0)
Speaking as a fan of Gane’s since before his Octagon debut, nothing would please me more than to see Ngannou knock him into next week.
It’s been bizarre to watch the UFC brass do everything in their power to piss off their most electrifying Heavyweight in years. No matter where you sit on the salary question, scheduling an interim title fight instead of waiting all of one month for the champ to be ready is complete garbage. Watching Ngannou starch the Next Big Thing and enjoy the accompanying leverage would bring a smile to my face.
Unfortunately, I have to go with Gane.
What separates “Bon Gamin” from so many other Heavyweights is his composure. This can be entertaining, as when he dismantled Derrick Lewis, or agonizing, as when he did just enough to win each round against Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Combined with his footwork, speed, and overall technique, he creates distressingly few opportunities for power punchers to sneak in deathblows.
On top of that, he’s got the gas tank to fight the same way in the fifth round as he did in the first, and the jury’s still out on whether Ngannou can do the same. All of this combines to present a scenario where Gane stays on his bike and piles on kicks and noncommittal punches until Ngannou fades and/or reverts to the free-swinging bruiser of old.
None of that is to say Ngannou can’t knock Gane’s block off; if anyone’s going to sleep here, it’s Gane, as Ngannou ran headfirst into a perfect right hand from Stipe Miocic and still had the composure to blast him unconscious seconds later. Gane’s just too fast, elusive, and efficient to give Ngannou the openings he needs. And new.
Prediction: Gane def. Ngannou by unanimous decision
125 lbs.: UFC Flyweight Champion Brandon “The Assassin Baby” Moreno (19-5-2) vs. Deiveson “Deus Da Guerra” Figueiredo (20-2-1)
Two contradictory things are true about this fight. One is that it shouldn’t be happening; even if top contender Askar Askarov is out of commission for time being, Figueiredo lost so decisively in the rematch that Alexandre Pantoja, the last man to beat Moreno, deserved to get the call.
The other is that this is still a compelling matchup.
The view going into the rematch, or at least my view, was that the first meeting was Moreno’s best chance at toppling the division’s “God of War.” Figueiredo, who’s long struggled with the 125-pound weight limit, was making an incredibly quick turnaround. If Moreno couldn’t take three rounds from a drained Figueiredo, the argument went, he wasn’t going to have any success against a version with proper preparation
And then he did.
A clear loss in the second meeting generally sucks the interest out of a trilogy match, especially if that loser didn’t win the first fight, but there’s enough uncertainty here to give this one some intrigue. Most of it stems from Figueiredo, and not just the fact that he’s teamed up with Henry Cejudo.
Despite having a proper training camp, Figueiredo was exponentially more tentative in the rematch; he threw just 13 total strikes in the opening round as opposed to the 55 he unleashed the time before. Once Moreno got his wrestling going, he held his man to 15 attempts in the second and just eight in the third before wrapping up the RNC.
That was exactly the wrong way for Figueiredo to go about it. He’s a man who relies on activity, durability, and the threat of extreme harm to neutralize his opponents; he gets away with those huge swings because of their destructive potential and the sheer quantity of them. If he tries to tone it down, his technical shortcomings come to the fore.
Thus, the question becomes whether Moreno can beat a prepared Figueiredo with both Cejudo and that learning experience behind him. I say yes, for the simple reason that Figueiredo can’t hurt him. Moreno’s absorbed over 160 significant strikes from Figueiredo without ever hitting the deck, and without the fear of getting clipped, he can unleash his superior craft. He finds Figueiredo’s neck again to retain the title.
Prediction: Moreno def. Figueiredo by third-round submission
170 lbs.: Michel “Demolidor” Pereira (26-11) vs. Andre Fialho (14-3)
If you’re unfamiliar with Fialho and have 20 minutes to kill check out his highlight reel. From his demolition of James Vick to his nigh-instantaneous wipeout of Sang Hoon Yoo, the Portuguese newcomer always brings the violence. He’s a genuine terror in the pocket, a brutally powerful boxer with a bazooka jab and some deceptive craft behind his offense.
Unfortunately, he’s up against a fighter in “Demolidor” who’s tailor-made to exploit his myriad flaws. Fialho struggles to cut off the cage and close the distance against rangy foes, as seen in the first round of the Vick fight; if Pereira leans on his footwork, pelting Fialho’s legs and body with heavy kicks, there really isn’t much Fialho can do to stop him.
Hell, I’m not convinced Fialho can stop Pereira even if the Brazilian decides to humor him and push the pace. As destructive as he is on the attack, Fialho’s very limited on the back foot outside his check hook. This allowed a very limited striker in Antonio dos Santos Jr. to mug him against the fence, and while you could argue that dos Santos’ size advantage played a factor in his success, Pereira’s a hulk of a Welterweight.
That’s really the long and short of it; Fialho’s monstrously effective in his wheelhouse, but lacks the toolset to drag Pereira into it. Pereira’s already beaten three lights-out punchers in a row, and he’ll make it four with a wide decision win.
Prediction: Pereira def. Fialho by unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Cody “Spartan” Stamann (19-4-1) vs. Said Nurmagomedov (14-2)
I’m not sure there’s a more clear-cut gatekeeper in the UFC than Stamann, certainly not in the Bantamweight division. I don’t mean “gatekeeper” in the derisive sense; he’s an excellent fighter despite his lack of finishing ability. He’s just found a niche as the wall between the upper crust and the rest of the pack. Tom Duquesnoy failed to breach it in 2017, Song Yadong failed to breach it in 2019, and now it’s Nurmagomedov’s turn to try his hand.
His success, or lack thereof, will come down to his composure and fight IQ.
Harken back to Nurmagomedov’s 2019 loss to the excellent Raoni Barcelos, another well-rounded contender with a deep wrestling game. Nurmagomedov was in full control of the fight going into the third, having weathered some early grappling trouble to even things up in the second with his usual array of kicks, but made the painfully poor decision to throw a spinning back kick and leave himself wide open to Barcelos’ takedowns.
He’s in a similar situation here; even acknowledging Stamann’s underrated striking, Nurmagomedov’s considerable edges in height and reach combine with his technical kickboxing prowess to give him a clear edge on the feet. It’s just a question of whether he can strike a balance between limiting Stamann’s takedown opportunities and bringing enough of his arsenal to bear. With the Barcelos learning opportunity behind him, I say Nurmagomedov kicks and check hooks his way to victory.
Prediction: Nurmagomedov def. Stamann by unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Rodolfo “The Black Belt Hunter” Vieira (8-1) vs. Wellington “The Prodigy” Turman (17-5)
I wrote this one up back when it was still a Prelim, so here’s a TL;DR. Turman is a fighter who relies on physically overwhelming opponents on the ground, and there are so many reasons why that won’t work on Vieira. Beyond his unmatched BJJ pedigree, Vieira’s got monstrous strength and remarkably well-developed wrestling; if this hits the mat, it’ll be on his terms.
The million-dollar question, of course, is Vieira’s cardio. Turman’s actually got decent takedown defense, and while the Sam Alvey fight showed that he’s not a particularly potent striker, he’s better than an exhausted Vieira. I’m not convinced that red flag is enough to overturn everything going in Vieira’s favor, though; I’m not saying the his recent win over Dustin Stoltzfus totally addressed my concerns, but it was a sign that he at least knows the basics of pacing himself.
Whether or not you’re back on the hype train, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t a tune-up fight for Vieira. He mugs Turman on the mat within the first few minutes.
Prediction: Vieira def. Turman by first-round submission
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 270 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV. You can bet on the card at DraftKings Sportsbook.
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