Two of Oceania’s finest will once again do battle this Saturday (Feb. 12, 2022) when Middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya, rematches former 185-pound kingpin, Robert Whittaker, atop UFC 271, which will take place inside Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. The pay-per-view (PPV) co-main event pits all-time UFC knockout leader, Derrick Lewis, against Tai Tuivasa, while Derek Brunson looks to extend his win streak to six and make his claim for a title shot at Jared Cannonier’s expense.
135 lbs.: Mana Martinez vs. Ronnie Lawrence
Mana Martinez (9-2) saw a five-fight win streak come to an end on Contender Series thanks to Drako Rodriguez, who caught him in a triangle choke midway through the first round. Two knockouts in a combined 1:32 followed, leading to a successful UFC debut against Guido Cannetti.
All but one of his wins have come by knockout within two rounds.
Ronnie Lawrence (7-1) followed a 6-0 amateur career with a 5-1 professional start. Though the finish wasn’t there on Contender Series, he made up for it by mauling Vince Cachero in his Octagon debut six months later.
“The Heat” is the shorter man by two inches and gives up 1.5 inches of reach.
Before Martinez’s fight with Cannetti, I’d have given him a real shot at winning this, if only because of the ungodly power in his hands. Now, I’m not so sure. That’s because he struggled mightily with the aging, chinny Cannetti’s basic pressure, which pales in comparison to the suffocating onslaught Lawrence can unleash.
That admittedly might not be a fair assessment of his abilities, as Martinez was clearly affected by the loss of his trainer. At his best, he can melt just about anyone at 135 pounds with one touch. Still, Lawrence’s relentless grind doesn’t figure to give him any opportunities to land that deathblow. In the end, “The Heat” dominates with endless takedowns and top control.
Prediction: Lawrence via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Alexander Hernandez vs. Renato Moicano
Alexander Hernandez (13-4) started his UFC run about as well as he could have possibly asked for, crushing Beneil Dariush in 42 seconds before cruising past Olivier Aubin-Mercier in his sophomore effort. He’s since alternated losses and wins, culminating in an 80-second knockout of Mike Breeden last time out.
“The Great” stands two inches shorter than Renato Moicano (15-4-1) at 5’11.”
A 5-1 UFC start gave way to an 0-2 skid for Moicano, prompting him to jump from 145 pounds to 155. His Lightweight efforts have produced a 2-1 record, a knockout loss to Rafael Fiziev sandwiched between submissions of Damir Hadzovic and Jai Herbert.
He has tapped eight professional foes overall, four of them in the Octagon.
I make an effort to not be reductive in my analysis, but I can’t think of a way to avoid saying “Moicano is better everywhere.” He’s more active and effective on the feet, a more efficient wrestler and submission artist, and has generally beaten and lost to better opposition than Hernandez has. Plus, while his chin has failed him in the past, the same can be said of Hernandez.
Hernandez needs to either blitz his opponents or physically overpower them to get wins. Though the former isn’t out of the question, as seen in Moicano’s trio of first-round knockout losses, it’s likelier that Moicano pieces him up behind the jab and mixes in takedowns for a wide decision win.
Prediction: Moicano via unanimous decision
205 lbs.: Carlos Ulberg vs. Fabio Cherant
City Kickboxing’s Carlos Ulberg (3-1) returned from a nearly two-year kickboxing stint to starch Bruno Oliveira on Contender Series and secure a UFC contract. An unsuccessful debut saw him succumb to a comeback knockout form Kennedy Nzechukwu, though both men walked away with post-fight bonuses.
He’ll enjoy three inches of height and reach on Fabio Cherant (7-3).
“Water Buffalo” put an unsuccessful Contender Series appearance behind him to win three straight and claim the LFA Light Heavyweight title in the process. That success hasn’t carried over to the Octagon, where he’s suffered consecutive stoppage losses to Alonzo Menifield and William Knight.
Five of his professional victories have come via submission.
With all due respect to Cherant, there’s a reason he’s Ulberg’s get-well fight. He’s not a strong enough wrestler to put the Aussie on his back and, though a decent boxer in his own right, is thoroughly outclassed on the feet by Ulberg’s versatility and technique. As long as Ulberg’s head is in the right place after that loss and he paces himself properly, there’s no reason to expect anything other than a wipeout.
The jury’s still out on whether the 31-year-old “Black Jag” can round out his game enough to be a real player in the division, but what he’s got is more than enough to carry him past Cherant. In short, he lamps “Water Buffalo” within five minutes.
Prediction: Ulberg via first round knockout
185 lbs.: A.J. Dobson vs. Jacob Malkoun
A.J. Dobson (6-0) — who went 5-1 as an amateur ahead of his 2016 professional debut — needed just 35 seconds to smash Contender Series veteran Kailan Hill and secure his own spot on the program. He proceeded to make the most of the opportunity by choking out Hashem Arkhagha in Sept. 2021.
All but one of his professional wins have come by first-round stoppage, four of them inside of two minutes.
Jacob Malkoun (5-1) got thrown to the wolves in his Octagon debut, an 18-second knockout loss to fellow prospect Phil Hawes at UFC 254. His sophomore effort went a bit better, though, dominating Abdul Razak Alhassan for a unanimous decision win.
“Mamba” gives up four inches of height and three inches of reach to Dobson.
I really feel like the Hawes loss is making people overlook Malkoun. The man’s got professional boxing experience and an ADCC-worthy Brazilian jiu-jitsu game. Sure, he got smashed in his debut, but he’s not the kind of guy you pit against a prospect as green as Dobson. While Dobson definitely has enough power to repeat Hawes’ success, Malkoun proved his ability to defuse a dangerous striker in the Alhassan fight.
Malkoun leaned almost exclusively on his wrestling against Alhassan and I expect him to do the same here. So long as he can survive Dobson’s initial berserker blitz, he wears down the newcomer with takedowns and ultimately pounds him out.
Prediction: Malkoun via second round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Douglas Silva de Andrade vs Sergey Morozov
Douglas Silva de Andrade (27-4) started his career 22-0, only for losses to division standouts and persistent inactivity to keep him from UFC contention. In 2021, he competed twice in a calendar year for the first time since 2013, falling to Lerone Murphy in February before smashing Gaetano Pirrello in just over two minutes eight months later.
Twenty of his 27 wins have come by knockout.
Sergey Morozov (17-4) claimed M-1 gold with a comeback knockout of Aleksandr Osetrov in 2019, then avenged a loss to Josh Rettinghouse in his inaugural defense to catch the UFC’s eye. He fell short in a clash of prospects with Umar Nurmagomedov, but got back on track by outgrappling Khalid Taha in July 2021.
He’ll have to overcome one inch of height and 1.5 inches of reach.
I’m more confident in Morozov’s chances than I would have been before the Taha fight. The Kazakh has struggled with pressure in the past, but did an excellent job of defusing his aggressive foe with relentless takedowns. That same approach should pay dividends here, as those who try to take Silva de Andrade to the ground have historically succeeded.
While Silva de Andrade unquestionably has the one-shot power to put Morozov to sleep, he won’t get many opportunities to use it against a man who can rack up more than a dozen takedown attempts. So long as Morozov stays on the front foot, he grinds the Brazilian into oblivion.
Prediction: Morozov via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Jeremiah Wells vs. Mike Mathetha
Jeremiah Wells (9-2-1) failed to claim CES gold thanks to TUF: Brazil veteran Vinicius de Jesus, but won the CFFC title two fights later by choking out Marco Smallman. Assorted misfortunes have held him to just one fight since 2019, which saw him stop Warlley Alves in his UFC debut.
His professional finishes are split 4/3 between knockouts and submissions
Though still a relative neophyte in mixed martial arts (MMA), City Kickboxing’s Mike Mathetha (3-0) racked up more than 50 wins under kickboxing rules. His most recent cage appearance came in Feb. 2020, defeating Dimps Gillies via unanimous decision.
“Blood Diamond” is the taller man by two inches, though he faces a slight reach disadvantage.
Mathetha was originally slated to face Orion Cosce this weekend, and Wells figures to be every bit as tricky a matchup. While Wells is more about zest than craft on the feet, he’s got the grappling chops to ruin Mathetha’s day on the mat. If the “Blood Diamond” who fought Gillies shows up, he’s getting smothered; he’s just too easy to tie up and control on the fence to stand up to a hyper-aggressor like Wells.
I don’t doubt that Mathetha has improved considerably during his two years away, especially in a camp so adept at molding kickboxers into mixed martial artists. There’s only so much weight I can put into hypotheticals, unfortunately. In short, Wells times one of Mathetha’s kicks for a takedown, finds his back, and polishes things off from there.
Prediction: Wells via first round submission
Four more UFC 271 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including Roxanne Modafferi’s farewell bout. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 271 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.
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