For the second straight week the UFC will be hosting an event on “Fight Island” – UFC Fight Island 4: Holm v Aldana. (This event is also known as UFC on ESPN: Holm v Aldana, and UFC on ESPN 16.) Groundwatch is here once again to preview the grappling and jiu-jitsu action.
But before we get into the preview, let’s review the grappling highlights from last week. UFC 253 was a pretty good night of fights and it did give us a few submissions from the guys I highlighted for submission potential in last week’s preview.
The first was Juan Espino, the 39 year old heavyweight known for his grappling and submission game. He submitted Jeff Hughes with this scarfhold chest compression / neck crank:
Big time squeeze by @juan_espino_ofi 😬
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) September 26, 2020
The second submission of the night was Brandon Royval’s guillotine on Kai Kara-France. I thought there was potential for a submission here, but overestimated Kara-France’s ability to not get sucked into the wild scrambles that Royval initiates.
— Amar (@Marocino12) September 27, 2020
With UFC 253 in the rear view, let’s move on to UFC Fight Island 4: Holm v Aldana. I will present each fight with my own “Groundwatch Rating” for the event; essentially an overall score of how likely we will see groundwork. To clarify, “groundwork” means things like takedowns, passes, submissions, and so on – the stuff that grappling and jiu-jitsu nerds watch for in UFC events. With that stated, let’s start evaluating the card.
Luigi Vendramini v Jessin Ayari – Lightweight (155lb)
Vendramini is an interesting prospect for Groundwatch, as he uses a solid wrestling game to work for decisions and submissions. Ayari also has many submissions in his history and has been a lower volume striker so far in the UFC, but is probably the better fighter. If Venramini can take Ayari down this will be interesting, but it’s unclear that his wrestling is good enough to take down UFC level fighters: 3/5.
Casey Kenney v Heili Alatang – Bantamweight (135lb)
Casey Kenney is a solid overall fighter, who may lack KO power but is very active with differing strikes. He’s also a scrambler on the ground and can submit his opponents, last winning in May with a nice guillotine over Louis Smolka (see the video below).
Alatang is more methodical, and has a bit of power to his striking. But he has been able to work for takedowns in the UFC, using top control to grind out a victory in his last fight. Because of the scrambling of Kenney and Alatangs takedowns, I think this could be a fun fight: 3/5.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) May 30, 2020
Loma Lookboonmee v Jinh Yu Frey – Women’s Strawweight (115lb)
Loma Lookboonmee is the first Thai fighter in the UFC and, as you may have guessed, she is a Muay Thai fighter. (Note: she may go under different names – like her birth name Konklak Suphisara – but I’m mostly seeing Loma Lookboonmee listed). She has added in some okay grappling skills to back up her striking, but I expect she’s going to come with volume striking, especially given her size. Jinh Yu Frey is much bigger than Lookboonmee. She has a purple belt in BJJ and may be looking to take this fight to the ground, as I don’t think she’ll be able to keep up with the pace of a fighter like Looboonmee. Though she doesn’t have a lot of submission wins, going to the mat could get Frey the win, but I’m not sure how likely it is: 2/5.
Jordan Williams v Nassourdine Imavov – Middleweight (185lb)
Jordan Williams is a primary striker, though he is loosely connected with other NorCal fighters like the Diaz brothers. He has enough wrestling skills to have scored some takedowns in his past Contender Series fights, but seems to be a bit of a brawler. If you don’t already know, he’s got a great backstory as he’s a Type 1 diabetic. Imavov, as you may guess, was born in Dagestan but was raised in France. He also has decent wrestling skills (perhaps superior to Williams) and a handful of submission wins on his resume. A solid chance for some wrestling to neutralize Williams: 3/5.
Charles Jourdain v Josh Culibao – Featherweight (145lb)
A couple of strikers here, and a good chance this ends early – 0/5 on Groundwatch but it could be very exciting.
Court McGee v Carlos Condit – Welterweight (170lb)
Last week we saw Diego Sanchez look totally outmatched, in frankly, a matchup that I didn’t like to see booked. I prefer this kind of pairing instead with two aging fighters arguably on their downside against each other – not against guys 10+ years younger. McGee might have a physical advantage and averages nearly 2 takedowns per 15 minutes. It appears that there are decent chances for some takedowns in this fight, but nothing else: 2/5.
Dequan Townsend v Dusko Todorovic – Middleweight (185lb)
This one is fairly tough to score. Townsend is 0-3 in the UFC and hasn’t shown much since getting the call-up, but he has a varied victory history in lower promotions. If he has any strength, it’s probably the clinch. Todorovic gets to face him in his first UFC fight. He has shown a penchant to finish fights early, typically with strikes, but also showing some submission chops. I doubt there is much grappling in this fight – 1/5.
Kyler Phillips v Cameron Else – Bantamweight (135lb)
Kyler Phillips has some serious grappling chops. He is a BJJ brown belt in the Carlson Gracie system, an IBJJF world champ (albeit at blue belt), and has won various California championships in judo and wrestling. Even with that background, he wins mostly with KO/TKO and decisions, but he has scored some takedowns.
Cameron Else will try to jump on his opponent. All of his 10 wins have come in the first round. Most of the wins are via TKO, but the Jackson-Wink product won his last fight in Fusion Fighting Championship with a guillotine (see the video below). Once it gets past the first round he’s not very durable on his feet, vulnerable to striking.
If this fight can go long, I like the chances of grappling: 3/5.
— John Jack (@NHB_GIFS) September 29, 2020
Julianna Pena v Germaine de Randemie – Women’s Bantamweight (135lb)
She has only fought twice in the last four years, but when she has, Julianna Pena has used an aggressive grappling game to overwhelm past opponents with takedowns and control. She hasn’t gotten many finishes on the ground though. De Randemie is a kickboxer and has worked on her takedown defense but it still seems to be a weakness. The gameplan for Pena is likely the same as previous – work her grappling to smother de Randemie en route to a decision win. De Randemie will work to keep the fight standing, defend takedowns and countering Pena’s brute force style. It’s a toss-up to who will win this battle, which lowers the rating to a 3/5.
Yorgan De Castro v Carlos Felipe – Heavyweight (265lb)
A couple of big heavyweight sluggers here with very limited history of grappling in the cage. Felipe may try to test De Castro’s grappling if he can avoid the power, so a minor chance of grappling in this fight: 1/5.
Holly Holm v Irene Aldana – Women’s Bantamweight (135lb)
We know Holm; she’s a technical striker and the only form of grappling I expect from her is clinching against the cage. Aldana is a boxer with extremely high volume and a somewhat aggressive pressure striking style. She does have some submission wins, including an armbar win over Bethe Correia (see the highlight below). These submissions seems to only happen after someone drops with a heavy strike, or when Aldana’s opponents try to take her down. I don’t expect Holm to do this – it should be a technical striking battle with heavy clinch work. A very slight chance for grappling as the rounds get deeper: 1/5.
— Action Combat (@ActionFights) May 12, 2019
Overall Card Rating
After a big event last weekend, UFC Fight Island 4: Holm v Aldana is a “hangover card” and simply a weak card overall. It has a few decent fights with the chance for submissions, but nothing extremely promising. Yawn – 2/5 on the Groundwatch scale and about the same overall.
Notably, SUG 18 is Sunday and more likely to be interesting to grappling fans – I’d recommend prioritizing that event.