UFC Vegas 11: Covington v Woodley is quickly approaching and like the past few weeks, Groundwatch is here to preview the grappling action. This card is also known as UFC Fight Night 178, and/or UFC on ESPN+ 36.
Last week for UFC Vegas 10, I highlighted a few fighters to watch for in what looked like a lackluster night for jiu-jitsu.
There were actually 5 submission wins, so it ended up being better than I expected. One reason for that was Alexandr Romanov’s surprise inclusion in the card, which was not clear from any of the preview information I was reviewing. I was excited to watch Romanov two weeks ago but his fight got cancelled then, due to his opponent testing for COVID. True to my expectations, he dominated and won with an arm triangle:
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) September 12, 2020
To highlight another fighter, the wily veteran Ed Herman also had an interesting submission win. Herman looked like he was headed for a loss when he was dropped by a Mike Rodriguez knee to the body. The ref erroneously paused the fight. After the restart, Herman pulled off a miraculous win with a kimura:
🧨 @EdHermanUFC completes the RD 3 comeback via kimura!
— UFC (@ufc) September 13, 2020
This week we have another full slate to preview, so let’s get to it. I will present each fight with my own “Groundwatch Rating” for UFC Vegas 11: Covington v Woodley; 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.
A note: I won’t be breaking down every fight, just the matchups that are the most notable on the Groundwatch scale. With that stated, let’s start evaluating the card.
Tyson Nam v Jerome Rivera – Bantamweight (135lb)
Tyson Nam is a kickboxer with some power who will definitely want to keep the fight standing. He was supposed to face a submission artist last week in Matt Schnell and will instead face Jerome Rivera this week. The matchup is very similar, as Rivera is also a primary submission attacker (7 of 10 wins from submissions). Rivera won a fight in January this year with a mounted triangle (see the video below). If this fight gets to the ground, it could be a fun one: 3/5.
— UFC FIGHT PASS (@UFCFightPass) January 18, 2020
Darrick Minner v TJ Laramie – Featherweight (145lb)
Darrick Minner has a long history of winning his fights via tapout. Of his 24 pro wins, he boasts an astounding 21 submission wins. Among these submissions, the guillotine is his favorite; as he has finished his opponent 10 times with this technique. Because he likes to mix it up on the ground and sometimes runs out of gas, Minner also falls victim to defeat by getting himself submitted (8 of his 11 losses are by submission).
Laramie is a much more conventional fighter. He has gotten the bulk of his wins with his hands and likely isn’t going to lock horns with Minner. So that will be the battle in this fight.
I haven’t seen Minner fight and there isn’t a lot of data on these two, but Minner’s history is glaring. There seems to be a good chance this fight gets interesting with Minner involved: 4/5.
Andre Ewell v Irwin Rivera – Bantamweight (135lb)
Journey Newson v Randy Costa – Bantamweight (135lb)
Jessica-Rose Clark v Sarah Alpar – Women’s Bantamweight (135lb)
Mayra Bueno Silva v Mara Romero Borella – Women’s Flyweight (125lb)
Mirsad Bektic v Damon Jackson – Featherweight (145lb)
Mirsad Bektic has won some fights with knockouts, but generally grinds out decision victories. There is a decent chance that the Tristar product Bektic hits a takedown or two as he looks to control the fight, but returning veteran Damon Jackson has some ground skills himself. Jackson has gone for the back of his opponents and secured 8 rear naked choke victories throughout his career. There is a solid chance for action on the mat here: 3/5.
Kevin Holland v Darren Stewart – Middleweight (170lb)
Holland has worked his wrestling to win in the past, but hasn’t gone for this style lately, relying on his hands to secure TKO/KO and decision victories. Darren Stewart has always been focused on knocking out his opponent. Though “The Dentist” had success with this approach earlier in his career, he surprised his last opponent Maki Pitolo with a guillotine win when Pitolo went for a takedown. Holland is a better overall fighter and should be able to mix up his approach here. There is a chance for grappling based on that – 2/5.
Mackenzie Dern v Randa Markos – Women’s Strawweight (115lb)
Let’s face it, this is the main event for jiu-jitsu fans. Mackenzie Dern is one of the best female jiu-jitsu competitors ever and amassed countless accolades in the sport, which she eventually left to pursue MMA. Dern has had good success in MMA, racking up an 8-1 record primarily through submission victories, including a round one kneebar over Hannah Cifer in her last fight (see the video below). We know her grappling is up to par, but for her striking, Dern recently left Black House after an altercation and moved to Jason Parillo.
Randa Markos is her opponent, and she has several submission wins herself, though I expect she will want to avoid going to the mat with Dern. Markos has been inconsistent but if the best version of her shows up, she could absolutely steal a win. This fight probably either ends by submission or a decision, so there should hopefully be enough time to see some form of jiu-jitsu: 4/5. It’s not a full 5/5, because there is a chance Markos plays it safe and this fight stays mostly standing.
Too good on the ground! 👀
— UFC (@ufc) May 31, 2020
Johnny Walker v Ryan Spann – Light Heavyweight (205lb)
Johnny Walker is a highlight reel knockout artist. Spann has some ground potential as he works for takedowns and has submitted his opponents numerous times with guillotine chokes. If Spann can avoid Walker’s blitz, he has a possible chance for a victory with a submission or stoppage – 2/5.
Khamzat Chimaev v Gerald Meerschaert – Middleweight (170lb)
Since he burst onto the UFC with two Fight Island wins in 10 days back in July, Khamzat Chimaev has been the subject of much hype. He has been incredibly exciting, using relentless and suffocating wrestling to overwhelm his opponents. Chimaev will finish with strikes, but also can submit his foes, including a Darce Choke win (see the highlight below) after which he received his blue belt.
Meerschaert is a step up in competition for Chimaev and is somewhat of a submission specialist himself. The BJJ black belt and fight veteran has 23 pro wins coming from submissions over his career.
Chimaev has the athletic advantage in this fight and I wonder how he’ll use it. I really think he may try to test Meerschaert’s grappling prowess, as he’s been openly questioning Meerschaert’s jiu-jitsu skills. Because of that I’m rating this a rare 5/5 on the Groundwatch scale.
If Chimaev is able to win again it sounds like his next opponent will be Demian Maia, which sets up another spectacular fight from a Groundwatch perspective.
Just getting started 🤯
🇸🇪 @KChimaev gave us a debut to remember!
— UFC (@ufc) July 16, 2020
Donald Cerrone v Niko Price – Welterweight (170lb)
“Cowboy” Cerrone has a number of memorable submission finishes over the years. The most recent was a belly-down armbar two years ago against Mike Perry. Though Niko Price has some ground skills, there is little chance that he will want to test his grappling against “Cowboy” – he’s mostly been one to rely on his striking for stoppages. The question is whether the aging Cerrone can hang with Price. A moderate chance here for some jiu-jitsu: 2/5.
Colby Covington v Tyron Woodley – Welterweight (170lb)
Though both fighters are accomplished wrestlers, the history suggests this fight stays mostly standing. Sure, Covington has used his takedowns to overwhelm past fighters like Robbie Lawler and Rafael Dos Anjos. But when he’s faced elite grapplers like Demian Maia or skillful wrestlers like Kamuru Usman, Covington has been happy to rely on his striking to win.
In the past, Woodley’s takedown defense has been near elite level but recently Gilbert Burns was able to take him down a few times. The question is which Woodley are we going to see, and which path Covington chooses to approach. Woodley has been susceptible to aggressive striking and/or counterstriking in the past, for example, and I expect more of the same. Based on Covington’s recent approach I don’t see much chance for grappling here – 2/5.
Overall Card Rating
UFC Vegas 11: Covington v Woodley has some lows – especially in the middle of the prelims – but also has some great potential. Mackenzie Dern, Khamzat Chimaev and even Donald Cerrone could make this a fun night. If it were a PPV I’d rate it lower but on ESPN+ this is pretty solid – 3/5.