UFC Vegas 9: Overeem v Sakai is almost here, and Groundwatch is back to review the grappling potential of this card. As the UFC likes to keep things confusing in regards to naming conventions, this card is also known as UFC Fight Night 176, or UFC on ESPN+ 34.
Two weeks ago, I told you to keep an eye on Joe Solecki, who looked to be the best option for a finish via submission, and I ended up being right. The BJJ black belt managed back control from a standing position, using a body lock and patiently working for the RNC finish:
— UFC Canada (@UFC_CA) August 23, 2020
Sadly, the other “Groundwatch” feature matchup was cancelled at the last minute, with Ovince Saint Preux testing positive for COVID-19. That fight has been moved to this week’s card.
This week again, I will present each fight with my own “Groundwatch Rating” for UFC Vegas 9: Overeem v Sakai; 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 breaking down the card.
Cole Smith v Hunter Azure – Bantamweight (135lb)
Cole Smith has a well-rounded MMA history with as many wins via submission as he has striking. He has a handful of UFC takedowns and submission attempts, and appears to be an opportunist grappler. Hunter Azure also has a few UFC fights, and thus far he’s shown little penchant for grappling in the cage. He has one pro win via RNC but otherwise does most of his work standing. Oddsmakers favor Azure here and that seems to suggest the fight will mostly remain standing. 2/5 because Cole Smith could perhaps get some ground game in.
Alexandr Romanov v Marcos Rogerio de Lima – Heavyweight (265lb)
Fighting in his UFC debut, Alexandr Romanov is an exciting fighter from a grappling standpoint. Like most heavyweights, he has knockout power. But half of “King Kong’s” pro wins have come from submission, including a suplex into a neck crank against Virgil Zwicker in a League S-70 fight (think Josh Barnett vs Dean Lister – check out the highlight below.) Romanov also has two pro wins with brutal forearm chokes, including this one against Ion Grigore.
Marcos Rogerio de Lima has a few submission wins himself, but has also gotten submitted several times (including getting “Von Preuxed” by OSP, fighting later). I would expect de Lima working keep this fight off the mat to maximize his chances to win. It may not work though – his takedown defense is a paltry 36%. There is no clear favorite here, so this one could have some cool grappling from Romanov. I’m going to rate this a 4/5 because if Romanov pulls off a unique submission it could be the highlight of the night.
— caposa (@Grabaka_Hitman) August 22, 2018
Viviane Arujo v Montana De La Rosa – Women’s Flyweight (125lb)
Grappling fans may remember Montana De La Rosa from her performances on TUF 26 and 27. She was an outstanding amateur wrestler and uses a grappling-first approach to her fights. De La Rosa has won nearly all of her fights (8 of 11 wins) with submissions, including an armbar against Nadia Kassem (see the video below). In fact, she has 5 pro wins from the armbar.
Viviane Arujo is a BJJ black belt under Leozinho. She is a bit of an armbar specialist herself, with a few armbar pro wins before she joined the UFC. In all 3 of her UFC fights she has managed multiple takedowns, though she hasn’t finished anyone. She does have a few knockouts and her striking volume is pretty high, so she should have the edge if the fight stays standing.
I’m rating this fight a rare 5/5 on the Groundwatch scale, because it seems inevitable that it will go to the ground. I was wondering why these two were put together, and found out that De La Rosa’s original opponent was Ukrainian boxer Maryna Moroz, who could not secure a visa. It’s rare for the UFC to pair two like this, so let’s enjoy it while we can.
Montana De La Rosa (10-4) has now tapped four straight, submitting Nadia Kassem with a triangle armbar after a lengthy, second-round struggle. The TUF alum has finished eight of 10 wins by submission, five via armbar. #UFC234 pic.twitter.com/tCS0mQki8a
— Bulgogi Jones (@Hamderlei) February 10, 2019
Andre Muniz v Bartosz Fabinski – Middleweight (185lb)
Andre Muniz is the next submission artist to be featured on this card. He’s a BJJ black belt and another fighter looking to fight primarily on the ground. Muniz won in contender series via RNC, and won his first UFC fight willingly fighting from his back and attacking for submissions and sweeps. Fabinksi will certainly be a tough test. He’s a grinder who also racks up takedowns (7.17 takedowns averaged per 15 minutes), then uses top control to wear out and inflict punishing strikes to his opponents. It will be interesting to see if Muniz opts for this scenario, as he has admitted he is used to getting punished while using his guard. Once again, the tendencies of both fighters seem to suggest this one is also going to the ground. Can Muniz work his ground magic or will Fabinksi be too much for him? Though Fabinksi might outclass Muniz, it will be interesting to see what happens here – 4/5.
Jalin Turner v Thiago Moises – Lightweight (155lb)
Jalin Turner has one pro submission win with a triangle choke, but he’s definitely a striker first. He is going to come out strong early with high striking volume (averaging almost 6 significant strikes landed per minute) looking for a KO/TKO. Eight of his nine wins have come this way, with 7 of them occurring in the first round.
Thiago Moises is yet another grappling-first fighter on this card. He actually won an IBJJF blue belt world championship back in 2012 against Isaque Bahiense (see the match here). He used jiu-jitsu as his primary means of attack when coming up through the ranks of MMA promotions, including hitting this spectacular helicopter armbar highlight in an RFA fight. Knowing he was losing the striking battle, Moises won his last UFC fight in the 2nd round by voluntarily pulling guard and working for a quick ankle lock against Michael Johnson (see the video below).
So the question of this fight seems to be: can Moises weather the first round storm of Turner? If so, he may have a shot for a submission win. Turner’s takedown defense is a good 76% rate, and I don’t think Moises has good enough takedown offense to force it. But perhaps Moises simply pulls guard again? The oddsmakers are favoring Moises to win. Another 4/5 rating here.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) May 14, 2020
Kevin Natividad v Brian Kelleher – Featherweight (145lb)
Kevin Natividad is making his UFC debut as a list minute fill-in. He likely will be looking to strike and finish with a KO, as he has gotten most of his wins that way (5 of 9 wins via KO/TKO). (Ricky Simon, a Gracie Barra Portland fighter, was originally slated to be Kelleher’s opponent, but his cornerman tested positive for COVID-19.)
Brian Kelleher trains out of Maxum BJJ in New York (Matt Serra affiliation). He has an equal number of finishes coming from submission or from KO/TKO, and has been fighting professionally for almost 10 years. Kelleher is known for his guillotine submission, with six pro finishes coming from this technique. (Watch his arm-in guillotine win from January below.) Because Kelleher has a lot more octagon experience, I’m rating this as a 3/5 for the potential to see another submission win.
Brian "Boom" Kelleher (20-10) is back on the winning track, spoiling Ode' Osbourne's debut UFC round with his signature guillotine choke – and forcing his foe to tap with his feet! The former ROC champ owns 16 finishes; six of his nine subs are by guillotine. #UFC246 pic.twitter.com/vSI5XDJgj7
— Kyle Johnson (@VonPreux) January 19, 2020
Michel Pereira v Zelim Imdaev – Welterweight (170lb)
Pereira has a few submission wins but is predominant striker. Imdaev has all of his eight wins coming from KO/TKO. Pereira may look to takedown and hold down Imdaev to neutralize his power, as Pereira averages 2 takedowns per UFC fight: 2/5.
Sijara Eubanks v Karol Rosa – Women’s Bantamweight (135lb)
Eubanks is a boxer, and Rosa is a high volume striker with a few submission wins to her name. Expect a lot of strikes from both in this fight. There may be a takedown or two, but I don’t see much grappling overall: 1/5.
Ovince Saint Preux vs. Alonzo Menifield – Light Heavyweight (205lb)
Ovince Saint Preux has definitely had some great grappling moments over the years, with 7 UFC wins via submission. He’s used varied submissions over the years, but he’s perhaps best known for his Von Flue chokes. “OSP” has hit his “Von Preux” Choke on three separate occasions in the UFC, most recently last September against Michal Oleksiejczuk (see highlight below).
Menifield is a pure up-and-coming Muay Thai based striker and this fight is set up as a bit of a showcase. OSP is likely in a bit of a decline – he’s 37 years old now. Menifield will want no business on the ground, so the results of this fight will likely depend on that. Can OSP get Menifield on the mat? I think this is a 3/5 because I’m not sure he can consistently do it – Menifield boasts an 85% takedown defense rate.
— UFC (@ufc) September 28, 2019
Alistair Overeem v Augusto Sakai – Heavyweight (265lb)
Alistair Overeem is well known for his striking prowess. Though he’s had a long MMA career, at 40 years old he still is very dangerous on his feet. He sometimes mixes in a takedown during his fights, but always looks to finish with strikes.
Sakai started his journey in MMA through BJJ and currently holds a brown belt, but has not used much of his jiu-jitsu in his MMA fights. He does have tendency to last for a full 3 rounds – which is a bit rare for a heavyweight – so I guess that’s kind of interesting. But neither of these guys are likely to look for any grappling or jiu-jitsu. 1/5 for the main event – it’s a 1 rather than a 0, only because their might be a few takedowns.
Overall Card Rating
So let’s review. UFC Vegas 9: Overeem v Sakai features the following:
- A Moldovan wrestler who has multiple pro submission wins via neck crank and forearm choke;
- A woman with 5 pro wins via armbar;
- Not one, but two (!!) fighters who have readily pulled guard in a UFC fight, and then won that fight;
- A guy who has a number of surprise wins from his arm-in gullotine choke; and
- OSP, a 7 time submission winner in the UFC.
This might not be a great card for the average MMA fan, but for fans of jiu-jitsu and grappling, this is almost as good as it gets: 5/5. If I had to pick a complaint, it would be that there’s little chance for grappling in the main event.
UFC Vegas 9: Overeem v Sakai features some really impressive grapplers and a few fights that are almost automatic ground wars. Jiu-jitsu fans will definitely want to catch the prelims, as there are a few fantastic fights lined up early.