Diggin’ Deep: Does Nzechukwu have another FOTN in him vs Marques?
Kennedy Nzechukwu after his win over Carlos Ulberg at UFC 259 | Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
Get the lowdown on the early UFC fights on Saturday, featuring physical speciment Kennedy Nzechukwu looking to keep his momentum against wily Brazilian grappler Danilo Marques.
Though the undercard of UFC Fight Night 30 isn’t spectacular – the co-main event is Ovince Saint Preux and Tanner Boser after all – there are some quality fights evenly spaced throughout. Thus, while I admit there isn’t any fights that are can’t miss on the prelims, I have to give them an overall thumbs up. However, it appears the UFC is starting a trend of putting the most ludicrous of contests in the featured prelim spot. Last week, it was Nick Negumereanu and Aleksa Camur. That fight became best known for referee Mike Beltran’s refusal to take points for repeated fouls as opposed to a quality fight. This week, it’s Danilo Marques and Kennedy Nzechukwu. They could have chosen the highlight Shavkat Rakhmonov. Maybe even Warlley Alves. I can’t say for sure why the UFC put the two towering 205ers in that spot, but I know for sure I wouldn’t have.
Outside of his friends, family, and camp, the amount of people that thought Danilo Marques would win his first two UFC contests is in the single digits… if there were any. The glacially slow light heavyweight made his way into the UFC on the basis of being a training partner of Shogun Rua and Fabricio Werdum as opposed to securing quality wins on the regional circuit. Despite exhibiting porous striking, Marques has been able to pick up wins via an aggressive pursuit of takedowns. He’s not a good wrestler in the technical sense, but he’s sticky as hell and doesn’t give up in his pursuit of getting the fight to the mat. Will that be enough to get Kennedy Nzechukwu down? The massive Nigerian export has proven difficult to take down and finally opened up in his striking in his last appearance… at least he did after eating a number of punches to the face. While it was an excellent demonstration of his durability, it was also a display of terrible defense, particularly his footwork. If Nzechukwu continues to remain stationary, he’s going to give Marques every opportunity to get the fight to the mat. Of course, Nzechukwu can also get Marques out of there is he opens up his striking, but I don’t trust he’ll do that until he eats a few shots… and Marques isn’t the man to do that. I don’t trust Nzechukwu’s ground game, nor do I trust he’ll be aggressive enough to light up the Brazilian. Marques via submission of RD2
For someone who whose last fight snapped an eight-fight win streak within the organization, there’s very little fanfare regarding the return of Michel Prazeres from a two-year PED suspension. Part of that can be attributed to Prazeres’ typically grinding style not being the most entertaining, his last – and only – win via strikes coming all the way back in 2004. You read that right, 2004. Though Prazeres still appeared to be improving prior to his suspension – the stout grappler developed a stiff jab despite his 67” reach – he turns 40 next month and I tend to be leery of fighters coming off PED suspensions, especially one with as many years and miles as Prazeres has. Throw in the fact Shavkat Rakhmonov will have a 10-inch reach advantage on the wily Brazilian and it’s hard to see Prazeres pulling it out. The unbeaten Rahmonov looks like one of the brightest prospects at 170, displaying several ways to win fights. The Kazakh has a deep gas tank, an effective jab, strength to spare in the clinch, and an underrated bag of submissions. Of course, if Prazeres is to find a way to win this fight, it will be on the back of his wrestling top control as it’s hard to find a more fundamentally sound BJJ practitioner. While Rahmonov’s takedown defense deserves to be questioned, he seems to have a good feel on the mat besides just nabbing subs. Prazeres has never been finished before, but it wouldn’t shock me if his durability were to fall off a cliff at this point. Rahmonov via TKO of RD2
There may not be a more unpredictable fighter than Warlley Alves on the UFC roster, at least in terms of how he’ll approach the contest. Sometimes, he’s exceptionally patient, picking apart his opponent with selective strikes and the occasional takedown. Other times, Alves comes out like a bat out of hell, launching heavy handed strikes at a rapid pace that’s impossible for him for him to keep up over the course of 15 minutes. Both approaches have had inconsistent results, Alves’ superior athletic talents often making up for whatever the shortcomings may or may not be. He’s facing a poor man’s version of himself in Jeremiah Wells. Like Alves, Wells has plenty of pop in his fists, an underrated grappling game, and can go through long bouts of inactivity. However, Wells is a little bit smaller, a little less explosive, and less experienced, particularly against proven competition. That isn’t to say he doesn’t have a chance as Alves has been prone to mistakes, but Wells’ fight IQ can be called into question as well. Plus, even if Alves hasn’t completely eliminated his brain farts, he has reduced them in his recent contests. Alves via TKO of RD2
Ike Villanueva is a throwback to the era when TUF was beginning to take off. In others words, he gets by on being the toughest guy in the cage as opposed to being the strongest, fastest, or most technical fighter. That’s not to say he’s just a big lug who completely is lacking in skill, but his physical limitations put a hard ceiling on the success he’s bound to find in the UFC. What Villanueva does have is surprisingly fast hands in addition to being more savvy in the pocket than he has traditionally been given credit for. The challenge for Villanueva will be getting Marcin Prachnio to engage from that range, or even in the clinch where Villanueva would be able to utilize his strength advantage. After three consecutive losses to open his UFC career, Prachnio took a hard-line approach to staying on the outside against Khalil Rountree, touching him up with a high volume of low kicks and crash and dash attacks. Though it broke his losing streak, it was a close call as he was knocked down, a scary proposition given each of his previous three UFC losses came via KO. However, Prachnio will have a massive speed advantage over Villanueva, has a deep arsenal of kicks, and has plenty of KO power when he commits to sitting down on his strikes. I don’t trust my pick, but I’ll go with the fighter who should be able to exploit his physical advantages to greater effect. Prachnio via decision
Julia Avila hit a roadblock on her ascent through the women’s bantamweight division when she stumbled against Sijara Eubanks. However, it would be foolish to think she shouldn’t be considered one of the brightest prospects in the division. An aggressive fighter in all aspects – whether it’s moving forward with a flurry of punches or throwing up submissions from her back – Avila’s roadblock was largely attributed to her massive energy dump early after her first attempt to engage in a brawl. If Avila can figure out when to strategically go for the finish as opposed to forcing the issue – something that worked on the regional scene – she’ll be a contender before she knows it. Of course, Julija Stoliarenko presents a unique challenge that could make that roadblock a little more permanent. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more effective armbar specialist this side of Ronda Rousey than Stoliarenko, eight of her nine career victories coming in that form. In her UFC debut, Stoliarenko was stifled by Yana Kunitskaya against the fence, but her perseverance was admirable. Given Avila’s aggressiveness, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Lithuanian product were able to snatch her arm. Regardless, Avila has proven to be a hell of a grappler herself. Her volume proves to be the difference as Stoliarenko is exceptionally difficult to put away. Avila via decision
It’s more than likely this is Justin Jaynes’ last opportunity to maintain his UFC employment. After an explosive debut that saw him put Frank Camacho out cold, he has gone winless in three consecutive contests, all fought at varying weight limits. No one doubts Jaynes’ power and he has a solid blast double, but the weight cut down to featherweight tends to sap his energy levels exponentially, leaving his reserves to be exponentially low beyond the opening round. Fighting at lightweight has proven difficult for him too as he struggles from the outside given his short frame. It won’t be as big of an issue against Charles Rosa as the scrappy grappler’s striking is heavily reliant upon kicking from the outside. Not that Rosa doesn’t mind throwing down if it comes down to it, but that’s typically not the type of fight he wins. One of Rosa’s biggest bugaboos is his inability to get the fight to the mat, where his grappling abilities can shine. Of course, should Rosa survive Jaynes’ early attack, it’s hard to believe the exhausted Jaynes will be able to fight off Rosa. Given Rosa is as durable as they come, that seems like the most likely outcome. Rosa via submission of RD3
It’s easy to forget Yancy Medeiros is still on the UFC roster. It’s a shame given it seems his descent began immediately after he began to get some attention outside of hardcore fans, as he hasn’t won a fight since being awarded the headlining spot opposite Donald Cerrone over three years ago. Medeiros has returned to lightweight since that time – a change in diet has made taking off the weight easier – but it’s worth wondering if he wouldn’t be better off returning to welterweight. Formerly a reckless brawler who had little regard for defense, Medeiros output has dropped considerably in the last few years. Even worse, his previously iron chin doesn’t appear to be what it once was either. That’s good for Damir Hadzovic, a heavy-handed slugger with a penchant for the KO. Where Hadzovic has issues is stopping takedowns and getting back to his feet. He can hit a takedown of his own and do some damage from there, but he’s miserable from the ground defensively. It may not matter; Medeiros has secured a single takedown over the course of 14 UFC contests. If Medeiros looks anything like the fighter he was in 2017 – a high volume striker with stamina and durability — I’d pick him in a heartbeat. If he looks like the hesitant fighter that he’s been most recently, Hadzovic is the pick. Smart money says the most recent version shows up. Hadzovic via TKO of RD2