This weekend Las Vegas once again hosts a huge UFC pay-per-view event. Unlike most of the promotion’s numbered events, UFC 272 is not headlined by a world title fight.
This is significant because very occasionally a fight has so much interest, that it can carry a major event on its own.
The headlining bout is a grudge match between two former ‘best’ friends and training partners. Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal have shared gyms, apartments, journeys to corner one another, and have spent hours training together.
Now, after a long back-and-forth through the media, they square off over five rounds or less, to see who has the final say. Before that though, is a main card loaded with intriguing match-ups to whet our appetite before that explosive headliner.
Opening up the main card is a heavyweight clash between multi-sport athlete, Greg Hardy, and the Moldovan Polar Bear, Sergey Spivak. It will be clear from the opening bell that one of these fighters wants the bout to take place on the mat, and will cautiously close distance to begin grappling at the earliest opportunity.
This is the brutal sequence which Sergey Spivak forces less able grapplers to endure. Taken down against the fence and forced to carry the weight of Spivak as they attempt to get up is not only fatiguing, but also leaves the opponent vulnerable at several points. Either giving their back and getting choked, or settling on their back and being hammered with short punches until they offer up an arm-triangle choke.
Greg Hardy needs to be on the move, have a low stance to meet the oncoming takedowns, and not get too caught up in trying to hit Spivak until he has defended the takedown attempt. When pressured, the tendency of a young fighter with big power is to look for the finishing shot without considering the consequences should it not land.
This could get Hardy in trouble, and allow Spivak to ground him. With footwork and patience, as well as smart takedown defence, Hardy could force Spivak to strike more than he’d like to, and that is where his chances are greatest. Several sub-one minute knockouts give a fighter a sense of confidence that every shot they throw will be the fight-ender, but at this level of competition, those possibilities shrink, and the consequences are much greater.
I expect Spivak to be able to ground and pound his opponent, and force a referee stoppage, if he isn’t able to secure a choke.
Spivak by KO, TKO, DQ or Submission - 11/10
Next up we have the always game, Alex Oliveira, welcoming Kevin Holland into the welterweight division.
Undersized for the weight class, but still able to cause issues in the top 15 at middleweight, Holland is making the move down to the 170lb division. With a height and reach comparable to most middleweights, Holland will immediately have physical advantages over his opponents.
Something he was often working against at 185lbs, where they are a similar height but more heavily muscled. This time he’s facing someone who has stepped on the scales at lightweight, but made the transition up a weight class to improve his performance and ease his weight-cutting.
Oliveira had mixed results throughout his career, and often look more keen on fighting than doing what it takes to win. Holland has been criticised for clowning around during his fights, seemingly struggling to keep focus, or feeling dismissive if the fight isn’t going his way. The most memorable being him conversing with Khabib during the wrestling exchanges with Derek Brunson.
I hope that this move down to welterweight is a signal that he is game and ready to compete seriously. Not lose the flair that makes him who he is, but showing good efforts to recover and fight back in bad spots. This to me, looks like a stage set for Holland to come in and look spectacular, and introduce himself to the division against a proven stalwart competitor.
That being said, does the additional effort from Holland to make the weight pile on more pressure than he can handle, whilst also being able to live up to expectations? I’ll maintain my initial pick, but with caution. Kevin Holland by TKO. Probably pretty early.
Kevin Holland by KO, TKO, DQ or Submission - 10/11
This next contest pits an experienced veteran with a lethal striking game, against one of the rising stars of the featherweight division, looking to pick up his biggest win to date. Bryce Mitchell is undefeated in 14 professional contests.
Across from him will be former lightweight contender, Edson Barboza. Nine years his senior, and with more than double the fight experience, Barboza is one of the most recognisable faces on the roster. Especially as he claims some of the most dramatic knockout finishes in all of UFC history.
Although very well-rounded, as you would have to be to stay competitive in the UFC for so long, Edson’s kicking game is what stands out the most. Whether it’s nasty low kicks which take away his opponents ability to manoeuvre, or the one-shot head-kick knockouts which we’ve seen in highlight reels over and over.
Knowing this about him, it’s no surprise that his opponents usually try to close him down and force him into less dangerous areas of his game. Bryce Mitchell will probably be of a similar mind. He also happens to be an excellent grappler, who has already dominated excellent fighters, well-versed in wrestling and Jiu Jitsu.
Threatening multiple submissions within minutes and forcing his opponents to scramble, struggle, and burn energy, most succumb to something as they can’t keep up with his quick-fire attacks.
On his way to the UFC he was running through the opposition, usually choking them out in the first round. This is definitely a step up, but he may be facing Barboza at the right time. Just as he is ready for the top of the division, and Barboza’s better days are behind him.
It breaks my heart to see Barboza in this position and I can never count him out entirely, but I feel there is something special about Bryce Mitchell, and this might be his time to shine. I’m picking Mitchell by submission, most likely being a rear-naked choke in the first or early second round.
Bryce Mitchell by KO, TKO, DQ or Submission - 13/8
Moving on to the co-main event, and at points this last week it was uncertain whether either fighter would remain on the card.
Originally slated as Rafael dos Anjos against Rafael Fiziev, as last week’s main event. It was then moved to this weekend’s co-main, but remaining over five rounds.
Then Fiziev was removed due to Covid, and the bout was up in the air. Islam Makhachev postured to fight initially, but the match-up that the UFC made sees dos Anjos facing off against the formidable all-rounder, Renato Moicano.
Previously campaigning at featherweight, Moicano made the move up 10 pounds and is carving out a space for himself within the top of the lightweight division.
Since moving up to lightweight he has secured three wins in four bouts, with all three ending by rear-naked choke. It will be difficult to do this to dos Anjos, who is as skilled as he is tough and stubborn.
Rafael’s level of grappling is such that Moicano might not even want to lock horns with him. Knowing that Moicano was a featherweight, and we’ve seen dos Anjos manhandle big welterweights like Neil Magny.
Moicano does have the height and reach advantage though, and if he can establish his range early he could make it a long night for dos Anjos. I think the size, strength and experience of Rafael will be key in this fight, and with all of the opponent changes, I’m sure he’s just glad that he’s still competing, and the bout is still over five rounds.
This is an interesting short-notice challenge for Moicano, and the gameplan of dos Anjos must have changed several times in a matter of days. He is very adaptable though, and I feel like he might have Moicano’s number. I’ll pick Rafael dos Anjos by unanimous decision.
Rafael dos Anjos by Decision or Technical Decision - 21/10
I have spun myself in circles trying to figure out this main event.
It’s always hugely challenging when they are former training partners, as none of us know their perception of one another. Does Masvidal remember lighting Covington up in sparring, and stuffing most of his takedown attempts? Or is it Covington who has the psychological advantage, remembering all of the training sessions where he was dominating Masvidal in wrestling exchanges?
Most likely is that they both have rose-tinted perspectives of their own skills by comparison, and will both feel as though they have a good read on their foe.
There is no doubt that Covington is a better fighter, especially striking-wise, for training with Masvidal.
There can also be no doubt that Masvidal is so hard to take down because of the time he invested battling the supreme wrestling skills of Covington. One thing is for sure… they don’t like one another and both want the final say in this war of words.
There is a lot on the line, but Colby is the heel and Masvidal is the cult figure. This doesn’t matter once the bout has started, but the build-up and pressure to win, will weigh heavy on their shoulders. I think Jorge has the striking advantage and a higher fight IQ, based on his experience. I think Colby has the grappling and conditioning advantage, and will be able to force Masvidal to work hard for everything he gets.
It’s hard to not pick with my head on this one, as I think the favourite is clearly Covington. I’ll settle in for five rounds of frustrated Masvidal, as Covington grinds him into the canvas. I’ll be paying close attention to the small opportunities which Masvidal finds for his elbows and knees, as they are fight-changers. Add a dash of wishful thinking, and a spoonful of possibility, and I get Masvidal by TKO. Most likely though, Covington closes distance, stays smart, and mauls him to a decision.
Covington by Decision or Technical Decision - 10/11