Monday, June 27, 2022

UFC Minneapolis Predictions: Ngannou vs. Dos Santos

UFC Minneapolis Confidence Level Scale

1: Gun to the head, forced to choose 

2: Minimum confidence

3-4: A small level of confidence

5-6: Significantly clearer path to victory for one person.

7 – Strong confidence.

8-9: Extremely confident.

10 – Bulletproof Confidence, barring freak occurrence

Alonzo Menifield (8-0) vs. Paul Craig (11-3)

As long as Alonzo Menifield stays humble, respects the threat Craig poses, and does not gas out, this fight should swiftly shape out to to be the ninth win in Menifield’s career. It should be readily apparent to everyone, including Menifield and his coaching staff, that Paul Craig will look to take this fight to the mat and use his high-level jiu-jitsu. Menifield is still wet behind the ears in his career, but he has urgent takedown defense, and his athleticism makes his ability to stuff takedowns relatively advanced for someone of his experience level.

Menifield should look for opportunities to put Craig away in the first round, as I believe he will, but he should not become overconfident, especially if he has early success in the fight. And if he knocks Craig down, he should be very, very careful if he seeks to pursue a finish on the mat. If the fight goes past the first round, Menifield will need to have some cardio because Craig has no quit in him, plus Craig would be much more likely to score a takedown against a tired Menifield with a lower gas tank.

As for Paul Craig, I believe his best chance is to take the fight to the ground, even if he cannot get a takedown. If that means he has to pull guard, so be it. To take it one step further, if Menifield does land a good strike, Craig could sell the strike by falling to the mat, hoping Menifield chases Craig down to the mat, where a triangle submission or the like would await. That may sound silly, but it all just goes to say that Craig needs to get this fight to the mat by any means necessary.

Another option that could lead to a Craig victory is for him to just to intentionally weather the storm early on and hope that Menifield gasses out. Craig is an extremely tough fighter so he may be capable of doing that. The problem is that Menifield is not someone you want to “rope-a-dope,” regardless of how tough you are, as that is a good way to ensure that you wind up staring up at the lights.

I see Menifield running through Craig. Craig had his hands full with an extremely green Kennedy Nzechukwu, so I shudder to think what Menifield is prepared to do to him.

Prediction: Alonzo Menifield

Confidence Level: 8/10

Drew Dober (20-9) vs. Marco Polo Reyes (8-6)

Drew Dober will be looking to bounce back from a loss to Beneil Dariush, and a fight against the 8-6 Marco Reyes is a great opportunity to do that. This fight has potential to be the fight of the night, but that all depends on Dober’s approach.

If Dober chooses to stand up, he can find success and win the fight that way using distance control, strong leg kicks to the heavy-lead-leg standing Reyes, and a cardio advantage that could give him an edge on points in the standup. This would be very entertaining, but unintelligent for Dober. Dober has a decided grappling advantage over Reyes with great top control, which would be invaluable against an opponent who has both poor takedown defense and poor ground defense. Dober is a veteran of the game with 30 total fights, and I think that he’ll know where his bread is buttered in this fight

For Marco Reyes, he should dial down the aggression a notch or two and prioritize defense, both on the feet and especially takedown defense. Reyes should box, not brawl, in the fight, look to land some overhand rights, 1-2 combinations, and prioritize his left hook counter. Also, sometimes Drew Dober can present defensive holes when closing the distance, so it is then when Reyes should turn up the aggression, I just don’t know if he has it in him to become essentially a counter striker or someone who prioritizes defense at all.

If this fight was a 15-minute standup fight, I’d have Dober as a very slight favorite. But if Dober uses his full skill set, I see Dober clearly getting the win. Reyes’ best chance is a KO, which he is more than capable of doing, but he would need to be only the second person to achieve that against Dober.

Prediction: Drew Dober

Confidence Level: 7/10

Roosevelt Roberts (7-0) vs. Vinc Pichel (11-2)

Great matchmaking by the UFC here in my opinion as Roosevelt Roberts will look to remain undefeated against the 11-2 Vinc Pichel. Roberts, somewhat similar to Dober, will be able to fight competitively on the feet for the entire fight if he so chooses, but wrestling is where he should look to win the fight. Roberts has the hand speed advantage and a great ability to fight well moving backwards, which I believe will be revealed at some point in this fight. I do believe Pichel will control the Octagon more than Roberts, but it won’t matter too much. Roberts has amazing composure for a seven-fight fighter and remains even-keel whether he’s running away with the fight or under duress. As long as he keeps his chin down and relies on his submission grappling as his primary weapon, this is a build-up fight for a promising prospect.

Between the two, Pichel exhibits better footwork than the often flat-footed Roberts, so when using forward pressure, Pichel should avoid straight-line movement that works well with a fighter who can fight well backwards like Roberts. Pichel typically has a good kicking game, but he needs to be very selective of his kick selection, even if that means keeping the number at nil, because if Roberts is able to get a takedown off of a kick attempt, Pichel could be on the wrong side of a submission within a minute.

Roberts has the better overall game with more paths to victory. Pichel does have pretty good get-up ability if Roberts takes him down, but I believe Roberts’ ability to earn submissions, specifically chokes, is better than Pichel’s ground defense. And like Dober, even if the fight were standing the whole way, Roberts would still have slightly better than even odds to win the fight anyway, even though Pichel does have more dangerous power between the two.

Prediction: Roosevelt Roberts

Confidence Level: 7.5/10

Demian Maia (26-9) vs. Anthony Rocco Martin (16-4)

This fight will test the Woodley plan better than any of Maia’s previous fights. Tyron Woodley has frequently said he “created the blueprint” to defeat Demian Maia. That blueprint consists of using his wrestling to stuff the takedowns and keep the fight standing, where the jiu-jitsu specialist Maia would be at a disadvantage. I would question if Woodley “created” that blueprint, because I suspect Colby Covington, Kamaru Usman, and both fighters’ staff would have known to do that anyway. But regardless, all three fighters did it and did it successfully.

Frankly, everybody who fights Maia should implement the so-called “Woodley strategy,” regardless of if they have a wrestling background or not. Maia is one of the most dangerous jiu-jitsu practitioners to ever compete in the UFC, so no one who does not have commensurate skills in grappling should want to be on the mat with him. Rocco lacks the formal background like a Colby Covington, but in open space Martin has solid takedown defense, and I doubt Maia being able to back Martin up against the fence in standup. Rocco should not overcommit to his strikes because that will give Maia the opening to score a successful takedown. He should look to punch Maia’s face off with jabs and anticipate and defend the takedown for the entire fight. If he does that, much like the others who recently defeated Maia, Martin will be good to go.

No big mystery what Maia needs to do: look to get the fight to the mat every chance he gets. I believe Martin will stuff numerous takedowns from Maia and get the better of the standup. However, I do believe Maia is capable of having his moments on the feet, even if he doesn’t win in this department. Ultimately, I feel that Maia will eventually get the fight to the mat with perseverance, even if it’s on takedown attempt #11. And I do believe that he will work his magic to get the submission. I just don’t think it will come easy.

Prediction: Demian Maia

Confidence Level: 3.5/10

Jussier Formiga (23-5) vs. Joseph Benavidez (27-5)

We have a flyweight rematch here which could very well have been for the interim flyweight championship had Cejudo’s injury occurred prior to this fight being booked. It is good to see the division getting respect with this high-level fight being placed in the co-main event.

Joseph Benavidez defeated Formiga with a knee to the body followed up with punches in their first encounter, and it happened in the very first round, so we’re still not sure what a prolonged fight between the two would look like. Plus, Formiga has improved his striking, so perhaps openings like that will not present itself for Benavidez on this go-round.

With his improved striking, Formiga should go ahead and be looser on the feet and take risks. After all, what’s Benavidez going to do? Take him down. He’ll have a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu waiting for him. If I’m Formiga, I definitely pull out the spinning back fist, put some extra pepper on the long jab and have fun standing up. Formiga should look to time the double leg throughout the entire contest when he sees an opportunity to do so. His best chance to win, ultimately, remains a submission.

For Joseph Benavidez, he doesn’t need to do a single thing differently than fight his freestyle game. Joseph Benavidez is one of the best freestyle fighters I’ve ever seen. He’s a great striker, a great grappler, great movement, great defense, great athleticism, great fight IQ….he’s the total package. There’s a reason why his only losses have come to the elite of the elite. The only exception was a loss to Sergio Pettis in a fight that I personally scored for Benavidez. But since that off-night, Benavidez has returned right back to the top of his game with a Performance of the Night victory over Alex Perez and a unanimous decision over another great grappler in Dustin Ortiz.

Joseph Benavidez is faster than Formiga, much better on the feet and both defensively sound enough and skilled enough as a grappler to stuff the takedowns and even survive on the mat should Formiga successfully take the fight to the canvas. Benavidez has too many ways to win and the gap between the two on the feet is still soundly in Benavidez’s favor, despite Formiga’s improvements. Benavidez should win again, but this fight will likely be more competitive than the first fight.

Prediction: Joseph Benavidez

Confidence Level: 8/10

Francis Ngannou (13-3) vs. Junior dos Santos (21-5)

When “experts” say what a fighter should or should not do in an upcoming fight, often what they really mean is what they should have already done. For example, if I were to tell you that Francis Ngannou should look to defend the takedown, that advice means nothing if he didn’t already train to do that in training camp. Whether he “looks to do it” or not, if he did not train adequately to do that, he will be in danger of being taken down. So without stating what he should have done in training camp, I’ll just say what he should do in this fight: absolutely nothing.

By “nothing” I don’t mean “Derrick Lewis fight” nothing. I mean no thought. Just flow. That’s his fighting style. That in partnership with his power is what has made him so successful. He should do what he always does: go with the flow, look for openings, and then drop bombs. Nothing cerebral. No frills. Nothing fancy. Just let the fight and the opening come to him and then bombs away. It’s worked well enough for him so far. And I think it will eventually lead him to a UFC heavyweight championship.

As for Junior dos Santos, he should try to put that black belt to use because he does not want to stand with Francis Ngannou if you ask me. Sure, he is a better technical boxer. Sure, he has much better cardio than Ngannou, which could help him pull away as early as the third round. That’s all true. But that’s not his best path to victory. Now, I don’t believe dos Santos would take Ngannou down. So this is another one of those “what they should have done in camp” moments: dos Santos should have rehearsed his takedowns. The fact that Ngannou disrespected dos Santos’s jiu-jitsu should not goad Santos to look to grapple, but it should add some sweetness to the submission victory Santos should be seeking. I have a feeling dos Santos is going to look to be heavy on movement, circle a lot, have Ngannou chase, and look to use technical boxing to win the fight. I also have a feeling that this approach has Ngannou adding to his highlight reel.

Prediction: Francis Ngannou

Confidence Level: 6.5/10

Preliminary Card Predictions:

Junior Albini over Maurice Green

Confidence Level: 4/10

Amanda Ribas over Emily Whitmire

Confidence Level: 3/10

Dalcha Lungiambula over Dequan Townsend

Confidence Level: 4.5/10

Jared Gordon over Dan Moret

Confidence Level: 4/10

Vinicius Castro over Eryk Anders

Confidence Level: 2/10

Ricardo Ramos over Journey Newson

Confidence Level: 5.5/10

Be sure to stick with for live coverage of UFC Minneapolis, including results, highlights, and more! Peep the weigh-in results here.

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