Saturday, November 26, 2022

MMA News’ Sleeper Scrap: UFC 280 Edition

Welcome the MMA News’ Sleeper Scrap! The relentless schedule of the MMA world means that some fans often don’t have a full look at a fight card until days before the event, leaving the promoters to decide which bouts you should be paying the most attention to.

Everyone wants to tune in for main events and fights that feature popular names, but that means meaningful or potentially action-packed matchups from elsewhere on fight cards sometimes get lost in the shuffle. A Sleeper Scrap might highlight interesting style matchups, fighters with notable storylines, or bouts that simply have the chance to be a Fight of the Night contender.

On an event that is absolutely loaded with compelling matchups that fans have been discussing for months, UFC 280 still manages to offer a few lower-profile fights that are worth talking about. The event’s prelims alone could easily fill out a UFC Fight Night main card, and it’s the middleweight contest between Caio Borralho and Makhmud Muradov that serves as this week’s Sleeper Scrap.

The Matchup

After earning a UFC contract courtesy of a quick finish in his second appearance on Contender Series 2021, Caio Borralho has quickly established himself as one of the more interesting talents climbing the UFC’s middleweight rankings.

It was his striking skills that helped “The Natural” join the UFC, but through his first two bouts in the promotion Borralho’s grappling has been his most dangerous weapon. The Brazilian showed against Gadzhi Omargadzhiev and Armen Petrosyan that he can take an opponent’s back the moment the fight hits the canvas, and from there he’ll consistently maintain control while hunting for a rear-naked choke.

Muradov began his UFC career with three-straight wins before being submitted in his last fight, but the 32-year-old has a couple of particularly violent third-round stoppage wins over Andrew Sanchez and Trevor Smith that showed how dangerous he can be on the feet.

One interesting point of note is that the patience Muradov showed through his first few UFC bouts seemed largely absent in his most recent fight with Gerald Meerschaert. “Mach” has always been willing to mix in some flashy strikes in pursuit of a finish, but in that fight, he appeared excessively reckless and paid for it when a knockdown led to Meerschaert locking up a rear-naked choke in the second round.

Muradov scored an incredible knockout over Trevor Smith in his second UFC bout. (Zuffa LLC)

While his main concern might be the Brazilian’s grappling, Borralho’s kicking game is something that Muradov shouldn’t take lightly on the feet. If he’s as aggressive in this fight as he was against Meerschaert, it could be a recipe to either eat a kick or find himself victim to a well-timed takedown. If the 32-year-old stays more composed and is able to pressure Borralho in order to negate some of those kicks, Muradov should carry the power advantage on the feet.

“The Natural” had no issues hitting takedowns against Petrosyan but also encountered very little resistance until appearing to fatigue in the third round, so it will be interesting to see how the Brazilian adapts if he isn’t able to get the larger Muradov down right away. “Mach” might also need to be slightly more conservative with his jumping kicks and knees in this matchup in order to avoid potentially giving Borralho an easy ticket to the mat.

The Stakes

Borralho has wasted no time since joining the UFC in 2021, and this will be the Brazilian’s third fight of 2022. Muradov has had a bit more difficulty staying active with only four bouts since entering the promotion in 2019, and he’s already pulled out of his two previously scheduled fights this year.

“The Natural” would obviously love to start his UFC career off with three-straight victories, but as Muradov can attest the level of competition jumps considerably once you get closer to the top of the division. The Brazilian has a unique style and also seems to possess a lively personality, so don’t be surprised if the UFC choose to start giving him a bit more of the spotlight if he can get past Muradov.

It’s unlikely he’d have to worry about his job being on the line with a loss, but if Muradov were to be submitted for a second-straight fight it could start an undesired narrative regarding the 32-year-old’s skills once he hits the mat.

Borralho’s first two UFC victories were earned through his dominance on the mat. (Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Muradov would be much better served by earning another highlight-reel stoppage like the one he had against Trevor Smith in order to get back in the win column and make some fans forget about the Meerschaert loss. “Mach” has shown off an entertaining striking style and some dynamic finishing ability, so it’s still possible for him to make an impact on the middleweight division if he halts Borralho’s momentum at UFC 280.

This feels like a well-matched fight by the UFC to see which one of these fighters is going to be a factor in the middleweight division over the next couple of years. 185-pounds is far from being the UFC’s deepest weight class, so there’s always room for new contenders to impress and earn a spot in the division’s rankings.

A win in this fight obviously wouldn’t be enough to earn a ranking outright, but it could put either man a fight or two away (depending on the opponent) from cracking the Top 15.

It’s been mentioned already that Borralho’s ground skills could prove a problem for Muradov, but for the periods this fight stays standing it could also feature some entertaining striking exchanges that help to make this a compelling Sleeper Scrap from UFC 280.

How do you think this bout between Muradov and Borralho will turn out? Are there any other fights from UFC 280 that you feel deserve more attention?