Welcome to the MMA News’ Sleeper Scrap! The relentless schedule of the MMA world means that some fans 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.
Following a highly touted UFC 280 card that included a pair of title fights, the UFC returns this week with an event headlined by an excellent featherweight bout between Arnold Allen and Calvin Kattar.
Almost any card was going to feel like a step down following the hype around UFC 280, and UFC Vegas 63 took an additional hit when several scheduled fights fell through within the last couple of weeks. The UFC managed to bring in a few fighters to compete on short notice, which resulted in a flyweight matchup between Cody Durden and the debuting Carlos Mota that stands out as this week’s Sleeper Scrap.
LFA has firmly established itself as the primary feeder organization for the UFC, and Carlos Mota will be the latest in a long line of LFA champions to make the jump to the world’s premier MMA organization.
The Brazilian claimed the LFA flyweight title when he floored Rizvan Abuev in August with a walk-off left hook that appeared on the MMA News’ Top 10 Finishes of the Week. That was Mota’s second bid for the LFA title after he came up short against Charles Johnson (who recently made his own UFC debut) in an action-packed fight at LFA 122.
Durden has had a bit of an up-and-down run in the UFC so far, but he’s coming off a strong performance where he stopped JP Buys with strikes in just over a minute. The 31-year-old was originally scheduled to meet Kleydson Rodrigues at UFC Vegas 63, but a withdrawal from Rodrigues resulted in “Tizil” getting the call to fight in his countryman’s place.
Mota likes to work his jab to the head and body, but he’s always on the hunt to land a big right hand. Opponents also need to be wary of getting too comfortable exchanging punches with the Brazilian, as he has a tendency to finish off his striking combinations with a high kick.
Durden may not be the prettiest striker, but he’s come a long way from the double jab and naked low kick setup that he used in his UFC debut with Chris Gutiérrez. The 31-year-old has started mixing in an uppercut in addition to throwing more combinations, and his comfort in striking exchanges is aided by the fact that he’s shown off an impressive chin during his UFC tenure.
Even though he’s gotten more confident as a striker, anyone facing Durden knows that they’re going to be faced with the constant threat of takedowns. The 31-year-old is relentless in his pursuit of getting things to the mat, using both single and double leg takedowns as well as the occasional outside trip.
Mota doesn’t pursue takedowns with the same ferocity as Durden, but the Brazilian has show a willingness to mix in well-timed takedown attempts to compliment his striking.
Considering that this fight is on short notice, there’s no telling what kind of condition Mota is in or if he’ll struggle at all with making weight. “Tizil” went four hard rounds with Johnson in their LFA title bout, but if this fight with Durden goes into the second and third rounds the lack of a full training camp could come into play for the Brazilian.
Given that this is his UFC debut and he’s stepping in as a replacement fighter, Mota has everything to gain here and very little to lose.
In all likelihood it was a matter of “when” and not “if” Mota made it to the UFC, so an earlier than anticipated debut is a great chance for him to get a win and build on the momentum of his previous title-winning knockout.
Even if Mota comes up short but still gives a good account of himself, it will be easy for fans to write the performance off as being due to him not having a full camp to specifically prepare for this matchup.
Durden has had some difficult assignments so far in his UFC career, including being the man to welcome Muhammad Mokaev to the UFC in a bout where Durden was submitted in less than a minute. The American’s only other fight with a UFC debutant also ended with him tapping after Jimmy Flick (also a former LFA flyweight champion) caught him in a flying triangle choke.
The 31-year-old is 2-2-1 across his five UFC bouts, which isn’t the type of record that’s going to establish a long run in the sport’s top promotion. Durden’s place on the roster could well be in jeopardy with a loss, but he could also start to gain a bit of momentum here by spoiling Mota’s debut and building off that finish of Buys in his previous fight.
As far as the fans and possible action are concerned, there’s a chance that this fight could turn into one of the more closely contested bouts at UFC Vegas 63.
Durden has had his best moments of success in the UFC when he’s able to grind out takedowns and control his opponents on the mat, but he’s also shown off an impressive chin and a willingness to trade strikes before looking for a takedown. Mota showed off some decent wrestling of his own in LFA, so if he’s able to defend the majority of Durden’s takedowns he could force the American to stand and trade.
There’s a chance that these two flyweights could have some wild striking and/or scrambling exchanges during their fight, and the additional storylines of Mota’s short-notice debut and Durden’s overall UFC record make this a perfect Sleeper Scrap from UFC Vegas 63.
How do you think this bout between Durden and Mota will turn out? Are there any other fights from UFC Vegas 63 that you feel deserve more attention?