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.
The UFC’s first event of 2023 arrives following a nearly month-long break for the promotion, so no doubt fight fans will be clamoring to see the sport’s biggest organization return no matter the quality of the fight card. UFC Vegas 67 may not be the most star-studded Fight Night, but it does have a number of interesting matchups featuring up-and-coming fighters and a total of five UFC debutants.
With plenty of under-the-radar matchups to choose from, the Sleeper Scrap from UFC Vegas 67 is a battle between undefeated bantamweights Javid Basharat and Mateus Mendonça.
Javid Basharat earned a UFC contract after submitting Oron Kahlon on Contender Series 2021, and he’s quickly established himself as a promising talent in the UFC’s bantamweight division.
Born in Afghanistan but based in England, the early part of Basharat’s career saw him earn victories all over the English regional scene. His early level of competition wasn’t always the highest, but “The Snow Leopard” tore through most of his opponents and only went to the second round once through his first eight pro fights.
Basharat took a significant jump up in competition when he joined the Czech Republic’s Oktagon and faced 11-1 Aleskandar Bezkorovainiy in 2020. Bezkorovainiy ended up suffering the same fate as many of Basharat’s previous opponents and was submitted late in the second round, which resulted in the Afghan fighter getting the call for Contender Series the following year.
The 27-year-old may not have earned finishes in his first two UFC bouts, but it’s arguably more impressive that he showed off his cardio by winning decisions over Trevin Jones and Tony Gravely. Neither of those opponents made things easy for Basharat, but “The Snow Leopard” was able to largely rely on his diverse striking game to earn clear decisions in both fights.
Mateus Mendonça shares an undefeated record with Basharat and is also a Contender Series contract winner, but this bout holds additional significance due to it being the Brazilian’s UFC debut.
The 23-year-old may not be entering the promotion with the same 100% finishing rate that Basharat had ahead of his own debut, but “Bocão” has seven stoppage victories and all of them have come in the first round.
It’s not uncommon for fighters to initially maintain a fairly high rate of activity after their professional debuts, but Mendonça’s first year as a pro was an incredible run even by the typically busy standards of Brazilian prospects.
The 23-year-old fought an astounding seven times in 2019 after only turning pro in July, and that stretch saw him finish five opponents in the first round in addition to winning a pair of decisions in his first two bouts for Brazil’s Future FC.
“Bocão” had to wait until the second half of 2020 to extend his perfect record to 9-0, and after that Mendonça was inactive for nearly two years before facing Ashiek Ajim at Contender Series 2022. If the Brazilian felt any sort of ring rust it certainly didn’t show, as he brutally finished Ajim in less than a minute to book his ticket to the UFC.
Any matchup between undefeated fighters is always worth watching, as the bout immediately includes the narrative of seeing one fighter extend their perfect record while the other has to come to terms with suffering their first loss.
Basharat has already established some momentum by earning a pair of UFC victories in his first year with the promotion, so the 27-year-old will no doubt be looking to continue that success at the expense of the debuting Mendonça.
A setback against the Brazilian wouldn’t necessarily derail his hopes for a successful UFC career, but it would certainly be a surprise to see Basharat’s first loss come at the hands of a fighter just joining the promotion and one that also experienced a long period of inactivity.
“The Snow Leopard” would likely be happy with another decision win after how good he looked in his last two fights, but he’d also probably like to get his first UFC stoppage sooner rather than later considering the finishing rate he carried into his promotional debut.
Mendonça will obviously be looking to preserve his own undefeated record, but he’ll also have the added pressure of wanting to make a good impression in his first UFC bout.
Basharat certainly isn’t the easiest debut matchup and is likely the most dangerous opponent that “Bocão” has faced so far, but an impressive win could allow the Brazilian to steal the 27-year-old’s hype and jumpstart his own UFC career.
In addition to answering any possible questions about his previous level of competition, this fight will be a chance for Mendonça to prove that the layoff before his Contender Series bout hasn’t dulled his skills at all. The way he ran through Ajim to win a UFC contract was certainly eye-catching, but a quick knockout like that doesn’t answer many questions about how the 23-year-old’s overall skills have developed.
Both of these bantamweights are capable of ending things early, and that means fans won’t want to miss seeing one of them possibly add to their already extensive individual highlights reels.
A potentially longer fight could turn into an interesting striking battle as the taller Basharat tries to use his kicking game to stifle Mendonça’s forward pressure, and the added possibility of either man flashing their ground skills means this Sleeper Scrap could play out as one of the more entertaining matchups at UFC Vegas 67.
How do you think this bout between Basharat and Mendonça will turn out? Are there any other fights from UFC Vegas 67 that you feel deserve more attention?