Although a few storylines still loom large after last weekend’s event, the train keeps on going as UFC Vegas 32 rolls ahead with many exciting matchups on what almost feels likes a pay-per-view card. The event will inevitably shine a light on the bantamweight division with four scheduled matchups scattered all over the card, including the featured fight between Kyler Phillips (9-1) and late replacement Raulian Paiva (20-3).
The 26-year old Phillips has found himself ranked amongst the top 15 in one of the UFC’s deepest divisions. Currently riding a 3-fight win streak, “The Matrix” impressed a lot of the fandom after his winning effort over the betting favorite Song Yadong, who at the time had three times the octagon experience. His opponent, former NEC bantamweight champion Paiva made his UFC debut a year earlier than Phillips, competing in the flyweight division where he currently holds a record of 2-2. Saturday night will be Paiva’s first bantamweight bout since joining the promotion, after missing weight in his previous attempt on the scale.
Kyler “The Matrix” Phillips (9-1)
From the very beginning, Phillips was involved in some sort of martial arts. As a toddler, his father brought him to the Gracie Academy in California where he began training Jiu-Jitsu. In high school, Phillips began wrestling which led to his eventual MMA debut when he was only 16 years old.
The talented young fighter took his skills to the local pro circuit in 2016, building up a record of 4-0 before he was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity only two years into his professional career. 22-years old at the time, Phillips was invited on Dana White’s Contender Series where he dispatched James Gray with ease in under a minute. Unfortunately on the night, it wasn’t enough. However, Dana decided to bring him back on The Ultimate Fighter Season 27 where he fell to the eventual winner Brad Katona (9-2) in early 2018. A return to CXF for Phillips didn’t go to plan as he dropped a split decision to Victor Henry in a very close contest. Four months later, the Phoenix native impressed on LFA: 59 with a head kick that led to the eventual finish halfway into the very first round. The UFC took notice and decided Phillips was ready to compete in the octagon.
“The Matrix” made his debut as the featured prelim on the undercard of UFC Fight Night: Figuierdo vs Benevidez in February of last year. Dominantly, Phillips cruised to a unanimous decision victory over Gabriel Silva earning himself a FOTN bonus in the process.
With a 71% finishing rate, Phillips entered his second fight with menacing intentions. Taking on the debutant Cameron Else on short notice, Kyler lived up to his nickname with spectacular footwork and feints that had his opponent guessing both offensively and defensively all night. Phillips showed dominance in all areas of the fight and then capped it off with vicious elbows after taking Else’s back.
Primed for a ranked opponent, Phillips got just that in the form of a young, powerful, and experienced fighter in Song Yadong (15-6) who at the time, was riding a six-fight unbeaten streak in the UFC at only 22 years of age. To win this fight Phillips would have to mix everything and he did that with flying colors. The fight itself was extremely close with Yadong even out-landing Phillips on significant strikes 67 to 59, but it was Phillips’s ability to stay unpredictable on the feet, land the majority of his takedowns, and use his footwork to touch up Song and get out of the way of his counters.
Raulian Paiva (20-3)
Before finding his way into the octagon, Brazil’s Paiva bounced around various local Brazilian promotions even capturing the North Extreme Cagefighting bantamweight championship where he spent most of his early professional career. In 2017 Paiva KO’d Iliarde Santos (33-16-1) in under a minute improving his record to 17-1 before he was offered a spot on Dana Whites Contender Series the following year. Paiva fought to a split decision victory over Allan Nascimento (17-5) which led to a UFC contract along with ranked lightweight Thiago Moises that same night.
In his debut, Paiva found himself in Australia on the undercard of UFC 234 fighting an opponent from that region who already had some name recognition in Kai Kara-France (22-9). In a very close fight, Kara-France got the nod but Paiva fought a very good fight and hoped to improve after his first attempt under the bright lights. Unfortunately, it was not to be. In his next bout against Rogerio Bontorin (17-3), the two exchanged cuts early in the first round that had the doctor taking a look on both occasions, who then decided Paiva’s cut under the eye was too gruesome to continue the action.
Now on a two-fight win streak over Mark De La Rosa (11-5) and Zhalgas Zhumagulov (14-5) respectively, Paiva decided it is the perfect time to take a step up to bantamweight especially after missing weight by four pounds in his last outing. however, taking on Phillips on short notice will be a very tall order for the 12th ranked flyweight.
This UFC Vegas 32 matchup features two traditionally orthodox fighters yet Phillips is constantly switching his stance throughout the contest. With a three-inch reach advantage in Phillips’s corner, his stick and move style should give Paiva a lot of early problems to deal with on the feet. He often gives his opponents as many looks as possible from both stances keeping his opponents hesitant when it comes to offense or defense. Phillips doesn’t necessarily have the one-hitter quitter type power, but he always throws in two’s and three’s that accumulate damage over the rounds.
Paiva’s key to victory will be grappling. He must get Phillips in as many grappling exchanges along the fence as he can. Paiva’s striking is more one-dimensional and any long periods of exchanges on the feet at range will be a major problem for the former flyweight. If Paiva can keep forward pressure and finish off his combos with low kicks it should slowly add up as the fight goes on taking away some of Phillips’s movement in the later rounds which you saw a little bit in the Yadong fight. A strong jab will be crucial for Paiva, he may have to take one shot to give two back, but the Brazilian has shown he is more than willing to do so. Phillips is a lifelong Jiu-Jitsu practitioner that likes to keep an active guard on the bottom always threatening you with submissions, but when he shoots he’s got more of an overwhelming top pressure constantly reigning down punches and elbows looking for the eventual opening to a submission. The best-case scenario for Paiva is getting Phillips on his back if he can be extremely aware of Phillips’s submission ability. If Paiva can sustain prolonged periods of top control, that will have to come from shots against the cage as appose to out in the open, it will be his best chance at getting any kind of decision out of this very tough matchup.
Prediction: Phillips via TKO
Follow me on Twitter @hbroomfieldnews for all my latest work. Also, give us a follow on social media at @OTHeroicsMMA to stay tuned in with all our content! Please visit our web page to keep up with everything MMA!