On Wednesday, May 13th, the UFC sets up shop in Jacksonville for the second time within a week after UFC 249, which took place on Saturday. This is for UFC Fight Night 173: Smith vs. Teixeira, a deeply fun card that was originally scheduled for April 25th. Here, I will be previewing and breaking down all six of the fights that take place across many divisions on the stacked preliminary card.
Chase Sherman vs. Isaac Villanueva
In the opening bout of the night, we have a heavyweight clash between UFC veteran Chase Sherman, who is returning to the promotion after being cut nearly two years ago, and a 16-9 MMA veteran making his UFC debut in Isaac Villanueva. Both are on winning streaks in the promotions of Island Fights and Fury FC respectively. The stakes of this fight are fairly high for both of these men, with the loser surely on their way out of the UFC.
There is a lack of tape to study on the promotional-newcomer Villanueva, which makes a breakdown for this fight a nuisance. However, from the film I have got my hands on, I have seen dangerous striking skills. As for Sherman, who is coming off a stint in bare-knuckle boxing, there is a lot of tape to watch on him. Similarly to his opponent, the key factor in his game is dangerous striking.
To me, this fight comes down to defense. As we all know, the heavyweight division is full of match-ups that can be changed with one strike. With this fight, it’s no different, and I feel it will be the sharper fighter defensively who can take advantage of the other’s over-commitment to shots and put the lights out. I feel the more experienced fighter in Sherman will be able to do this and pick up the win via KO/TKO.
Hunter Azure vs. Brian Kelleher
In the second bout of the night, we have a fantastic bantamweight match-up between an undefeated streaking contender in Hunter Azure and a hungry veteran in Brian Kelleher. Azure, who is 7-0 (1-0) in the UFC, brings a great wrestling background, tight and solid fundamental striking, and excellent cardio. His last fight came in September of 2019 when he edged out a razor-close decision over Brad Katona. As for Kelleher, he is a very experienced fighter and is coming off an impressive upset win at UFC 246 in January against Ode Osbourne.
Stylistically, these two match up fantastically. Kelleher has the great grappling skills off his back to potentially nullify and test the wrestling attacks and top game of Azure. Azure has the ability to keep a high pace on Kelleher and potentially break him. Ultimately, I feel like the younger Azure will take the win. He is dangerous on the feet and has great pressure. I feel he will hurt him on the feet and have a good enough top game to follow Kelleher down and either dominate to a decision or finish him on the mat.
Gabriel Benitez vs. Omar Morales
Here we have a lightweight matchup between another undefeated prospect in Omar Morales and a featherweight moving up in an attempt to better himself in his more natural weight class in Gabriel Benitez. Benitez is coming off a knockout loss to top featherweight contender Sodiq Yusuf back in August, as opposed to Morales, who won his UFC debut by decision in December.
Morales rightfully comes into this one as the favourite and I expect him to cruise to a fairly easy victory on May 13th. Benitez is a skilled and durable opponent, but the fact of the matter is that he has a noticeable size disadvantage here and is facing a very solid and technically well-rounded fighter in Morales. I expect Morales to dictate the pace of the fight and outclass Benitez on the feet, eventually leading to a finish.
Sijara Eubanks vs. Sarah Moras
In the third bout of the night, we have a women’s bantamweight contest between 15th ranked Sijara Eubanks and 14th ranked Sarah Moras. Both of these women are talented martial artists, however, come into this bout with negative records in the UFC. It is safe to say that the loser of this bout is in a terrible position and may get cut from the promotion. So, as opposed to the majority of the fights on this card, this contest is to maintain their position within the promotion rather than directly move forward in the promotion with a victory on the 13th of May.
I believe that Sijara Eubanks is the better fighter here. The route for her to win is to use her great grappling skills and look for the finish from top position. Sarah Moras is coming off a great finish over Liana Jojua at UFC 242 and I feel that the route to victory for her is to move forward and expose the defensive flaws that Eubanks has showed in previous UFC bouts. However, I think that Sijara will be too strong for her, and even if she does take a lot of shots, I see her pushing through it, giving her own back and imposing her will until she eventually gets a TKO/KO from the top or a submission finish.
Michael Johnson vs. Thiago Moises
We have another lightweight fight on our hands here, between a veteran who has fought and has wins over some of the best in the division in Michael Johnson, and an exciting product of Dana White’s Contender Series in Thiago Moises. Both fighters are coming off losses, a win here is absolutely vital for their careers. This is a clear grappler vs striker matchup, the 24-year-old Moises being the BJJ expert, and Johnson being the speedy and technical kickboxer.
In the past, these types of matchups have not gone well for Johnson and going off of his last fight with Stevie Ray, we can see he clearly still has holes in his bottom game. If Moises gets a hold of him, he is in trouble. What Johnson has to do is constantly sting him and not be smothered. The Brazilian can’t take too many shots off Johnson without finding himself in trouble. Therefore ‘The Menace’ will be looking to throw at a high volume and land that speedy 1-2 of his straight down the pipe. Moises has to counter this with a smothering and pressuring attack. In conclusion, I see Moises being able to impose his will and overwhelm Johnson with a grappling onslaught, leading to a submission victory.
Andre Arlovski vs. Philipe Lins
In the headlining featured bout of this exciting preliminary card, we have our second heavyweight clash of the night. This will see former UFC heavyweight champion Andre Arlovski taking on UFC newcomer and PFL standout Philipe Lins. Arlovski brings a ton of experience, and despite the fact he has seen his best days and is coming off a knockout loss, he still has enough left in the tank to compete and potentially grab a win here. Lins is a big threat to someone like Arlovski, as he brings vicious combinations to the cage when he steps in there and will definitely look for the finish.
I see this fight going two different ways. One of them being Arlovski completely outclassing the promotional newcomer and outboxing him using his slick boxing, the other being Philipe Lins swarming Arlovski with a blitz attack and finishing him early into the fight.
We are in for a great night of fights on Wednesday night throughout these preliminary bouts and the main card. I hope you all enjoy.
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