While many of us are licking our chops in anticipation of the next big UFC fight card with UFC 225 on Saturday, June 9, we’re just not quite there yet. So the UFC will continue to give us little morsels to nibble on in the meantime with yet another rather lean UFC Fight Night card on Friday, June 1.
As lean as UFC Fight Night 131 may be, the main event is an intriguing bantamweight match-up that should go a long way toward determining the next challenger to champion T.J. Dillashaw. Jimmie Rivera and Marlon Moraes have been circling each other for quite some time. The two were supposed to square off last year, but injuries and weight issues put this fight on the backburner for nearly six months.
Rivera is undefeated in his UFC career and has already gotten the best of fighters known to many fans, including Urijah Faber and Thomas Almeida. Moraes was a scary champion to deal with in the World Series of Fighting before he signed with the UFC roughly a year and a half ago. He rebounded from a tough loss to Raphael Assunção in his debut with impressive victories over John Dodson and Aljamain Sterling, the latter of whom he knocked out in the first round. It’s likely the winner of this bout will stake his claim to be next in line for a shot at the title.
The participants in the co-headliner may not be familiar names, but they only have one loss between them in 23 combined career fights. Gregor Gillespie is unbeaten in his four-fight UFC career, with three finishes in that timeframe. Vinc Pichel has only lose once in his six-year UFC tenure, and that loss came in his UFC debut. Since then, Pichel has rattled off four straight wins and is looking to make a name for himself in a still-crowded UFC lightweight division.
The UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on Friday, June 1, followed by the Fox Sports 1 prelims at 8 p.m. ET and the main card on the same network at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press Editor-in-Chief Bryan Henderson and writer Chris Huntemann get you ready for all the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Former World Series of Fighting bantamweight kingpin Marlon Moraes has won his last two UFC outings against top-shelf competition. Now, he’s set to do battle with rising bantamweight star Jimmie Rivera. Can Moraes play spoiler to Rivera?
Henderson: This fight is undoubtedly the big draw here for most fans. It promises to either add to Rivera’s argument for a title shot or prove that Moraes has regained his footing and deserves his own spot near the top of the division.
Rivera’s been on quite a roll. “El Terror” does have one loss on his resume, but it came in only his second pro fight all the way back in 2008. He did suffer an exhibition loss to Dennis Bermudez on The Ultimate Fighter 14, but he competed as a featherweight on the show when he clearly belongs at 135 pounds instead. After the reality show, Rivera knocked around from Ring of Combat to Bellator to the WSOF and to Cage Fury Fighting Championships before finally landing in the UFC in 2015. Since arriving in the Octagon, he has won five fights. He hasn’t taken the easy road either — his wins include decisions against Pedro Munhoz, Iuri Alcantara, Urijah Faber and Thomas Almeida.
The 30-year-old Moraes has made a long journey to get here, too. He debuted in 2007 and only managed a 5-4-1 record over his first 10 fights before really finding his footing. The Brazilian has gone an outstanding 15-1 over his last 16 outings. He conquered the WSOF’s bantamweight division and made five successful defenses of his belt. After coming out flat in his Octagon debut in a split-decision loss to Raphael Assunção and following the performance up with a split-decision victory over John Dodson, Moraes delivered a more conclusive effort with a quick knockout of Aljamain Sterling.
These guys are both near the top of the 135-pound rankings, and deservingly so. Moraes, a skilled Muay Thai practitioner, has a far better finishing rate, so, yes, he could turn in a spoiler performance. Bermudez did finish Rivera with strikes, but the eventual TUF winner also had a size edge in that fight that Moraes is unlikely to enjoy over Rivera in this pairing. Still, Moraes will need to land a big blow if he wants to get the win. If this goes the distance, it’s more likely to favor Rivera.
Huntemann: Not only is this fight the big draw for fans who tune in for this card, it’s likely the only draw for probably 90 percent of those fans. You really have to be among the hardest of hardcore UFC fans to get excited for any other bout in this lineup, to be frank.
But I digress. The fight between Rivera and Moraes is a very good one. The winner should be considered for a title shot in what would be a fresh match-up for champion T.J. Dillashaw. Rivera’s UFC resume may not wow you. He hasn’t scored a finish since knocking out Marcus Brimage in his UFC debut in 2015. However, Rivera also hasn’t lost in the UFC. He’s only lost once in his entire career. The bantamweight division is still pretty deep and formidable, but Rivera has navigated it perfectly thus far while outworking his opponents.
I was excited when the UFC signed Moraes, because he was one of my favorite fighters to watch in the old WSOF. He is such a deadly and precise striker. He chopped down many a foe in his previous career stop. I thought he won his debut fight against Assunção in a very close fight. He has won two straight since then, and he looks to be getting better with each fight. If he gets past Rivera — I think he will — then a match-up between Dillashaw and Moraes for the belt would make for an incredibly fun fight.
Lightweight co-headliners Gregor Gillespie and Vinc Pichel have combined for a 22-1 career mark and an 8-1 official UFC record. Which man will continue his winning ways in this contest? Are these two fighters soon to be part of the title picture in this division?
Huntemann: Short answer? No, they’re not. No disrespect to Gillespie and Pichel, but the lightweight division is still extremely top-heavy. It seems like the saga of current champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, former champ Conor McGregor and former interim champion Tony Ferguson will just never end. How crazy is it that this division has had three different champions holding three different iterations of the lightweight title in the last year or so? That is just insane.
But again, I digress. Gillespie has been mighty impressive since joining the UFC in 2016. He seems to be getting better with each fight, and a battle with another tough fighter in Pichel should make these two guys quickly known to those in the UFC fan base who are currently not aware of them.
Pichel will not be an easy out for Gillespie, however. He is an extremely tough fighter who will make Gillespie earn every inch. This is a popular choice for “Fight of the Night,” and it’s easy to see why. I could easily see this turning into a wild brawl, and if it does, I like Pichel to pull off what some might consider a sort of upset. If Pichel puts on a couple more performances like that? Then it is certainly possibly he could break through the logjam that continues to plague the UFC lightweight division.
Henderson: Pichel does have the better UFC resume. He was slammed into oblivion in his official UFC debut against Rustam Khabilov after advancing all the way to the semifinals on The Ultimate Fighter 15, but he reeled off wins in his subsequent four Octagon appearances. Those wins came against Garett Whiteley, Anthony Njokuani, Damien Brown and the previously undefeated Joaquim Silva.
Gillespie has only topped Glaico França, Andrew Holbrook, Jason Gonzalez and Jordan Rinaldi. Those guys aren’t slouches, but they’re probably a notch or two below Pichel’s foes. However, Gillespie has earned All-American honors four times as an NCAA wrestler, and he even won a national championship in 2007. He’s no joke, and his undefeated record still stands.
This fight is sure to deliver on those “Fight of the Night” predictions, but Gillespie appears to be the better of these fighters. He’ll use his wrestling to neutralize Pichel and pick up the win.
Sijara Eubanks, Chance Rencountre, Nathaniel Wood and Jose Torres — do we need to know these names?
Henderson: This is a mix of some very high-ceiling candidates and a couple of fighters who might struggle to advance very far inside the Octagon.
Let’s get that latter group out of the way first. Rencountre and Wood have outstanding records outside of the UFC, and both men are Bellator veterans. Rencountre has also made stops in Titan Fighting Championship and the Resurrection Fighting Alliance. Wood has appeared under the Cage Warriors and BAMMA banners, and he even held and defended the Cage Warriors bantamweight crown. Rencountre has already suffered losses to James Nakashima and Justin Patterson, while Wood has dropped fights to Ed Arthur, Mike Cutting and Alan Philpott. These guys could stick as mid-tier UFCers, but they hardly seem like world-beaters right now.
Eubanks and Torres are a different story.
The 33-year-old Eubanks holds just a 2-2 mark in official action, but her losses came to the likes of solid competitors Katlyn Chookagian and Aspen Ladd. She went on a strong run as a member of The Ultimate Fighter 26 cast. In the TUF tournament, Eubanks, a low seed, was able to submit Maia Stevenson, knock out DeAnna Bennett and decision Roxanne Modafferi to land a spot in the season’s flyweight finals. Unfortunately, Eubanks struggled in her weight cut for the finale bout and landed in the hospital. This is her first fight since then, and the primary test will be how she fares on the scales. Eubanks stunned fans with her victories on TUF, but this makes her a potential contender in the UFC’s women’s flyweight division. She has a tough-but-winnable fight against Lauren Murphy this weekend.
Torres is the super prospect in this group. The 25-year-old “Shorty” steamrolled his competition in the amateur levels en route to two IMMAF titles. As a professional, he received a heavy push from the get-go as a member of the Titan FC roster. By his third pro fight, Torres was competing for interim flyweight gold. He went on to defend the title against UFC veteran Pedro Nobre and then moved up to the 135-pound ranks and claimed Titan’s bantamweight crown with a decision nod over Farkhad Sharipov. He went on to make two defenses of that strap as well. Torres gets started as a flyweight in the UFC, and a few impressive wins could quickly put him in position to challenge Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson for the UFC championship. Torres is a threat to eventually move up a division and challenge for a second belt, too. Keep an eye on this kid for sure.
Huntemann: I would like to see Eubanks put on a memorable performance, as I always root for a fellow Marylander to succeed in the fight world. However, she has a tough match-up against Murphy. Eubanks does need to prove that her issues with making weight are firmly behind her.
I agree with my esteemed superior that Torres is the one to watch. It’s strange to think that Torres has not already been in the UFC for some time, considering his resume. But it sounds like the timing just never worked out for him until very recently. In a flyweight division that has no remaining worthy contenders to Mighty Mouse, the door is open for Torres to make a splash sooner rather than later. He has a stiff test in Jarred Brooks in his UFC debut, but it’s a test Torres will pass.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Huntemann: Nik Lentz is always a guy you want to keep an eye on. It’s not just because of his unique personality, but because he usually puts on entertaining fights as well and has already faced some of the toughest fighters in the UFC. He faces another tough guy in David Teymur, who is undefeated in his UFC stint and has two knockouts to his credit. This fight is definitely a contender to steal the show.
Henderson: This one belongs to Jose “Shorty” Torres and Jarred Brooks. These guys are not household names yet, but at least one of them — I’m talking about Torres, of course — should be in the flyweight title mix for years to come. This is Shorty’s UFC debut, and it’s certainly a fight that fans should watch.
Pair this card with…
Henderson: A healthy dose of optimism. The average fan is not going to get excited about this lineup. The headliner is great, but fighters like Gregor Gillespie, Vinc Pichel and Daniel Spitz haven’t established big followings yet. Furthermore, hardcore fans might geek out about the inclusion of Jose Torres, Julio Arce and Jarred Brooks, but they, too, lack starpower with the UFC fan base. Yet, this isn’t an awful or boring card at its core. There’s plenty of room for some of these fighters to make a big splash. It’s not a star-studded offering, but it could turn out to be the launching point to stardom for at least a couple of fighters.
Huntemann: Your DVR, because that’s how you should be viewing this card — at a later date. Come on, it’s Friday night. Do you really have nothing better to do than stay home and watch a card full of fighters who aren’t well known to you and probably 90 percent of the UFC fan base? Go out and do something.
|Fight||Henderson’s Pick||Huntemann’s Pick|
|Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET)|
|BW: Jimmie Rivera vs. Marlon Moraes||Rivera||Moraes|
|LW: Gregor Gillespie vs. Vinc Pichel||Gillespie||Pichel|
|HW: Walt Harris vs. Daniel Spitz||Harris||Harris|
|WW: Jake Ellenberger vs. Ben Saunders||Ellenberger||Saunders|
|FW: Julio Arce vs. Daniel Teymur||Arce||Arce|
|LHW: Gian Villante vs. Sam Alvey||Villante||Villante|
|Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)|
|Women’s FlyW: Lauren Murphy vs. Sijara Eubanks||Eubanks||Eubanks|
|LW: David Teymur vs. Nik Lentz||Teymur||Teymur|
|WW: Chance Rencountre vs. Belal Muhammad||Muhammad||Muhammad|
|LW: Desmond Green vs. Gleison Tibau||Tibau||Green|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)|
|Women’s StrawW: Jessica Aguilar vs. Jodie Esquibel||Aguilar||Esquibel|
|BW: Johnny Eduardo vs. Nathaniel Wood||Eduardo||Eduardo|
|FlyW: Jarred Brooks vs. Jose Torres||Torres||Torres|