There’s another UFC Fight Night card upon us, boys and girls. If you thought UFC 201 looked underwhelming on paper, then this fight card may make you want to grab the nearest bottle of Wild Turkey. However, our fight-deprived friends in Salt Lake City will be treated to a card featuring a main event of Yair Rodriguez vs. Alex Caceres on the first Saturday of August.
If you respond to that opening paragraph with “who?” you may not be alone. You might recognize Caceres from his appearance on The Ultimate Fighter: Team GSP vs. Team Koscheck in 2010, or by his nickname, “Bruce Leeroy,” which is some kind of homage to martial arts legend Bruce Lee. Unfortunately, that’s about all Caceres has in common with Mr. Lee, though. He boasts a record of just 12-8, but is coming off an impressive win over Cole Miller in his last outing.
Across the cage will be Rodriguez, an exciting fighter on the rise in the UFC featherweight division. Could this main event against Caceres just be a way to introduce Rodriguez to a broader audience? Let’s hope so, because that’s about the only justification you can muster for a card that does not look very impressive at first glance.
If everything goes well, this under-the-radar card will turn out like the UFC’s recent visit to Sioux Falls, S.D. and turn out to be memorable, despite a lack of star power. The event kicks off Saturday with two fights streaming on UFC Fight Pass at 7 p.m. ET. Four additional preliminary card fights follow on Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, with the six-fight main card starting at 10 p.m. ET, also on Fox Sports 1. Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Sal DeRose break down the finer points of the card in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Featherweights Yair Rodriguez, Alex Caceres, Dennis Bermudez and Rony Jason top the bill for this card. Is this the weakest UFC card to hit normal cable or network broadcast airwaves, or is it a glimpse into the future of the featherweight division?
DeRose: It’s hard to say weakest card considering it hasn’t happened yet. On paper, sure, this is an extremely weak card compared to what we are used to. But it is nice to see these fights as they really are the future of the division. Both Dennis Bermudez and Yair Rodriguez are really solid fighters. Bermudez has already proven that point by becoming one of the higher ranked featherweights before ultimately losing to Ricardo Lamas and Jeremy Stephens. That said, these aren’t exactly fights you’d think of when you think of top billing on a Fight Night card.
These are both easy fights to pick as Bermudez is simply one of the better fighters at 145 pounds and should handle Rony Jason rather easily. Bermudez has solid, high-level wrestling that makes him extremely dangerous. His striking is also coming together well to help set up his takedowns. This should be a good showcase fight for him as he makes his way back to the top of the division. Jason’s best chance comes in the form of a hail mary submission if Bermudez makes a mistake on the ground, or leaves himself open to a counter on the takedown. Bermudez didn’t win seven straight fights for no reason.
In the case of Rodriguez and Alex Caceres, Rodriguez should take that one as well. Rodriguez has shown himself to be a well-rounded fighter after taking out Andre Fili in his last fight with a head kick. Caceres is more likely to win this fight on the ground much like Jason if he can find the opening and capitalize on a mistake. Rodriguez has looked really good so far in his UFC career and that should continue.
Huntemann: “Is this the weakest UFC card to hit normal cable or network broadcast airwaves?” I’ll take “Duh,” for $400, Alex.
OK, I’ll be serious for a minute and actually answer the question. Yes, this is the weakest UFC card to hit normal cable or network broadcast television. I’m still trying to grasp the UFC’s love affair with Caceres. His overall record is 12-8, and his UFC record is 7-6. He is the definition of an average fighter. Is there a place in the UFC for average fighters? Sure. But not in the main event of a Fight Night card.
I’m relying on the hope that this main event is supposed to be more of a showcase for Rodriguez, who is a fighter on the rise in the featherweight division. He’s on a four-fight winning streak and had a highlight-reel knockout of Andre Fili in his last fight. Should defeating Caceres merit Rodriguez a title shot? Of course not. But Rodriguez is someone to keep your eye on, and I think he’ll add “Bruce Leeroy” to his win list with his quick striking and movement.
As far as the co-main event goes, Bermudez is an exciting fighter, if I’m being fair. His record in the UFC is reflective of that. He started by losing the finale of The Ultimate Fighter 14 to Diego Brandao, then rattled off seven straight victories. He then lost back-to-back fights against some of the best fighters at featherweight before rebounding with a win over Tatsuya Kawajiri. Given Bermudez’s equal propensity for landing strikes and takedowns, I like him to overwhelm Jason. Who knows? Maybe Bermudez will put on an exciting performance to liven up this card. I like his chances.
The next biggest fight on the card features middleweights Chris Camozzi and Thales Leites. Leites is a former title challenger now riding a two-fight skid. Camozzi, meanwhile, has won five of his last six. Leites would, however, likely represent the most notable victory of Camozzi’s entire career if the Colorado-based fighter can indeed score the win. Is Camozzi capable of getting past Leites, and can he finally break through to legitimate contender status?
Huntemann: Honestly, this fight would be a more worthy main event than Rodriguez/Caceres. But I digress; I already made my feelings on that subject clear in the introduction and in my response above. When it comes to this fight, I think it’s important to keep in mind that Leites last two losses came to Gegard Mousasi and current middleweight champion Michael Bisping. So it’s not like Leites lost to a pair of tomato cans. That fight was super close too, and if I went back and watched it again, I’m pretty sure I may have scored it for Leites.
Meanwhile, Camozzi has won four of five but his one loss was to his best competition in that timeframe — a first-round submission loss to Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Unfortunately, I don’t see Camozzi getting the job done here. Leites is still one of the better middleweights and Camozzi just hasn’t fought at the same level of elite competition. Each time Camozzi steps in the Octagon with a high-level fighter, he comes up on the short end of the stick. I think that’s the case here, as Leites gets back in the conversation as a contender in the middleweight division.
DeRose: I do agree with my colleague in that Leites should win this fight. Camozzi deserves a lot of credit as he doesn’t seem to shy away from fights where he is fighting up in rank. He consistently has fought tough guys in his career and I have a tremendous amount of respect for that.
By way of MMA math, Leites has the upper hand over Camozzi with a victory over Francis Carmont, somebody Camozzi failed to beat. But, overlooking that, Leites hasn’t been bad in his last two fights against the aforementioned Mousasi and Bisping. Keep in mind that Leites took pre-middleweight champion Bisping to a split decision loss.
Camozzi’s not quite at that breakthrough level yet. I’m hesitant to rule anybody out of ever finding that breakthrough moment in their potential, especially somebody like Camozzi. But, Leites is another tough fighter and I don’t see an area where I would take Camozzi to beat Leites. Maybe if he can outpoint on the feet and keep some range, there is the possibility for a decision victory. Leites stood and traded with some other good strikers in the middleweight division and Leites does always have the option to take this one to the ground where he has won 14 fights by submission. Leites has more options and avenues to win this fight.
Cub Swanson vs. Tatsuya Kawaijiri is the featured bout during the UFC Fight Pass portion of the preliminary card. Given the weakened overall state of this fight card in terms of “marquee” fighters, would it have been a better idea for the UFC to feature two recognizable fighters like Swanson and Kawajiri on the main card? Is it time for the UFC to retire their “featured” preliminary bouts on UFC Fight Pass that have bigger-name fighters?
DeRose: It probably would have been better served being a main card fight on a weak card, but it’s not a bad idea to have a higher profile fight headlining the Fight Pass portion. From a business point of view, it makes sense because now some fans will tune into that portion for that specific fight. It helps drives viewership numbers on that platform and possibly bring in some new subscriptions to the streaming service.
As a fan, I’d much rather watch this fight on the main card on a high definition television. It would also help in making all the fights I’d like to see all together in one go instead of picking and choosing when to watch or when not to watch.
The UFC shouldn’t retire it just because this card is underwhelming on paper, but this fight sticks out like a sore thumb on the Fight Pass portion. There will be cards that at least have some substance and having those high profile names on the Fight Pass card makes sense to help draw to each section of the card. But, just because this card lacks depth doesn’t mean it should be retired.
Huntemann: This fight definitely should have been moved to the main card. Both Swanson and Kawajiri are exciting fighters and would have added some much-needed punch (pun intended) to this card. I get why the UFC has started putting more well-known fighters on the Fight Pass portion of their preliminary cards. They’re trying to drive up subscriptions to Fight Pass however possible, and offering live fights with big-name fighters is an effective way to do that.
However, I’m curious to see if this initiative has had any tangible effect on subscriptions one way or the other. I don’t have Fight Pass myself, and I can’t really say that being able to watch fighters like Swanson and Kawajiri fight live gives any more incentive to purchase a subscription. I’m sure figures exist that reflect whether or not this initiative has the desired effect. And if those figures show that the effect is in fact achieved, I’ll happily eat my words. But I do think UFC should be more flexible with its fight placement on cards, and in the event of a card like this, which isn’t the sexiest on paper, it would behoove the UFC to move fighters like Swanson and Kawajiri to the main card.
Maryna Moroz takes on Danielle Taylor on the main card. Is Taylor a logical good step to help build Moroz? Does a victory for Moroz do anything to boost her ranking amongst the strawweights?
Huntemann: A victory for Moroz probably doesn’t boost her stock much, but she can hardly be blamed for it. Taylor is a late replacement for Justine Kish, who is undefeated but had to withdraw. Dethroning an undefeated Kish probably could have moved Moroz up the ranks, whereas beating a fighter stepping in on short notice probably won’t have the desired effect. Oddly enough, a victory by Taylor would do more for her than a victory by Moroz would do for her.
Moroz is currently ranked eighth in the UFC rankings at strawweight, and she’s actually in somewhat of a perilous position. If she defeats Taylor, she may just be one more victory away from a title shot. But a loss would send her tumbling down the ladder. It’s a big risk for Moroz to face an unknown fighter like Taylor, who’s won four of five on the regional circuit, but as they say: no risk it, no biscuit.
DeRose: This is a much better match-up for Moroz considering Kish is highly regarded in the strawweight division. If Kish had stayed in the fight, I would have picked her to defeat Moroz. This fight with Taylor could very well be a trap fight for Moroz as my colleague mentioned this victory boosts Taylor up more than a victory would boost Moroz.
Any sort of weakness shown in this fight by Moroz could possibly bring her down a little further in terms of her skill in the eyes of fans and pundits. This should be an easy fight based on what we have seen from Moroz. Moroz isn’t a stranger to these sorts of fights and knows what it’s like to be the fighter on the other end with nothing to lose. Moroz was in Taylor’s shoes when she made her debut against Joanne Calderwood and Moroz made quick work of Calderwood who was, at the time, one of the top five strawweights in the world and could have earned a title shot with a win.
Moroz needs to be extremely careful here. Her striking is certainly coming along and her submissions are extremely dangerous. One fight at a time and this is MMA, every fight should be taken seriously no matter how big of a favorite you are.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
DeRose: The top billing on the preliminary card is Court McGee and Dominique Steele and I’ll go with that particular fight. Steele hasn’t been great inside the UFC, going 1-2, and a loss here could leave him on the outside looking in on the promotion. Being cut could create an urgency to win and leave a definitive mark. The big part of this fight is McGee, who showed a ton of potential on The Ultimate Fighter. McGee has bounced around between winning and losing and should be in as dire of a situation as Steele.
Huntemann: Curse you Sal, you stole my thunder. While I had my eye on that fight, I also had my eye on the preliminary bout between Teruto Ishihara and Horacio Gutierrez. Ishihara had a second-round knockout victory in his second UFC fight earlier this year, and is one of the more exciting fighters to join the UFC from Japan. This will be Gutierrez’s second UFC fight after losing his debut, and I bet he’s eager to put on an exciting performance. I bet Ishihara will be more than happy to accommodate him.
Pair this card with…
Huntemann: Your DVR. I really don’t mean to sound so glib or pessimistic about this card, but facts are facts. Even though this card features fighters capable of putting on exciting performances, from top to bottom, this is not the type of card you sit at home on a Saturday night to watch; even if it is on cable TV. So set your DVR, go out with your friends and have a good time. Then the next day, you can at least fast-forward through a three-hour fight card that will probably contain at least 90 minutes of filler.
DeRose: I’m not so pessimistic about this card, but pair this with something else. I’ll probably have this card running on my computer while I play some video games like Destiny or currently running through Neverwinter. Maybe even a movie that pops on that I was kind of interesting in seeing. I won’t write the whole card off yet, but it’s kind of hard not to.
Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET)
FW: Yair Rodriguez vs. Alex Caceres
FW: Dennis Bermudez vs. Rony Jason
MW: Chris Camozzi vs. Thales Leites
WW: Zak Cummings vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio
MW: Joseph Gigliotti vs. Trevor Smith
Women’s StrawW: Maryna Moroz vs. Danielle Taylor
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
WW: Court McGee vs. Dominique Steele
HW: Viktor Pešta vs. Marcin Tybura
LW: David Teymur vs. Jason Novelli
FW: Horacio Gutiérrez vs. Teruto Ishihara
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 7 p.m. ET)
FW: Cub Swanson vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri
HW: Justin Ledet vs. Chase Sherman
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