The welterweight division of today could certainly confuse any MMA fan who has been in a cave for the last few years. To such a person, names like Anthony Pettis, Jorge Masvidal, Michael Chiesa, Rafael dos Anjos and Kevin Lee are synonymous with the lightweight division. However, many 155-pounders have started to find success by cutting less weight. The aforementioned Lee is the latest to make the move, and dos Anjos, a former lightweight champion, will welcome him to the new weight class in the headliner of UFC on ESPN+ 10 on Saturday, May 18.
The Rochester, N.Y., crowd at the Blue Cross Arena will also enjoys welterweights Neil Magny and Vicente Luque in the co-headliner. The 13-fight lineup also features Sijara Eubanks in a move to the women’s bantamweight division, where she’ll scrap with Aspen Ladd. In addition, there’s the highly anticipated UFC debut of Felicia Spencer against fellow women’s featherweight contender Megan Anderson.
The festivities kick off on ESPN+ at 5 p.m. ET with seven preliminary bouts. The streaming arm of the ESPN family of networks also hosts the six-fight main card, which gets underway at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Matt Petela and Bryan Henderson preview the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Rafael dos Anjos has lost his last two fights. Kevin Lee has lost two of his last three outings, but this will be his first fight at 170 pounds. Can Lee make a statement in his new division?
Petela: Lee was always a big lightweight, and the cut down to 155 was getting visibly harder for him as his body continued to mature. The move to welterweight seemed inevitable, and the match-up with dos Anjos should prove to be a good introduction to the weight class for Lee against another fighter who has spent the bulk of his career at lightweight.
Lee relies heavily on his wrestling to dictate fights and control his opponents. His victory over Edson Barboza was about as flawless a performance as a fighter can have, outside of the one wheel kick Barboza landed that momentarily had the Detroit native on skates. Wrestling has also been key for the last two men to defeat dos Anjos — current champion Kamaru Usman and noted rabble rouser Colby Covington. The difference is that those two men are both natural welterweights and physically larger men than Lee.
It’s not that dos Anjos is a slouch in the grappling department, though. He built his career off of combining high-volume, overwhelming strikes with timely takedowns en route to capturing lightweight gold. Lee should benefit from cutting less weight, and his cardio shouldn’t come into play. However, even a fully hydrated Lee will struggle to implement his game plan against dos Anjos. The fight will play out similarly to the bout between dos Anjos and Robbie Lawler, with RDA controlling the action for the bulk of the fight with a suffocatingly high number of crisp strikes that keep the “Motown Phenom” out of rhythm and unable to get into dominant positions on the mat against the Brazilian. Dos Anjos also happens to have a jiu-jitsu black belt and won’t be a fish out of water should he get taken down.
Henderson: Let’s look at Lee’s overall record for a second. He’s suffered his losses to Al Iaquinta (twice), Leonardo Santos and Tony Ferguson. Meanwhile, his most notable wins came against Barboza, Michael Chiesa and Francisco Trinaldo. One might look at those details and come to the conclusion that Lee has a definite ceiling. He can beat the gatekeepers and the borderline top-10 fighters, but he tends to falter when he tangles with true contenders.
If there’s one thing we can say with certainty about dos Anjos, it’s that he’s a true contender across two divisions. He held the UFC lightweight belt for a stretch, and he’s fought for the interim gold already as a welterweight. He has struggled more at 170, but my colleague nailed it when he pointed out that both of the Brazilian’s recent losses came to natural welterweights who probably could never make it all the way down to 155.
Fortunately for dos Anjos, Lee doesn’t fall into this same category. Instead, he’s a longtime lightweight who is set for his first foray into the welterweight division. Lee has yet to prove he can emerge with a victory over a highly ranked contender, and that won’t change here. Dos Anjos should get in plenty of offense and come away with a finish.
More welterweights take to the cage in the co-headliner, where Neil Magny meets Vicente Luque. Magny continues to hover around the bottom of the UFC’s welterweight top 15. Can he take a step up the ladder and defeat Luque?
Henderson: It seems like Magny has been on the cusp of contendership for nearly as long as the UFC has existed. In reality, it’s only been the last six or seven years. He came out of The Ultimate Fighter 16 and turned around an initial 1-2 stretch to snag seven straight wins. Demian Maia ended that streak, but then Magny had another solid 6-2 stretch in which he topped the likes of Hector Lombard, Kelvin Gastelum, Johny Hendricks and Carlos Condit while only losing to Lorenz Larkin and UFC on ESPN+ 10 headliner Rafael dos Anjos. However, Magny’s best shot at a spot among the top 10 was crushed with a November loss to the fast-rising Santiago Ponzinibbio.
Luque has put together a great run of his own since graduating from TUF 21. He lost his official Octagon debut to Mike Graves, but he has gone on to post eight wins and just one loss. His level of competition hasn’t been quite up to par with Magny, but his only loss in this stretch came to Leon Edwards and he notched wins over Belal Muhammad, Chad Laprise and Bryan Barberena. Luque’s no joke.
Magny really can’t catch a break. He’s capable of beating almost anyone when he’s at his very best, but sometimes that version of Magny seems to take a break. The loss to Larkin is a perfect example. Larkin is far from a top welterweight, but he was able to dispatch of Magny very early in their fight. Magny hasn’t crumbled often in these scenarios, but his missteps have come at the most inopportune of moments. This could be another such case.
Luque has been very effective in finishing his UFC opponents. All of his Octagon wins are stoppages, whereas his few UFC losses (including his defeat on TUF) have all gone the distance. It’s up to Magny to drag this fight out and turn it into a points affair. However, history suggests he just won’t be able to do so. Luque will get Magny to the ground and score the submission finish.
Petela: If there is one thing I am sure of, it’s that Magny’s cardio won’t be his downfall. The guy can seemingly fight for days without taking a deep breath. Magny is indeed talented enough to get the win, but he has shown time and again that he is more than capable of making one big mistake that costs him the fight. He lacks show-stopping power, more than half of his wins have come by decision, and the longer a fight lasts, the greater the chance he has of making a misstep that costs him the bout — and sometimes his consciousness.
Luque is just the type of opportunistic powerhouse that will be able to capitalize on a Magny mistake and end the fight before the final bell. This won’t mimic the slugfest Luque had with Barberena, but it will end in similarly devastating fashion.
Austin Hubbard, Felicia Spencer, Charles Jourdain and Michel Pereira — do we need to know these names?
Petela: Spencer is an undefeated featherweight who is being thrown directly into the lion’s den against Megan Anderson. This is definitely an uphill battle for the 6-0 prospect in her UFC debut, and at only 5-foot-6, she is giving up half a foot in height to her Australian counterpart. I don’t expect Spencer to come away with a win, but given her background in Invicta and the fact that she is a true featherweight, not a bantamweight moving up for a one-off fight, it is a good sign that the women’s 145-pound division may have some staying power. Spencer could bloom into a title contender in the thin division. She is the newcomer who I will have the closest eye on this weekend and moving into the future.
Henderson: Spencer is absolutely one to watch. She even has a decent chance to come out of her debut with a victory. Anderson is a solid striker, but she was stifled by Holly Holm in her Octagon debut and also carries a loss to Cindy Dandois. The 28-year-old Spencer, meanwhile, rolled through her competition in Invicta while picking up a featherweight title. She’ll have to get inside and turn this into a wrestling affair, but she has the skills to make that happen.
The remaining three newcomers don’t have quite the same level of accolades behind them.
Hubbard punched his ticket to the UFC with impressive Legacy Fighting Alliance outings against Harvey Park and Killys Mota, the latter of which netted him a lightweight belt, but he also has losses to Eric Wisely and Sean McMurray. He could stick around the league for a few fights, but he’ll be outgunned by Davi Ramos in his first appearance.
Jourdain came up through the Canadian circuit, but he has a lot left to prove. Veteran Des Green should have what it takes to grind out a victory over the 23-year-old. Jourdain does have youth on his side, though, and could develop into a future fixture within the organization.
Pereira is already a 31-fight veteran despite checking in at 25 years old. The Brazilian’s two most recent wins have come against questionable competition, and he has nine losses on his record. He has a somewhat favorable match-up against Danny Roberts, but he’ll struggle against most of the UFC’s roster, whether he stays at welterweight or moves up to middleweight.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Henderson: Trevin Giles and Zak Cummings.
Giles is 11 fights into his pro career and on just his third UFC appearance. He already has two wins inside the Octagon, and, as his nickname would suggest, he’s been “The Problem” for plenty of veteran opponents, including UFCers James Bochnovic and Antonio Braga Neto. The middleweight has finished all but one of his foes, too.
Giles has a tough test in front of him when the UFC touches down in Rochester. The 34-year-old Cummings is a scrapper who will go toe-to-toe with anyone. He’s also had a knack for playing spoiler, either by way of victory or even in defeats where he’s at least knocked his opponent a few notches down the totem pole. He handed out the first career losses to Yan Cabral and Nicolas Dalby, and he forced Santiago Ponzinibbio and Michel Prazeres the distance in losing efforts, including a split verdict in the latter affair.
It’s always great to see an up-and-comer get tested. That’s exactly what this fight gives us. Giles, a proven finisher, should have his hands full with Cummings, who has only suffered two submission losses through 28 pro contests. We’ll get to see what the undefeated prospect is really made of when he steps into the Octagon on Saturday night.
Petela: It may be the featured fight on the preliminary card, but the fight between Aspen Ladd and Sijara Eubanks hasn’t received the attention it deserves. This is a rematch from early 2017 in Invicta where Ladd came away with a unanimous decision.
Ladd is now a perfect 7-0 in her professional career. Skill for skill, she should come away with another victory. However, the most interesting aspect of this contest is how Ladd will perform after her bout with Holly Holm was called off in favor of a Holm showdown with Amanda Nunes. Will Ladd have had the same fire and motivation throughout this training camp after losing the opportunity to add a much more high-profile win to her resume? If not, Eubanks could come out with her hand raised.
Pair this card with…
Petela: I see this card either going downhill fast or sneaking up on fans and being surprisingly entertaining. For that reason, pair this card with a few mudslides. Whether the drink’s name ends up being a metaphor for how the card plays out or its deliciousness catches you off guard and sends you into over consuming, nothing says UFC Rochester like a nice cold mudslide.
Henderson: A relaxing afternoon and early evening on the couch. This isn’t necessarily one of those cards that’s going to draw a crowd of friends over, but it has the potential to deliver some surprise moments. Just kick back, relax, crack open a beer, order a pizza, and enjoy.
Main Card (ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET)
WW: Rafael dos Anjos vs. Kevin Lee
WW: Neil Magny vs. Vicente Luque
Women’s BW: Aspen Ladd vs. Sijara Eubanks
MW: Antonio Carlos Junior vs. Ian Heinisch
LW: Charles Oliveira vs. Nik Lentz
LW: Austin Hubbard vs. Davi Ramos
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET)
Women’s FW: Megan Anderson vs. Felicia Spencer
FW: Mike Trizano vs. Grant Dawson
LW: Des Green vs. Charles Jourdain
LHW: Patrick Cummins vs. Ed Herman
WW: Michel Pereira vs. Danny Roberts
MW: Trevin Giles vs. Zak Cummings
FW: Julio Arce vs. Julian Erosa
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