Vanessa Porto (Kiara Kaiser/Combat Press)

Women’s MMA Weekend Preview: UFC on ABC 2 and Bellator 256

This weekend, we have both a UFC and a Bellator event.

The UFC on ABC 2 lineup features a pair of women’s bouts, but I sometimes train with Erin Blanchfield and therefore won’t preview her fight with Norma Dumont. As I have stated in the past, the natural bias I have makes it unfair to preview contests featuring teammates or training partners. We still have the clash between Mackenzie Dern and Nina Ansaroff, though.

Bellator, meanwhile, delivers four female bouts. I am choosing not to preview Cat Zingano’s fight with Liv Parker. I did a poll on my Twitter for which of the two remaining bouts I should preview. The choices were Liz Carmouche’s encounter with Vanessa Porto, Jessica Borga’s clash with Talita Nogueira, and Diana Avsaragova’s bout with Tara Graff. The winners were the Carmouche and Avsaragova affairs.


Let’s get started.

Mackenzie Dern vs. Nina Ansaroff (UFC on ABC 2)

This one falls into the easy-to-preview category. Really, it’s about one thing: Dern’s ability to get it to the ground. The preview might be somewhat short, but don’t mistake that as meaning this is an unexciting fight. This one has the potential to be really good.

Dern comes in at 10-1 and on a three-fight winning streak. She most recently scored a decision win over Virna Jandiroba in December. Ansaroff enters at 10-6, but she has been out of the cage since her June 2019 loss to Tatiana Suarez. She took the time off to become a mother alongside partner Amanda Nunes.

Dern is always willing to stand first and see how that is going. I suspect she will do that again here. While her striking might look awkward at times, she has a lot of power. Dern will have a slightly smaller reach in this fight, and she will want to get in and land her right hand. She will have two ways to land that big right.

First, she can throw it off of a combo. When she follows up her jab with it, she often has success. However, she doesn’t want to be predictable with it. If she does the same thing over and over, eventually it gets figured out and instead it becomes something that Ansaroff can use to her advantage. So, double or triple the jab and hide when that right hand is coming. Dern will sometimes follow as opposed to cutting off the cage, but she has to cut off Ansaroff to increase the chances of landing the right.

The other way to try to land it is actually off of something Ansaroff does. Ansaroff has really good low kicks, which she will incorporate here. Dern can look to land the right hand after Ansaroff throws these kicks. When you throw those kicks, your head can become a bit more exposed. This might give Dern the opportunity to land something big.

Ultimately, though, Dern will likely want to get this fight down to the canvas. She surely saw the video of Ansaroff’s fight with Suarez and how Suarez, with some resistance, was able to dominate the ground game. Dern will try to do the same.

This is the other reason that Dern will want to cut the cage off as opposed to following Ansaroff. When the time comes for the takedowns, Dern has to box in Ansaroff and not give her an escape. Eventually, this will put her within takedown range.

Dern is not so much about the same mauling, crazy pressure that Suarez uses. Instead, she will immediately look for a limb to grab. Ansaroff is tricky off her back and is always looking for an arm too. Now, I’m not implying that she’ll tap Dern, but Dern can’t be reckless. She has to get Ansaroff down, get her position, and rely on technique. She can’t make a silly mistake that allows Ansaroff to grab an arm or get her feet on Dern’s hips to push her off. Dern will be wise to also try to keep Ansaroff away from the cage and take away one possible escape route.

Ansaroff’s path to victory obviously involves avoiding the ground. On the feet, she will want to utilize movement. She can outbox Dern from the outside. By staying on the outside, she might get Dern to chase her. Also, her reach advantage will make it harder for Dern to land that aforementioned big right hand.

When Dern rushes in, she has a tendency to lower her head. Ansaroff will look for this and respond by mixing in uppercuts or throwing a nice flurry of punches before backing out and circling more. Ansaroff basically wants to be the matador to Dern’s bull.

I already mentioned Ansaroff’s good low kicks, and they will be a weapon for her here as well. If she can land a number of those kicks, then it will slow down Dern and make takedowns harder to get for the grappler. In fact, kicks everywhere will help Ansaroff. She just can’t throw them naked. Ansaroff throws a lot of single kicks. In this fight against someone who will look to catch them, she might want to put them at the end of her combinations.

If and when Dern gets it to the ground, Ansaroff has to make Dern work. She can’t give Dern the luxury of getting on top and being patient. She has to keep Dern moving. Ansaroff is not someone who just settles for the bottom position. She’ll go for an arm. She’s likely not going to submit Dern, but she can give Dern things to think about. This will open up escapes for Ansaroff while not allowing Dern to get comfortable and set up something specific.

Liz Carmouche vs. Vanessa Porto (Bellator 256)

This is a fight between two of the most underrated fighters in the sport. Yes, Carmouche has fought for a UFC title, but she is still underrated. On any given night, she is capable of defeating anyone. However, from a media and fan standpoint, she has never been given that respect. Meanwhile, Porto has waited way too long to get an opportunity with a promotion like Bellator. The Brazilian has watched fighters less deserving get opportunities before her.

In this fight, we have two great grapplers going at it in a fight that I expect to actually be spent on the feet more often than not. This is due to the respect each will have for the other’s ground game.

Carmouche comes in at 14-7. Her most recent fight resulted in a win in her Bellator debut against DeAnna Bennett in September. Keep in mind also that her seven losses include setbacks to the likes of Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Valentina Shevchenko. Porto holds a 22-8 mark, and she is currently enjoying a four-fight winning streak. She most recently defeated Karina Rodriguez under the Invicta FC banner in late 2019.

Carmouche is great at finding her range on the feet. She comes forward, but she doesn’t do so in an overly aggressive manner. She does it smartly, making sure to keep it at a range that’s comfortable for her. She mixes up her strikes very well, too. However, she tries to find what is going to work best. She will see what strike or combination clicks and will emphasize it. Then, when her opponent makes an adjustment, she will switch to something else.

In this fight, I expect a lot of kicks from Carmouche. She can land them, but the other benefit is that they will keep Porto, who has a really good overhand right, back a bit and make it harder to throw that punch.

Carmouche will also be very happy to spend time in the clinch. She is as strong as anyone in the sport at flyweight. On the outside of the clinch, she can hold Porto’s back to the cage and do damage, especially by utilizing her knees. You often hear commentators say that the clinch work on the cage is the most tiring aspect of MMA, and this can be very true. Carmouche always has incredible cardio, so she can lean on Porto and make the Brazilian carry her weight. This will slowly tire Porto, which can really pay off for Carmouche later in the fight. It can make Porto’s striking slow or make takedowns easier for Carmouche.

Carmouche’s takedowns will mostly come from that clinch. She will likely look to drop down and go for the double leg. Carmouche always locks down the legs. She will make sure, whatever position she is in, to lock those legs up. This prevents escapes or at least makes them harder. While submitting Porto would be a tremendous challenge, Carmouche should be able to at least control the Brazilian, do damage, and win rounds if she can lock up those legs.

Porto, like Carmouche, will come forward. However, her method of doing so is different. She has this ability to come forward, use lots of feints, and get her foe to back up and put their back on the cage. This is when she will really try to unload. Porto really wants to land that overhand right. In this fight, she’ll try to utilize feints to get Carmouche to throw punches that she can then counter with the right hand.

While Porto likes to come forward, she might be more willing here to let Carmouche lead the dance. This would serve Porto well by making the counter easier to land. However, it could also present the problem of letting Carmouche push Porto to the cage and force the clinch. Porto is just fine being in the clinch, but she does not want to be the one with her back to the cage in this contest. She’s going to have extreme trouble trying to reverse and get Carmouche’s back to the cage. So, if Porto chooses this option, she won’t want to move straight back. She will look to circle more. A good option would be to circle right. By doing this, she can get Carmouche to move left and therefore into that right hand.

Porto will not shy from the ground, either. Her attempts for takedowns will be more of a shooting variety, though. I don’t think she wants to try them from the clinch, because she knows she will not be the physically stronger fighter and Carmouche will have the better chance at landing in the good positions this way.

If Porto gets the takedown, then she wants to be patient and not rush into things. If Carmouche has guard, half guard, or anything like that, then Porto shouldn’t try too hard to fight it. Most likely, Carmouche will look to control a leg off her back, so Porto can accept it. Carmouche doesn’t have her legs to try for a submission, so Porto can try to land some short shots to the body or head and win rounds that way.

Diana Avsaragova vs. Tara Graff (Bellator 256)

Avsaragova comes into this fight with a 2-0 record, and it appears that she does not have an amateur record. Her most recent fight was a win over Ania Lurchenkova in June 2019. This means there isn’t a ton out there for me to look at, and after almost two years out of the cage, she could have changed a ton of things.

Graff enters at 1-2 and on a two-fight skid. Most recently, she was stopped by Valerie Loureda in August.

From what I did see, Avsaragova has power and swings wildly. I really like how she kept her hands high, but I would like to see her set up her power punches more. All of this could be a pro or a con in this fight. In Graff, she is fighting someone who often will come forward but not throw punches while trying to get the clinch. At the same time, these wild punches leave her more open for the takedowns that Graff wants.

So, what is the best plan of attack on the feet for Avsaragova? In many ways, she should try to copy what the aforementioned Loureda did against Graff: stay on the outside and make Graff chase. Graff will follow her opponent rather than cutting off the cage. If Avsaragova keeps circling, which seems to be against her nature, then she can get Graff to rush forward, possibly with hands low, and really hurt her with her power shots. Avsaragova will want to do better at setting them up, though. She has to pump the jab and throw in some leg kicks to maybe get Graff to drop the hands even more.

Also, watch Graff’s head. When she is going to throw her jab or consider throwing it, her head will move up and down. When Avsaragova sees this, she can have her power counter shot ready. Even if Graff doesn’t end up throwing the jab, Avsaragova can still throw her power shot, because she is really good at getting her own hands up and will be ready for a return from Graff.

Graff will look for the clinch and wants this fight on the ground. Avsaragova does not want to be on bottom, though. So, if an escape from the clinch is not readily available, Avsaragova should look for the takedown herself. Avsaragova has great ground-and-pound, and she will mix in punches and elbows. If Avsaragova is on top, then she is really OK on the ground and can actually do some damage.

Graff might want to incorporate body shots and kicks in this fight. To land those kicks, she will want to be sure not to chase her opponent. If Avsaragova is moving on the outside, then Graff cannot do what she did against Loureda. She has to cut off the cage and limit Avsaragova’s movement. Meanwhile, Graff also has to land kicks to the legs to slow her opponent down. The body shots can begin to lower the hands of Avsaragova. If Avsaragova lowers her hands and throws her more wild shots, then Graff can land up the middle very effectively. While head movement is a good thing, Graff will want to avoid the up-and-down movement she does when she is about to jab. She doesn’t want to give away anything that will help Avsaragova time her shots.

Graff will want to get the clinch. She needs to fight her way into it. She at times will rush forward and aggressively throw punches. That’s great, but sometimes she does it with her hands low and without actually throwing a punch. If she does that here, then she is going to get caught. So, she has to throw punches and get into the clinch that way. She will prefer to stay on the outside of the clinch, because landing on top is important. From the outside, she can get the takedown.

Once Graff gets it to the ground, she can force mistakes from Avsaragova. She can make her put her attention on one thing and then do something different. For example, Graff can make her defend one body part and then attack another.

That’s it for this week. Enjoy the fights!