This is an exciting weekend for women’s MMA. The UFC features the return of Miesha Tate as she faces Marion Reneau in what is her retirement fight and also a potentially really fun fight with Amanda Lemos against Montserrat “Conejo” Ruiz. In addition, Bellator 262 will be headlined by a flyweight title defense by Juliana Velasquez against Denise Kielholtz. These are the three we will be breaking down this week.
Miesha Tate vs. Marion Reneau (UFC on ESPN 26)
The absurdity of me writing about what Miesha Tate should do in a fight is not lost on me. Tate is someone who is on my Mount Rushmore of women’s MMA. But I have a job to do and I am going to do it.
Tate comes in at 18-7 for her first fight in four and a half years. Her last outing came in November 2016, which resulted in a loss to Raquel Pennington. With that much time off, it is really hard to delve too much into what a game plan might be, what her goal is in this fight and where she may have improved or become a different fighter. What we do know from social media posts is that she looks in amazing shape and is definitely serious about this comeback.
We can only go with what we know, and we know is Tate is an outstanding wrestler and at her best can compete with anyone on the ground. My theory is this is a “get the win” type fight. What I mean by that is not worry about putting on a show, not worry about trying to look good, just get the victory, show she’s back and then move on from there. Basically, stick to what she does best.
So that means get the fight to the ground. But how does she get it there? Reneau is someone who has very good movement and is very good at getting in and out. I expect Tate to set traps. I think her plan might be to try and bring Reneau to her more so than go to Reneau for the takedowns. Reneau has very good kicks and shooting in might lead to ducking right into one of those kicks. I think we will see Tate throw a lot of feints, try and get Reneau to react to those, then Tate can look for her takedowns.
I’ll try and give you a visual of what I mean. Tate can pump her jab once or twice, not really throwing it but just put it out there as if she’s going to throw it. From there she tries to get Reneau to answer, try and come back with punches of her own and in that forward movement by Reneau, Tate can then come in low. With the head kick threat not there, she can shoot at her legs and get Reneau off balance or wrap her arms around her, preferably around the waist in this case and drag her down to the mat.
Once Tate gets it to the ground she can really go to work. Tate isn’t someone who is going to maul you on the ground. She’s smart, she’s patient and she will work to create openings for advancement, a submission attempt or obviously ground and pound. The ground and pound will be her best chance at advancing. She’s got good enough control on the ground that she can posture up, rain down punches and try and get you to give up your back. If she senses you doing something, she can quickly get control of your body again.
Many of us are excited to see Tate back in a cage, but don’t look for some “Fight of the Night” caliber performance from her. Not because she’s not capable of that, but because that’s not the kind of fight she wants in this one.
As we welcome back Tate, we say goodbye to Reneau. At 9-7-1, her record might not scream out “look at me”, but she’s so much better than that record indicates. Look at some of the names on that loss column. Raquel Pennington, Cat Zingano, Holly Holm, Yana Kunitskaya, Julia Avila. Reneau is someone who deserves respect and is someone who has been a great representative for women in our sport.
But, before she leaves, she has one more fight. So what do we see out of Reneau here? After facing Macy Chiasson in her last fight, she’s probably ecstatic to have a reach advantage in this one. And that reach advantage of two inches could be huge for her. Reneau has a very solid ground game, but the ground isn’t where she wants to be here. She’s going to be there at some point because I expect this fight to go the distance and you aren’t fighting Miesha Tate for three rounds without visiting the mat. But the longer she stands, the better her odds. I mentioned that Reneau has great kicks and she also has great movement. She’s going to want to use both.
Leg kicks are going to take the explosion out of Tate, and make takedowns harder. Harder might not be the best choice of words, but what I mean is when you take out that explosion from them, they become easier to get away from, easier to shake off and easier to see coming. They are slower and you have more reaction time. So I expect to see kicks coming from Reneau right away and often.
The movement will serve as the best way to not get taken down. Reneau has a two-strike combination where she goes leg kick and then a cross. I want to see that here. She can throw that kick, follow with the punch and she can roll right off the punch and circle out of there. And who knows, if she lands that a few times, Tate may begin to expect it and start trying to protect herself. That will open up other strikes that Tate isn’t expecting and Reneau can do damage with those.
Another thing I wouldn’t mind out of Reneau is clinching as long as she puts Tate’s back to the cage. If she’s on the outside of that clinch, she has some nice strikes from that positions.
Also, use that reach advantage. If Tate wants to jab her way in, jab with her because your jab is going to land first. If Tate comes forward with her jabs and you blast one at her, it hits first, it stops Tate in her tracks and once again, you can circle out from there.
The one thing I really don’t want to see from Reneau is being overly aggressive. Reneau can be very patient and that is a good thing here. Recklessly coming forward against Tate is a mistake because when you are reckless you are not being smart defensively sometimes and that is another place where takedowns can happen.
Amanda Lemos vs. Montserrat Ruiz (UFC on ESPN 26)
This is one that has really fun potential. You have someone with an incredible Muay Thai style against someone with a strong wrestling style. But both are more than good at the other’s style.
Let’s start with Lemos. She comes in at 9-1-1 riding a three-fight winning streak, most recently a destruction of Livia Souza in March. The win over Souza really put people on notice. While she has other good wins, that was the one that made people say wow.
Lemos will be looking to keep this fight on the feet and she has some advantages that will help her do so. For starters, she has a nice four-inch reach advantage and in a fight against someone who will be trying to work her way into a clinch, that reach advantage is huge. In addition, she has very powerful leg kicks which are going to help her slow down Ruiz when Ruiz wants to punch her way in.
So what is the best tactic here for Lemos? She has two different ways she can go here. First off, use that reach advantage. Lemos can keep pumping out that jab and use it to create follow-up power shots. Single jab followed by a power shot on some occasions and then double jab followed by a power shot on other. Keeping Ruiz guessing will help too. She can also follow those up with leg kicks. Ending a combo with a leg kick will be where she can start taking the legs out from under Ruiz. Don’t be at all surprised if you see Ruiz actually knocked down a time or two by those leg kicks.
Another option is lead with leg kicks. If she wants to do that, she can start getting Ruiz to lower her hands and then that opens up power punches as well. The only danger on that is one of them being caught. But she throws them so fast and so hard that I don’t think that that is going to be much of a worry.
Something to definitely watch for is for Lemos to focus early and often on those low kicks. I think she might focus on them and have Ruiz thinking and reacting to them. After a time when Ruiz is thinking low, we might see Lemos come up high with a head kick. I don’t think a Rose Namajunas over Weili Zhang style of a finish is out of the question.
Now, if Ruiz does work her way in, does get the clinch, Lemos is very strong so she can look to reverse and put the back of Ruiz on the cage. If she does that, she can be fairly safe. But she wants to keep her own back off the cage. Ruiz has good takedowns, especially that head-and-arm throw. If it does go down, Lemos isn’t bad on the ground. So she won’t panic down there and will just want to keep herself protected.
Ruiz comes in at 10-1 after winning a decision in her UFC debut over Cheyanne Buys in March. “Conejo” is really easy to breakdown here. She has some disadvantages as far as what she wants to accomplish, but she is also the type who won’t fear those disadvantages and will work around them.
What she wants is to get into that clinch and get the fight to the ground. But she has to work her way in with that four-inch reach disadvantage. I would love to see Ruiz actually stay back a bit and let Lemos come to her. Let Lemos do some of her work for her. However she won’t do that, it’s just not her style. Ruiz is going to try and put Lemos on the cage. To be successful on that, she needs to be willing to eat punches, because she is going to get punched doing so. It is crucial that she keeps her hands up. If she looks to just jab her way in, keep the other hand up protecting her head from the counters. If she tries to one-two her way in and just bull rush forward, then whichever hand isn’t throwing, keep bringing the other one back up.
Defensively, she needs to check leg kicks. If she doesn’t check them, it is going to doubly damage her. First off, they are going to hurt like hell, and that’s never good. Secondly, as the damage mounts up, it’s going to slow her down and then she’s in serious trouble because it’s going to take away her ability to move in as she wants to.
If she gets the clinch, she wants to be on the outside, just like Lemos. Being outside the clinch is priority No. 1. From there, she is very creative with her takedowns and if she has time to work, she should be able to figure out a way to the ground.
Once on the ground, be patient, which she can be when she needs to be. Don’t rush anything and lose the position to someone who is also good on the ground. If she is patient, lands some strikes, she can create openings for a submission.
Juliana Velasquez vs. Denise Kielholtz (Bellator 262)
This is a fight I am incredibly excited for. If this one lasts a few rounds, it has potential to be a “Fight of the Year” contender. The bad part is that it is pretty straight forward. What you see is what you get and there isn’t really a ton for me to break down.
Velasquez, the reigning flyweight champion comes in with a record of 11-0 in her first defense since taking the title from Ilima-Lei Macfarlane in December of 2020. Here is something I like about Velasquez: she is good everywhere and can adapt to however a fight is going. I think taking this one to the ground will be the smart play for her. But before we get there, let’s talk about the feet.
Velasquez is very patient. She will take time to get her opponents timing, see what they are trying to do and then go from there. She’ll walk them down if needed, or move and circle if needed. Her left hand is very powerful and her southpaw stance works to a big advantage at times. In this fight, that patience will be important. Kielholtz has great kickboxing and power, so engaging in a fire fight might not be a smart idea for Velasquez. She will enjoy a reach advantage in this fight and that’s a good weapon to have at her disposal..
Now, you don’t necessarily want to get into a kickboxing match with Kielholtz, but Velasquez can throw kicks because I can’t imagine Kielholtz will look to catch one and go for a takedown. So her weapons of choice will be jab and front kicks/push kicks. Those will serve the purpose of keeping Kielholtz away, but also those are what she can use to set up that hard left hand. She will need to land some of those lefts because she’ll want to get the respect of Kielholtz. If Kielholtz doesn’t respect the power, she’s going to come in hard and fast and Velasquez won’t want that. A reckless Kielholtz is dangerous and also tricky.
Assuming I am right and Velasquez wants it on the ground, or at least wants to mix in takedowns, how does she get it there? It’s really not as complicated as some other times I have written about. Here is the second reason that it is important for Velasquez to land a few of those hard power punches. Once Kielholtz respects that left, she will begin to expect it off of the jab. So if Velasquez lands and has success with just a basic 1-2 or 1-1-2 combination, she can then come in with the shot off the jab. Kielholtz will do one of two things, either back up after the jab or put her hands up high to block the cross. Either way, the shot and takedown are now easier for Velasquez. If she can get inside, she can look for the clinch and the takedown from there. I don’t expect the shots until round two because of the patience of Velasquez.
Kielholtz comes in at 6-2, a winner of her last four, all by stoppage and the last three in the first round. This one is really pretty simple. Kielholtz needs to be aggressive. Don’t let Velasquez stay back and figure things out. Put her on the defensive right away. Kielholtz is a great kickboxer. Her one fear will be Velasquez catching a leg, but as long as Kielholtz snaps them quickly, disguises them and mixes them in well, I think she’ll be fine. Kielholtz can land some less-than-traditional combos. One I have seen her land that I really like is a jab-hook. That’s not common because it comes from the same hand. It’s not common because you have to land one and then immediately change the angle of your arm and in which you throw it. To snap them off quickly is not easy. A bonus is, with it being less common, usually an opponent isn’t expecting it and therefore the hook is really catching them off guard.
Kielholtz has nothing to lose and everything to gain. She is a pretty sizeable underdog and most people are not expecting her to win. But she can win and one thing about her is she always believes she is going to win. Her confidence is very big for her. She’s not going to have any fear and this is something that is going to help push her aggression and fearlessness. She is very capable of catching Velasquez with something big early. Velasquez, as I said, likes to be patient and feel things out. If Kielholtz puts her on the defensive right away, it takes away the ability of Velasquez to get her timing and it also takes away what Velasquez likes to do, which can lead to mistakes.
What Kielholtz can’t do is allow herself to get off balance. Off balance is going to allow the takedowns from Velasquez to come easier. Kielholtz needs to use her great technique, land and reset. Don’t throw things that if they miss will lead to a stumble or too much of her weight shifted to one side of the body.
Lastly, if the fight gets taken to the ground, just be safe. Don’t be tricky, don’t take risks, make Velasquez have to earn every pass, every advance and every submission attempt.
That is it for this week. Lot’s of fun fights this weekend, enjoy them.
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