Kayla Harrison (PFL)

Women’s MMA Weekend Preview: PFL 2021 8, UFC on ESPN 29

Let’s take a look at another week in women’s MMA. Sometimes we just can’t have nice things. At the time you read this, we are hours away from the semifinals of the PFL lightweight season. We should have been seeing Kayla Harrison facing off with Genah Fabian and Taylor Guardado taking on Larissa Pacheco. We are still going to see Harrison and Fabian but Pacheco missed weight and is out of her bout. Stepping in to face Guardado will be Mariana Morais.

So unfortunately what was supposed to be three fights is now two, the Harrison vs Genah Fabian fight as well as the UFC bout between Bea Malecki and Josiane Nunes. But we do have those two, so let’s take a look.

Bea Malecki vs. Josiane Nunes (UFC on ESPN 29)

Malecki comes in at 2-0, most recently earning a decision over Veronica Macedo in March of last year. She is learning on the job with all her pro fights coming been in the UFC. Malecki has plenty of flaws, but realize she’s improving while fighting people at the highest level.


That being said, Malecki’s strategy in this fight should be quite simple and easy. The problem is, what she needs to do is something she hasn’t done enough of. Malecki has an insane reach and height. She could win this fight by simply throwing her jab and her front kicks. However, she doesn’t throw enough punches. With a seven-inch height advantage, she has an opponent who is going to need to punch up and get inside. So her jab by itself can really prevent Nunes from getting inside.

So what do we expect to see from Malecki? This isn’t rocket science. As I said, jab and front kick. But how and when does she want to throw them? The punches are going to keep Nunes at range. While Nunes is at a distance, the jab is going to score points and make Nunes cautious about coming in. The kicks can work perfectly when she sees Nunes about to move forward.

When you have an opponent rushing in, a good front kick is great because you are also getting extra benefit of your opponent’s momentum. Like a head-on car crash, two forces coming forward and colliding. Also, Malecki has nice kicks. I don’t know if she will go to it right away, but you might see her throwing her jab often to get Nunes to pay attention to it. Then Malecki can them come with a head kick. With the big height advantage, Malecki gets the extra benefit of that kick not having as long to travel.

Now, the other reason Malecki needs to throw her jab is that her lack of volume will let a shorter fighter get inside. Malecki does not want Nunes to do this. That is where Nunes can make it a brawl and Nunes has power. The best chance for Nunes is to make it an ugly brawl. Malecki will want to tie Nunes up if she gets inside. She can work in the clinch or wait for the opportunity to break off and create distance.

Lastly, Nunes can be taken down. And she can be controlled from the top. In close rounds, I wouldn’t mind seeing Malecki try for a late takedown and spend a minute on top. This can leave an impression on the judges and maybe steal a close round.

Nunes comes into her UFC debut at 7-1. She had been beating what you would call “safe” opponents, but her last two bouts have been wins over Dione Barbosa and Quezia Zbonik. Now those ladies are not UFC talent but they are both solid fighters who came into those fights undefeated.

Nunes has one simple goal, get inside and make it a brawl. She is not going to win from range. And she is not going to win a technical fight. The height and reach disadvantage is simply too much for her. I mentioned Malecki’s lack of volume. Nunes needs to watch for that. When she sees Malecki starting to get inactive, she needs to pounce. Nunes is really good when she comes forward, and it would work in this fight.

She can come in, brawl, land punches and circle out. Because eventually Malecki will be throwing back — that’s how it becomes a brawl after all. Nunes doesn’t need five minutes of that. She can get in, let go for short spurts and eventually it will add up to damage.

When she circles out, Malecki is good at cutting the cage. Nunes can’t keep going in one direction. She must keep moving left and right and see if she can make Malecki chase her. This will also give her opportunities to land power shots.

Now, if Malecki is throwing more than she has in the past, Nunes shouldn’t panic. She must understand that she’s going to have to get hit to get what she wants. Nunes has to throw effective feint jabs. What I mean is she can’t throw them half-hearted. If she can do that, she can get Malecki to overextend on her own jabs and counter.

This is a tough match-up for Nunes, one where she is going to have to take damage to accomplish what she wants. But the opportunities will be there if she is able to capitalize.

Kayla Harrison vs Genah Fabian (PFL 8)

Harrison comes in at 8-0. This season she has first-round finishes of Mariana Morais and Cindy Dandois.

Harrison is the heavy favorite but this one will present a potential challenge. She faces an eight-inch reach disadvantage. She’s going to have to work to get it where she wants it. On the feet, she has definite power but it’s not going to be easy to get in and land power shots. Harrison is patient as far as gauging her range and that is something she will need to do here. However with that patience, she can’t be inactive. She is fighting a very good striker on top of that reach.

Harrison’s best bet, knowing her strikes will be to set up takedowns, is to throw feints. She can do that without having to risk a firefight and getting caught with anything big. If she can make Fabian react and throw, it will set up openings for takedowns.

The other thing Harrison should do is invest in kicks early on. Fabian likes to take the center of the cage, and Harrison would rather have Fabian backed up to the fence. If Harrison throws kicks and then follows with punches, she can make Fabian back up. Then Harrison can bully her way into the clinch.

Why all the talk of the clinch? I think that is going to be Harrison’s best shot at a takedown. And she can do some real damage in the clinch if it stays there for an extended time. I’ve mentioned how I like to be the shorter fighter in the clinch in past previews. It’s because I can then dig my head in under the chin of my opponent and use that to control her head. That limits what she can do on offense. Harrison will be able to do that here. She is the shorter fighter and on top of that, she is extremely strong.

In the clinch, Harrison can put Fabian’s back on the cage, dig her head in and can control Fabian. At this point, she has the option of doing damage with her knees or throwing punches to the body. She can also limit what Fabian can do. Then, when the opportunity is there, Harrison can look for her takedown.

Once she’s there, Harrison can really go to work. Harrison on the ground has great ground and pound. She can also take advantage of the long limbs of Fabian and look for the armbar. If she gets the fight to the ground early in a round, she is in a great position.

Fabian brings a 4-1 record into what is easily the biggest MMA fight of her career. This season she has a decision win over Laura Sanchez followed by a second-round finish of Julija Pajic. Before we get into strategy, one thing I really like is Fabian does not seem intimidated. She seems confident and that is important.

Fabian’s objective is simple: be active, keep sticking her jab and try and make Harrison move backwards. She mixes her strikes very well. Once she establishes the jab, she can start to incorporate more variety. If she does so and uses her reach, she can get Harrison to move backwards. That makes it much harder for Harrison to get clinches or takedowns. Fabian is very good at using her jab to land power strikes as well. If Fabian can double her jab and then follow with a power shot, she might be able to land THE shot.

Keep an eye on is the kicks of Fabian. There is always the chance Harrison can catch one and use it as her takedown entry, but Fabian throws great kicks. She is really good at doubling them up, throwing one low and another to the body. If her kicks are landing and doing damage, it will be huge for her. There are two reasons. First, the leg kicks can limit the explosion of Harrison’s shots. Plus kicks to the body can zap the energy of Harrison and tire her out.

The longer the fight goes, the better it is for Fabian. If Harrison tires, she becomes a bigger target. When you are really tired, you suddenly become less interested in getting your hands up. Your mind wants to, but your body says “nah, screw that, that’s too much work”. If Fabian wins this fight with a stoppage, I think it would be due to a body kick.

If Fabian gets caught up in a clinch, it’s important to get a good wide base. She has to separate her legs and make it harder for Harrison to take her down. She has to escape and avoid taking damage.

Finally, on the ground, she wants to make sure to get her guard. Harrison is very good with her ground and pound. And can do it just fine even in guard. But Fabian has something to make that difficult. With that height advantage comes a leg length advantage. Fabian can get guard and use her legs to create space between her upper body and Harrison’s upper body. This will make it hard for Harrison to get anything going.

Fabian is the big underdog and for good reason. My job is not to try and make you believe Fabian is going to win and I am not trying to do that. I am simply saying, Fabian does possess tools that could make this interesting.

That is it for this week. Everyone enjoy the busy fight weekend.