On Saturday, Oct. 14, the UFC will stay home at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, as UFC Vegas 81 features a featherweight battle between longtime veteran Edson Barboza and Sodiq Yusuff, who has been slowly climbing the ranks for the last five years. Both men are coming into the Octagon after some solid wins. With Yusuff sitting a No. 11 and Barboza at No. 13, both fighters are looking to make a move into the top 10.
The co-main event pits former UFC flyweight title challenger Jennifer Maia against former Pancrase strawweight champ Viviane Araujo. Both women are black belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu with striking prowess. Maia is on a two-fight winning streak, and Araujo is on a two-fight losing streak, so both are looking to lock horns to get a foothold in the UFC 125-pound division.
UFC Fight Night: Yusuff vs. Barboza airs live in its entirety on ESPN+ starting at 4 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Sodiq Yusuff has lost just once in his last nine fights; can he score a win over longtime contender Edson Barboza?
Kuhl: Sodiq Yusuff has officially fought in the UFC seven times, and he only lost once to Arnold Allen. He has some wins over tough competition as well, opponents who are both striking-heavy and grappling-heavy. This includes grapplers like Alex Caceres and Gabriel Benitez and strikers like Andre Fili and Sheymon Moraes. So, Yusuff has proven that he can take the fight anywhere it goes and be successful along the way. He, himself, has a largely striking-heavy approach. This, however, could be the problem against a veteran like Edson Barboza.
Not only does Barboza carry a much higher strength of schedule – having fought the “who’s who?” over nearly two-to-three generations of UFC lightweights – but he has scored 14 career knockout wins and 11 performance bonuses in 13 years of Octagon action. The Brazilian is coming off of a signature first-round, knee-knockout win over Billy Quarantillo.
This one is going to be a war. Both of these guys are strikers as their primary modality, and neither of them will be looking to put on a grappling clinic. This one is going to start hot, and I am going with the veteran, who is the betting underdog to upset the rising star. This will not completely derail his UFC career, but Barboza is one of those guys who seems to have lost a step, and as he is nearing the end of his long and storied career, he will put another rubber stamp on that with a crushing knockout.
Petela: Conventional wisdom says that Sodiq Yusuff should get the win this weekend. He’s the younger, fresher fighter who is taking on an aging veteran whose best days are already in the rear-view mirror. Something is telling me that Edson Barboza isn’t quite ready to be put out to pasture just yet.
They say speed is the first thing to go, and power is the last, but, even if he has lost half a step, Barboza still kicks faster than just about any other human on the planet. That will come into play, and he will pepper the legs of Yusuff early to slow down the movement of his opponent before scoring a knockout with an, almost, lightning-fast head kick. I think the wily veteran gets it done once again and stops the promising prospect in his tracks.
After back-to-back losses former title challenger Jennifer Maia has won two straight; can she make it three in a row by defeating Vivianne Araujo?
Petela: Yes. Unlike her counterpart, Viviane Araujo has not been having much success lately. She has lost two straight fights and this clash with Jennifer Maia is the exact opposite of what she needs. Araujo should be taking on a mid-tier opponent to help her regain some confidence before dipping her toes back in the water at the top of the division for one more push towards a title shot before she calls it a career. This one probably goes the distance but Maia will be in control from start to finish with a smothering top game that doesn’t allow Araujo any opportunities for submissions or to get back to her feet. 30-27 Maia across the board in this one.
Kuhl: When we were doing women’s rankings last month, and Rose Namajunas was in the mix, Jennifer Maia was one of the ones I looked at and said, “no way.” Maia is big, mean and technical. Granted, she lost to Manon Fiorot, but she checks all of the above boxes as well. Maia is a former title challenger, who has a performance bonus over JoJo Wood, and she has back-to-back wins over Maryna Moroz and Casey O’Neill.
Viviane Araujo has unsuccessfully tried to stake her claim in the UFC, and she is currently on a back-to-back losing streak to current champ Alexa Grasso and Amanda Ribas. She will have a one-inch height advantage over Maia, but I think the experience is the factor here.
Maia has been in some serious wars, and Araujo is still waiting to get to those big fights. I think Maia outclasses Araujo in this one, also en route to a 30-27 victory, as my colleague suggests.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Kuhl: Ashley Yoder’s UFC career has been on the ropes for a while now – basically, since she’s been in the UFC. Her only three wins in 10 Octagon appearances were over three opponents who are no longer on the roster, and her other seven fights were losses. She is 1-4 in her last five fights, and she is facing a heavy favorite in Emily Ducote. The 35-year-old will most certainly get walking papers with a loss.
Petela: I remember being almost shocked when I read that Ashley Yoder had been resigned by the UFC because she really hasn’t been impressive at all. With that being said, if she can pull off the upset she might just force Emily Ducote back to the regional scene as Ducote has lost two in a row and falling to Yoder would prove that there are holes in her game that need to be addressed before she is ready for the big time.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: For the second week in a row I’m going with the curtain jerker, this week it is strawweights Ashley Yoder and Emily Ducote. Both of these women need a win very badly. Yoder has lost four of her last five and Ducote has dropped two in a row. With their proverbial backs against the wall, these two will come out firing and put on a fun fight to kick off the event.
Kuhl: Darren Elkins never puts on a boring fight. So, when he is the underdog against TJ Brown, that is must-see TV. Both men are coming off of a one-fight losing streak and looking to get back in the win column to maintain relevance in the division. With both men already scoring 14 stoppage wins in their respective careers, this one is going to be non-stop action from beginning to end, which may come sooner rather than later.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Kuhl: I’m sticking with Edson Barboza on this one. I expect him to upset Sodiq Yusuff with a big knockout win, and that should definitely earn him some extra dough.
Petela: Adrian Yanez. He had a full head of steam marching up the bantamweight ladder until he met Rob Font and got stopped in his tracks. He’s coming into this weekend to prove a point and will take it out on Jonathan Martinez. Second round knockout for Yanez which earns him that coveted additional $50,000.
Pair this card with…
Petela: Fogo de Chao. Something is telling me that Edson Barboza turns in a renaissance performance this weekend and scores a big-time knockout. So pair this with some fine Brazilian cuisine, which should be easier to find than Georgian takeout, which isn’t all that common across the country according to Dan.
Kuhl: Tylenol? Ibuprofen? Dealer’s choice. There are going to be enough knockouts on this card to give the viewers a headache. Enjoy.
Main Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)
FW: Sodiq Yusuff vs. Edson Barboza
Women’s FlyW: Jennifer Maia vs. Viviane Araujo
BW: Jonathan Martinez vs. Adrian Yanez
MW: Michel Pereira vs. Andre Petroski
CatchW (130 lbs.): Edgar Chairez vs. Daniel Lacerda
BW: Christian Rodriguez vs. Cameron Saaiman
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)
FW: Darren Elkins vs. TJ Brown
BW: Tainara Lisboa vs. Ravena Oliveira
LW: Terrance McKinney vs. Brendon Marotte
Women’s BW: Irina Alekseeva vs. Melissa Dixon
BW: Chris Gutierrez vs. Alatengheili
Women’s StrawW: Ashley Yoder vs. Emily Ducote
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