UFC Fight Night 133 takes place Saturday at CenturyLink Arena in Boise, Idaho. The card airs on FS1 following early prelims on UFC Fight Pass.
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Junior Dos Santos (18-5 MMA, 12-4 UFC)
- Height: 6’4″ Age: 34 Weight: 245 lbs. Reach: 77″
- Last fight: TKO loss to Stipe Miocic/a> (May 13, 2017)
- Camp: American Top Team (Florida)
- Stance/striking style: Orthodox/boxing
- Risk management: Good
+ Former UFC heavyweight champion
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt
+ Multiple grappling accolades
+ 13 KO victories
+ 1 submission win
+ 4 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Solid feints and footwork
+ Consistent pace and pressure
+ Excellent boxing ability
^ Accurate shot selection
+ Good counter wrestler
^ 80 percent takedown defense
+ Underrated grappling ability
^ Shows soid positional awareness
– Dropped or stopped in 3 of last 5 fights
Balgoy Ivanov (16-1-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC)
- Height: 5’11” Age: 31 Weight: 251 lbs. Reach: 73″
- Last fight: Decision win over Caio Alencar (Nov. 2, 2017)
- Camp: Xtreme Couture MMA/AKA (Las Vegas, NV)
- Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing
- Risk management: Fair
+ WSOF heavyweight title
+ Combat sambo world champion (2008)
+ Accoladed judoka
+ 6 KO victories
+ 6 submission wins
+ 9 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Consistent pace and pressure
+ Deceptive distance closer
+ Accurate left cross and right hook
^ Coming forward or off the counter
+ Strong inside the clinch
^ Strikes, trips and takedowns
+ Serviceable wrestling ability
+ Solid from topside
^ Will take submissions if they’re available
A former UFC champion who is coming off the sidelines from a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency violation (stemming from contaminated supplements), Dos Santos is eager to get back to the business he knows best – cracking the skulls of contenders who stand in the way of another title shot. The man who draws the opportunity to upset the Brazilian is Ivanov, a Bulgarian judoka who is no stranger to scoring upsets against big-name competition.
Starting off on the feet, we have a pairing of two boxing-centric strikers who operate out of different stances.
Dos Santos, who fights out of an orthodox stance, is a crisp boxer through-and-through. Working behind the pressure of his left-handed feints, Dos Santos will set up devastating overhands and uppercuts, strikes that comprise the majority of the former champion’s highlight reel.
Though Dos Santos’ right hand is often known as the cleanup hitter, his left is arguably more accurate, especially when applying his hook. Often utilizing his hooks offensively off of his jabs and feints, Dos Santos does a deceptively good job of placing check hooks to cover his tracks or drawing his opponents into them through baiting fakes.
Still, countering will probably be a potent two-way street given how these two matchup stylistically.
Ivanov, the southpaw, has shown that he is not scared to throw hands since his days on the combat sambo scene. A stoutly framed heavyweight, Ivanov does not carry your ideal length by the look of him, but he has a very serviceable game that’s helped him garner a respectable record.
Despite being the shorter man, the Bulgarian has demonstrated on multiple occasions that he can play on the outside when he needs to, as well as capitalize on counters when they’re there. Like any good southpaw, Ivanov wields a mean check-right-hook that he attaches nicely to his counter cross.
That said, Ivanov will probably be sticking to his pressure game given what has traditionally worked against Dos Santos – especially if this match goes down in the small cage (seldom used for smaller venues and shows).
Barring his fight with Alistair Overeem, we have seen the element of pressure present Dos Santos with some of his hardest fights, win or lose. Which is why I suspect Ivanov, who has recently spent time training with Daniel Cormier and Cain Velasquez at American Kickboxing Academy, to try the replicate a similar spirit of game plan against the former heavyweight kingpin.
No stranger to using his strikes to corral opposition toward the cage, Ivanov typically likes getting his shots in with uppercuts to the head and body before transitioning to takedowns. Although the 31-year-old can hit the trips and tosses associated with his judo base, he can also wrestle well when he calls upon it, executing double-legs that are often chained off single-leg attempts.
But in this contest, however, I believe that the Bulgarian talent will need to empty his toolbox if he means to ground or control the former UFC champion.
Dos Santos, who has consistently held one of the higher takedown defense rates amongst his contemporaries for some time now, wields tremendous defensive fundamentals and hustle that even made the cardio king Velasquez dig deep despite dominating otherwise. From pushing down on his opponent’s head to creating separations from the fence, the Brazilian will be no easy task to control.
Should Ivanov get Dos Santos to the mat, we will likely be privy to some surprisingly fast exchanges. Despite not appearing to have the most explosive frame, Ivanov will jump on a submission if it becomes available in transit, a carryover from his background in Judo and Sambo – sports that have a stricter protocol regarding ground control.
The catch, however, is that Ivanov can subsequently play too loose from topside, often allowing for opponent’s to stand. If the 11-year pro fails to find a balance of control, then he will be privy to an underrated grappler in Dos Santos, who is positionally aware and hard to bottleneck into bad spots.
The oddsmakers and public seem to be siding with the former UFC champ while respecting the newcomer, listing Dos Santos -175 and Ivanov +155 as of this writing.
Given that I agree with the line above, it’s nice to see Ivanov getting some respect in his UFC debut. The former sambo champ may not stick out on a highlight reel, but he has a strong and rounded base of skills that make him a tough out for anyone in this division. If Dos Santos can’t find his groove or is not careful, then he could get sucked into the pressure of Ivanov, especially if this battle takes place in the smaller cage.
Daniel Cormier reminded us this past weekend that some of the best heavyweights carry stout frames, and I could see Ivanov using the pressure and clinch tactics from his recent AKA affiliates to stifle his athletic foe against the fence, possibly even making him pay off the breaks when you consider that Dos Santos traditionally exits with low hands.
In fact, despite my pick, Dos Santos’ increased reliability on his head movement throughout his career has been a troubling trend. He may still possess superior athleticism and reaction times than most of his fellow heavyweights, but Dos Santos has leaned on it too much (needlessly at times), causing him to take visible damage in both victories and defeats during the past 5-6 years.
Still, I have a hard time picking against him here. Dos Santos may have hit a rough patch full of inconsistencies, but his noted efforts to better himself at American Top Team – along with the fact that heavyweights have a longer lifespan – lead me to suspect that he is due to return to form. Even if he is not a new and improved version of himself, I think that Dos Santos’ game, at its spirit, is a bad stylistic fit for Ivanov.
The difference in cage size is ultimately the question I’m wondering heading into this contest. Though a small cage will probably benefit Ivanov more, I suspect that less square footage will also force Dos Santos to throw with an even higher urgency. Ivanov has never been stopped by strikes and recovers well, but he also has limited in-fight experience against this level of heavyweight striker, making me believe that Dos Santos may audit the Bulgarian’s defenses for a building stoppage late into the fight.
Official pick: Dos Santos inside the distance
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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
Read the full article here: UFC Boise main-event breakdown: Is Junior Dos Santos too tall an order for Blagoy Ivanov?