Chad Mendes (pictured) is closing in on a title shot at 145 pounds. | Photo: Dave Mandel
The undercard provides a great opportunity for fighters to show they do not belong there.
At UFC 133 “Evans vs. Ortiz 2” on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, perhaps the most-relevant bout pairs the unbeaten Chad Mendes with submissions whiz Rani Yahya, as “Money” continues to move toward a title shot against featherweight boss Jose Aldo. Meanwhile, Matt Hamill hopes to get back in the win column against emerging Swedish talent Alexander Gustafsson at the injury-riddled event, which features four other matches on the bottom portion of the card.
Here is a closer look at the UFC 133 prelims -- Mendes-Yahya and Hamill-Gustafsson will be telecast on Spike TV, the others streamed on Facebook -- with analysis and picks.
Chad Mendes (10-0, 1-0 UFC) vs. Rani Yahya (16-6, 1-0 UFC)
The Matchup: Watching a fighter progress from the beginning of his career to becoming a top contender is a fascinating process. You literally watch the final product etch itself into being, the formula solidifying into what one hopes is a complete fighter. In 2009, Mendes was 2-0 and essentially a wrestler transitioning into MMA. Since then, he has developed solid standup and rounded out his game, connecting the dots and taking scalps in the process.
Tentatively slated to be next in line for a title shot against UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo on this card, Mendes’ chance at the belt was scrapped when the Brazilian was injured defending against Mark Hominick in April. With Yahya as a replacement, this is a good developmental-style bout through which Mendes can gain further experience against a veteran contender.
Yahya’s a wildly talented but erratic performer; he can chain together submission attempts with seamless ease -- check the first round of his fight with Chase Beebe at WEC 30, where he literally attempts a dozen or so in a row. Yahya can also fall terribly short in performances. Holes in his standup game resulted in a brutal knockout loss to Joseph Benavidez, and he lost a decision to the game but less-talented Takeya Mizugaki, who simply outworked him.
Mendes gets to dictate where the fight goes, which will be a key decision point in the bout. He wields a solid right hand, especially when used as a counter, and it transitions nicely into takedowns. Yahya has excellent submissions, but it is hard to imagine him subbing Mendes for a couple reasons: Team Alpha Male guys, in general, have outstanding submission defense, and Mendes’ natural size and superior conditioning make it a remote possibility past the first round.
The Pick: Mendes needs a signature, slam-bang-style win to really market himself as the next 145-pound title challenger. He will beat up Yahya en route to a third-round stoppage in an increasingly one-sided fight.
Continue Reading » Next Fight: Matt Hamill vs. Alexander Gustafsson