UFC Fight Night 37 Preview

Zhang vs. Sai

By Tristen Critchfield Feb 26, 2014
Wang Sai sports six finishes among his six victories. | Photo: Marcelo Alonso/Sherdog.com

‘The Ultimate Fighter: China’ Welterweight Final

Lipeng Zhang (6-7-1, 0-0 UFC) vs. Wang Sai (6-4-1, 0-0 UFC)

The Matchup: Two of the more seasoned members of the “The Ultimate Fighter: China” cast make their way to the reality show’s welterweight final. With the UFC trying to break ground in new countries, such experience is not to be discounted, as many of the welterweights entered the season with just one or two professional bouts to their credit.

After winning three of his first four pro bouts, the 23-year-old Zhang has gone 3-6-1 since. The Fight Emperor product has been particularly vulnerable to submissions throughout his career, with five of his seven losses coming via tapout. Zhang fought once in 2013, submitting to a guillotine choke against Chris Garcia in 34 seconds at Real Fight MMA Championship 2.

Sai, meanwhile, is more likely to try and keep the action standing. The 28-year-old China Top Team representative has finished all six of his wins, four by KO or TKO and two by submission. Most recently, he stopped Glen Ranillo in the opening frame at Pacific Xtreme Combat 34 in November 2012.

Zhang appears to be more tentative on the feet, either throwing the occasional leg kick or waiting for his opponent to advance so he can counter with punches. How he looks on the ground varies depending on the opponent. In the right situation, he looks to pass guard quickly and transitions smoothly from one position to another to set up fight-ending ground-and-pound. At other times, his aggression leaves him open to a multitude of submission attempts. Even when faced with a superior grappler, Zhang is tenacious in scrambles and uses his guard to create space for submissions or reversals. His submission defense seems to be improving, as well, and his conditioning allows him to keep battling even when outgunned on the mat.

Meanwhile, Sai is much flashier on the feet. The sanda practitioner likes to use his length to fire off kicks and straight punches; the standing side kick is one of his favored techniques. He is not averse to standing in the pocket, though his accuracy tends to fade as he fatigues later in the bout. Sai will also drop his hands in exchanges. In addition to a variety of kicks, he will look to land short elbows and knees as he closes the distance.

Sai will also mix in takedowns, but he usually shoots without any kind of setup. On the mat, Sai is more methodical than Zhang, but once he finds an opening, he will unleash savage bursts of ground-and-pound.

The Pick: Sai would seem to have more ways with which to win, although his tendency to surrender position in grappling exchanges is a concern. Still, he is a far more aggressive striker than Zhang, and his resilience should carry him through some tough spots. Sai wins by decision or late stoppage.

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