The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday makes its return to Mexico, bringing with it the finalists for “The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America 2” and the coaches on the show, though they are fighting in separate bouts. Kelvin Gastelum faces short-notice replacement Neil Magny -- he fills in for the injured Matt Brown -- in the main event at the Monterrey Arena, while further down the card, “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 winner Efrain Escudero has his hands full with Brazilian powerhouse Leandro Silva.
Let us take a look at each UFC Fight Night “Magny vs. Gastelum” matchup, with analysis and picks:
WelterweightsNeil Magny (16-4) vs Kelvin Gastelum (11-1)
THE MATCHUP: After a rocky start in the UFC, Magny has made great strides to improve his entire MMA game. With a remarkable 80-inch reach, he has cultivated an out-fighting game, using a pawing jab to set up a long and surprisingly powerful right hand. Magny has a worrying tendency to get backed up into the fence, which will be a problem against the aggressive Gastelum, though his clinch striking makes up for that issue somewhat.
Magny is actually a solid wrestler, scrambling well despite a tendency to get taken down. On the ground, his specialty is his top control. The 6-foot-3 welterweight prefers to sit in half guard, tying up his opponents legs so that he can posture up and rain down strikes. Though lacking significant pop, his length makes him a punishing volume striker under these circumstances. Perhaps Magny’s biggest flaw is an aggressive commitment to well-roundedness. Despite clear advantages on the feet, Magny tries to grapple with every single opponent he faces. Not content to simply stake his claim in the clinch and get back to his ideal range, Magny often resorts to takedowns against opponents that he is handily beating on the feet.
Gastelum’s problems have never been of the skill set variety. A shockingly complete mixed martial artist from his first UFC fight -- a stunning upset win over “Ultimate Fighter” wonder boy Uriah Hall -- Gastelum has struggled repeatedly with his weight cut. His most recent failure saw him come into the cage an abysmal 10 pounds heavier than opponent Tyron Woodley, who nonetheless used superior stamina and counter punching to outpoint Gastelum. After a single fight at middleweight, Gastelum is back in the 170-pound division. Time will tell if he can get his weight under control.
Gastelum is a pressure fighter at his best, though he is happy to move and strike in open space at times. A respectable puncher, his modus operandi is to hurt an opponent with lightning-fast combinations before scrambling to his back for a submission. Gastelum also possesses strong kicks. His biggest problem on the feet is defensive in nature. The 24 year-old phenom stands very tall, especially for a wrestler, and tends to lose track of his feet in exchanges, leaving him off-balance and susceptible to knockdowns.
THE ODDS: Gastelum (-265), Magny (+225)
THE PICK: It is hard not to be a Magny fan. His eight-fight winning streak, with five fights occurring in a single year, did a great deal to endear him to hardcore MMA observers and spoke volumes about his technical and strategic improvements. Gastelum is a step above the level of opposition that Magny has beaten, however, closer in ability to Demian Maia than Erick Silva. Unless Gastelum has another horrendous weight cut, he should have little trouble corralling Magny into the fence, where he can work his takedowns and tight punching to get the win. It does bear mentioning, however, that the five-round duration of the bout is firmly in Magny’s favor. Magny can be a slow starter, but he has a knack for late finishes and grows stronger and stronger the more time he spends with an opponent. Gastelum may find himself in some deep water late in the bout. That being said, the pick is Gastelum by submission in round four.
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