FeatherweightsEdson Barboza (20-9) vs. Makwan Amirkhani (16-4)
ODDS: Barboza (-260), Amirkhani (+220)
He is still held in high regard, but this is a surprisingly crucial bout for Barboza, who has quietly lost five of his last six bouts. Barboza is one of the best kickers the sport has ever seen, and it is absolutely beautiful to behold whenever he can get his game going, as he has put together one of the best highlight reels in UFC history. However, the book on Barboza has been written for a few years. He can either chop down opponents with leg kicks or finish them in an instant if given time and space to work, but things quickly go downhill for the Brazilian if they can get him moving backwards. That made some of Barboza’s recent matchmaking a bit rough. He managed to fire at will against Dan Hooker, but that performance was sandwiched between one-sided losses to Khabib Nurmagomedov, Kevin Lee and Justin Gaethje, all of whom managed to pressure Barboza and keep him out of his comfort zone. A bout against Paul Felder in late 2019 seemed like a stylistic respite, and indeed, it was a fun fight where Barboza got a lot done. However, despite the consensus that Barboza should have taken home the decision, it was Felder who got the nod on the scorecards. That left Barboza somewhat aimless, so he decided to make a surprising cut to featherweight. Taking on less-physical opponents figured to allow Barboza to be more aggressive, but as a striker who gets by on athleticism and speed, there were concerns that the negatives could outweigh the positives. The good news is that Barboza looked like much the same fighter in his featherweight debut against Dan Ige in May. The bad news is that it got him the same result as the Felder fight, where seemingly everyone except the judges felt that Barboza deserved the victory. It is unclear where Barboza will go from here if he loses another bout, so it is crucial that he rebounds against Amirkhani.
Amirkhani had an impressive UFC debut in 2015, rushing Andy Ogle with a flying knee that ended their fight in just eight seconds. It was also a classic case of false advertising. While “Mr. Finland” was certainly a prospect worth watching, he is much more comfortable as an aggressive wrestler and submission artist. That has continued to be Amirkhani’s bread and butter, but while he remains an entertaining and charismatic fighter, his development has gone sideways over the last few years. Amirkhani has attempted to improve his striking over the last few years, and while there have been some positive returns, he is still much more willing than able in that phase of the sport, as he tends to eat just as much offense as he dishes out. After a few fights in which Amirkhani seemingly made a conscious attempt to be more of a striker, he has thankfully gone back to his grappling roots. That comes with its own issues. While Amirkhani is a truly impressive chain wrestler with a nose for the finish, it has also been a path to exhaustion. Amirkhani can still find a late finish or will his way to a decision, but there is such an obvious slowdown between the first and third rounds that will not serve Amirkhani well against better competition. All in all, while there are so many clear negatives to Amirkhani’s approach, there is still plenty of talent and excitement every time he steps into the cage. Nevertheless, it is just a bit of a disappointment relative to his high expectations of a few years ago.
This should be fun, even if most of that is probably going to come at the expense of Amirkhani. He can likely enjoy some early success with his pressure and his wrestling, but unless he can find a surprise submission, Barboza—who is both durable and defensively solid on the mat—should be able to survive and take this fight over in one-sided fashion. The dynamics feel similar to Amirkhani’s 2019 encounter with Shane Burgos, where Amirkhani banked a one-sided first round only to tire himself into punching bag status. Barboza, as he showed against Dan Hooker, has the skills to make this way rougher than Burgos did. Again, there will be some fun violence when Barboza takes over, but it could get rough to watch at points. The pick is Barboza via third-round knockout.
Continue Reading » Rothwell vs. Tybura
« Previous Alex Oliveira In for Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos Against Shavkat Rakhmonov at UFC 254 Next UFC 254 Gains Casey Kenney vs. Nathaniel Wood at Bantamweight »