Women’s StrawweightsMarina Rodriguez (12-0-1) vs. Cynthia Calvillo (8-1)
ODDS: Rodriguez (-135), Calvillo (+115)
She may not have become the immediate title contender some expected, but Calvillo is still a prospect to watch at strawweight. Calvillo was just a few months and three fights into her pro career when the UFC signed her in early 2017, but by the end of the year, the Californian was positioned to be the next big thing in the division. As it turns out, her pre-UFC career has aged particularly well due to wins over Montana De La Rosa and Gillian Robertson, and Calvillo’s grappling wizardry was on display for submission wins over Amanda Bobby Cooper and Pearl Gonzalez to kick off her UFC campaign. A win over Joanne Calderwood was less dominant -- it was still an impressive victory to get, particularly in Scotland -- so even when Calvillo ended the year with a narrow loss to Carla Esparza, she still seemed to be set up well for future success. Things have been a bit rockier since, however. For one, Calvillo has had trouble getting back inside the cage. She failed a drug test for the Esparza fight due to marijuana, putting her on the shelf for much of 2018, and after earning wins against Poliana Botelho and Cortney Casey, a broken foot has kept her out of action since February. Calvillo’s performances have also raised some red flags, since, like many a submission specialist before her, she has started to fall in love with her striking. Calvillo tries for her wrestling at certain moments, but if she cannot get it going -- she is more of a submission ace than a takedown artist -- she is quickly willing to fall back on a striking game that, while improving from fight to fight, still is not particularly good. Hopefully, she has not taken the wrong lessons from the Casey fight. While Calvillo managed to score a win in what was mostly a kickboxing match, a lot of that had to do with a particularly flat performance from Casey. Rodriguez should provide a much stronger challenge.
Rodriguez has been a pleasant surprise over the last year-plus. An alum of the Brazilian edition of Dana White’s Contender Series, Rodriguez did not seem particularly primed to knock down the doors at strawweight, but she has done well thus far against a tough slate of opponents. Her fights against Randa Markos, Jessica Aguilar and Tecia Torres have each followed a similar script, with Rodriguez getting controlled early before eventually adjusting come the second round and relying on her strong kickboxing game. Her draw against Markos and her win over Aguilar did not necessarily answer all the questions about Rodriguez’s viability as a contender: Markos is notoriously inconsistent, while Aguilar has typically been unable to keep up with younger athletes. However, her victory over Torres in August was legitimately impressive. Torres has her flaws, but every other fighter to beat her was either a former or future UFC champion, putting Rodriguez in some elite company. She has shown consistency, but a win here would do a ton to show that Rodriguez can survive a dangerous finishing threat like Calvillo.
It is difficult to predict if a fighter will always follow the best game plan, and that is why this fight is a difficult one to call. This should be Calvillo’s fight to lose; Rodriguez is a slow starter who usually does not get her takedown defense going until she has felt out her opponent, and Calvillo is the type of submission threat who can find the Brazilian’s neck before she has time to adjust. With that said, Calvillo seems to think she is much more well-rounded than she is in reality. She obviously has to learn to kickbox at some point to become a contender, but it looks like the Californian is viewing her striking as a legitimate path to victory rather than a necessary evil in fights where she can afford to do so. That probably makes Rodriguez the smart choice, but it is still difficult to pick against Calvillo’s grappling talent. Even if she gets scared off of it too easily, she does at least seem to test her wrestling a bit before falling back on her striking if things are not going particularly well. The pick is Calvillo via first-round submission.
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