The Ultimate Fighting Championship is back after a week off to bring us UFC Fight Night 157. With plenty to discuss about this early morning card, let's get on with the UFC Shenzhen edition of Prime Picks.
Jessica Andrade (-170)
In the blink of an eye, Andrade flipped the strawweight division — and her opponent Rose Namajunas — on its head. After getting dropped in the first round with a knee and unable to land anything of merit of her own, Andrade made the necessary adjustments in the second stanza to change the course of the fight. Having absorbed the best shots from "Thug Rose," and taken some damage for it, Andrade waded through the fire to land some looping power punches, and most importantly, close the distance. From there, "Bate Estaca" — which translates to "Pile driver" — leaned in for a takedown, only to lift up Namajunas and score "the slam heard round the world."
While objectively stunning and coming as a shock to the quiet Brazilian crowd at UFC 237, it was actually something Andrade had tried to set up in the opening round, before bailing due to a submission attempt from Namajunas. Like many before have analyzed, Andrade is a fighter that relies on her strength to bully opponents around the cage. Her strawweight campaign is littered with those types of appearances, from battering Jessica Penne in her first trip down to 115 pounds, to her thrilling performance against the ever-durable Angela Hill, to winning the belt. At strawweight, the only fighter able to stave her off was Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who outstruck the Brazilian at nearly a 3:1 clip all while thwarting a majority of Andrade's takedown attempts.
Zhang has burst on to the scene by beating up on Danielle Taylor, bloodying Jessica Aguilar en route to a submission and handling Tecia Torres. Like her opponent, "Magnum" originally competed at 135 pounds before vaulting down to strawweight less than four years ago. Her level of competition has been drastically different than Andrade, with the latter forced to face a murderer's row from the top of the 135-pound and especially the 115-pound division in her UFC tenure.
Since dropping her mixed martial arts debut by decision to Meng Bo, Zhang has amassed 19 victories in less than five years, although several along the way did not post winning records coming into their contest. Regardless of her opposition, the Chinese fighter has finished 16 of those opponents before the end of the second round, including 10 in the opening stanza. That finish rate has been blunted since joining the UFC, having earned two of her three career decision wins inside the Octagon, but her dominance in those fights has largely not been in question.
Zhang sports a gaudy 100% takedown defense rate, but that statistic is somewhat misleading as her three previously opponents have each tried to get Zhang down one time; they all failed. Andrade who has gotten the fight down to the canvas in six of her last seven outings — the one without an attempt came when Andrade starched Karolina Kowalkiewicz in less than two minutes — and we fully expect Andrade to take this fight to the ground as she pours on the pressure to set Zhang on her heels. With her back against the fence, and an aggressive Andrade on her, Zhang can easily find herself in the unusual position of fighting off her back. If Zhang remains upright, she will still have to contend with the female equivalent of John Lineker bearing down and throwing bombs at her.
It is this pressure and pace that we feel can break Zhang. Even though we have only seen Andrade go five rounds once in a one-sided losing effort, she has gone full blast for 15 minutes several times. If Zhang keeps away from her shorter opponent, she could find some success if she utilizes her boxing and footwork to evade any takedown attempts. That said, the power of Andrade and her dogged pursuit of the takedown or a brawl may eventually get to Zhang, as the champion defends her belt for the first time in hostile territory.
Mizuki Inoue (-145)
With our next pick, we move from the main event to the main card opener. The three fights that will occur between them are either too one-sided or surprisingly risky, with Movsar Evloev matching up against a short-notice debutant Zhenhong Lu, Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos and Jingliang Li battling it out at welterweight or the deceptively effective submission game of Mark De La Rosa against the surging Kai Kara-France. Instead, we look at a bout between a former bantamweight (Yanan Wu) and a former strawweight (Inoue) meeting in the middle at 125 pounds. Both women have been on the shelf since November for various reasons, as Wu has tried twice to face Luana Carolina this year while Inoue pulled out of the inaugural Invicta Fighting Championships tournament after failing to make weight. Luckily for Inoue, this fight is taking place 10 pounds higher than that of the tournament.
Inoue holds a massive experience advantage over her opponent, not just in terms of total fights (18 vs. 12) but for strength of schedule as well. Nine of Wu's first ten opponents combined for a record of 2-5, with a lone loss in that stretch to Yana Kunitskaya. Prior to submitting Lauren Mueller, Wu had only beaten one fighter with a winning record. We compare that to Inoue, whose last three opponents combined for more bouts (36) than all 12 fighters Wu has faced in her entire career (28). Where Wu may find the upper hand is her size and strength, but she has shown to be susceptible to the takedown as Gina Mazany planted the Chinese fighter on her back five times and took a decision win. Inoue, who favors the submission and has never picked up a stoppage due to strikes, will likely look to get this fight to the ground any way she can, and can secure the finish that way. Even if the 25-year-old from Japan does not snatch up an arm, as her preferred maneuver is the armbar, her submission attempts and slick grappling skills should give her the edge to make a successful Octagon debut.
Derrick Krantz (-115)
When Krantz got called up to the UFC in May to face Vicente Luque, he closed as a massive +700 underdog and almost won the fight. As history tends to forget the way in which a win was recorded and instead some reading the Fight Finder might only see Krantz having a knockout loss, it was nearly the other way around. Grinning from ear to ear, the very short notice replacement Krantz crashed forward to blast Luque with a right hand in the opening seconds, and then tagged the Brazilian a right uppercut that had Luque in all sorts of trouble. Luque jumped for a guillotine and Krantz adjusted, taking top position and raining down heavy ground-and-pound until he took Luque's back. Almost snatching up a rear-naked choke and then a guillotine, Krantz ran out of gas and had nothing left to defend himself. With a proper training camp and a less resilient foe, it is hard to see this fight going the full 15 minutes.
Kenan Song is a finisher in his own right, with 13 of his 14 wins coming before the final bell. The only man he won a decision over was Sanae Kikuta — as in the Kikuta that went into the sixth round with Renzo Gracie at Pride 2 in 1998. Despite this, "The Assassin" is actually one of two fighters being discussed in this piece that managed to secure a UFC contract coming off a loss, with Wu as the other. Dropping a decision in November 2016, his next appearance was inside the Octagon, where he knocked out Bobby Nash in 15 seconds, and went on to put out Hector Aldana in June 2018. His most telling performance under the UFC banner came against Alex Morono, where he and Morono scrapped for three full rounds, swinging wildly and rarely taking a step backwards. This kind of approach would strongly favor Krantz, at least in the early going, providing that Krantz plays the bull to Song as the matador. This fight is close, and for good reason, because either man can put the lights out of the other. If you are not comfortable picking the winner, perhaps you could consider "Fight doesn't go to decision" at -155.
Andre Soukhamthath (-160)
Soukhamthath has had a tumultuous Octagon career to say the least, with two wins surrounded by four decision defeats — although the split decision loss to Alejandro Perez was hotly contested. When challenged on the feet, Soukhamthath can tend to drive in for the clinch or attempt a takedown. While facing Sean O'Malley, “Sugar” held a significant advantage standing, with kicks and even his footwork and his stance switching that threw off "The Asian Sensation." Practically the only place on the fight where Soukhamthath did well was when he took his opponent to the canvas in the last two rounds, but O'Malley was able to escape largely without harm, despite a compromised right foot. While Su Mudaerji is not the level of O’Malley, he still poses some interesting threats with his unorthodox style.
Many of Mudaerji's wins have come by high risk or flashy strikes. The "Tibetan Eagle" prefers to keep a wide stance where he can throw wild kicks with his long legs, like when he put down Zelimkhan Makaev in 2018 with a vicious spinning back kick. His willingness to lunge for strikes can put him at risk of ending up on his back, where he will be more in danger, even though he has an active offensive guard. In his Octagon debut, his opponent Louis Smolka was well aware of this, shooting for a takedown within the first five seconds and did not let up. Mudaerji's willingness to engage in the ground game with Smolka proved to be his undoing, and although Soukhamthath does not possess that same submission threat, Soukhamthath is more than willing to engage in a ground battle if he sees fit. We see "The Asian Sensation" doing just that, grinding out his Chinese opponent to take away Mudaerji's best weapons and capture a decision.
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