Who wins the Paige VanZant vs. Rose Namajunas main event at UFC Fight Night 80, and how? What other fights stand out on the UFC Fight Pass card, and why?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
In my excitement and anticipation for UFC 194, as well as the Edgar vs. Mendes fight on Friday night, I’d completely forgotten about this event. That’s not a slight though, as this card manages to be pretty appealing in spite of the potential MMA overload going on with three UFC events in three days. So, in that sense, remembering it now is like BONUS MMA!
Paige VanZant has gotten a big push and a lot of attention from the UFC since she made her debut in the Octagon at only 20 years old. The cynic will say the favoritism shown to her over other fighters is due to her non-fighting relevant physical attributes. The cynic would be right. VanZant is an attractive young blonde with an engaging personality. The cynic might also miss that PVZ is a legitimately talented fighter who’s already deservedly ranked in the top 10 of her division. Would she have the endorsements she has if she didn’t look like she did? Undoubtedly no. Would we have ever gotten to see the talent of Oscar nominated actor Brad Pitt if he didn’t look like he did? For better of for worse, that’s how things work. But that shouldn’t get in the way of the fact that VanZant has the potential to be one of the best at 115 lbs.
VanZant brings an athletic strength and tenacity that belies her young age. VanZant is really strong, strong enough to the point where her ground and pound may be the best asset she has in an already advanced skill set. It seems crazy to see her pushing fighters around and holding her own physically at such a young age; that speaks volumes of where her potential ceiling may be, as she’ll have plenty of room to develop both her skills and her physical tools in the upcoming years.
Rose Namajunas is another very young strawweight. At only 23-years-old, she’s already ranked #4 in the women’s strawweight division. Like VanZant, “Thug” leaves it all on the table, and doesn’t back down in a fight. Her submission game is very formidable, and has already produced one of the better highlights in recent memory with a sick flying armbar finish while fighting in Invicta FC.
There’s been a lot of talk about VanZant being pushed too fast as a young fighter, but there’s no real talk of that for Namajunas. It’s not like 23 is old at all, even by comparison. PVZ’s ranking of #7 is right about where it should be. She could probably beat many of the fighters in the top 10, but would probably lose to a few of them as well. Namajunas’s ranking of #4 with only a 3-2 record is misleading, as it doesn’t incorporate her fights on The Ultimate Fighter where she submitted three opponents, including two currently ranked in the top 10 at 115 lbs.
This is a fine fight to make, and I expect fully the fireworks to fly here. Although she’s the younger fighter, VanZant is a lot stronger than Namajunas, and Namajunas has shown she’s susceptible to the takedown. Namajunas will look to use VanZant’s aggressiveness against her, and look up a submission off her back or on a reversal. In the end, I think VanZant will be strong enough to pull out of any submission holds thrown her way, and ends up winning this one by decision. Another win in the top 10, and we may be debating title shot merit.
The rest of this card features a pretty substantial amount of relevant fights, particularly among fighters that might be future contenders. Sage Northcutt is only 19 years old, and knocked out his first opponent in the UFC in under a minute. Elisa Theodorou is an undefeated middleweight with 7 finishes in his 11 wins who could be deserving of a top 10 opponent shortly. The same record and finish rate holds for Aljamain Sterling, a fighter already ranked #7 in the bantamweight division and might be a fight or two away from a shot at the belt. And don’t forget Tim Means, an exciting fighter who almost put Matt Brown down at UFC 189, before ultimately tapping out to the welterweight contender. For a Fight Night event, this card is pretty loaded with fun fights, and a great way to kick off what could be the biggest week in UFC history.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I’m going with Namajunas by TKO in the fourth round. I think it’s a close fight, but that Namajunas grinds VanZant down in the earlier rounds and is able to get the finish later in the fight. I think VanZant will use this as a learning experience to come back stronger than before. I think Namajunas is just a little bit further along in her progression in the sport.
As for other fights of interest, I also want to see Sage Northcutt vs. Cody Pfister. Northcutt is a tremendously talented young fighter, and he’s a must-watch type of athlete. The sky is the limit for him, and I fully expect another great outing.
CASH NORMAN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Everyone is picking Rose Namajunas to win versus Paige VanZant, and rightfully so as Namajunas is the more polished striker. However, VanZant’s pressure and hustle during scrambles may prove to be the difference in this fight. If you recall the fight between Namajunas and Esparza, Rose got beat on every scramble, and then eventually wore down before getting submitted. Now VanZant does not have the same wrestling base and top control of Carla Esparza, but she has hustle, and could beat Namajunas in transitions. Remember you can’t throw fancy kicks and such if you don’t have the distance to get them off.
As far as the remaining card, I’m a fan of Jim Miller and always enjoy watching him compete. Thiago Santos is going to totally murk Elias Theodorou; I don’t know who on his team thought this would be a good fight for him but I send his family my condolences. “The Dirty Bird” Tim Means against John Howard has that potential to be entertaining, it will only be a Doomsday if Howard attempts to grapple and wrestle Means to death. I know the UFC is attempting to build hype around Sage Northcutt, but honestly I don’t care about him nor his opponent. And I know this is going to sound horrible but they have a Saved by the Bell “teen” look alike in Kailin Curran matched up against a stereotypical looking soccer/little league mom in Emily Kagan. Listen folks the sun is not your friend, please remember to apply SPF when you go outside.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
There aren’t a lot of meaningful fights on the card, but there are a number that should be worth watching strictly on entertainment value. Jim Miller and Mike Chiesa meet in the Battle of the Beards in what should be fun regardless of whether it takes place on the feet or on the mat. Tim Means is usually fun to watch, but his dance partner in John Howard could turn it into a grind-fest. Omari Akhmedov and Sergio Moraes could go either way as well. The most meaningful fight outside of the main event is Aljamain Sterling vs. Johnny Eduardo, but most are anticipating Sterling pulls it off with minimal excitement. He could use an entertaining performance to get some fans behind him.
DAN MOORE, MMATORCH UK COLUMNIST
They have a combined record of only twelve professional fights; there’s really not a lot to go on when trying to analyse this match-up other than to predict it’s going the distance. Neither Namajunas nor VanZant has the size or power to finish the other striking, and, neither is technically proficient enough to finish the other by submission. They’ve both won via stoppage before, but in terms of this fight, I don’t believe one is significantly good enough to finish the other. UFC top brass would love VanZant to continue winning, but I’m tipping Namajunas to spring an upset via split decision.
Aljamain Sterling vs. Johnny Eduardo stands out as a fun fight to watch. Eduardo has only fought twice in over four-years, but his scalp alongside Mizugaki will surely enhance Sterling’s chances to be a contender in 2016. I’m also excited to see how Danny Roberts fares against late replacement, Nathan Coy. He looked good in Cage Warriors against the likes of Jim Wallhead and former TUF contestant Coy is the perfect opponent to start his UFC tenure with a bang.
[Photo (c) Jayne Kamin-Oncea via USA Today Sports]