Finally, Santiago Ponzinibbio is coming home.
“Gente Boa” competes in his native country for the first time in over eight years on Saturday when the Octagon makes its debut in Buenos Aires at UFC Argentina. The matchmakers did not give Ponzinibbio a layup as he has been paired up with welterweight contender Neil Magny, who has made a habit of knocking off fighters with bigger names than him, including Carlos Condit, Johny Hendricks, and Hector Lombard.
A pair of featherweights will look to stay in the contenders’ line n the co-main event as one-time title challenger Ricardo Lamas fights to snap a two-fight losing streak against Darren Elkins, who is also coming off of a loss, his first in seven bouts.
In other main card action, light heavyweight slugger Khalil Rountree faces the debuting Johnny Walker, former Legacy Fighting Alliance interim middleweight champion Ian Heinisch steps in on short notice to fight veteran Cezar Ferreira, Argentina’s own Guido Cannetti meets Marlon Vera in a bantamweight bout, and Poliana Botelho faces Cynthia Calvillo in a 118-pound catchweight bout after Calvillo failed to make the strawweight limit.
What: UFC Argentina
Where: Parque Roca Arena in Buenos Aires, Argentina
When: Saturday, Nov. 17. The two-fight UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begins at 7 p.m. ET, the four-fight FOX Sports 1 preliminary card begins at 8 p.m. ET, and the six-fight FOX Sports 1 main card begins at 10 p.m. ET.
Santiago Ponzibbio is a brilliant defensive fighter with superb countering ability and it will be intriguing to see how those skills hold up against a fighter with Neil Magny’s dimensions. It will be difficult for Ponzinibbio to implement his distance game against the rangy Magny as he did so effectively in wins over Mike Perry and Gunnar Nelson, two opponents with similar measurements as Ponzinibbio.
That said, he has more pop than Magny and, just as importantly in this matchup, superior ground skills. Ponzinibbio won’t shy away from a potentially entertaining standup affair, but if it comes to it, he can take Magny down and show off his underutilized BJJ black belt. Just having that option will allow Ponzinibbio to dictate the pace.
Magny has cardio for days and if he does come out aggressive, that could be the key to spoiling Ponzinibbio’s homecoming: score early, wear Ponzinibbio down, and finish strong as the Argentine fades; however, an extra-focused Ponzinibbio should be smart enough to manage his gas tank en route to taking a unanimous decision in front of a raucous crowd.
“The Bully” is not going to be able to push around the relentless Darren Elkins in Friday’s co-main event.
Skill-for-skill, Lamas can hang with anyone at 145 pounds, and if he can hurt Elkins early, it might save him the headache of having to hold off a late charge by the division’s most notorious comeback king. Lamas is the sharper striker by some measure and as long as this fight remains on the feet, Elkins is in trouble.
Where Elkins truly excels is in turning fights into grinding affairs, difficult to do against Lamas who is a strong scrambler and rarely at a significant disadvantage in the grappling department, or absorbing the best that his opponents have to offer and then surging in the third round.
The latter strategy could work against Lamas, who hasn’t always been the strongest closer, however it’s unlikely that Elkins is actually able to put Lamas away.
Elkins by split call.
Hot off of his first-round KO of Gokhan Saki and his third straight UFC win, Khalil Rountree is entering what could be the MMA version of a trap game against Contender Series Brazil contract winner Johnny Walker. Though Walker is making his UFC debut, he’s shown in his previous fights that he has a more well-rounded game than the hard-hitting Rountree.
Certainly, Rountree represents a step-up in competition for Walker both in striking technique and athleticism, but the 6-foot-6 Walker has his own physical gifts that will make him a problem for anyone at light heavyweight. If he stays disciplined and keeps his distance, he should be able to avoid Rountree’s power punches.
It would behoove Walker to get this one down to the ground, where Rountree still shows plenty of holes. If it goes there, look for Walker to snag a submission in the second or third round, or ride out a decision.
Speaking of traps, if Cezar Ferreira thinks he’s going to just blow through short-notice replacement Ian Heinisch, he has another thing coming. Even with just over a week to prepare for “Mutante”, Heinisch has the kind of simple and effective style that works against a variety of opponents.
Heinisch is going to be giving up a lot of size to Ferreira, which hasn’t been too much of a problem for him in the past. He makes good use of lateral movement to minimize damage from distance until he can burst forward with a takedown. He’s no slouch on the feet either with some impressive power in his right hand.
Where Ferreira has the edge is in his overall grappling game. He’s a strong wrestler himself and on the ground, a legitimate submission threat. His size will help a lot with not getting caught by Heinisch’s overhand right and with tying him up in close.
Top control is key for both men to be successful. Whoever can establish positional superiority first and maintain it the longest will take the decision here.
Guido Cannetti has always had the skill set to be competitive in the UFC’s bantamweight division, but he’s never been able to put it all together for any consistent stretch. At age 38, time could be getting short for him.
He’ll be in tough against his old Ultimate Fighter: Latin America teammate Marlon Vera, who is 13 years Cannetti’s junior. Though Vera has also had issues with consistency, he’s also a proven fight finisher, both on the feet and on the mat. Should Cannetti throw caution to the wind and decide to brawl with Vera, the safe bet is that Cannetti will drop first.
Competing in his home country will undoubtedly provide Cannetti a boost. The question is will it be enough to hold off Vera for three rounds? I expect the taller, longer Vera to get this one down to the ground and some point, whether via takedown or knockdown, and finish with a submission.
Let’s just get this out of the way first: Cynthia Calvillo looked like grim death at Friday’s weigh-ins. Say what you want about fighters missing weight having an advantage, but it’s difficult to see how Calvillo failing to game the system here will have any positive effect on her performance come fight night.
While Poliana Botelho’s dynamic striking can be slowed by pressure grappling, as Pearl Gonzalez attempted to do in Botelho’s UFC debut, Botelho also went on to win that fight via a convincing unanimous decision. She’s not easy to take down and though Calvillo is a good wrestler, she’s not an elite takedown artist or at least she hasn’t shown herself to be one yet.
As motivated as Calvillo will be to bounce back from her first pro loss, and in her first fight since last December, it’s going to be a problem for her once Botelho finds the range and starts pushing the pace. This one could get ugly for Calvillo.