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UFC Chile predictions

Kamaru Usman
Kamaru Usman faces Demian Maia at UFC Chile.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

For the first time ever, the Octagon travels to the nation of Chile with a show that will be headlined by welterweight standouts Demian Maia and Kamaru Usman.

“The Nigerian Nightmare” currently holds the UFC’s longest active winning streak at 170 pounds, having beaten all seven of his opponents since conquering The Ultimate Fighter 21. He’ll face his stiffest challenge yet in Maia, a two-time UFC title contender who is widely recognized as one of the greatest Brazilian jiu-jitsu artists to ever compete in MMA. The 40-year-old Maia is sitting on consecutive losses, but with an upset he could turn a short-notice opportunity into one last championship run.

UFC Chile’s main card has several intriguing matchups, including a strawweight co-main event between rising contenders Alexa Grasso and Tatiana Suarez, the debut of highly touted women’s flyweight Andrea Lee against Veronica Macedo, and an opening bout between welterweight finishers Vicente Luque and Chad Laprise.

Also, Chile’s own Diego Rivas takes on Guido Cannetti in a bantamweight bout.

What: UFC Chile

Where: Movistar Arena, Santiago, Chile

When: Saturday, May 19. The three-fight UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begins at 6:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight FOX Sports 2 preliminary card begins at 8 p.m. ET, and the six-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.

Kamaru Usman vs. Demian Maia

Demian Maia deserves all the credit in the world for accepting this fight with less than a month to prepare after original headliner Santiago Ponzinibbio bowed out with an injury. However, he may come to regret that decision.

Though the grappling master has never backed down from a fight, he’s going to be in tough against the strong and disciplined Kamaru Usman. The TUF 21 winner is younger than welterweight champ Tyron Woodley and just better than Colby Covington, the two wrestlers who have handed Maia his recent unanimous decision losses. It’s difficult to see how Usman doesn’t follow the same path to victory.

As great as Maia is on the ground, he hasn’t been able to take the fight there against elite wrestlers and that’s exactly what Usman is. Expect Usman to use his wrestling defensively in this bout rather than try to grind out a win from top position as he did in his much maligned victory over Emil Meek, turning this into a striking affair that will not favor Maia.

Usman just has to keep this one standing and he’ll either cruise to a win on the scorecards, or score a knockdown in the later rounds and finished a stunned Maia with ground-and-pound.

Pick: Usman

Alexa Grasso vs. Tatiana Suarez

First off, let’s give credit to the matchmakers for not being afraid to pair up two of the 115-pound division’s brightest prospects. No matter who wins, this is the kind of fight that will elevate both fighters’ games in the long run.

While it’s the 24-year-old Alexa Grasso that has received a lot of the hype (which has somewhat cooled after a couple of uneven performances inside the Octagon), Tatiana Suarez has quietly carved out a path of destruction in her brief MMA career. Simply put, Suarez is a beast in the grappling department.

So far, Suarez’s wrestling has carried her to a TUF 23 title and two dominant wins over Viviane Pereira and Amanda Cooper. She must be licking her chops at the prospect of slamming Grasso, who struggled to stop the takedowns of Randa Markos in a close split decision win last August.

What Grasso has going in her favor is a solid boxing base. She’ll be the best striker Suarez has faced yet and if this one stays on the feet, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Suarez get picked apart while wasting her energy on desperation takedowns. How this one unfolds will depend a lot on Grasso shoring up her wrestling defense, otherwise it could be 15 minutes of her fighting from her back and working to not get submitted.

It’s a risky pick, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Grasso has improved enough to avoid the worst of Suarez’s wrestling techniques and scrape out another decision win.

Pick: Grasso

Dominick Reyes vs. Jared Cannonier

There aren’t many light heavyweights hotter than Dominick Reyes. “The Devastator” has lived up to his nickname, making short work of Jeremy Kimball and Joachim Christensen in his two UFC fights. On offense, there isn’t an area where he looks uncomfortable and his finishing instincts are impressive.

Now he has to deal with the patient Cannonier, a veteran of six UFC fights. It’s a big step up in competition for Reyes and a considerable style challenge for him as well.

Cannonier is a smart striker with pop in both hands and he’ll have to stay patient against the explosive Reyes. Against a fighter with superior technical skills like Jan Blachowicz, this approach failed, but it could be just the formula to slow the less-polished Reyes down.

This is a fight that raises the conundrum of how a longer, drawn-out fight will affect a prospect like Reyes, who has only been out of the first round once. Putting the hardy Cannonier away early is a tough task and should this one extend to the later periods, the scores will tilt more and more towards Cannonier.

I’m picking another upset here.

Pick: Cannonier

Diego Rivas vs. Guido Cannetti

This is Rivas’s fight to lose, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t obstacles that could trip the Chilean up.

Though Rivas is 12 years younger than Cannetti, it’s actually “Ninja” who is more likely to come out of the gates hot in an attempt to catch Rivas with something. Cannetti is always looking for a first-round finish, while Rivas is typically content to let the action come to him. A slow start here could cost Rivas if his defense isn’t up to snuff.

That said, one of Rivas’s major strengths — and weaknesses, depending on the situation — is his adaptability. If Cannetti wants to turn this into a grappling contest, Rivas will find a way to turn the tables, and if it becomes a kickboxing battle, Rivas will be more than happy to pick Cannetti apart on the feet once he finds his rhythm.

There’s even the possibility that it’s Rivas who catches an overzealous Cannetti with something early, which is what happened in Cannetti’s recent submission loss to Kyung Ho Kang. Either way, the safe bet here is that Rivas puts together a convincing performance in front of his countrymen.

Pick: Rivas

Andrea Lee vs. Veronica Macedo

Andrea Lee’s UFC debut is one of the most highly anticipated by a female fighter in recent memory, and there’s good reason for it. She has developed a reputation for exciting fights and she’ll have a willing dance partner in Veronica Macedo.

This will also be Macedo’s first UFC fight at 125 pounds, so in a sense it will be a fresh start for her as well. The 22-year-old Venezuelan struggled with the stronger Ashlee Evans-Smith back in 2016, but could be a much different fighter in the 600-plus days since. How she’s matured physically and athletically will say a lot about how she hangs in there with Lee.

“KGB” is more versatile than Macedo. She’s won several fights by submission, which doesn’t speak to how effective her Muay Thai skills are and how much her confidence has grown since her last loss against the more experienced Sarah D’Alelio two years ago. She out-struck Jamie Thorton in her last outing before finishing with a kimura, and if you need evidence of her ground game, check out her 2015 submission clinic against Ariel Beck.

Look for Lee to dictate the pace, control where the fight goes, and find a finish in either round two or three.

Pick: Lee

Vicente Luque vs. Chad Laprise

Anyone got a coin to toss?

It’s hard to imagine a better matchup to kick off the main card than this welterweight scrap between Vicente Luque and Chad Laprise, two guys who fight like they have dinner reservations they can’t miss.

Luque’s five UFC victories have all come by way of knockout or submission, and Laprise has put away his last three opponents with his power punching after beginning his Octagon career with a string of decisions. A move back up to welterweight appears to have helped the 31-year-old Canadian regain his finishing touch.

Who scores first here? Laprise looks to have the edge in striking, but he’s also going to have a hard time getting inside against the longer Luque. Combinations will be key for Laprise, which means Luque probably won’t give him much room to set those up. On that same token, if Luque is too eager, he’ll walk right into a countershot from Laprise and possibly see himself on the wrong end of a KO for once.

My guess — and this is definitely a guess — is that Laprise finds a way to lure Luque into a boxing match by the second round, where he’ll pick up a win via strikes.

Pick: Laprise


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