Wednesday morning MMA, anyone?
The UFC’s return to Fight Island was bound to have a wacky North American broadcast schedule with three events packed into seven days, but it’s the midweek show headlined by welterweights Michael Chiesa and Neil Magny that is really going to mess with some people’s internal clocks.
We have a bright and early start time of nine o’clock on the east coast and for you pacific-timers, the show begins at the lively hour of six in the morning. There’s 14 fights on the card, so buckle up.
At the top of UFC Fight Island 8 is a matchup of streaking veterans as both Chiesa and Magny enter their contest on the strength of three consecutive wins against stiff competition. Chiesa beat former UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, former interim UFC welterweight champion Carlos Condit, and Diego Sanchez, while Magny stifled up-and-comers Anthony Rocco Martin and Li Jingliang before dominating former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler in his most recent outing.
With a win, one man takes another step towards their own title opportunity.
In other main card action, former Brave CF and UAE Warriors standout Mounir Lazzez looks to capitalize on a successful UFC debut when he faces veteran welterweight Warlley Alves, light heavyweights Ike Villanueva and Vinicius Moreira meet in a fight that likely won’t need judges, Roxanne Modafferi seeks to slow the rise of flyweight Viviane Araujo, flyweights Matt Schnell and Tyson Nam finally face off after seeing their fight rebooked twice, and Lerone Murphy goes for a third straight impressive UFC performance when he takes on Douglas Silva de Andrade.
What: UFC Fight Island 8
Where: Yas Island in Abu Dhabi
When: Wednesday, Jan. 20. The entire card will be simulcast on ESPN and ESPN+. The eight-fight preliminaries begin at 9 a.m. ET followed by the six-fight main card at 12 p.m. ET.
It always feels like it’s two steps forward and one step back for Neil Magny. And those steps never seem to add up to a shot at the best of the best at 170 pounds. I fear Wednesday could be another stumble as opposed to a showcase for Magny.
His extraordinary reach always gave him an advantage on the feet against most welterweights, especially a converted welterweight like Michael Chiesa, but it won’t be enough to stop Chiesa’s aggressive grappling. As much as Magny has matured and improved over the course of 23 previous UFC outings, he still hasn’t shown that he can handle an elite submission fighter and that’s exactly what Chiesa is.
Having five rounds to work would normally be a blessing for Magny as he’ll have plenty of time to overcome a slow start and he’s shown he gets stronger as a fight goes along. That match length won’t matter much to Chiesa though, who is also a cardio machine. If Magny wins a decision, it won’t be because he outlasts Chiesa. He’ll have to land damaging shots early to deter the advance of Chiesa, otherwise this one will end up on the ground.
If Chiesa gets his hooks in, Magny is in trouble, and while he’s worked hard on his ground game, it isn’t at the level of Chiesa’s. “Maverick” takes advantage of Magny’s weakness and gets the tap before round four.
Mounir Lazzez is not the opponent you want to be facing if you’re looking to regain your mojo.
It’s been over 400 days since Warlley Alves’ last fight and he’s saying all the right things about getting back to the path that previously had him as one of the most promising welterweight prospects to come out of Brazil. But he can’t afford a slow start or a feeling-out process against Lazzez. The Tunisian fighter is so aggressive and so technical that it won’t take him long to walk Alves down and start lighting him up with strikes.
Alves may try to meet force with force, which could be his best course of action. He’s not the most diverse striker, but he’s always had power in his hands. He’ll just be hardpressed to beat Lazzez to the punch (or the kick for that matter, given Lazzez’s proclivity for leg strikes) the longer the fight goes on.
Then again, Lazzez might end this one quickly if it stays on the feet. Alves has never been a takedown artist and Lezzez should have enough wrestling to keep this fight where he wants it to be.
Lazzez by first-round knockout.
Someone’s 0 is going to go here. But in a good way!
With respect to Ike Villanueva and Vinicius Moreira, this light heavyweight matchup is an odd one to have on the main card. I suppose there’s a good chance that this one ends in the first round, which is never a bad thing for fans especially when you consider that anyone watching this show from beginning to end will have sat through 11 fights to get to this point. A quick finish will be welcomed.
But these two even being in the UFC still is surprising given they’ve yet to score a win in the organization. Villanueva has been finished in both of his UFC appearances as has Moreira, and Moreira has yet to make it past the four-minute mark inside the octagon. Oof.
Just based on that, the logical pick here is Villanueva, but one should take into account that Moreira has also faced the stronger competition in Paul Craig, Eryk Anders, and Alonzo Menifield. There are plenty of light heavyweights who would have difficulty with that trio, even if we’re being critical of Moreira’s performances.
If you’re actually planning to bet on this card, this fight has “STAY AWAY” stamped on it. It’s just impossible to know which one of these men will actually step up to the plate and save their jobs. I’m playing it safe and saying Villanueva, but I don’t feel great about it.
I don’t like this matchup for Roxanne Modafferi at all.
As an admitted member of the “Happy Warrior” fan club (how can you not be?), it’s been a joy to see Modafferi experience a renaissance in the past few years of her MMA career. She’s not just a pioneer and a happy-to-be-here veteran, she’s a top-10 ranked UFC flyweight who has put in the work to be a more well-rounded fighter. She’s earned this main card spot.
All that said, against the equally well-rounded Viviane Araujo it’s difficult to see how she pulls this one out. Araujo’s muay Thai is sharper, she’s a better athlete, and I’d give her the jiu-jitsu edge as well. Though she’s had a late start in MMA, she’s made up for a lot of lost time with her increasingly impressive performances.
Like a lot of Modafferi’s recent fights, I expect this one to take place primarily on the feet, though there could be some fun scrambles on the mat. I’m leaning towards Araujo getting the better of the standing and grappling exchanges for the majority of the bout en route to winning a comfortable decision.
Matt Schnell is one of the flyweight division’s most unpredictable fighters; on the other side, Tyson Nam has seen it all.
Plan A (and probably Plan B) for Schnell has to be to get this one to the ground either with well-timed takedowns or by pulling guard and forcing Nam to enter his world. He’s a good striker and has certainly shown a willingness to stand and trade, but when it’s winning time, Schnell will want to put Nam in position to get choked out. The thing is that Nam has never been submitted. So while he is certainly vulnerable to being held down on the mat, I don’t see Schnell finding a finish there.
Schnell’s striking defense is also questionable, so even though he has a good chin, his willingness to take a shot to close the distance could spell his doom here. There aren’t a lot of flyweights that can withstand Nam’s firepower for long.
This is the third time this fight has been booked and Nam should be grateful because not only will it be a potential show-stealer, I’m also predicting it will be his third straight knockout victory.
One thing we know about Lerone Murphy is that he’s more patient than his 10 pro appearances would suggest. His split draw against Zubaira Tukhugov was essentially a win as he was the heavy underdog in his debut against a top-25 featherweight, and then he methodically outfought Ricardo Ramos before finishing with ground-and-pound in less than a round. Each time he brought a tactical approach to the octagon to complement his obvious talent.
Douglas Silva de Andrade’s strategy is no secret and could play right into Murphy’s hands. He’s going to take some licks as he advances, but he will close the distance and Murphy is going to feel the stout Brazilian’s power. Murphy has shown he can deal with a dedicated wrestler in Tukhugov and a tricky striker in Ramos, so now we have to see how he reacts when he has a bulldozer scheduled to roll over him.
This is one of the closer fights on the card in my eyes, though Murphy is coming in with a lot of confidence behind him. Andrade has only lost to Petr Yan, Rob Font, and Tukhugov, and while Murphy could certainly prove himself to be a contender this year, I don’t know if I’m quite ready to add him to that list yet even given the hot start to his UFC career.
Let’s go with the returning Andrade for the upset.