This weekend’s historic UFC 275 in Singapore is stacked with two title fights and a rematch of one of the greatest fights in mixed martial arts history, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The main event of the UFC’s first-ever pay-per-view event in Southeast Asia will see evergreen Glover Teixeira make the first defence of his light heavyweight title against enigmatic finisher Jiri Prochazka.
Flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko will look to make history of her own in the co-headliner as a win over Taila Santos will see “Bullet” become the promotion’s most dominant female champion ever.
In a third blockbuster bout, former strawweight champions Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk face off in the much-anticipated sequel of their legendary war in 2020.
Plus, ranked flyweights Rogerio Bontorin and Angolan ace Manel Kape collide and Jack Della Maddalena meets Ramazan Emeev in a cracking welterweight clash.
MAIN CARD (from 4 AM Sunday SA time):
Glover Teixeira (2.70) v Jiri Prochazka (1.46) (Light Heavyweight Championship)
At 42, Teixeira (33-7) shocked the world when he submitted Jan Blachowicz last October to become the oldest first-time champion in UFC history. The ageless wonder’s been on a legendary roll, his crowning achievement at UFC 267 marking his sixth straight win, five of them finishes, including the last three.
Despite his resurgence, “The Brazilian Pit Bull” can’t shake the underdog tag with this being the fourth consecutive time he enters as the dog. This is mainly because of his age but also due to the hype surrounding his savage challenger. That hype is well-earned.
A feared finisher and former Rizin and GFC champion, Prochazka (28-3-1) has proved he’s the real deal twice over in the UFC, starching ex-title challenger Volkan Oezdemir in frightening fashion in his promotional debut and topping it last May with an all-time great spinning elbow knockout of Dominick Reyes, who’d taken consensus GOAT and then-champion Jon Jones to the limit in 2020.
The ultra-explosive and unpredictable striker is on a 12-fight tear and has won the last 10 by knockout. Big, super athletic and animalistic, he has the appearance and aura of a medieval warrior and fights with a kill-or-be-killed mindset that’s only seen him go the distance once in 32 fights.
With all but two of his 28 finishes being knockouts, “Denisa” is a multi-layered buzzsaw…like something out of a Saw movie. He throws hands, kicks, elbows and knees and does so dynamically and creatively. Aiding the 29-year-old’s quest to become the first fighter from the Czech Republic to win a UFC title is the fact that he’ll have a four-inch reach advantage.
As potent as Prochazka is, the one question that remains is how he’ll fare against a grappling ace, and that’s what Teixeira is at his core. The champion’s a complete fighter and a lethal finisher in his own right with 18 knockouts and 10 submission victories, but it’s the wrestling and jiu-jitsu prowess that saw him seize the title that makes him a good value underdog to retain it.
The challenger’s only path to victory is by knockout, whereas the champion has the crisp boxing and power to win by TKO, the conditioning, resiliency, experience and fight IQ to score a decision and a significant advantage on the ground as a second-degree Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.
Teixeira has the technique, savviness and composure to weather the early storm, get the fight to the ground and sink in a submission to overcome the odds yet again.
Valentina Shevchenko (1.12) v Taila Santos (6.00) (Flyweight championship)
Shevchenko (22-3) has stood head and shoulders above the rest at flyweight since entering the division in 2018. Undefeated at 125 pounds, the Russian superstar’s never been put in peril, which in a sport where a single strike can win a fight, is next-level dominance.
A black belt in kickboxing and judo, “Bullet” is a feared assassin on the feet (eight knockouts) and a dominant grappler (seven submissions) to boot. Four of her six title defences came via finish, including the most recent back-to-back TKO wins over Jessica Andrade and Lauren Murphy, which puts her on the doorstep of history. Triumph this weekend and she’ll surpass Hall of Famer Ronda Rousey for most title defences by a female champion in UFC history.
Santos has an excellent record of 19-1 but she hasn’t fought the elite of the elite. The Brazilian has heavy hands and is aggressive by nature, which has seen her claim a dozen first-round finishes, but it’s worth mentioning she went the distance in three of her last four wins.
This is her first fight slated for five rounds, so it remains to be seen if she has the stamina to go 25 minutes. That’s a question that’ll remain unanswered for the time being, though, as I can’t see Santos surviving the full five rounds given Shevchenko’s sharpness and unrivalled arsenal.
Zhang Weili (1.55) v Joanna Jedrzejczyk (2.45) (Strawweight)
Over two years after the legendary war that’ll forever link them, the two decorated strawweight savages square off for a second time. Pushing the anticipation to an absolute fever pitch, UFC president Dana White on Tuesday raised the stakes by announcing the winner will go on to challenge champion Carla Esparza.
The pair’s 2020 title fight was one for the ages, a five-round slugfest widely considered the greatest fight in women’s mixed martial arts history in which Zhang (21-3) dethroned Jedrzejczyk (16-4) by split decision.
Jedrzejczyk, who suffered one of the biggest and nastiest hematomas you’ll ever see in the iconic battle, hasn’t fought since, while Zhang lost her title and subsequent rematch to Rose Namajunas. Many experts, though, feel Zhang won the rematch against “Thug” and was unlucky to end up on the wrong side of a split decision.
A stocky power puncher with 17 finishes (10 KOs), she displayed a new wrinkle in her game in that November bout by pinning Namajunas to the mat in the championship rounds and I see her incorporating that wrestling into this high-profile rematch as well.
Whereas Zhang is a bazooka, Jedrzejczyk is a machine gun of a striker who either melts opponents (four knockouts) or outpoints them (11 decision wins). That Zhang was able to cope with the Polish boogeywoman’s pace for five rounds leaves her well-poised in this three-round sequel.
Add the evolution of Zhang’s wrestling in the time Jedrzejczyk’s been away and I see “Magnum” getting it done by decision.
Rogerio Bontorin (2.85) v Manel Kape (1.42) (Flyweight)
Kape’s as lethal as they come at 125 pounds. All but one of his 17 wins are stoppages – 11 knockouts and five submissions – which emphasise what a complete fighter “Starboy” is. Back-to-back first-round knockout wins have seen him move up to 14th and this is his shot to break into the top 10.
Bontorin occupies eighth place but is on a four-fight losing streak. With 11 submissions to his credit, the grappling specialist will look to ground Kape at all costs.
The Angolan berserker is used to opponents trying to neutralise his dynamic striking, though, and has the skill and experience to get back up should he be taken down.
On the feet, the former Rizin champion has a huge advantage, which should translate into another knockout.
Jack Della Maddalena (1.58) v Ramazan Emeev (2.35) (Welterweight)
A destroyer from Down Under, Della Maddalena (11-2) took just three minutes to pummel Pete Rodriguez and announce his arrival in the UFC in January. It was the Australian prospect’s 11th win on the bounce, nine of which are by knockout.
A decade older than Della Maddalena, Emeev (20-5) is a wily veteran who’s 5-2 in the UFC. The Russian relies on his sambo and jiu-jitsu and has a 50% decision ratio. His rather cautionary approach contributed to his split decision defeat to Danny Roberts last time out but don’t expect a noticeable newfound sense of urgency from him.
If anything, the 35-year-old will probably shell up even more considering how dangerous his opponent is. Either way, Della Maddalena is too dynamic and fast and will get the better of “Gorets.” The veteran has a granite chin, so he’ll probably deny his favoured foe a finish.
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