As the last embers of 2016 fade, it’s off to the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California this weekend for the UFC’s latest show on FOX. All of the action goes down on Saturday night and it looks to be a pretty good card, on paper at least.
In the headlining position of the night’s action it’s a pair of strawweight contenders the UFC has lined up as Paige Van Zant takes on Michelle Waterson over a scheduled five rounds.
As a member of the famed Team Alpha Male training base, Reno, Nevada native Van Zant will be fighting in her adopted home town for the first time on Saturday night.
Still only 22 years-old, Van Zant is now four years into her MMA career. Having entered the UFC with the only smudge on her 4-fight record being a loss to Tecia Torres in Invicta, Van Zant has impressed many people inside and out of the cage since then.
Reebok deals, dancing with the stars and movie offers have vaulted Van Zant into many sitting rooms, but so has her fighting. Wins over Kailin Curran, Felice Herrig and Alex Chambers had Van Zant around the title discussion but a loss to Rose Namajunas, in which Van Zant showed tremendous will and heart, put that on the backburner for a while. Her only fight so far in 2016 ended in victory against Bec Rawlings in August with a flying scissors kick knockout.
To add to that, it’s 30 year-old Colorado native Michelle Waterson who she’ll have to get through.
A long-time member of the Jackson Winkeljohn academy team in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Waterson could be classed as somewhat of a veteran in the lower female weight classes.
After debuting in 2007, she took fights where she could find them with known entities like Strikeforce and King Of The Cage mixed in with the likes of Duke City MMA and Apache Gold: Extreme Beatdown.
It wasn’t really until the induction of Invicta that Waterson attained the platform her skills deserved. Then fighting at Atomweight, Waterson took the Invicta title against Jessica Penne in just her second fight for the promotion. That title was successfully defended against Yasuko Tamada but was lost in a big upset to Herica Tiburcio in a bout which turned out to be Waterson’s last fight before signing with the UFC. Due to injuries she has only fought once in the two years since that and will be looking to add to her July, 2015 win over Angela Magana on Saturday night.
Looking towards this as a styles match-up, it could very interesting.
As her “Karate Hottie” nickname suggests, Waterson likes to fight with at least one foot on the floor. In her stand-up she is extremely elusive and puts quick, intelligent movement together well with a slick countering game.
Although her hands are a good weapon, it’s really the kicks of Waterson which set her apart. Her side kick to the legs and chest are very hard to get past while her whipped kicks from floor to head are also huge for someone who is slightly undersized at the weight. With eight submission wins her ground game is also dangerous but a much improved takedown defence might lessen the opportunity to add to that.
And if we look at Van Zant, we basically have the polar opposite. Waterson is a great striker with improving wrestling, Paige is a good grappler with improving striking.
But to leave it at just good grappler is a bit misleading. Yes, Van Zant had her problems in the past on the ground but the hard-headed, gangbusters game she has acquired since has made her into a tough task for anyone.
A developing game of pressure, clinching, takedowns and relentless heart has been pretty successful for PVZ but it hasn’t stopped there. In her last fight, Van Zant was more intelligent, more plucky and used her striking to land the big finish rather than showing up with what might have been expected. That alone makes this one hard to pick.
Based on skills, this one is extremely even. Waterson has the cleaner, crisper technique but Paige is the more aggressive, dogged worker. So when an impasse like this is reached it’s usually intelligent to look for an X-factor. For me, that could be size.
Waterson has improved in all areas and will likely have success on the feet but, given her size disadvantage, it’s hard to see Van Zant not getting big takedowns regularly and thus fighting the fight where she wants it. In MMA, the person who does that usually wins.
Also on this card you have great fights like Mike Perry vs. Alan Jouban, Leslie Smith vs. Irene Aldana and Bryan Barberena vs. Colby Covington but two others stick out like a sore thumb.
Firstly, the meeting of Sage Northcutt and Mickey Gall is extremely intriguing. Having both come off of the internet show where Dana White seeks new fighters, there’s still plenty to prove for both men.
Northcutt has impressed in spurts but also lost to the aforementioned Bryan Barberena while all Gall has to show for his two Octagon walks is a cool song and wins over a pro wrestler and a journalist.
Having said that, it’s plain to see that Gall does have some talent – especially on the ground. Against Northcutt, who has shown vulnerabilities in that area himself, this could be a chance to prove that he’s more than just a flash in the pan. But if he struggles to get it to the floor, you can’t underestimate the power and athleticism of Super Sage. This is one I certainly wouldn’t be betting on.
While the other big bout on that card sees MMA legend Urijah Faber fight for the very last time as he takes on English hitter Brad Pickett at 135 lbs.
Having held the WEC featherweight strap for two years and fought for the UFC title on four occasions, Faber’s legacy as a pioneer at the lighter weights is already sealed but nevertheless, he’ll want to go out with a win in front of his hometown support.
With him fighting Brad Pickett you’d have to expect a quick, enjoyable affair with both men throwing big bombs. If he chooses to use it, Faber should have a wrestling and grappling advantage, and if you couple that with the size disparity this should be a good fight to see Faber out with a win.
Paige VanZant vs. Michelle Waterson – Size and grappling get Van Zant
Sage Northcutt vs. Mickey Gall – Anyone’s guess. I’ll take the more proven Sage
Urijah Faber vs. Brad Pickett – Can’t see Faber
not winning this
Alan Jouban vs. Mike Perry – Perry
is the coming man.
Luis Henrique da Silva vs. Paul Craig – BearJew
Cole Miller vs. Mizuto Hirota – Hirota
Bryan Barberena vs. Colby Covington – Covington
James Moontasri vs. Alex Morono – Moontsri
Josh Emmett vs. Scott Holtzman – Holtzman
Leslie Smith vs. Irene Aldana – Aldana
Eddie Wineland vs. Takeya Mizugaki – Wineland
Hector Sandoval vs. Fredy Serrano – Serrano
Bojan Veličković vs. Sultan Aliev – Bojan
BET OF THE WEEK
Van Zant via KO or Submission at 11/5
Early Prelims – 8.30pm on Fight Pass
Prelims – 10pm on BT Sport and Fight Pass
Main Card – 1am on BT Sport
Make sure to check out this week’s SevereMMA Podcast.