One championship reign is at serious risk of ending before its begun. The other is close to breaking UFC records.
Glover Teixeira barely had time to celebrate his inspiring light heavyweight championship win over Jan Blachowicz this past October with everyone and their mothers immediately calling for former RIZIN champion Jiri Prochazka to be Teixeira’s first challenger. Prochazka has won 12 straight fights, 10 of those by knockout, and he’s the favorite heading into Saturday’s UFC 275 main event against the considerably older champion.
On paper, this is a classic grappler vs. striker matchup and few are giving either fighter a chance should they be forced to contend in the other man’s realm. But Teixeira was once regarded as a knockout artist himself and Prochazka has dedicated months of training to shoring up his wrestling and jiu-jitsu, so could this one come down to who is more well-rounded? Or will one fighter’s specialty dictate the outcome?
In the co-main event, Valentina Shevchenko — the No. 1 fighter in MMA Fighting’s Pound-for-Pound Rankings — goes for title defense No. 7 when she faces Taila Santos. Though Santos is more than worthy of a championship opportunity having knocked off four straight opponents including veterans Joanne Wood and Roxanne Modafferi, her unassuming persona doesn’t exactly have fans flocking to pick her to be the one to dethrone Shevchenko.
For Shevchenko, another successful title defense puts her in rare company. Only Jose Aldo (7), Jon Jones (8), Georges St-Pierre (9), Anderson Silva (10), and Demetrious Johnson (11) have strung together seven or more consecutive wins as UFC champion (Amanda Nunes also had seven straight title defenses but across two divisions, five at bantamweight and two at featherweight). The scary thing about Shevchenko is that there’s no end in sight should she run through Santos.
Also on the main card, former strawweight champions Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk face off in a rematch of their classic UFC 248 battle, Andre Fialho makes his fourth appearance of 2022 when he meets Jake Matthews in a welterweight bout, and red hot welterweight prospect Jack Della Maddalena takes on the always gritty Ramazan Emeev.
What: UFC 275
Where: Singapore Indoor Stadium in Kallang, Singapore
When: Saturday, June 11. The two-fight early prelims begin on ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET, followed by the four-fight prelims on ESPN2 and ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET. The five-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view.
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting Global Rankings)
Glover Teixeira (1) vs. Jiri Prochazka (3)
As mentioned above, the assumed plot for Glover Teixeira’s first title defense is simple: Get takedown, win. No takedown, lose.
That’s largely unfair to the champ, who has proven himself to be one of the most well-rounded and durable fighters in the UFC in his decade-long run with the promotion, but there’s no reason he should stray from his greatest advantage against a striker as explosive as Jiri Prochazka. Breaking Prochazka with his wrestling and jiu jitsu should be Plan A, B, C, and whatever other letters of the alphabet you want to use here.
The same goes for Prochazka, though on the other side of the equation. Should Teixeira get within grabbing range, the challenger should do everything in his power to create separation and reset in striking distance. He has a huge speed and athleticism edge in the standup, so Teixiera will have to counter with fundamental boxing technique and guile to avoid a KO blow.
How strongly you feel about the champion retaining likely depends on whether you think he can withstand an opening onslaught from Prochazka. Teixeira can take a lot of punishment and has really only been completely overwhelmed once, by Anthony Johnson back in 2016. Then again, if anyone can replicate Johnson’s thunder-strike performance, it’s Prochazka, the owner of 25 career knockouts.
I’ve been on the Teixeira bandwagon for a while, first pushing for him to get a second title shot and then pushing back against those calling him a transitional champion, so I’m not changing course now. Plus, anytime one fighter’s grappling defense is a question mark, I’m always going to favor the power of jiu-jitsu.
Teixeira by submission in Round 2.
Valentina Shevchenko (1) vs. Taila Santos (8)
I’m not crazy thinking Taila Santos has a chance here, right?
Full disclosure, I have a tendency to talk up Valentina Shevchenko’s challengers for one reason or another, most likely because I’m just doing what I can to make the matchup more interesting for myself. That could be what’s happening here. I did this for Jessica Andrade (I wasn’t the only one) and Lauren Murphy (I was one of the only ones) and I’m doing it again for Santos.
Regardless of how high you rate Santos’ chances, she’s definitely more than just a mandatory challenger. She’s shown few holes in her game and has beaten a lot of her UFC opponents strength-for-strength. We knew her muay Thai skills were legit before she made her first walk to the octagon, but she also has a strong, if somewhat workmanlike top game. Her sizable underdog status says more about the aura of invincibility surrounding the champion than any shortcomings on Santos’ part.
And what a champion Shevchenko is. As a proponent of the strength of the flyweight division, I’ve been dazzled by Shevchenko’s dominance. These are quality fighters that she is just trucking. I’m in agreement with what UFC President Dana White said earlier this week: If Shevchenko runs through Santos like she has everyone else, I’ll be impressed and she should be allowed to fight for whatever title she wants.
That said, Santos is going to give her a fight, possibly the toughest test she’s faced since winning the title. However, when the scorecards are read, it will be lucky No. 7 for the pound-for-pound queen.
Zhang Weili (3) vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
Being able to take two years off from competition after one of the most violent fights ever? I’m about it.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s 800-plus-day sabbatical is the main reason I’m expecting this rematch to go differently. Her first fight with Zhang Weili took an incalculable physical and mental toll on both women and while Zhang looked better in her second fight with Rose Namajunas, I have to wonder if she’s ever allowed herself time to truly recover. We know for a fact that Jedrzejczyk has been loving life on mend, reaping the rewards of her championship run before returning to action on her terms. I understand it’s not good for the fans to have marquee names out of action for years of their prime, but it can only be beneficial to the fighters in question.
So stylistically, this shouldn’t be too different. It’s going to be a standup battle, it’s going to have us on the edge of our seats, and there’s probably going to be some judging controversy after the eye-popping striking numbers are tallied. Give me the fresher fighter though, the once—and possibly again—dominant champion that appears to be as rejuvenated in mind, body, and spirit as one can be in this unforgiving game.
Give me Jedrzejczyk by decision.
Andre Fialho vs. Jake Matthews
We talk a lot about grappler vs. striker matchups, but one angle we don’t look into enough is the fighter vs. mixed martial artist.
Obviously, everyone who steps into the cage is by the strictest definition of the word, “a fighter,” but there’s a difference between a fighter who is a professionally trained martial arts athlete and a fighter who competes like they are genuinely invested in causing as much physical harm as possible, win or lose.
Jake Matthews is the former, Andre Fialho the latter. At least that’s how I see it. Matthews has always checked off all the boxes for what a mixed martial artist should be: Good at striking and grappling, a plus athlete, and someone you can trust to book at least a couple of times a year; Fialho, on the other hand, is just a damn dog and someone I believe would fight every weekend were he medically cleared to do so.
All of this is to say that I don’t know if Fialho is a better martial artist than Matthews, but he has that dog in him and that’s what I’ve always wanted Matthews to show more of. When the fight breaks down into an all-out scrap, will Matthews default to his training or can he find that extra gear to push through Fialho’s power punching and answer with primal force?
I swear, this will make sense by the end of this fight.
Fialho by knockout.
Jack Della Maddalena vs. Ramazan Emeev
Jack Della Maddalena is one to watch at 170 pounds and he’s being thrown right into the deep end here.
The Australian prospect has an opponent in Ramazan Emeev who will challenge his takedown and grappling defense, keep him honest in the feet, and perhaps most importantly, push him for three hard rounds. Della Maddalena has only once fought past the second round and it’s the bouts that go the distance that will give us a better gauge of where he stands in the loaded welterweight division.
Della Maddalena’s boxing is the first thing that jumps out at you when you watch the tape. He’s fundamentally sound, patient, and has great instincts for when to turn up the pace and go for the finish. That last factor will be key against Emeev, who brings a grinding grappling style and a heavy right hand to this contest.
It’s tempting to view this as too stiff a test for the 25-year-old Della Maddalena at this stage of his career, but I think he presents some of the same problems to Emeev as the Russian’s past two opponents, Danny Roberts and David Zawada. When Emeev is the aggressor, he’s great; when he has to fight off the back foot, not so much.
I expect Della Maddalena’s damage to sway the judges here, even if he finds himself working to get his back off the cage for stretches of this fight. In the end, he’ll get a rare decision win and a ton of valuable experience.
Pick: Della Maddalena