The main event of UFC Fight Night 80 is an exciting women’s strawweight matchup between #3 ranked Rose Namajunas and #7 ranked Paige VanZant. Namajunas is replacing Joanne Calderwood, who had to withdraw from the fight due to injury. The winner of this matchup will only be a fight or two away from a title shot. Rose Namajunas (4-2 MMA, 1-1 UFC, +158 underdog) The 23 year old Namajunas was the most hyped fighter from season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter. She submitted Alex Chambers, Joanne Calderwood, and Randa Markos on the show to make it to finals, which would crown the first UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion. Namajunas was actually compared to Ronda Rousey by some pundits, which was quite a stretch. Unfortunately for Namajunas, she lost to Carla Esparza in the finals. Esparza’s pressure and wrestling gave her serious problems and she ended up getting submitted via-rear-naked choke in the third stanza. The Colorado native fought for Invicta Fighting Championships before joining the UFC. Namajunas trains at the Grudge Training Center in Colorado under head coach Trevor Wittman. She has a strong Taekwondo background, which is evident in her fights. From range, she utilizes a variety of kicks, including wheel kicks, axe kicks, roundhouse kicks and jumping switch kicks. In the pocket, she throws wild punches that are not very accurate and lack power. Her kicks are definitely her best weapons on the feet. The best aspect of Namajunas’ game, however, is her submission game. She is adept at securing trip takedowns and working from top position. From there she is a decent passer and is excellant at taking her opponent’s back and locking in a rear-naked choke. Namajunas also has a nasty Kimura and armbar. Further, she will not hesitate to go for flying armbars, as she actually has one victory via flying armbar on her record. Paige VanZant (6-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC, -180 favorite) VanZant burst onto the UFC scene in November of 2014 with a dominant win over Kailin Curran. The victory thrust her into the spotlight, which she has embraced. She followed that up with dominant wins over Felice Herrig and Alex Chambers. VanZant is a member of Team Alpha Male, which is home to fellow UFC fighters Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes, Joseph Benavidez, and Cody Garbrandt. The 21-year old’s whole game is based on constant pressure. She fights like she is fighting for her life, as she pushes an extremely high pace against her opponents. VanZant likes to pin her opponent against the fence and use dirty boxing and knees to bust up and wear them down. She also occasionally hits trips and throws from the clinch. From top position she is quite aggressive with her ground and pound and will not hesitate in going for a submission. VanZant’s striking is the area where she needs the most work. Her game from distance is practically nonexistent. She wings sloppy and telegraphed hooks and overhands that are easy to slip and lack power. She will gain more power in time as her body continues to develop as she ages, but it’s not there yet. Fighters that have better technique and can avoid VanZant’s pressure against the cage will give her problems. Thoughts This is a tough fight to call. Namajunas is the more technical fighter, especially from range and on the ground, but VanZant’s pressure-based game often breaks her opponents. Namajunas had trouble with Esparza’s pressure in their contest and she ultimately broke in the third round. These are two inexperienced fighters, so I would not be surprised to see either fighter get their hand raised. Namajunas has defeated better competition, but those were technically exhibition fights because they took place on The Ultimate Fighter. VanZant, on the other hand, has not faced very good competition yet, though she has been dominant in her fights. Ultimately, I have to pick the more skilled fighter, Namajunas. I think she will keep the fight at range and utilize her kicks before taking VanZant down and finding a submission in the second or third round. The Prediction: Rose Namajunas defeats Paige VanZant by submission (rear-naked choke, round 2)
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