Will Dean picks out his best bets for UFC Vegas 43, with Rani Yahya a strong fancy to get the better of Kyung Ho Kang.
3pts Loma Lookboonmee to win at 5/4 (General)
3pts Rani Yahya to win at 10/11 (General)
Thailand’s LOMA LOOKBOONMEE is one of the most unique UFC fighters to watch, due to her background in pure Muay Thai. Very few competitors in ‘the art of eight limbs’ make the transition over to MMA, citing a lack of grappling experience as the primary concern. Lookboonmee has thrived so far despite this, managing a 3-1 record in the UFC and improving with each performance.
Given her success as a striker, every fight of Lookboonmee’s becomes a fascinating stylistic clash, with opponents desperately trying to wrestle her to the ground. Saturday night’s opponent, Lupita Godinez, is primarily a grappler in her own right and will look to implement the same path to victory as those before her.
The Mexican fighter has become popular amongst hardcore fans of the sport in recent months due to her willingness to compete. In October, she matched the record for the quickest two-fight turnaround in UFC history, competing in back-to-back weekends. Loopy is on the verge of breaking another record on Saturday, as she steps in on just 10 days notice to face Lookboonmee.
Godinez’s stock is certainly rising with these short notice bouts, but the lack of preparation, game planning and conditioning could be her demise when the fight is over. In her last bout, the Mexican fighter grew tired after a strong first round and struggled to get the fight to the floor, ultimately losing a 29-28 decision. She may have three extra days to prepare for Lookboonmee, but the same pitfalls are likely to be present.
Stylistically, this may seem like the Thai fighter's toughest test to date, but the manner in which Godinez initiates her takedowns will give Lookboonmee every opportunity she needs to thrive inside the cage. Loopy favours trip takedowns and hip throws from the clinch position, where Muay Thai strikers are renowned for throwing elbows and knees. Lookboonmee has thrived at this range in the UFC so far, clearly outstriking her opponents with knees and controlling their posture with the plum clinch.
Strikes to the body are notoriously effective at draining a fighter’s cardio, so the late-replacement Godinez is likely to slow down in this bout. If not the barrage of knees from her opponent, then the gruelling demand of trying and failing to force the fight to the floor will be her undoing. The Mexican fighter is certainly popular with UFC owners and fans for her recent antics, but she should not be the favourite over a conditioned and improving Lookboonmee. At 5/4, backing the Muay Thai specialist is the way to go.
On the main card, RANI YAHYA and Kyung Ho Kang will compete in a contest of high-level grapplers at 135lbs. With 21 and 11 respective submission wins on their records, both have survived in the UFC without significant striking abilities, instead utilising takedowns and ending fights via tap out on the floor.
It seems that once a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu grappler reaches the highest levels of the sport, the idea of catching them in a submission seems unfathomable. Yahya has been at the very top of the grappling game for almost 20 years, competing and medalling in ADCC competitions in the mid-2000s. He may be reaching the tailend of his career at 37 years of age, but the Brazilian has always remained durable and tricky to deal with on the ground.
The problem for Kang therefore lies in his inability to diversify his approach inside the cage. Throughout nine UFC appearances, Mr Perfect has utilised the exact same gamelan in each fight: taking his opponent down and controlling the top position. Given that such a strategy will transport Yahya to where he is most comfortable, many previous opponents of the Brazilian have been wise enough to keep the fight standing. With Kang unlikely to do this, he may find himself in danger of various submissions or reversals from the BJJ ace.
Yahya showed in his 2020 draw against Enrique Barzola that he can make life difficult underneath a talented wrestler, but the same cannot be said in reverse. Should the Brazilian find a way on top, then he will be firmly in the driver’s seat for the remainder of the round.
Neither man has ever been a prolific striker or knockout artist, so a 15 minute grappling affair seems most likely in this fight. Given his credentials as a dedicated BJJ specialist, I favour Yahya as the more dangerous submission threat and the overall minute winner. At 10/11 he could look like a steal at this price.
Odds correct at 1200 GMT (17/11/21)
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