Kicking off UFC Fight Night 135 is an entertaining bantamweight bout between Brazilian grappler, Rani Yahya, and explosive wrestle-boxer, Luke Sanders. This seems to be one of the closest matches on paper, yet whoever wins is likely to look dominant.
Great Ground Skills, Suspect Cardio
Rani Yahya has always been an excellent jiu-jitsu practitioner, racking up a number of submission victories as well as dominant decisions via positional control. Now 33-years-of-age, the grappling ace looks to be rounding off the rest of his game at world renowned super-gym, American Top Team. Most recently, Yahya looked excellent in grounding and submitting Henry Briones and Russell Doane. However, neither of those opponents are competent wrestlers.
Before that, he had a good first round against Joe Soto, but found himself on the wrong end of a beatdown when his cardio faltered in rounds two and three. Soto is a proficient grappler himself and was able to take Yahya down and do damage from top position. Yahya is crafty when it comes to dragging his opponents to the mat, and doesn’t necessarily mind being on bottom position as he’s confident of getting a reversal – as he did against Russell Doane. It remains to be seen whether he’ll be able to ground Sanders, who will be one of the best wrestlers he’s faced in years.
While his striking has improved at his new gym, I think he’s definitely still outclassed on the feet against Luke Sanders, who owns a 9-0 amateur boxing record.
Can Sanders Finally Reach his Potential?
There was a lot of hype on Luke Sanders coming into the UFC, and he proved the fans right by annihilating Maximo Blanco in the very first round. Since then, Sanders has not performed to the best of his abilities. Despite beating the brakes off Iuri Alcantara for a round and a half, his lethal black belt opponent caught him in a kneebar and Sanders quickly tapped.
Against Andre Soukhamthath, Sanders had another great first round before being countered in the pocket and finished via ground strikes in round two. Even in his win against Pat Williams, an opponent that he really should have finished, there were some dicey moments. A natural athlete, Sanders won a state championship in wrestling and also collected national titles as a BMX rider. His boxing background complements his wrestling base nicely.
In this bout, “Cool Hand” has a clear path to victory: counter-wrestle and box Yahya up. Can he pull it off though? If he winds up on his back when his opponent is fresh, he’s in big trouble.
Sanders fights with an explosive style and given his huge weight cut, it’s not surprising he’s a bit of a front runner. Given Yahya’s own cardio problems, I’m not sure if the Brazilian can capitalize even if Sanders does slow down. Despite being submitted by Alcantara, Sanders looked competent in the grappling exchanges in that fight. I think he can sprawl and brawl his way to victory here.
Pick: Luke Sanders +100
Check out my other predictions for UFC Fight Night 135.