In a bantamweight showdown that deserves a spot on a pay-per-view, #14 Adrian Yanez and #13 Jonathan Martinez find themselves facing off in the Apex this Saturday at UFC Vegas 81. This is a battle between two highly technical strikers that are looking to prove they’re a legit contender at 135 lbs.
Adrian Yanez is coming off a round-one knockout loss to Rob Font at UFC 287 after going 5-0 to start his career in the UFC. The Houston product was looked at as one of the top talents on the rise at Bantamweight before his loss to Font and a win against Martinez would go a long way in getting another shot at the top 10.
Jonathan Martinez got the win his last time out in a unanimous decision against Said Nurmagomedov. It was a controversial win nonetheless as many saw Nurmagomedov as the winner but it was the fifth win in a row for the FactoryX prospect.
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This one has been a coin flip since the line opened. There’s been slight movement back and forth with Martinez currently settled as the slight favorite:
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Adrian Yanez, 29 years old, is 16-4 as a pro and is the #14 ranked bantamweight in the UFC. Yanez has found most of his success in MMA by relying on his boxing. His left jab is well-timed and he uses it to pull his opponent in and as they try to counter, he dips the head off the center line and fires back with a counter combination of his own. Yanez’s pressure and toughness also play a big role in his game plan as he’s willing to get caught with shots to land his own, rarely put on the backfoot.
The striking of Yanez is always a fun study. It all starts with the left hand from the orthodox boxer. Not only can he utilize the jab to find the range and lure in his opponents to try and counter, but he uses it beautifully as a feint to open up holes for combinations/entries that begin with the right hand. When fighting southpaws that take away the jab, he’s shown to be well-versed at timing the hand fighting of his opponents to land the left hook instead, getting over the arm that’s stifling the jab to still land.
The timing and pace of Yanez’s striking has been a key to a lot of his finishing sequences and most effective exchanges as well. He doesn’t always throw with blistering speed and explosiveness; he likes to come forward and throw with less intent, waiting for his opponent to react. When they try to counter or defend heavily, this is where he’ll turn up the tempo with his shots and fire off two or three powerful shots that often target the body and head. This is paired with his quick in and out footwork that he relies heavily on to get just out of range while keeping himself in position to reset his feet and begin his forward march once again.
One thing that can get Yanez in trouble on the feet is this backward movement when defending. His defense when his opponent blitzes forward is movement oriented and therefore when he isn’t able to completely evade with his head or feet and his opponent’s still in position to throw, he’s often there to be hit at the end of punches or kicks. He’s resilient and often takes this damage with little issue and continues to press the pace, but this wasn’t the case in his most recent bout against Rob Font where he was finished for the first time in his career.
When his opponents are able to keep him on the outside, kicks to the leg seem to be the most effective strikes you can land. He keeps his right hand high with the elbow tight to the rib cage which gives him a good defensive base to block incoming kicks to the body and head from his opponent’s left side, but he isn’t as proficient at checking/evading the low kicks. There are very few fighters in the Bantamweight division that can stand and box with Yanez so utilizing rangier techniques like kicks have been, and will need to continue to be a big part of the game plan of his opponents.
His opponent is the 18-4, Jonathan Martinez. Martinez, also 29, is another technical striker but unlike Yanez’s boxing-oriented style, he finds his success with a Muay Thai style of kicks, elbows and knees. He uses the left kick as his main weapon while reading his opponent’s intentions when they attempt to close the distance and counters accordingly.
Easily the best weapon for the southpaw Martinez is his left kick. There’s something different to the way those FactoryX fighters throw leg kicks and Martinez is amongst the best at it. His kicks are extremely quick with little tell but land with so much impact that you’d think he’s winding up with everything he has. Though he’s had the most success, his head and body kicks seem to land with similar power.
The footwork and timing of Martinez are the main reasons he’s found so much success in kicking range. He does a beautiful job of gauging distance to know when he’s exited the range of his opponent’s punches while still being in range to land kicks. He’s very aware of his distance at all times as well; even in chaotic flurries or clinches, he often fires the left kick to the body as his opponent works to get out of range and lands it perfectly.
Other aspects of Martinez’s striking that make him so dangerous are his reads and counters. While he isn’t the most impressive with his hands, he’s great at timing his opponent’s entries and reading their head movement to know what shots to throw when they do attack. A prime example comes against Cub Swanson; Martinez identified that Cub was dipping his head to the right as he blitzed in so he started countering with the upward elbow from his left side. As this becomes less effective and misses high, he quickly changes the strike he uses to time Cub’s entries to the left uppercut which chambers lower and meets Swanson’s chin as he comes in.
Though he’s looked great at finding the right one-shot counters for situations, he doesn’t fare as well when his opponent stays aggressive and continues to land in the pocket. Martinez’s hands are quick but they aren’t super tight when he’s forced into firefights and his chin is often left open. You see him get caught with some good strikes in these exchanges where his striking arsenal is limited. He does have a strong clinch which slows the striking pace down and allows him to reset the situation and even look for takedowns if he feels the need.
The grappling of Martinez has been used mainly defensively but has been sharp. Averaging just 0.46 successful takedowns per 15 minutes, he doesn’t try to take the fight to the ground often. Instead, he likes to work for control along the fence with underhooks and good head position under the chin of his opponent. Off his back, he excels at finding reversals and working back to his feet.
Pitting the Muay Thai style of Martinez against the aggressive boxing of Yanez is top-tier match-making by the UFC. Both excel in areas that pose a real threat to the style and skill set of one another. Martinez’s left kick from southpaw could really eat up the front leg of the forward-pressing Yanez, hindering the movement and base of the boxer. When Martinez is forced into the pocket, he has the strong clinch game that could temporarily neutralize the pressure of Yanez and great knees that could catch Yanez when he dips his head as he often does when entering and defending.
For Yanez, he pushes a pace that has shown to affect Martinez negatively. Against Said Nurmagomedov, he was bothered by the diversity and volume of strikes that Nurmagomedov threw at him and began to reach with his hands to try and defend, leaving him open for the follow up shots. Though Yanez may not have the striking arsenal of Said, he marches forward and uses tons of feints to draw out reactions and attacks the openings in the defense that Martinez may begin to present as he gets more uncomfortable. If Yanez is able to get inside of Martinez’s kicking range and force the fire fight, he has much cleaner boxing and plenty of finishing power.
The oddsmakers know how close this one is going to be with the line opening and, for the most part, staying at even. I think there’s a good path to victory for both guys, however, I think Yanez has a slightly better chance. With his pace and finishing power in the hands, he’s got a shot to finish the fight at any point over three rounds. While Martinez is powerful, he doesn’t pose the same one shot knockout power outside of the head kick (which Yanez defends very well) and knees.
If Martinez is going to find success with the kicks, I believe it’ll be to the leg. As long as Yanez doesn’t stop coming forward and lands his own punches, the judges have (for better or for worse) consistently favored damage to the head over damage to the leg, barring a near TKO from leg kicks. To me, this gives Yanez an upper hand, albeit slight, if the fight goes to the cards while being a threat to finish the fight at any point. I wouldn’t be surprised by either man pulling it off but with coin flip odds, I’m taking Yanez.
Prediction: Adrian Yanez to win (-108)
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