Joshua Van in the UFC

This Saturday at UFC Vegas 84 (UFC Fight Night 234), Joshua Van steps in on short notice to take on the debuting Felipe Bunes in the first flyweight bout of 2024. 

Van’s been a hot name since his impressive debut in 2023, and he’s hoping to continue his climb up the rankings at 125 lbs this year. First, he’ll have to get through the BJJ black belt and 19-fight veteran Felipe Bunes.

Bunes vs. Van Odds

The oddsmakers don’t seem to care about the short layoff for Van, as the line has risen north of -200 in his favor:

  • Felipe Bunes: +195
  • Joshua Van: -238

Bunes vs. Van Fight Breakdown

Felipe Bunes will make his long-awaited debut in the UFC this weekend. The 34-year-old is 13-6, with his last fight being a win for the LFA Flyweight Champion back in January of 2023. The Pitbull Brothers product holds a second-degree black belt in BJJ and eight wins by submissions in his MMA career.

Bunes is a long flyweight at 5’7 with a 71” reach. He uses quick footwork and long jabs and crosses to utilize this range and has great timing on the check left hook when his opponent blitzes. He doesn’t thrive in wars on the feet, but he’s calm and works his way back to space or looks for the takedown.

There are holes to be found in Felipe’s defense when he starts to throw on the feet. He can drop his hands when he extends his combos past one or two punches and he stands very straight with his chin in the air. While he’ll move his head off the center-line from time to time, it’s inconsistent and rarely at a time when his opponent throws.

The offensive grappling is one of the highlights of Felipe’s game. He has great timing to catch kicks or time his entries on spinning techniques to get the takedown and secure top control. For the most part, he has great top pressure but has been swept a few times in the LFA when he gets too aggressive looking to pass or attack submissions.

His opponent, Joshua Van, has quickly become a name to keep an eye on at flyweight since joining the UFC last fall. Van is coming into this one on short notice following a three-round war in November, filling in for Denys Bondar against Kevin Borjas. The 22-year-old prospect has already earned two quality wins when you include his debut against Zhalgas Zhumagulov.

Van does his best work on the feet with his boxing. He has an insane pace that he keeps over all three rounds and pairs that pace with heavy work to the body of his opponent to gas them out and drown them in the deep waters. Van does a great job of creating angles with his footwork; it puts him in good positions to land where his opponent leaves openings but has been useful in escaping off the cage too.

He has crisp, calculated combos that are designed to open and attack defensive holes to the head, body and leg. He doesn’t throw kicks super often but he’s effective at attacking the lead calf and will bring the kick to the body and head after he lands a few low ones.

His wrestling has continuously improved as well and adds another wrinkle to his game that compliments his endurance. As his training continues at the UFC level, I have no doubt he’ll become a truly well-rounded fighter with the addition of quality takedown entries and finishes.

One area that I’d like to see some improvement for Van is his head movement. He isn’t the biggest flyweight and his lack of movement off the center-line makes him an easy target at range as Borjas showed in their recent matchup. His chin, motor and constant pressure has been enough to outlast his opponents thus far, but the top guys at the top of the division will have a good gas tank and power.

Bunes hasn’t fought in a year after being suspended for a failed drug test while Van has fought and won twice in the UFC during that time. Bunes cannot come into this fight with ring rust; if he starts slow and gives Van the opportunity to control the fight from the start, it’s going to be a long night for the Brazilian. He’ll need to use his timing to land straight shots while Van tries to enter into range and fire off the left hook when Van gets too aggressive and drops his guard on the entry. 

A key to this matchup will be the ability of Van to stuff the takedowns of Bunes. Felipe has shown to have great timing on his takedown entries and while Van has improved in the wrestling department, he’s not a finished product. Bunes is very sharp on the ground and if he does get Van down, he’ll be a threat to submit Josh as he works to get back to his feet.

For Van, he’ll need to be better defensively to avoid the upset. He needs more head movement and to be ready to stuff the takedown attempt at any time. He keeps a high guard on the feet, but he tends to drop the right hand as soon as he starts to throw and that could leave him open for the check left hook to land cleanly as he walks into range.

He needs to avoid that counter early and get the fight in close along the cage where he can attack with his combinations and negate the range of Bunes. The earlier he can do this the better to avoid dropping a third consecutive first round in the UFC.

Bunes vs. Van Prediction

Van is over a two-to-one favorite in this fight but I believe Bunes brings a lot to this matchup that could threaten Van. Van is the sharper fighter offensively but I’m not sure that the defensive holes we saw against Borjas will be cleaned up in such a short amount of time.

Bunes is long and uses that range well to snipe his opponents with straight shots. Als being such a high level grappler, if he can manage to get Van down to the ground, he likely holds the advantage there.

That said, it’s been a year for Bunes since he’s stepped into the cage and the relentless pressure of Van isn’t going to be a great way to ease his way back in. Van has made steady improvements over his short time in the UFC and his output will be a big test for the gas tank of Bunes.

While I like Bunes at such high odds, Van’s an elite prospect who has continued to impress against high level competition and continues to improve each time we see him. I’ll take Van to win at the moneyline but could easily see him getting the knockout in the later half of round two or round three.

Prediction: Josh Van to win

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