Both Brandon Royval and Matheus Nicolau are coming off impressive wins over #8-ranked Matt Schnell. This caps off a current win streak of 6 for Nicolau and back-to-back victories for Royval whose losses beforehand are to the next title challenger and current champion. A win this weekend could put either man in strong standing in a near-future title shot.
On top of this, it will be almost an entire year since Royval last saw competition, having been sidelined by injury in 2022. A win for him would not only be a step in the right direction divisionally but also a personal victory having overcome the layoff.
With his time away, Royval will come in as the underdog. Those willing to put down $100 on the American look to earn back a profit of $156 if he wins.
- Brandon Royval: +156
- Matheus Nicolau: -200
Nicolau was originally known for his black belt-level jiu-jitsu. He is technical and smothering on top with a sharp fundamentals-driven game. Many of his takedowns will land him inside the closed guard of his opponent, at which point he likes to bare down a lot of weight on the neck with the “can-opener” a move in which he grabs the back of the neck and stacks them, opening the legs. His hip pressure and height keep the guard open as he works to ground and pound and pass, but he does not rush anything. On the bottom, he likes deep half-guard because he can transition onto a leg and create a scramble to submit or sweep, and regardless of whether he can get them, his constant work makes him difficult to control and get any real damage off.
Although this is still his bread and butter, he has of late become known for his striking and knockout power. He is a patient fighter given the space but can up the work rate if he has to. In general, look for him to circle the cage and counter, but when he presses, his gazelle hook on the left side is his best weapon. He throws it in a similar fashion to former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker, where he double steps, first low into a coked stance and then through with the left reaching. He will look to land the same left hook as he circles people onto it as more of a check hook as well and then mix in the right overhand into a body lock takedown when his opponent bites on the left.
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Where Nicolau uses patience and textbook fundamentals, Royval is a scrappy wild card. In some sense, he can be seen as a technical brawler, where he incites chaotic exchanges, but lands snappy, wide hooks from angles unseen and unexpected by his opponents. Likewise, on the ground, he is in constant motion, rolling for legs, snapping onto front chokes, and scrambling to the back, and he is so confident in his ability to do so that standing up his kicking game is thrown freely. Royval in terms of striking should have an advantage in range with his longer-range boxing, and his ability to mix it with his kicks, he loves the left high kick to left cross and right hook and because he starts these combinations an extra beat away he could get Nicolau reacting on the back foot. He just has to be careful he does move forward into that left hook coming over his lead as a southpaw. In terms of straight power, it goes to Nicolau but the durability of Royval is something to behold.
I do think that on paper the fight should be Nicolau’s on the mat but Royval has a history of making great grapplers work way harder than they should, and his ability to jump on submissions is dangerous. If Nicolau takes Royval down or knocks him down, it may actually be smarter to settle in the guard and establish control. From here he does have to worry about the high guard and Royval is very sneaky with how he gets one leg across the face and isolates an arm if it’s posting, but the moment Niclau gives space to pass is when Royval is scrambling.
Prediction and Betting Guide
If these two were both active I believe you could make a good argument that this is a pick ’em fight. Nicolau is on the better win streak, but Royval has faced more consistent top competition. For as technically brilliant as Nicolau is, Royval has shown his ability to creatively adapt to better fighters on paper and solve those problems. However, because Royval does need to make those reactions, and has been out for a solid year including an injury I can see Nicolau taking advantage of some rusty decision-making early and setting the pace for the fight. Although he often returns it, Royval is hittable and Nicolau is a dangerous person to be hit by with that left especially.
Pick: Matheus Nicolau to win (-200)