Caio “The Natural” Borralho may not have a unique nickname, but he does have a unique style, both in appearance and in the octagon. Borralho, who earned a contract from Dana White’s Contender Series in 2021 with a first-round knockout, is 2-0 in the UFC. Both of the 29-year-old’s UFC fights have gone to decision, a third-round technical decision and a unanimous decision most recently.
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Makhumud “Mach” Muradov’s most recent fight, his first UFC loss, was a submission loss over a year ago. Muradov is 3-1 in the promotion with two third-round knockouts and a decision win.
Muradov vs. Borralho will feature on the UFC 280 preliminary card on Saturday. Fight fans in the United States can watch this fight live on ESPN+ before tuning into the ESPN+ PPV later in the afternoon to watch Charles Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev, Aljamain Sterling vs. TJ Dillashaw, Petr Yan vs. Sean O’Malley, and more.
Borralho opened as a larger favorite, but money has steadily come in on Muradov, bringing Borralho and Muradov’s line closer together.
Borralho has a style in and out of the octagon. Much like Charles Oliveira, Borralho rocks thick-framed glasses and flashy shirts and suits; however, he also adds a unique touch with a neck tattoo that reads “Free Spirit.” I bring up his appearance in part because the juxtaposition is intriguing but also because it represents who Borralho is as a fighter.
Borralho has a unique style in the cage for someone of his size and skill set. “The Natural” is only listed at 6’1 and 185, but he looks much larger when squaring off with his opponents. He has a strong and sturdy foundation, yet, his striking style is more movement and technically based. Borralho tends to bounce on the balls of his feet, keeping a tall frame, and a long forward hand, almost in a karate stance. He uses intelligent feints and keeps distance well on the feet, but his powerful left hand works better in closer corridors as he can generate power from a short distance.
While Borralho is no slouch on the feet, he makes his hay with strong wrestling, athletic scrambling, and strength-driven submissions. Typically, he’ll fight at range, dance around the outer edge of the cage, and get a read on his opponent. Once he finds the rhythm, Borralho times a shot and either crashes distance for a multi-piece combination or a powerful takedown. If he can secure his hands below his opponent’s hips, Borralho has the strength and skills to finish the takedown and end up in an advantageous position. Once down, Borralho has the skillset and background to find a ground and pound or submission finish. However, he was criticized last fight for taking a more lay and pray approach against a poor defensive grappler.
Just like his outward appearance, Borralho’s fight style is unique: he’s large but moves well, he can strike at range effectively but prefers power shots in the pocket, and he has strong grappling but hasn’t showcased it yet in the UFC. His biggest flaw, which Michael Bisping called out in his last fight, is a lack of a killer instinct. Borralho has had opponents hurt, and instead of pouncing on injured prey, he took a more passive approach which prolonged the fight and offered opponents opportunities to recover and rally.
UFC fans might look at a fighter with the last name “Muradov,” see he is from Uzbekistan, and expect another wrestle-heavy fighter similar to the Dagestani phenomenon sweeping the sport. If that’s what you’re expecting out of Makhmud Muradov, you’d be disappointed. Muradov fights more like an intelligent kickboxer who accumulates damage as the fight progresses. Muradov tends to fight at range where he, standing at 6’2 with long limbs, almost always has the range advantage.
While at range, he has a variety of kickboxing strikes which he throws in combination and with volume. Muradov embodies the old boxing adage: hit and don’t get hit. He tends to land precisely at the right time and with the right shot, then cut and angle, exit out, and avoid any counter strikes. With his long frame, technical and voluminous kickboxing, knowledge of angles, and footwork, when opponents fight Muradov, they quickly realize that hitting a skilled moving target is much more challenging than it may seem.
Muradov also tends to improve as the fight goes on. Paraphrasing the famous Teddy Atlas, Muradov fights by putting water in the basement. What Atlas means by this, and what Muradov does, is his striking is an investment that can be collected in the later rounds. By working the body, landing with precision rather than all-out power, and forcing his opponent to chase him around the cage, Muradov chips away at his opponent in the early rounds. Then, in round 3, when his opponent is tired, his body damage, and frustration builds, Muradov can capitalize to find the finish. The water in the basement builds, eventually causing a flood.
The primary flaw, exposed in his most recent fight, for Muradov is when an opponent can successfully walk through his combinations early and force an in-the-pocket fight. Because Muradov fights more with volume than power, walking through early combinations is a viable strategy. Once in tight, Muradov’s length, movement, and kicking game are nullified and he cannot put water in the basement. Instead, Muradov has shown an inability to get off the cage against pressure and get the fight back to where he needs to go.
Borralho has the tools to win this fight but also has the decision-making tendencies to lose it. If Borralho can get in tight, he has the better pocket boxing, the much better wrestling, and the edge in strength in the clinch. But, if Borralho stays at range too long, Muradov should be able to pick him apart.
Given Borralho’s untapped, or at least undemonstrated, aggressive grappling skills, I lean for Borralho to wrestle early, even if it is only in the clinch, and eventually find the finish. Look for Borralho to force the fight against the cage and find the neck after.
Pick: Caio Borralho to win by submission (-195 to win at MyBookie)
Michael Pounders is a high school English Teacher, a boxer himself, and is a fan who loves, gambles on, and nerds out about all things MMA.