Jeff “El Jefe” Molina is a young prospect, only 24-years-0ld, fighting out of Glory MMA & Fitness. After earning a contract from Dana White’s Contender Series with a unanimous decision win in 2020, Molina is 2-0 in the UFC with a second-round TKO and a decision win.
Order UFC 281
Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira is tonight! Watch every UFC 281 fight here.
- Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira
- Carla Esparza vs. Zhang Weili
- Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler
Zhalgas Zhumagulov is nearly a decade older than Molina. Zhumagulov has struggled since joining the UFC in 2020, amassing a 1-3 record with his only win coming via first-round submission.
Molina opened as a slight favorite and has grown wider throughout the week. He’s listed at odds of -180 at popular bookmaker BetUS.
Molina is a high volume but patient striker. Statistically, Molina averages 8.7 significant strikes landed per minute which would lead many to imagine him as a pressure fighter. However, Molina’s style is more centered on lateral movement and skillful striking. He tends to dance around the octagon, fluidly moving and switching stances to help him find angles of attack. His movement forces his opponent to chase him around the cage so Molina can bait and trap. Once Molina gets his opponent in his desired position, he’ll land a quick and technically sound combination that includes both punches and kicks. “El Jefe” has a long frame and, especially when kicking, uses his length well to land his attacks from range where his opponent struggles to counter cleanly. When the fight enters the pocket or the clinch, Molina’s footwork and frame are on full display. He is skilled at reversing position, holding clinch control time, then exiting while striking. If the fight hits the mat, Molina has accepted bottom position in the past but showed improved scrambling and an ability to get the fight back to the fight in his last fight. His biggest weakness is against pressure-heavy fighters who can crash his kickboxing distance, cut off the cage to negate Molina’s movement, and force Molina into a dirty boxing match that neutralizes his often-higher level kicking game.
Zhumagulov is not as skilled of a striker as Molina. Where Molina uses footwork to bait traps, throws in combination, and strikes with technique, Zhumagulov tends to rely on range calf kicks and explosive rushes forward. These burst combinations often include an overhand right that Zhumagulov will use to chain into a takedown if he swings and misses. His takedowns are consistent but often ineffective, only landing them at a 21% clip. Zhumagulov’s typical approach is to overwhelm with a barrage of attacks, show a well-rounded game, and look to force his opponent to make a mistake. If he can force a mistake, Zhumagulov has the ability to find the finish, with a knockout or submission. If he can’t force this mistake in round 1, he’ll continue to move forward, pressure constantly, and hunt the finish, sometimes to his own detriment, round after round. What Zhumagulov lacks in athleticism and technique, he makes up for in tenacity and persistence.
Molina is the better mixed martial artist, especially on the feet. However, with his wrestling and leg kicks, Zhumagulov has a more well-rounded game, better cardio, and consistent pressure which Molina has struggled against in the past. I anticipate Zhumagulov to rush forward from the opening bell with striking and wrestling, never letting Molina get into his rhythm.
Prediction: Zhumagulov to win (+105 odds at BetUS)
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.