A flyweight matchup with huge stakes in the rankings is set for this week’s fight night from the UFC Apex. #4 ranked Askar Askarov and #5 Brandon Royval will be vying for a potential position in the top three and a future title fight.
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For Askarov, it will also be about bouncing back after the first loss of his entire career, which came in March with a razor-thin decision with Kai Kara-France. Although taking the brunt of the striking exchanges in the latter two rounds, many fans speculated whether or not Askarov’s dominant wrestling in round 1 should have garnered a 10-8 round. This would have put the two at a draw, which is to say the smallest of margins stands between Askarov and a 16-fight unbeaten streak.
For Royval, it’s about capitalizing on the position he finds himself in. While Askarov dominated his way to the top 5, Royval took the route of a fighter willing to come back better. While he has beaten some of the biggest names in the division, including Kara-France, as well as Tim Elliot and Matt Shncnell, he has also run into speed bumps against the absolute best. His winding road to #5 has been impressive to say the least, but now he finds himself just one or two fights away from a title bid, if he starts with a win this saturday.
Askar Askarov will come in as the favorite over Royval. A $100 bet on the underdog will return a prize of $155 in the event of an upset.
Askar Askarov is the most phenomenal wrestler and grappler in a division full of scrambling standouts. This often overshadowed his methodical approach to striking, which is also an important and effective part of his game.
Askarov is an offensive and aggressive counter-puncher. He often moves forwards without committing to anything with evident power because his pressure is meant to do two things. Getting his opponent to lash out with a strike while being backed up so that he can counter, and put them onto the fence so that he can shoot his single leg. The first, in which he looks to counter, he does so with a good check right hook, a pivot off right hook or a tight right straight when he switches stance. Askarv, although a right-handed fighter, stands southpaw, which puts his power punches from the lead land, unless he switches. It also means his best kicks come from the lead foot, particularly his stabbing front kick to the body which he uses to pressure without having to commit to boxing range.
That being said, because he wants to grapple or counter strike, his effectiveness takes a huge detriment when he is put on his backfoot. Unable to penetrate with his takedowns when moving away from his opponent and without the pressure to dictate when engagements happen, he does tend to get caught with forward flurries. He may end up tagging his opponents with sitting back right hands when this happens but he often takes punishment on the way if he is constantly being pushed to the cage.
When it comes to grappling, he is a phenom. He likes single entries because he can elevate and trip, or swivel to the back and lift from double underhooks. He is great at taking his opponents down into positions where he is already at an advantage, rather than driving into their guard, he is often already on the back by the time the grappling exchange begins on the floor. Working the back is his most primary skill and what he has had the most success with lately, where his body lock is extremely difficult to escape from. He tends to allow enough room for his opponents to start working to their feet so that he can re-establish grips and throw them back down, and he gives the sense that he is always working one step ahead of whatever adjustments his opponents think they are making.
However, few fighters are as unpredictable and hard to control as Brandon Royval. He is the far busier fighter on the feet and he utilizes more weapons. His go to jab-cross is a consistent combination, as is his left kick to left cross, right hook. Like Askarov, Royval is a southpaw, however, his power shots come from the rear limbs, and he shuffles forward to land them, which means he is often lighter on his feet than Askarov.
In terms of grappling, although maybe not as polished as Askarov, he couldn’t be more dangerous. The pace he offers often brings out mistakes in extremely high-level jiu jitsu players and wrestlers, because he gives so little time to attempt something in order to keep up. When taken down he will attack guillotines on the way down, scramble from his guard to attack leg locks or snatch an arm, and he is always turning and rolling to a new position which offers barely a split second to establish balance in a given top position. If Askarov hunts the back, it will be a very effective position once he gets his hooks in, because it will slow Royval down and it means Askaraov has to do much less work to advance than Royval. However, if he does so by looking to drag Royval down from a back clinch position, he has to be very careful of Royval fighting the upper body rolling for sweeps and submissions before Askarov can get him down.
Overall, I think that Askarov should get it done. While Royval obviously wants to test Askarov’s pace in this fight, his endurance has never been the biggest issue. From a striking standpoint, Askarov may have to dig deeper and endure some more punishment than usual just due to the pure volume Royval throws, but in scrambles, I think Askarov has the ability to establish positions on Royval that no one has had yet.
Prediction: Askar Askarov to win (-190 favorite at BetUS)
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.