Sean “The Sniper” Woodson, 30, is a 9-1 featherweight fighting out of Glory MMA. Since earning a contract with an impressive win over Terrance McKinney on Dana White’s Contender Series, Saldana has gone 3-1 in the UFC with two decisions and one knockout win. His sole loss was a round-three submission.
Luis Saldana, 31, also a DWCS alum, is 16-7 professionally and 2-1 in the UFC. All three of his fights have gone to decision.
Woodson opened as a solid favorite and has grown larger throughout the week.
Woodson is a physically unique featherweight; he stands at 6’2 with a 78″ reach, massively long for the division. Woodson is an impressive boxer who has consistently outboxed, in all areas, his opponents. At range, “The Sniper” earns his nickname with a stiff jab that he lands from such a distance, and few fighters are able to counter it. Woodson throws the sniper of a jab constantly throughout a fight, pumping it out to keep range and, paired with his intelligent footwork, dictate where his opponent moves in the octagon. When the fight inevitably gets inside of his lengthy range, Woodson has demonstrated strategic and tight combinations, working both the body and the head well. His demeanor, even in tight where his range advantage is nullified, Woodson keeps calm and chooses his shots well.
As stated above, Woodson’s combinations are varied, he rarely throws strikes where his opponent is covering up, instead, he finds the opening and accurately lands. Because of his volume and accuracy, Woodson can knockout opponents through wars of attrition and accumulation of damage, but, he does not have one shot power. This means most of his fights tend to enter the third round, and, against the more explosive athletes in the division, Woodson will need to continue to be mentally sharp for all 15 minutes.
Outside of a exciting, high level, and volume heavy fight to Julian Erosa, who can match Woodson’s boxing acumen and cardio while adding more power, Woodson has been a step ahead in striking during each of his fights. His length, volume, and technique make him one of the better unranked strikers in a deep division.
On paper, Saldana is one of the more talented and exciting prospects in the division. But, on the canvas, he has underperformed and underwhelmed. When he’s fighting well, Saldana has varied and frequent kicks; he especially uses a long front kick that both keeps range and can deal real damage. His hands are flowy and smooth, striking with fluidity and snap on the end of his punches. He is adept at pressuring forward, combining both punches and kicks while landing with pop and precision. The positives in Saldana’s game are impressive and fun to watch. But, the negatives are worrisome.
While Saldana strikes with confidence, he can sometimes edge into cocky where his hands drop, he begins to showboat, and he prolongs the fight when the finish is available. Further, when the finish is unavailable, Saldana can begin to press forward with reckless striking, seemingly to frustratingly hunt the finish. If his opponent evades or responds, Saldana’s frustration quickly turns into complacency, and he can be the one pressured backward. This is where Saldana’s primary issue lies, he does not respond well to pressure or in fights where he has to overcome adversity.
A prime example is in his loss to Austin Lingo. Lingo is a solid boxer, but his game is exclusive to his hands. Saldana should have been a skilled enough striker to pick apart a primary boxer. But, when Lingo forced Saldana into a dog fight, Saldana folded. After two close rounds, Saldana’s cardio began to waiver, his demeanor changed in the 3rd round, and he only landed 14 significant strikes, half of which he landed in rounds 1 and 2. This has been the story for Saldana: he’s clearly talented but struggles against adversity to the point of losing fights.
I still believe in Saldana more than most because his skill set has impressed me. However, his approach in fights and inability to find that final gear worries me. Further, against Woodson, even if Saldana comes in hungry, Woodson is an incredibly challenging matchup. Saldana likes to land from range, but Woodson will be the longer fighter and has the better jab. Also, Woodson will have better boxing, hand speed, and wrestling if need be.
I’m not ready to write Saldana off quite yet, but I don’t like his chances in this one. Look for another impressive striking showcase out of Woodson. I prefer a decision, but a late-round TKO is a possibility too.
Pick: Sean Woodson to win by decision (bet now on 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.