Two relatively recent additions to the UFC square off at this weekend’s UFC Fight Night event in Las Vegas, Nevada.
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Japan’s newest prospect Tatsuro Taira, was rumored to end up on the Contender Series, but with so much promise, the UFC decided to sign him directly to the promotion. His debut consisted of a showcase of his skills where he handily took Carlos Candelario to a lopsided decision. Taira is currently 11-0 in his pro career.
His UFC Fight Night 211 opponent, CJ Vergara, did earn his shot in the UFC via the Contender Series. Going the distance in a close decision saw him losing his debut to Ode Osbourne, but a bounce-back win against Kleydson Rodrigues brings him to 1-1 in the UFC. Regardless of winning or losing, Vergara has already positioned himself as one of the toughest new fighters in the octagon, promising a difficult and competitive fight for anyone with his durable pressure style.
Vergara has played the role of underdog in both his UFC showings and his Contender Series fight. He will once again be an underdog at +200 against Taira via BetUS.
This fight is absolutely fascinating due to the very distinct styles each fighter brings to the table. In a general sense, Taira is very much a technician. He typically likes to sit on the outside and use range when he strikes. He works at a methodical pace and is always working to set something up. He will move between a good left hook and a left slap to the guard to open up his power right kick and his right straight down the middle, but the main thing here is he needs range and distance to work. His light footwork allows him to angle off and float in and out in order to do so, but this will be put to the test against Vergara. The American fighter will be gunning to close the distance. He likes to march his opponents down and work behind the fundamentals, specifically his jab, followed by hooks between the body and head. He has no qualms with eating shots to maintain his forward movement because he has confidence in his chin.
However, while so far he seems to find more success than failure in this approach due to his ability to eat and counter with heavy punches, the downside we have seen is he can be taken down. As he moves forward, Both his past UFC opponents were able to capitalize on that momentum and time a double leg, extenuating the impact of the shot and putting Vergara on the mat. While Vergara has a good whizzer reversal and cage walking if he can react in time to the attempt, on his back he isnt a particularly mobile guard player. Taira is very good at lacing limbs and securing tight controlling positions. He heavily represents the idea that jiu-jitsu is about advancing, and prioritizes positions over submission to a very strong degree. He will lock up body triangles and float between the back and a sort of altered mount with the triangle still in place, and he typically does not risk losing these positions to mount much ground and pound or submission offense. This has been the largest criticism of his relaxed and patient nature, he has potentially let finishing opportunities slip away. That being said, if he can put Vergara in a compromised position on the mat early, his ability to maintain it is a massive asset.
Offensively Vergara will happily sit in the guard on top and chip away with shots to the body and head while he uses head positioning to maintain control. He is far less desperate to advance positionally than Taira. This could be trouble for him in an open mat where Taira can move his hips and set up submissions or sweeps from his guard, but Vergara often does a good job positioning himself with the fence to add to his stability.
Vergara has shown some holes when both he and his opponent are fresh. He preferred shorter striking, and so when mobility is at its highest, he can get tagged from outside, and he doesnt have such extraordinary speed that he can keep up with guys like Taira early. That being said, his efficient style of moving forward and chipping away with shots tends to allow him to perform at a consistent level of all three rounds, which becomes more and more effective as his opponents fade under his pressure.
Taira did seem to tire as the end of the fight neared in his debut; however, if he can capitalize on his positional dominance throughout the fight, I think he can slow down Veragara’s pace and find his moments to compose himself. He is also very good at recomposing between rounds, so don’t be surprised if we see Taira dominating early in each round while Vergara creeps up toward the end. Ultimately I believe that Taira will be able to win more exchanges over the full 15 minutes to earn a clear decision.
Prediction: Tatsuro Taira to win (-260 odds to win 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.