A ranked, undefeated featherweight clash is set as the opening fight on the main card when Bryce “Thug Nasty” Mitchell (15-0; 5-0 in the UFC), ranked 9th in the division, takes on the 14th-ranked Ilia “El Matador” Topuria (12-0; 4-0 in the UFC).
Both Bryce Mitchell and Ilia Topuria are fighters who are growing in popularity due to their skills in the octagon and their polarizing personalities in everyday life. Mitchell earned his best career win to date with a dominating victory over the dangerous Edson Barboza in his last fight. Meanwhile, Topuria decided to step up in weight to take on Jai Herbert and, although the decision nearly proved fatal, he showed resiliency to battle back and earn the finish. Both men have large personalities and each truly believes they are not only top 5 contenders, but title contenders in the near future. This, in conjunction with neither man suffering a defeat thus far in their professional careers, makes this an incredibly interesting bout from start to finish!
Ilia Topuria is a -150 favorite over Bryce Mitchell, which is an implied 58% win probability.
- Ilia Topuria: -150
- Bryce Mitchell: +120
Bryce “Thug Nasty” Mitchell is one of, if not, the most polarizing athletes on the roster. From his personal beliefs on the shape of the world to his general lifestyle of living in a small trailer-like home on his farm, I can confidently say there is no fighter like him nor someone who loves their style of life more than him.
The style of life affinity definitely translates over to his style of fight desire, as Thug Nasty “goes to work” in the octagon by way of fighting a grueling, hard-nosed fight. He does this by primarily implementing impressive wrestling with lethal submissions – he has not one, but two twister submission wins in the octagon. Combining wrestling with submission skills is a path to victory that is not unique to Thug Nasty, but, having this combination be both elite and highly effective makes him one of only a handful of fighters that can do so against equally elite competitive challengers.
While the grappling of Thug Nasty is his bread and butter, the striking ability is increasing at a rapid pace. To see this, you need not look any further than his last fight against Edson Barboza, who, even at his age, is one of the fastest and most creative strikers on the UFC roster. In that fight, Bryce Mitchell did not only remain safe against him but in fact, beat Barboza on the feet. Quite honestly, I will be the first to raise my hand to say I saw no conceivable way Mitchell could do so, as I was of the camp that he stood little chance in surviving against Barboza on the feet long enough to shoot takedowns. But, to my incorrect forecast, Thug Nasty showcased a culmination of technical improvement with seemingly expansive trust in his striking to find success on the feet. This success should only continue, as the technical skills of throwing straight down the barrel left hands with impressive body kicks out of the southpaw position are skills he now demonstrably has, and, when you account for the fact his opponent(s) will need to show continual thought on defending potential takedowns, the effectiveness with landing strikes should only be exacerbated.
Combining dangerous grappling with high-end striking is synonymous with Ilia Topuria as well. What is quite interesting for him is that while he has 7 of his 12 wins by submission, all 7 have come outside the UFC.
Within the UFC, Topuria has elected to use his grappling to defend takedowns, keep the fight standing, and inflict arena-thumping power on his opponents. This demonstrable trust and effectiveness in his striking parlayed with historical effectiveness with submissions made him one of the most exciting prospects in the UFC, and many, including myself, believed that the 25-year-old Spaniard would become, at worst, a title challenger in his career.
I use the past tense to describe Topuria’s viewer outlook given many have altered their tone on him since his last fight against Jai Herbert. In that fight, Topuria showed little respect for defending strikes, and the large-frame 155’er made him pay, as Topuria left himself susceptible to wearing heavy blows. Luckily, for him, was that the first round had ended moments before Herbert could potentially find the finish, and, to Topuria’s credit, put his ego in check, altered his game plan to show his opponent far more respect than he initially did, and eventually found the finish himself. Battling back from adversity the way Topuria did will be a benefit in the long run, as he learned two valuable lessons doing so: one, he is able to battle back from being beaten, and two, he needs to respect his opponent, no matter how untouchable as he may feel.
If the perceived lessons resonate with Topuria, he will likely be the most dangerous he has ever come Saturday night. Even if the lesson hasn’t hit fully home, his constant stance switches, lightning quick and powerful kicks, and impeccable sense of timing, particularly with uppercuts, always makes him a problem to stand against. And, his demonstrable takedown defense accompanied by historical submission success makes him a problem to grapple with, even if he is in fact taken to the mat.
I believe Ilia Topuria will be in the top 5 of the division during his career, but in this fight, I cannot pick against Thug Nasty. The striking performance he showcased his last go-around makes me trust, at the very least, he will be able to survive against Topuria, and, knowing his wrestling is superb and his submission game is excellent, leaves me believing he has the skills necessary to drag Topuria into deep waters and win a workman-like effort win and continue his climb up the featherweight division.
Bet: Bryce “Thug Nasty” Mitchell to win