Rafael Estevam

Rafael “Macapa” Estevam, 26, is an undefeated Brazilian fighter out of the Nova Uniao gym. Estevam is making his debut with an 11-0 professional record, with 7 wins inside the distance, following a second-round knockout on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2022.

Zhumagulov is one of the most unlucky fighters in the UFC. He technically has a 1-5 UFC record; but, as many in the media have said, his record should be around 3-3 or 4-2. That is because Zhumagulov has lost at least three decisions that most people scored in his favor. Yet, in all three of those fights, the three judges who get the final say scored the fights against the 34-year-old from Kazakhstan.

Estevam and Zhumagulov will clash at this weekend’s UFC 288 event in Newark, New Jersey. Watch every fight live on ESPN+ PPV this Saturday night (order now).

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Betting Odds

Estevam opened south of a -150 tag but has grown to a -180 favorite since the opening line.

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Fight Breakdown

Estevam fights out of one of the better BJJ gyms in MMA and his style represents the gym well: he is slick on the mat with technical and fluid jiu-jitsu. What makes him such an interesting prospect, though, is his game beyond submissions. Estevam is an impressive wrestler who relentlessly looks for takedowns. While many young BJJ practitioners struggle to get the fight to their world in the UFC, Estevam has proven time and time again that he has the wrestling chops to do just that.

Now, his wrestling is not perfect, in fact, some of his shots are naked and leave him exposed if an opponent can time his entry. But his athleticism, timing of his own, and, most of all, his powerful hips, have really impressed on the canvas. On DWCS, Estevam fought a grappler whose scrambling was as chaotic as it was impressive. But, Estevam, undeterred, continued to shoot takedowns and show the cardio and resilience that indicates he can succeed even in difficult circumstances.

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Zhumagulov is a fighter who relies on pressure, off-beat striking, and offensive takedowns to try and drag his opponents into deep water. He tends to rely on explosive blitz attacks to close distance, often throwing a hook to the body and following it up with an overhand cross. The blitz striking allows him to pressure opponents back and the tendency to lead with a hook to the body allows him to feint a level change and get his opponent to drop their hands so Zhumagulov overhand can land. Statistically, Zhumagulov has solid volume but his pace is a bit slow. His blitz style allows him to throw a lot of volume in bursts but he can get caught watching in-between his combinations.

Zhumagulov’s wrestling is set up well through his striking and the momentum he builds from his blitz attack allows him to drive opponents back into the cage. However, because of Zhumagulov’s lack of physical gifts and his sloppy technique, opponents are often able to build a base, dig underhooks, and keep the fight standing. In the fight he actually won, and the losses that looked like they should have been wins, Zhumagulov found success through constant pressure and not allowing his opponent to get started. However, in the fights he’s lost, Zhumagulov struggled when he was pushed on his back foot, an opponent could counter his blitz striking, or Zhumagulov was put on his own back.

Prediction and Betting Guide

If anyone is “due” for a win it’s Zhumagulov. Not only has his bad luck with poor judging been unparalleled, he’s also fought legitimate competition in all five of his losses. However, “due” does not dictate outcomes in fights.

Zhumagulov’s experience against a higher level of competition and the lessons he’s learned in close decisions will likely help him grow but I don’t see that grow as being enough in this fight. Estevam will be one of the better wrestlers that Zhumagulov has faced and will have the edge in technique on the feet.

Zhumagulov might get out to an early lead with his pressure and off-beat striking; but, as Estevam gets the timing down, I expect him to regularly clip Zhumagulov on the feet and land takedowns throughout the fight en route to another decision loss for Zhumagulov. Unlike the others, though, I don’t think this one will be as close.

Best Bet: Rafael Estevam to win (-180 odds at MyBookie)

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