Tom Nolan celebrates his Eternal MMA victory

The UFC rings in the new year with the first of many Fight Nights being hosted at the UFC APEX this weekend. Amongst a crowd of fun matchups this Saturday is a lightweight bout that is sure to deliver fireworks between Tom Nolan and Nikolas Motta.

Coming off an impressive knockout on this season of Dana White’s Contender Series, Nolan will make his debut against a fellow DWCS veteran in Motta. Motta’s year came and went without a win in 2023 so he’ll be eager to get 2024 off on the right track with a win.

Nolan vs. Motta Odds

Nolan’s undefeated record and his knockout in the fall likely has contributed to the movement of this line as the debutant is a near three-to-one favorite over the four-fight UFC vet:

  • Tom Nolan: -330
  • Nikolas Motta: +240

Nolan vs. Motta Fight Breakdown

Tom Nolan will make his UFC debut this Saturday at just 23 years old with an undefeated pro record of 6-0. The lightweight from Brisbane, Australia will be one of the tallest fighters in the division at 6’3. He relies on that length to land kicks and long straight shots from a southpaw stance that keeps his opponent from closing the distance. 

Nolan loves the left kick which comes from his power side as a lefty. In the early fights of his career, he relied on the kick as a lead strike a bit too much and gave his opponents plenty of opportunities to counter. His last two fights have been short but we’ve seen some growth here as he’s more willing to work behind the jab and use feints to get his opponent moving back before firing off his kicks. He mainly attacks the body and when his opponent goes to defend the kick, he’ll fire the left straight immediately to attack the opening.

Tom loves to overwhelm his opponent with different strikes and combos from all kinds of angles. His footwork is extremely important to his game as it not only creates these angles for him to throw offensively, it also creates distance for him to limit what his opponent can do in terms of their own offense. Though his knockout on the Contender Series may prove otherwise, Nolan has struggled with landing powerful shots at range so his footwork is a major key to managing his distance and position in the cage.

Another positive to Nolan’s game is his pace. While he can look to gas himself out at times, he never stops coming forward or throwing something. He’s relentless with his feints, kicks and movement and if you retreat or show any signs of wilting, Tom will jump on the opportunity and hunt for the finish. That relentless pace can get him into trouble at times however as it leaves openings for counters and takedowns attempts as he begins to slow down and isn’t as light on his feet. 

The takedown defense of Nolan is something that will be a question mark in the UFC. At 6’3, Nolan is going to be a lot taller than a majority of the division and with such a high guard defensively, his hips are easy to get to. We saw it on the regional level and although he displayed great awareness of how to defend the takedowns along the fence, you can’t give a high level wrestler a free shot at your hips like he does.

Defensively, I’m impressed with the discipline Nolan keeps with his high guard. He likes to wave his front hand around and fight at the front hand of conventional fighters but his left hand stays tight to his chin. Even in the middle of his combinations, he always returns the left hand to the chin. He overextends on the left straight pretty often though which leaves an opportunity for a well-timed right hand to land before he can get it back to defend.

He’ll take on Nikolas Motta who is 1-2 in his four contests with the UFC with one no-contest. Motta, 30 years old, is a strong lightweight that utilizes his power in both his striking and wrestling defense. He’s incredibly difficult to takedown, even when his opponent gets a clean entry and he’s taken down, he’s been able to return quickly to his feet.

His striking is simple but effective; he likes to time his opponents’ strikes with either a left hook or straight right hand. Whichever he doesn’t throw first, he’s going to throw second as there is little diversity in his striking. He’ll occasionally throw out a jab, but he rarely uses it to set up other strikes. He mainly relies on his resilience and ability to time his powerful counters to win exchanges. Being a counter-striker, Motta doesn’t move forward very much and when he does, he looks a bit uncomfortable. He looks hesitant to throw first and this often gets him caught on the end of long punches when he tries to find an entry for his offense.

Motta doesn’t pose much of an offensive threat in the grappling department. His takedown defense is reliable, successfully stuffing over 80% in the UFC, but he doesn’t attack takedowns himself. His lack of diversity in his game lets his opponent focus their defense on staying out of range of his counters. While he’s one dimensional however, Motta’s toughness and power have gotten him to the UFC for a reason. When he’s able to time his counters effectively, he does good damage and it doesn’t take long before that damage accumulates and he can hunt the finish. 

I’d love to see Motta improve in trapping his opponent and using feints to draw out reactions without fully committing to strikes that often leave him off-balance. Given he doesn’t have many threats, he needs to be more aggressive with the tools he does have; press forward and throw out some feints to back down his opponent (likely eating some shots along the way) and land his power punches. In most cases, the more Motta can force heavy exchanges, the more success he’ll find.

Motta’s a great first test for Nolan in the UFC; he’s experienced, powerful and has good counters to time Nolan’s combos. Tom is younger, longer, taller, faster and more technical than Motta but his constant pressure and pace could give Motta the chances he needs to find the chin with a counter left hook. Nikolas can’t allow Nolan to keep distance and work his long range offense. He’ll need to press him and keep Nolan in the pocket where Motta can go shot for shot with him and land the more punishing blows.

For Nolan, this is a perfect opportunity to make an impressive statement in his debut. His movement and footwork to work out of tight spaces along the fence should prevent Motta from coming forward and trapping him. At range, Nolan thrives at using his long punches and kicks to attack openings where his opponent is out of range for the counter. Motta keeps a very high guard and leaves his body open which Nolan will undoubtedly attack with kicks out of the gate. When Motta starts getting hit, he bites on feints and Tom can use that to work the straight left when the guard drops.

Nolan vs. Motta Prediction

Nolan opened as less than a -200 favorite but has since swelled to -330 and for good reason. Motta’s experience and power are two great traits for pulling off the upset but Nolan’s game is a few levels higher than Motta’s. The movement, distance control, strike diversity and ability to avoid damage all favor Nolan.

Nolan keeps a heavy pace and his consistent improvements throughout his very young career makes me confident he can get this one done inside the distance. Nolan likely chases the D’Arce choke at least once or twice as he loves to do, but the finish likely comes on the feet.

Prediction: Tom Nolan to win inside the distance

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