Welterweight got a new top prospect at UFC 228 when Geoff Neal surgically took apart Frank Camacho. The performance was as close to flawless as can be expected in MMA, and the Texan has a good chance to move into the rankings with a similarly decisive win over one of the division’s unranked staples in Belal Muhammad. On a four-fight win streak dating back to UFC 208 in early 2017, Muhammad has real (if understated) momentum; a win over a well-respected prospect in Neal could be the push to get him a ranked opponent in a very deep 170-pound division.
Geoff Neal showed striking against Frank Camacho that wasn’t particularly broad, but looked fairly deep to outclass a man that doesn’t generally get put away easily. In just under six-and-a-half minutes, Neal marked up Camacho at range and in the pocket with only a few weapons but a lot of nuance to them. Chief among these was the straight left hand; Neal often led with the rear hand and got away with it because the cross came blindingly fast. Neal feinted the straight, he doubled up, he fired it on an irregular rhythm; basically anything that could be done with a jab, Neal did with the rear straight, and was able to deal damage and use it (and sometimes a frame with the lead hand) to keep the brawler away and circle off.
Neal also looked offensively very potent while swarming; he was able to generate a lot of power in a short left hand to drop Camacho at the end of the first round (and that power was evident in his much more limited previous UFC showing against Brian Camozzi), and he put the heat on Camacho at the beginning of round two with a barrage of accurate and powerful blows from the edge of the pocket. The straight left set up the head kick; Camacho looked to slip the straights that came, but the straight came so fast that Camacho had to start a defensive motion before he could actually ascertain what the attack was, so Camacho leaned into a thunderous head kick that knocked him completely out. A long-time follower of MMA may recognize this as the favored striking framework of the legendary Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic.
One (and probably the best) option to beat this tactic is pressure; crowd the kicks and push into the pocket to make the straight less viable, and it levels the playing field considerably. Belal Muhammad, however, isn’t much of a pressurer; while he largely controlled the center against Chance Rencountre in his last fight, Muhammad isn’t strong enough in the pocket to play a dedicated pressure game, especially when Neal is so dangerous in the pocket and so laterally active.
Muhammad has always played a bit of an all-rounder, with the ability to strike and wrestle to a B+ caliber without anything particularly distinguishing about his game, and while that could get him into big trouble on the feet (as it did against another offensive buzzsaw in Vicente Luque), it could also enable him to take advantage of any glaring hole in Neal’s overall game.
There isn’t enough reason to think that Neal is an inept-enough grappler or wrestler to favor Muhammad, so the favorite is Neal on the massive striking disparity, but it might not be a horribly wide fight in totality. It just probably looks that way.
Prediction: Neal via first-round knockout. This writer caps Neal at -200.
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