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UFC on ESPN 4 Predictions: Alexander Hernandez vs. Francisco Trinaldo

UFC on ESPN 4 Predictions: Alexander Hernandez vs. Francisco Trinaldo

Francisco Trinaldo (L) punches Ross Pearson in their lightweight bout during UFC Fight Night 81

After his bitter loss in Brooklyn to returning-lightweight Donald Cerrone, Alexander Hernandez gets a hometown showing in San Antonio; 2-1 in the UFC with an excellent knockout under his belt and a number next to his name already, the fairly young lightweight can get some momentum going again (and ideally showcase improvements since January) with a win on July 20.

His opponent is Francisco Trinaldo, who’s approaching the matchup from the opposite direction; 40 years old and 13 years deep into his professional career, Trinaldo has still proven to be going strong with his brutal finish over Evan Dunham, and a win in enemy territory will likely lead to “Massaranduba” storming the rankings once again.

Alexander Hernandez

Alexander Hernandez’s debut in the UFC was the best one could ever hope for; filling in on short notice for Bobby Green at UFC 222, Hernandez debuted against an extremely skilled former lightweight contender in Beneil Dariush and knocked him out in 42 seconds. Not only did the Dariush fight get him an immediate spot adjacent to (if not in) the top 15, it got him immediate credibility as a man to watch out for, and he cemented himself as a contender with a win over Olivier Aubin-Mercier in Calgary. That notoriety was parlayed into a fight against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, a fight in which Hernandez came up short. Trinaldo would be on the level of Dariush as a win for Hernandez, an excellent fighter who has generally sat between #10 and #20 at 155; if Hernandez can defeat him, it means that Hernandez is (despite his most recent loss) here to stay.

Truthfully, Hernandez’s showing against Dariush turned out to be a bit of an anomaly; while he has decent power, he hasn’t looked like the sort of monstrous puncher he looked like at UFC 222 in his two other UFC showings. However, he looked quite good in his extended UFC showing, the win against Aubin-Mercier; Hernandez played a swarming sort of style in that bout, driving a heavy pace and flurrying to push OAM back and deal damage with knees in the clinch as he looked for takedowns and control. Hernandez can fight from both stances to some extent, he can hit with power when he needs to (as he did to finish Dariush and sting Cerrone early), he showed some good scrambling against Cerrone and OAM, and he can keep a good pace; essentially, given his sort of fight, he’s fairly difficult to beat.

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The problems with Hernandez tend to come on the technical side, as he doesn’t bring a whole lot of craft to his striking. Hernandez’s swarming can’t really be considered measured pressure; he doesn’t tend to cut the cage with his feet nor his attacks, he generally just looks to push the pace by forcing close-quarters and gunning for the head. This worked against Dariush, a notorious slow-starter who wasn’t really known for durability, but against Cerrone, this distinction became very clear; while Cerrone’s troubles against sound pressure-fighters (RDA, Till) were well-known, Hernandez’s predictable entries (running into the pocket without any sort of feinting or even much variance) just ran him into intercepting knees over and over, and Cerrone was able to eventually start running Hernandez backwards with combinations as Hernandez just backtracked under fire without much of a counter-threat. Despite his flaws, Hernandez is undoubtedly a strong prospect, and he isn’t deep enough into his career to outright rule out improvements to his game; in San Antonio, he’ll have an opportunity to show if he’s made any.

Alexander Hernandez walks away after scoring a KO/TKO finish in the UFC
Alexander Hernandez walks away after scoring a TKO finish in the UFC (Source: Isaac Brekken/Getty Images North America)

Fransisco Trinaldo

Francisco Trinaldo has been one of the most consistent performers in the division for a long time, and he was able to build an impressive seven-win streak between 2014 and 2016; unfortunately, like the less marketable Brazilians in many other divisions (Raphael Assuncao, Jussier Formiga), the UFC didn’t seem to find much utility in promoting him as a possible top fighter, and his eventual losses to Kevin Lee and James Vick cemented him as a test for prospects that only the strongest can pass. A win over Alexander Hernandez would get Trinaldo back into the rankings and ideally get him more respect as a top fighter with astonishing longevity (even if any title hopes are unlikely in a deep division teeming with fairly young talent).

Trinaldo is one of the most underrated fighters at any weight class, mostly because (for a lightweight) he’s fairly old and seems a bit cumbersome; however, Trinaldo is undoubtedly one of the better kickboxers in the fairly deep lightweight division. This stems a lot from his strength on the counter; “Massaranduba” is a genuine power-puncher, and he puts it to good use with a strong southpaw counterpunching game that has proven actionable against a variety of fighters. Trinaldo is deceptively hard to hit clean to the head, with solid defense in the pocket, and this enables counters off both hands, often in combination; Trinaldo can slip straight shots and come over the top or down the center with lefts (or counter to the body, as he did to wind Kevin Lee with an uppercut to the sternum), or pull back and land check right hooks as his opponent extends on their rear hand. Trinaldo does a good job creating opportunities for his counters; he’s strong on the front foot so his opponent can’t really pick their spots, he can jab (facing both southpaw and orthodox opponents) to measure distance and draw out counters, and he can feint entries to force reactions. Trinaldo also has an underrated kicking game, both in terms of round-kicks off his rear leg and a wicked rear knee (using it as an intercepting counter to the body against Evan Dunham to finish him, and as a tool to punish Ross Pearson’s ducking under fire against the fence).

Trinaldo is a decent grappler who’s extremely physically strong (so hard to take down and control), but if there’s a weakness in his game, it tends to be his cardio. Trinaldo doesn’t have a terrible tank, he’s won briskly-paced decisions over veterans like Ross Pearson and Jim Miller, but he commits hard on his counters and guns for the finish when he hurts his opponent (as he did against Yancy Medeiros); this often means that he’s breathing hard by the end of the fight, and Piotr Hallmann was able to outlast him to find a submission late (albeit after taking some real punishment early). Trinaldo’s losses to Lee and Vick were different, as Lee was able to play the straight off the head kick to punish the slips and Vick just turned out too long for Trinaldo to cover distance through an array of linear kicks; the bottom line, however, is that a win over Trinaldo is never easy.

Conclusions and Capping

Trinaldo should be able to dominate the early action against Hernandez; Hernandez isn’t a thoughtful-enough striker to avoid getting laced with counters on the way in, and he’s extremely hittable (where Trinaldo is capable on the lead, so can just reach out and hit Hernandez whenever he feels like doing so).  The defining question of the fight, however, is whether Trinaldo’ll be able to either withstand the pace deep or dissuade Hernandez from putting a pace on at all; while Hernandez is much less refined technically than Trinaldo, his youth and athleticism can bail him out of bad spots where Trinaldo generally can’t say the same, and it’s possible that (even though Trinaldo is competitive if not better in the clinch) Trinaldo’s stamina issues play a part here in the wrestling and the clinch exchanges if he can’t limit them. The Hernandez/Cerrone bout is encouraging for Trinaldo in that sense; Cerrone’s counter-knees eventually convinced Hernandez to stop barreling forward, and while Hernandez just ignored OAM’s counters on his way into the clinch, Trinaldo is one of the heavier-handed lightweights and running into his punches is hardly a sustainable way to push a pace. It’s possible that Hernandez takes over late, but he doesn’t have the tools to make it too likely.

Prediction: Trinaldo via KO3. This writer caps Trinaldo at -180.

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