Weight Class: Bantamweight (135 lbs)
The opening bout in tonight’s UFC event in Las Vegas will feature the promotion’s first Jordanian born fighter in Ali Al Qaisi. Al Qaisi will be making his debut riding a five fight winning streak. This is split between Brave FC, where “The Royal Fighter” picked up his last three wins and Phoenix FC, where he secured the other two.
As for Irwin Rivera, this will mark his UFC debut at his natural weight class. He most recently lost a unanimous decision to Giga Chikadze on less than two day’s notice back in May. Rivera earned lots of respect for going to the cards against one of the more precise strikers in the Featherweight division. Though Rivera lost decisively, he kept the pressure up over the duration of the fight and was jumping while punching more than once.
This fight could really be classified as Rivera’s UFC debut as well, as the Chikadze fight was up a weight class. He will now have a full camp, the UFC debut jitters behind him and an opportunity to show what he can do at Bantamweight.
Stylistically, the edge has to go to Rivera on the feet. Expect pressure and volume with solid boxing combinations. This does leave him open to being hit, but he was able to eat multiple well timed counters from Chikadze. If his chin held up like that against Giga, it’s tough to see Al Qaisi winning the fight on the feet.
Al Qaisi, on the other hand, has the clear edge on the ground. He has pulled off more than one standing guillotine in his budding MMA career, albeit with smaller promotions. No one will argue that the Jordanian is not aggressive, however, as he knows how to grind on his opponent and fish for the submission.
Rivera has been susceptible to the take down at points in his career, most notably with Titan FC, where he was champion at one point. He’s always been able to scramble back to his feet though, and has the explosiveness required to power his way up as well.
Al Qaisi has demonstrated decent counter striking in the past, which could be a key to victory for him. Rivera will certainly be pressuring, so the opportunities for counters are there. If he can pick his shots and use them to set up the wrestling, I like Al Qaisi as an underdog.
The only thing to worry about is cardio advantage as well as past UFC experience for Irwin Rivera. Although the Chikadze fight was irrelevant to his standing in the UFC, it got those first time Octagon nerves out of the way. Al Qaisi will be dealing with this tonight.
Rivera also has the cardio edge, as demonstrated in the Chikadze fight. If Al Qaisi gets over aggressive on the ground and doesn’t get the submission, I could see him gassing out while Rivera cruises to a decision. He will be moving forward and throwing strikes the whole time, which will rack up points if Al Qaisi fades.
Ultimately though, I think this is an underdog or bust fight and I like the chances of Ali Al Qaisi. A moneyline of (+160) from FanDuel Sportsbook is certainly tempting, as Rivera is far from a sure thing. Debut fights are always tricky to predict, but it’s tough to justify Irwin Rivera as a nearly 2-to-1 favorite. Al Qaisi by submission at (+850) is insane and is certainly worth a small wager. I never like passing up an underdog moneyline though, so I’ll stick with Ali Al Qaisi moneyline (+160) as my official pick.
Prediction and play: Ali Al Qaisi moneyline (+160)
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