MMAjunkie Radio co-host and MMAjunkie contributor Dan Tom provides an in-depth breakdown of UFC Fight Night 128s top bouts. Today, we look at the four fights that open the main card.
UFC Fight Night 128 takes place Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., and the card airs on FS1 following early prelims on UFC Fight Pass.
- UFC Fight Night 128 main-event breakdown: The Kevin Lee tool that could foil Edson BarbozaUFC Fight Night 128 breakdown: Will Cub Swanson make Frankie Edgar pay for quick turnaround?
* * * *
Justin Willis (6-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC)
- Height: 6’3″ Age: 30 Weight: 265 lbs. Reach: 78″ Last fight: KO win over Alan Crowder (Dec. 2, 2017)
- Camp: American Kickboxing Academy (California)
- Stance/striking style: Southpaw/kickboxing
- Risk management: Fiar
Former All-conference football player
4 KO victories
3 first-round finishes
Solid pace and pressure
Deceptive speed and athleticism
Dangerous left hand
^ Coming forward or off the counter
Strong inside of the clinch
Natural wrestling ability
^ Good level-changing takedown
Shows serviceable grappling
^ Positional awareness and rides
Chase Sherman (11-4 MMA, 2-3 UFC)
- Height: 6’4″ Age: 28 Weight: 250 lbs. Reach: 78″ Last fight: Knockout loss to Shamil Abdurakhimov (Nov. 25, 2017)
- Camp: D1 Mobile (Mississippi)
- Stance/striking style: Orthodox/muay Thai
- Risk management: Fair
Regional MMA title
Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt
10 KO victories
9 first-round finishes
Aggressive pace and pressure
^ high-volume striker
Improved feints and footwork
Athletic and agile
Strong inside the clinch
^ Dangerous knees and elbows
Serviceable grappling ability
Summary: In a fun matchup of two former football players turned heavyweight fighters, Justin Willis will square off with Chase Sherman.
Since losing his first professional fight in 2012, Willis has gone on a six-fight winning streak, with his last two coming inside of the octagon. Standing in his way is Sherman, a UFC heavyweight who is looking to bounce back from a bad beat in Shanghai, suffering a loss to Shamil Aburakhimov last November.
Starting off on the feet is a battle between two former college athletes who have taken to two completely different styles of striking.
Sherman, an aggressive stick-and-move stylist, steadily presses down on the gas pedal for pressure in his fights. Unleashing a high-volume assault for a heavyweight, the 28-year-old variates his shots selections nicely. From the occasional level-changing body shot to his hard, punctuating leg kicks, Sherman has gotten better about sitting down on his shots, carrying potency in what he throws.
That said, despite his quiet efforts made toward defensive improvements, Sherman’s in-your-face sensibilities allow him to be hittable by nature, which is why this matchup with Willis makes for a fun styles pairing.
A football player who found his way to the American Kickboxing Academy early on, Willis appears to have a sponge-like quality to accompany his raw (and somewhat deceptive) athleticism.
Embodying a unique striking style to accompany his heavyweight build, Willis comes off as a constructed character from the UFC video game, assuming your goal was to create an amalgamation between Daniel Cormier and Conor McGregor.
Working behind his deceptively mobile frame, Willis employs a surprisingly sound counter striking game off of pressure that smacks of the former UFC featherweight (and lightweight or whatever) champion. Utilizing Dutch hand-traps off of his lead, Willis will open up opportunities to land his favored left cross, a weapon he also keeps at the ready in a countering effort.
Whether Sherman gets greedy with his gains or careless with his strike retractions, the left hand of Willis will be live. The American Top Team product also appears to be a natural wrestler, something that could also serve him well in stimying Sherman’s pressure.
Possessing a second-nature feel for the takedown, Willis wields an excellent variety of level-changing threats from double-legs to knee-taps. Should Willis ground Sherman, then we’ll probably see where the Mississippi native’s ground game currently resides.
Although there is not much of a sample-size of Sherman on the mat, he appears to a solid awareness from all positions, even showing competent underhook getups and scrambles from his guard early on in his career. Trained under the talented Alan Belcher, I assume that the four-year pro has a better grappling game that what’s on paper. But with Willis already showing solid grappling controls and transitions, then Sherman may be forced to show his hand at some point in the fight.
The oddsmakers and public seem to be taking their side on things, listing Willis -335 and Sherman 275 as of this writing.
Seeing 3-1 odds in a heavyweight fight (even when it’s more known commodities) often feels like a roundabout way of asking the MMA gods for an upset to occur. Still, I have to agree with who is favored to win.
Sherman, for all his fun characteristics, can’t seem to steer himself away from an accident nor take his foot off the pedal. And even though the 28-year-old talent has more skills and upside than many give him credit for, I have a hard time not seeing his aggressive sensibilities play right into the hands of Willis.
Willis is a unique makeup of fighter who is going to be hard to replicate for anyone going forward, and I see him causing some issues for Sherman if his chin and composure keep its current course. I don’t know if Sherman’s durability will allow Willis to get the finish, but I see the American Kickboxing Academy fighter using his counters and level-changing takedowns to secure the win on the scorecards.