Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight standouts Dennis Bermudez and Tatsuya Kawajiri will battle this Sunday (Feb. 21, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 83 inside Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
If Bermudez has proven anything in his 10-fight UFC career, it’s that he’s as game as they come. However, Bermudez’s willingness to scrap has landed him on his ass in his last pair of fights, making this a very important bout for him.
Kawajiri is the definition of a well-traveled veteran, competing just about everywhere in his 16-year professional career. At the moment, the Japanese veteran has clawed his way into the Top 15, and he’s now looking for the biggest win of his Featherweight career.
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each fighter:
Key Wins: Max Holloway (UFC 160), Clay Guida (UFC on FOX 12), Jimy Hettes (UFC 171)
Key Losses: Ricardo Lamas (UFC 180), Jeremy Stephens (UFC 189), Diego Brandao (TUF 14 Finale)
Keys to Victory: Bermudez is a very talented wrestler and physical powerhouse. He’s something of a bruiser on the feet as well, as he walks his opponent down with crisp boxing and some powerful low kicks.
On paper, this should be something of a rebound fight for “The Menace.” He’s the younger, more powerful athlete, and his game is far more suited for modern mixed martial arts (MMA). Basically, Bermudez is in the prime of his career and has developed into a damn tough fighter, whereas his opponent is definitely closer to the end of his career.
The problem Bermudez faces is, in fact, his face. Bermudez tends to lead with his head and is generally hittable, which could be an issue against a crafty veteran like Kawajiri.
On the whole, Bermudez has everything he needs to win this fight and look very good doing it. However, he needs to avoid walking into any traps, as a single hard counter punch could really change this fight up.
In fact, Bermudez may want to force some early wrestling exchanges. At 37 years old, it’s no surprise that Kawajiri starts to slow down a bit as the fight wears on — particularly after heavy wrestling exchanges — and that could make it far easier for Bermudez to safely batter his opponent on the feet.
Key Wins: Dennis Siver (UFC Fight Night ), Josh Thomson (Dynamite! 2010), Sean Soriano (UFC Fight Night 34)
Key Losses: Clay Guida (UFC Fight Night 39), Gilbert Melendez (Pride Shockwave 2006, Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley), Eddie Alvarez (DREAM 5), Shinya Aoki (DREAM 15)
Keys to Victory: Kawajiri has been fighting some of the best in the world for many years now, but a drop down to Featherweight allowed him to finally make his way into the UFC. While Kawajiri has an effective-if-unorthodox striking style, he’s best known for his “crushing” top game which has helped him secure 22 finishes.
There’s no denying this is a tough match up for Kawajiri, and the odds — which have him as a nearly 3-1 underdog — reflect that. On the bright side, the holes in Bermudez’s game have been revealed, so the Japanese combatant knows what he has to do.
Considering Kawajiri’s skill set, he has two real paths to victory. If Kawajiri can score takedowns, he’d be in great position to dominate his opponent with his brutal top game. That’s definitely a path Kawajiri should attempt early on, as it’s impossible to really tell who will hold the wrestling edge until both men are in the cage.
However, since Bermudez is a more than capable wrestler himself, Kawajiri will likely need to make something happen on the feet. He doesn’t likely have the technical kickboxing to pick apart or even out-work his opponent, but Kawajiri does have the X-factor of plain weirdness as well as experience.
In that situation, Kawajiri will need to make something happen on the feet to shift the momentum of the fight, as it likely won’t go well for him otherwise.
Bottom Line: This is an important fight for a pair of the Featherweight division’s dark horse contenders.
As mentioned, this fight is designed to get Bermudez back into the win column. Prior to his loss to Lamas, Bermudez was on a seven fight win streak and in title talks. Consecutive losses have set him back a fair amount, and he cannot afford to lose a third here.
He wouldn’t receive a pink slip, but it would still be a serious fall from grace.
On the other hand, a win gets Bermudez back on track. He’ll still need to build a new win streak, but victory here shows that Bermudez is still a Top 10 fighter and could potentially earn a position among the elite at Featherweight.
At this point, Kawajiri seems to have reached his ceiling as a gatekeeper to the Top 10, which — considering his age and how long he’s been competing — is pretty damn impressive. While he may be an underdog here, the positive for “Crusher” is that a loss does not cost him any ground.
However, victory would huge for Kawajiri. Bermudez is a very tough member of the Top 10, and a win here would make it three straight. That should be enough to gain Kawajiri some attention and earn him a high-profile bout in his next outing.