Muay Thai ace, Marina Rodriguez, will throw down opposite knockout artist, Amanda Lemos, this Saturday (Nov. 5, 2022) at UFC Vegas 64 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It really feels like UFC isn’t quite sure what to do with Rodriguez. The 35-year-old Brazilian is ranked at No. 3 in UFC’s rankings, and she’s won four in a row. She’s won two previous main event fights. Her only loss in nine UFC fights was an extremely competitive and up-in-the-air decision loss to the current champion, Carla Esparza. By most objective measures, Rodriguez has earned a shot at the belt, but she continues to be sidelined for the more well-known ladies at 115 pounds. Lemos, meanwhile, dropped from 135 pounds to Strawweight, and the benefits were immediately obvious. The 35-year-old Brazilian is stronger and faster than a serious majority of her division, allowing her to stand out as one of the few power punchers in her class. She’s won six of seven at Strawweight, earning a spot in the Top 10.
Let’s take a closer look at their skill sets:
Rodriguez may not have the one-punch power of her opponent, but she’s the better technical striker. Her style is very pure Muay Thai, and she’s still able to do a lot of damage once her offense gets flowing.
Aggression and combination building are the name of Rodriguez’s game. She does not hang back and jab. Rather, Rodriguez stalks her opponents, blasting them at distance with power kicks or chasing after them with left hooks and right hands.
The difference between Rodriguez and a more garden variety brawler is how she follows those punches up. After firing a hook-cross or cross-hook combination, Rodriguez will judge her opponent’s reaction. If her foe is backing away from the punches, Rodriguez will follow up with a kick, digging into the leg, body, or head with equal zeal.
Alternatively, her opponent may stand her ground. In that case, Rodriguez likes to crash forward into the clinch, where she really excels. When able to secure control of the head via the double-collar or even single-collar tie, Rodriguez does a really nice job of yanking her opponent off-balance before landing the knee. Likely thanks to her physical strength and technique alike, Rodriguez is able to hang onto the head for long periods of time, exhausting her opponents and opening up further knees. At any point between all the knees, Rodriguez will mix in heavy elbows.
A strong example of her clinch work came against Michelle Waterson. Waterson typically pursues her takedowns from the clinch, and Rodriguez commonly punished that habit by using frames to create openings to land knees while preventing her foe from wrestling (GIF). In addition, Rodriguez’s wide swings were forcing Waterson to cover up under fire, and often, Rodriguez would use that positioning to latch onto the double-collar tie and let her knees fly (GIF).
Another habit of Muay Thai fighters is to stand their ground and fire back rather than retreat. Such was the case in Rodriguez’s stellar knockout win over Amanda Ribas. As Ribas stepped forward with punches, Rodriguez threw up a counter 3-2, and the right hand sent Ribas face-planting toward the canvas (GIF).
Meanwhile, Lemos is a powerful striker with a good sense of distance and timing. Rather than build combinations, she tends to try to catch her opponent coming in or leaning back with one huge connection. She’s more stationary than most of her peers and stands a bit wide. She switches stances fairly often, usually with the intent of lining up singular and powerful connections.
Lemos likes to fight at distance. Often, she begins fights by trying to blast her opponents with kicks. Switching stances, Lemos feints a bit before firing naked power kicks. This can be risky, but when your low kick knocks an opponent well out of stance, it does dilute the odds of a counter. Lemos does smart work in attacking the open side (i.e. right calf kicks and left body kicks vs. an Orthodox opponent). Against Angela Hill, she nearly ended the fight in the first round with a sudden front kick to the chin.
From this range, a pair of situations often play out, and Lemos is built to capitalize upon both. Generally, fighters do not like hanging back and getting power-kicked into a pulp — it’s a bad time! As such, the typical response is pressure and combination punching. Most fighters — male or female — tend to lean forward a bit while chasing, which leaves their head at a very hittable distance while their own punches come up short.
Lemos’ ability to plant her feet and time a right hand as her opponent steps forward is very good (GIF).
Lemos is a strong athlete, and her wider stance makes it easier to shift her weight and deliver powerful shots. Having knockout power in a division where relative few of her peers can crack is huge. In some fights, such as her beatdown of Lívia Renata Souza, power alone was enough to decide the fight.
While on the offensive, Lemos sticks to short combinations. She’ll fire a stiff jab (GIF), 1-2, or cross hook, cutting off the cage and occasionally going to the body. Each of these strikes can do real damage, and she’s comfortable in longer exchanges if her opponent tries to counter.
Natural power and timing allow Lemos to keep it simple but still hurt opponents consistently.
Neither woman is particularly adept at scoring takedowns. Of the two, Lemos is the more willing wrestler. It’s rarely complicated, but a bit of strength makes it much easier to score a double along the fence or yank an opponent over from the double under hooks position.
That’s unlikely to come into play here, however, as Rodriguez has slowly and consistently become one of her division’s better sprawl-and-brawl fighters. She still tends to stand a bit too tall and charge forward too often to be impossible to take down, but fortunately, Rodriguez excels at working back up quickly. As soon as she’s taken down, Rodriguez is framing the face and scooting toward the fence, working to wall-walk with a real sense of urgency.
Lemos has three career submission victories, including two inside the Octagon. Her second-round rear naked choke over Miranda Granger was an interesting one, as Lemos was able to finish the strangle from an odd position. Generally, one of the fundamental rules of back mount and finishing the rear naked choke is chest-to-back connection. Basically, the person taking the back wants to actually be behind the other person.
As Granger worked to stand up, however, her side and back were to the fence and cage, preventing Lemos from circling behind. She left her neck open though, which allowed Lemos to reach across her own body and sink an arm under the neck. Immediately, the Brazilian fully committed to locking up the grip and squeezing, putting her opponent to sleep from that sideways positioning (GIF).
Lemos’ strangle over Waterson was even slicker. After being taken down briefly, the Brazilian used an overhook and post to immediately stand back up. Waterson wanted to continue the wrestling exchange, so she kept her posture low and tried to continue driving forward. Lemos kept the pressure from the overhook and wrapped her other arm around Waterson’s neck, then took a leap of faith into the full guard.
Waterson, a tricky woman to submit, was completely stuck and forced to tap.
Rodriguez has yet to attempt any submissions in her UFC career, though she did bust up Carla Esparza with elbows from her back. Really, her most impressive accomplishment was surviving some bad entanglements with Mackenzie Dern. Dern didn’t complete many takedowns, but when she did, the striker kept her calm and managed to avoid any serious trouble.
Both Rodriguez and Lemos are more talented and dangerous strikers than a majority of their division. Unlike some other five-round Strawweight and Flyweight fights in recent memory, this one has real potential to be an absolute slugfest, and it has real title implications.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.
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