UFC 242: Underrated and Overlooked – Muhammad vs. Sato

This weekend in Abu Dhabi undefeated lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov returns to action to defend his lightweight title. Standing across from Khabib in the Octagon will be interim titleholder Dustin Poirier, who was crowned during Khabib’s suspension from action due to his actions post his Conor McGregor fight last October. Poirier fought in an instant classic with featherweight champion Max Holloway to win the strap and has never looked better. Khabib is looking to maintain his undefeated streak and secure his legacy as the greatest lightweight fighter of all time.

In the Co-Main event, Edson Barboza faces off against Paul Felder in a lightweight bout that is sure to be a fight of the year contender (whoops, jinxed it). These two faced off in 2015 in what was a pretty secure victory for Barboza. Felder debatably won the first round, but the rest was pretty assured in favour of Barboza. Since then Felder has come on leaps and bounds and is looking every bit of a top 5 contender in recent showing, the recent only blip on his record is a loss to Mike Perry at welterweight. Barboza, on the other hand, has lost 3 of his last 4 and is looking to get back to his winning ways following a brutal KO at the hands of Justin Gaethje.

These fights are belters undoubtedly and are worth the PPV money regardless. However, looking down the card a couple of fights in intrigue me. One, in particular, is Belal Muhammad vs Takashi Sato.

While Belal is quite well known in UFC circles and has a decent following on social media. However many will not quite know Sato yet. Even if they should. Sato’s lone fight in the UFC was his utter destruction of Ben Saunders at UFC Fight Night 150 this past April. While that can’t be considered a huge scalp, he came through his debut unscathed and will have for sure rid himself of the nerves he felt making that UFC walk for the first time. While Sato is 15-2 overall, he is currently only riding a two-fight win streak. Muhammad on the flip side is only on a 1 fight streak after defeating Curtis Millender at UFC 236, also in April this year and is 15-3 overall in his career. Belal is 5-1 in his last 6 fights and is looking to get back on a streak. Belal’s lone blip on that 6 fight streak is Geoff Neal, who is looking to be a serious talent and knockout artist, who Belal took the distance in a great fight in January this year. Muhammads stock most certainly didn’t suffer.

For me, what makes this fight exciting is the two styles that we are going to see. Sato is a finisher and there is no doubt about that. Only two of his fights have gone to decision in his 19 fight career. Early on in that career, he got a couple of submissions to his name, but since then he has been running through everybody with his great striking ability. During his fight with Saunders, he faced his fair share of adversity and was in my books around down when he entered the second round. From there, Sato let his boxing do the work and caught “Killer B” with a beautiful straight left, before following up with brutal elbows and punches on the ground. It was fair to say that Sato initially struggled with the range, but once he adjusted and managed to get his distance right, he showed just how devastating he could be.

You may be wondering about Sato’s pedigree outside of the UFC? Well, he has been fighting in Japan, mainly for Pancrase but also Deep. Both are legit organisations with great fighters and Sato has proved himself top dog of those promotions. His only loss in the last few years was to Glaico Franca in a Welterweight title fight in Pancrase. You will see that Franca is currently tearing his way through PFL and is on an 8 fight win streak, he’s certainly no slouch. Franca previously was in the UFC and was cut after losing his third fight to absolute beast Gregor Gillespie. Sato most certainly has the pedigree to be a champion but first, he will have to go through Belal Muhammad.

Belal is a tough gritty fighter coming out of Roufusport in Milwaukee and is a current training partner of co-main eventer Paul Felder. Belal is a different sort to Sato, he is a grinder and not a finisher. In his nine UFC appearances, two have been finished, and he was finished once in those. Muhammad though has solid striking, good wrestling and is a purple belt in BJJ, he can handle himself in any aspect of the game and usually, he dominates. He mixes up his striking and ground game very well, and add in a strong cardio game and you’ve got a horrible fighter to contend with. There must be nothing worse than throwing everything but the kitchen sink at a fighter, just for him to keep coming forward, just ask Geoff Neal. As always, styles make matchups and these two fighters together, for me, make a stick of dynamite ready to explode.

I see this fight going one way, to a decision, a decision in favour of Sato. Muhammad for all his grittiness, work ethic and all-round ability is not a fighter who can turn things at the drop of a hat, and fighting a killer like Sato will not work in his favour. Belal did survive his fight against Neal but did start to look very tired toward the end after taking a lot of hard shots. I believe Sato will do the same to him. Sato this time will also not have to contend with a huge reach advantage for his opponent and will look to impose his will in the striking game immediately. Belal will have to be at his best in the takedowns and Sato will have to show he has great takedown defence. Sato did struggle in the clinch against Ben Saunders and he will have surely put the work in to not be in that position again. All I know is, I think we are going to see an absolute belter of a fight. It will be back and forth throughout, but Sato’s superior quality will show in the end.

Another thing I know is that this fight being 4th on the card, headlining the early prelims, is a crime. Belal has a great following, this is great matchmaking and you have to ask the question as to why so far down? Maybe it is to bring in the casuals to buy the PPV after seeing a war, or maybe it is because their management teams are not doing them a solid. If you look at the main card, there is a fight between Islam Makhachev and Davi Ramos. I mean no disrespect to those fighters, but that is purely a move to keep Khabib’s teammate happy and to showcase Ali Abdelaziz’s fighter’s once again. Makhachev hasn’t fought since 2016, after a drug ban and a ban following his involvement in the Khabib/Conor post-fight brawl. These fights should be in the opposite time slots in my opinion and once again shows how the UFC is going as a company. It is no longer about the pinnacle of the sport and who is represented best.

Author: Sam Vickery


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