This will be the second to last fight on the prelims tomorrow night, as NCAA Division I wrestler Frankie Saenz takes on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Marlon Vera. A few things stand out to me about this fight, aside from the simple fact that I’ve been watching them both since 2014. They are both trying to crack the top 15, they’re also both looking to make it three wins in a row. Each of these men also have 18 fights, Frankie has won 13 of them, and Marlon has won 12 of them and had a draw. This should be a fun bantamweight clash for us fans to watch.
Frankie Saenz won three different titles before joining the UFC; he won the WFF Featherweight Championship in his fourth professional fight, improving to 4-0 before losing his next two. With a record of 4-2, he fought for the Coalition of Combat Featherweight Championship, and won via majority decision. He then made both his bantamweight debut and KOTC debut, winning the KOTC Bantamweight Championship, and defended it twice before vacating it to join the UFC with an 8-2 record. He won his first three fights in the UFC, a unanimous decision over the 4-1 Tim Ticman, a unanimous decision over the 32-5 Iuri Alcantara, and a split decision over the 12-2 Sirwan Kakai.
Sanez then went on a little bit of a rough patch, and dropped his next three. The first of which he went into with an 11-2 record, and fought the former WEC Featherweight Champion Urijah Faber. Urijah almost finished Frankie in the second round but Frankie gutted through it and made it to the scorecards. His next fight would also be against a former WEC Champion, this time the former bantamweight king, Eddie Wineland; he was doing great in the fight, and most even had him winning it, before getting dropped with a beautiful right cross and finished moments after, about two minutes into round three.
His next outing was against the 5-1 Augusto Mendes, who’d only fought once in the UFC in a losing effort to Cody Garbrandt. Mendes has 17 medals in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, ranging from the Pan American Championships, to the World Championships, to the Brazilian National Championships, to the World Cup, and many more. Augusto was able to out wrestle Saenz, getting four takedowns to the Division I wrestlers zero, and was able to out strike him by 25 more total strikes. Frankie Saenz lost this fight via split decision, and I was just hoping that he wouldn’t get his pink slip from the UFC.
He didn’t get cut, and his next fight was against Merab Dvalishvili in December 2017, the fight didn’t really go his way, but the decision did. Many thought Merab did enough to win the decision, but he fell short via split decision. It was a competitive, back and fourth fight for sure, Saenz landed more significant strikes with 58 to Merab’s 47, and had better accuracy with them; however, Merab landed more total strikes with 104 to Frankie’s 66, and also landed eleven takedowns to Frankie’s zero. It’s not all bad though, Merab Dvalishvili is still in the UFC, and if Frankie Saenz would’ve lost this fight, he wouldn’t be.
His last fight was a good performance against Henry Briones, who he out struck in both total strikes and significant strikes, and was able to gain four takedowns, and gave up none; that’s much better than his last couple fights. He appears to be on the right track again, he is however 38 years old, I have to wonder how much he has left. Marlon Vera just turned 26, and is not an easy opponent either, he’s an elite mixed martial artist.
Marlon Vera is a very dangerous fighter, everywhere. He has nasty Muay Thai, and high level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu; he can knock you out, he can submit you off his back or from the top, he has relentless, aggressive pressure. He’s no fun for anyone that fights him. Before being forced off The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America with a skin infection, he went 1-0 on the show with a KO win over Henry Briones, that’s a guy Cody Garbrandt couldn’t knock out that he starched with an upkick. Marlon made his UFC debut with a record of 6-1-1; he started off his UFC career 1-2, losing to guys he’d almost indefinitely beat at this point, as he dropped a pair of unanimous decisions to Marco Beltran and Davey Grant, and inbetween the defeats had a triangle choke victory over Ramon Salzar. He was so young then, he has evolved into quite the dangerous, well rounded, high level cage fighter.
By this time he was 7-3-1, and he was about to start his first UFC win streak, firstly he picked up a unanimous decision over Ning Guangyou. He next defeated Brad Pickett via head kick and punches at 3:50 of round three in a very entertaining fight, and next won via armbar against Brian Kelleher, a guy who submitted BJJ black belt Iuri Alcantara in his UFC debut. At 10-3-1, he would drop his next two, both via unanimous decision to John Lineker and Douglas Silva de Andrade. Firstly, I think he’d win the de Andrade rematch, but that’s my opinion, and secondly I think it’s very impressive simply just to not get knocked out by John Lineker. He is back to his winning ways with a pair of second round finishes, as he picked up a TKO over Wuliji Buren last August; and submitted the man that replaced him on TUF, Guido Cannetti, a fight he won via rear naked choke. Marlon Vera is absolutely a finisher, he has three wins via knockout, seven wins via submission, and two wins via decision; while his opponent Frankie Saenz also hold three wins via knockout, he has just two submissions, and eight decisions. Mr. Saenz also holds a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but I’m not sure it will hold up against Marlon’s submission game, we will see! Out of Saenz’ losses, two are knockouts, two are decisions, and one is a disqualification; and out of Vera’s losses, all five are decisions, he’s tough as nails, as is Frankie.
As I said, both of these guys are looking to make it three in a row; Frankie Saenz is on a two fight decision streak, and Marlon Vera’s on a two fight finish streak. Marlon is 5’8” and Frankie is 5’6”, and Marlon has a five inch reach advantage on Frankie; however, it is generally easier for wrestlers to have success when they’re the shorter party, and Saenz has never been submitted before. 13-5 vs 12-5-1, NCAA Division I vs BJJ black belt.
Who takes it?