Originally slated for the prelims, this middleweight bout was bumped up to the main card after the Matt Frevola vs. Ottman Azaitar fight was cancelled due to Azaitar recklessly breaking the COVID bubble rules, smuggling outsiders into the fighter hotel and consequently being released from the UFC roster.
Makhmud Muradov is currently riding a thirteen-fight winning streak, and is 2-0 in the UFC with wins over Alessio Di Chirico and Trevor Smith. He has plenty of experience, and is 24-6 as a professional with sixteen knockouts and three submissions. He did not fight in 2020, having scheduled dates with Kevin Holland, Antonio Carlos Junior, Karl Roberson and Krystof Jotko, but none of the four fights materialized. Fun fact, he is managed by Floyd Mayweather.
Andrew Sanchez earned his entry to the UFC in 2016 by virtue of his victory over Khalil Rountree in the TUF 23 championship. He is 4-3 in the octagon, and his losses have come against tough competition like Anthony Smith and Marvin Vettori. He has six wins by knockout and two by submission.
Muradov displays a poise and comfort in the octagon that you would never expect from a fighter with only two UFC fights. He’s calm because, though the cage might look different, he’s been here before. He now has 30 pro bouts under his belt, is confident that he has already seen whatever his opponent is going to throw at him, and looks to truly be at home fighting in a cage.
He’s a patient and composed striker who takes what his opponents give him. He fights behind his jab and is an intelligent and powerful counter striker. He has undeniable one-shot knockout power. He rarely throws more than two strikes at a time but he rarely needs to. He has a beautiful check hook, a nice right overhand and beautiful uppercuts. He throws quick high kicks and kicks to the midsection, and makes great use of front kicks to the body.
He wants his opponents to move forward but, if they don’t, he has no problem leading the action. In these scenarios, he moves in to touch his opponent with a jab, then a 1-2, then a jab, moving out of range after each touch. Eventually, opponents have to start chasing him to catch up on the scorecards, and Muradov goes to work countering with everything from hooks to front kicks.
Muradov has good wrestling skills. He’s very strong and executes double leg takedowns by overpowering his opponents. He has vicious ground striking and can put a lot of pressure on his opponents when he’s on top. He uses his size and strength well in the clinch too, working for underhooks and pressing his opponents into the cage.
Muradov has very good conditioning, and fights at the same pace in the third round as he does n the first. His level of pressure is constant, even when he knows he is ahead on the scorecards. A prime example is his XFN 15 win over Grzegorz Siwy. Muradov dominated the entirety of all three rounds, but still went for a fight-ending flying knee with just over one minute left in the third. It landed, wobbled Siwy, Muradov followed it with a right overhand and closed the show.
He finds himself struggling late in fights against opponents with good boxing skills and constant forward pressure, like Alessio di Chirico. Because Muradov likes to stay on the outside, he has to move around a lot to avoid damage against this type of striker. He won that fight against di Chirico and actually landed more shots in the third round, but held his hands low, his chin high, and ate some cleaners.
Andrew Sanchez is a strong, forward-moving power puncher with great wrestling skills. He was a four-time NAIA All American wrestler in college, and those skills have transitioned well into MMA. He pressures his opponents into the cage and ties them up with body locks and underhooks, landing strikes and maintaining dominant positions.
In space, he’s an athletic striker with good fundamentals and a high guard. He makes good use of his jab and looks to feint his opponents into throwing strikes so he can counter and initiate the clinch. He throws punches in bunches and has a lot of power. He tends to drop his hands when he throws, and can get caught by intelligent counter strikers like Muradov.
Sanchez’s conditioning is a bit of a concern. He’s often exhausted and labored late in fights. He is already giving up an advantage in striking speed in this matchup, he can’t afford to also be tired. This fight will effectively come down to Muradov’s ability to keep the fight standing, which I don’t think he will have a problem doing.
While Sanchez is a forward-moving boxer, he doesn’t apply enough pressure to make Muradov move more than he wants to. Stylistically and in terms of skill level, this fight is all Muradov in the striking department. If Sanchez can’t control this fight on the ground, he’ll likely be out classed on his feet for three full rounds, or Muradov will set him up and find a knockout.