Welcome the MMA News’ Sleeper Scrap! The relentless schedule of the MMA world means that some fans don’t have a full look at a fight card until days before the event, leaving the promoters to decide which bouts you should be paying the most attention to.
Everyone wants to tune in for main events and fights that feature popular names, but that means meaningful or potentially action-packed matchups from elsewhere on fight cards sometimes get lost in the shuffle. A Sleeper Scrap might highlight interesting style matchups, fighters with notable storylines, or bouts that simply have the chance to be a Fight of the Night contender.
Less than a month after UFC 280 fell somewhat short of the expectations set by many fans, UFC 281 comes to Madison Square Garden with another pair of title fights and a fight card stacked with talent. Much like UFC 280, even the prelims for this event could easily fill out the main card for a UFC Fight Night.
One of the UFC’s best offerings this year still includes a few fights that deserve some extra attention, and this week’s Sleeper Scrap is a bantamweight matchup between Julio Arce and Montel Jackson.
Both of these Contender Series winners have proven they belong in the UFC, but this fight at UFC 281 is a chance for one of them to establish some real momentum in the bantamweight division.
There’s a good chance that the majority of this fight plays out on the feet, and Arce will have to be wary of Jackson’s power. Despite only having one knockout in the UFC, Jackson has knocked down his last four opponents and sent JP Buys to the canvas four times during his most recent fight.
“Quik” hasn’t been stopping people at the same rate as he did during his pre-UFC career, but he still hits hard enough where Arce could have a short night if he gets careless.
Arce may not be the kind of knockout threat that Jackson is, but the 33-year-old makes up for that with clean striking technique and confidence in a few key weapons.
It’s unlikely Jackson will land counters with the same ease that he did against Buys, as Arce is more than happy to rely on jabs and leg kicks while remaining defensively sound. The 33-year-old will also look for opportunities to fire off his left straight and occasional high kicks, both of which have more than enough power to get Jackson’s attention.
Another interesting aspect of this fight is that both men are southpaws, and Jackson will also hold a five-inch reach advantage to go along with being a few inches taller than Arce.
While that reach advantage may bode well for Jackson on the feet, the 30-year-old will have to look out for the constant threat of leg kicks. Arce will regularly punish the inside and outside of his opponent’s lead leg, which will no doubt be all the more enticing given Jackson’s length.
Considering his size and that he’s been the more willing grappler during his UFC tenure, it will be interesting to see if Jackson looks to test Arce’s takedown defense at all. Even if “Quik” does try to mix in a few takedowns, Arce has only been taken down a handful of times in the UFC and never more than once in a fight.
If Jackson does intend to win through his striking, he’d do well to avoid repeating the performance Daniel Santos put on in Arce’s last fight.
The debuting Brazilian was the more aggressive and dynamic fighter throughout that bout, but Arce was never rattled by the pressure and remained confident in his own striking skills. The result was a fight where Arce managed to land double the strikes that Santos did, largely while being kept on the back foot and focusing on counter strikes.
Arce began his UFC tenure with a pair of wins over Dan Ige and Daniel Teymur but has alternated wins and losses since dropping a split decision to Sheymon Moraes in 2018.
He’s 2-1 since making a return to bantamweight last year, so there’s no doubt the 33-year-old would love to improve a UFC record that is basically 50-50.
Previous editions of the Sleeper Scrap have noted that the bantamweight division isn’t the easiest place to string wins together but ending Jackson’s two-fight winning streak to start a run of his own would be a solid starting point.
At 33-years-old, this could be a defining moment for Arce’s ceiling in the UFC. He’s already tried to shake things up by dropping down to bantamweight for the first time since 2016, so unless he plans to move back up to featherweight this division needs to be where he makes his mark on the promotion.
Arce has already had a solid UFC run and is in no immediate danger of being cut, but at a certain point the promotion may lose interest in a fighter that’s only been winning every other fight.
Jackson already has a bit more momentum than Arce given that he’s won his last two bouts, and “Quik” also put together three-straight wins in between losing decisions to Ricky Simón and Brett Johns.
Those two bouts are the only losses of his career, and the 30-year-old is still young enough where he has room to rebound in the event that this fight doesn’t go his way.
Even if Jackson is able to handle this matchup, Arce is one of those fighters that can be difficult to look good against unless you finish him. Three-straight wins would be a solid streak regardless, but Jackson would help his case for future matchups a lot more if he can score a win like his stoppage of Jesse Strader last year.
In terms of the action, it’s going to be interesting to see how Arce’s measured approach clashes with Jackson’s power and length. A major area of intrigue in this fight is obviously which man is able to get a win and climb higher in the division, but there’s also every chance this turns into an exciting striking battle and an excellent Sleeper Scrap from UFC 281.
How do you think this bout between Arce and Jackson will turn out? Are there any other fights from UFC 281 that you feel qualify as a Sleeper Scrap?
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