Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated’s in-depth look at MMA. Every week, this column offers insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.
Far in advance of last month’s UFC 276 card, Jamahal Hill warned Sean Strickland about a potential turning point in his upcoming middleweight fight against Alex Pereira.
Beware of Pereira’s setup, shared Hill, who noted that it would end in a heavy hook. And that was exactly how the fight ended, with a shell-shocked Strickland falling prey to Pereira’s vicious knockout blow.
“I saw it coming,” Hill says. “Strickland had asked me to spar with him, so it was something I had to mention. I saw that as soon as I watched some of Pereira’s fights, and I knew it was going to happen.”
Hill (10-1, 1 NC) also has a premonition about the way his UFC Fight Night main event is going to finish this Saturday night against Thiago Santos–believing it will also end in a sudden, painful fashion.
“I’m going to finish Santos,” Hill says. “I can’t control how much he can take, but I can control how much I can put on him. So it doesn’t matter how long it takes, but I’m going to put pressure on him until he breaks.”
A victory against sixth-ranked Santos (22-10) would be a massive accomplishment for Hill, who is currently ranked 10th in the light heavyweight division. Santos (22-10) remains dangerous, but he has struggled ever since a competitive loss to Jon Jones in July of 2019. Most recently, he is coming off a loss to Magomed Ankalaev–and has lost four of his last five, with the only victory against Johnny Walker, who Hill knocked out in February.
On paper, these are two fighters heading in completely opposite directions. Santos is no longer the force he once was in the cage, while Hill is ready to make a legitimate run at the title.
“This fight is exactly what I’ve been waiting for,” Hill says. “He’s somebody I’ve had an eye on, and now it’s my time.
“After this fight and one against another top-five guy, I’ll get my title shot.”
Right now, Hill is not part of any consideration for a title fight. He waits behind Glover Teixeira, Jan Blachowicz, Ankalaev, and Aleksander Rakić–and potentially even Santos, Dominick Reyes, Volkan Oezdemir, and Paul Craig (who is the lone fighter to defeat Hill). But he could jump as high as sixth in the division with a convincing win against Santos, and he has a versatile skill set of grappling, jiu-jitsu, and power that allows him to match up with anyone in the top 10.
“Everybody has strengths, but my strengths are different,” Hill says. “A lot of people still don’t respect me the way they should, which is why they fall to me.
“But I’m not focused on anyone but Santos. I’m focusing on the things I can control. I signed this contract, and now it’s time for me to go in there and win this fight.”
Pat Downey ready for MMA debut at Bellator 284
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Pat Downey makes his long-awaited MMA debut next week at Bellator 284. Fighting in a middleweight bout against Jeff Souder, the highly decorated wrestler plans to make a seamless transition into a different sport.
“I’ve never done anything that made more sense in my life than joining Bellator,” Downey says. “This is for me. I need to prove I can do this for me and my family. For my late grandfather. This is truly what I want, and it’s the next step in writing my legacy.”
Downey, 29, enjoyed plenty of success on the mat before his frustrations mounted with USA Wrestling in a genuine clash of styles. He is still determined to continue his wrestling career, along with his new venture into Bellator.
“If I’m not Bellator champion by 2025, I didn’t meet my goal,” Downey says. “I see myself as champion of the middleweight division right after the Olympics. I still want to wrestle in the next Olympics in 2024, then come back and win the title.”
A matchup against Souder, who is also making his Bellator debut, should serve as an early litmus test for Downey. He believes this fight will be over quickly and intends to turn it into a highlight reel.
“I’m not just going out there to win, I’m going out to finish the guy,” Downey says. “I’m not looking to hold, hold, and hold. You do not want to miss my debut and see the way I finish him.
“After all I’ve been through, it’s great to finally have my fight in front of me. And after this, I’m Irish, so I want to fight next month in Dublin [at Bellator 285]. If I don’t take any damage in this fight, then why not? I’m ready for whatever Bellator gives me.”
The Pick ‘Em Section:
UFC Fight Night main event: Jamahal Hill vs. Thiago Santos
Pick: Jamahal Hill
UFC Fight Night welterweight bout: Vicente Luque vs. Geoff Neal
Pick: Vicente Luque
UFC Fight Night heavyweight bout: Augusto Sakai vs. Sergey Spivak
Pick: Sergey Spivak
UFC Fight Night women’s flyweight bout: Ariane Lipski vs. Priscila Cachoeira
Pick: Ariane Lipski
PFL lightweight playoff semi-final bout: Anthony Pettis vs. Stevie Ray
Pick: Anthony Pettis
Last week: 4-1
2022 record: 87-49
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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.