Felipe Lima vs. Muhammad Naimov UFC on ABC 6 Breakdown

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In one of the more intriguing fights on the show, Felipe Lima takes on Muhammad Naimov on this weekend’s UFC Saudi Arabia card. Here’s how the two upstart featherweights match up with one another

Lima’s Fighting Biography

Felipe Lima will arrive in Saudi Arabia on a wave of European boosterism driving the surging OKTAGON promotion. After a fairly conventional competitive adolescence inside the regional Brazilian scene, Lima burst onto the mainstage in 2023. He achieved this thanks to an emphatic victory over Jonas Mågård, (at the time the Bantamweight champion) in a fight where he was expected to fulfil the role of sacrificial victim for the recently coronated champion.

The parallels therefore write themselves when you look ahead to the upcoming UFC trip to Riyadh, as the 26-year-old Lima steps up both a division (to 145) and to the late prelims on a prestige fight night, as a replacement dance partner for the streaking Muhammad Naimov.

Naimov, the Technical Breakdown

Lima’s opponent currently sits on a six-fight winning streak, three of those being within the UFC, having defeated divisional staples like Jamie Mullarkey and Nathaniel Wood. On the feet, he’s nothing if not consistent; relying on his 1-2 from both stances and wide right hooks, he was certainly competitive (notwithstanding a healthy amount of cheating) in his brief exchanges with striking savant Nathaniel Wood, scoring a scrappy knockdown within the first minute.

Naimov does his best work in the clinch, controlling the flow of the fight thanks to a vice-like body lock before initiating inside trips to achieve top position on the ground. From there, he may employ an outside head position to stifle his opponent’s counters and grind them down in a war of attrition.

This certainly doesn’t make for inspiring reading for any diehard Lima fans, who is yet to face a grappler with the credentials of Naimov. However, by looking at his coming out performance against Mågård, it’s at least possible to provide Lima with a credible escape route inside the territory of the “Hillman.”

A Fighting Gameplan for the Debutant

It’s clear from his fight with Mågård, that Lima is adept at distance management. He keeps a wide near-bladed stance, which enables him to bounce in and out of range, displaying an array of unorthodox techniques, including flying knees, spinning backfists and jumping switch-kicks. Importantly, a lack of said activity was perceived by Cory Sandhagen to have cost the far most advanced Nathaniel Wood in his bout against Naimov.

All this denies Naimov his preferred body-lock and prevents him from simply blitzing, as Lima can factor any unadvisable attacks into his rhythm. Instead, he may leave Naimov with the poisonous offering of a single leg, which Lima can counter by landing shots as he retreats to the cage, or by snapping up a guillotine.

If and when Naimov does eventually execute a takedown, Lima is a restless bottom player. He persistently fights off his back, throwing up submission attempts (Triangles, Omoplatas, and Leg Reaps), if not to finish, then at least to offer a credible deterrent to his opponent, giving him the opportunity to initiate the types of frenetic scrambles that can fluster an opponent into leaving a trailing limb, or a chance to return to the feet, ala Charles Oliveira.

The Benefits of a Last Minute Debut

Defiant ambition in the face of defeat certainly contains the makings of a compelling story, Lima is set to craft his second in under a year. Due to the size of the event and personalities on the card, Lima’s story, talents and chances will naturally be squeezed to a brief and unrevealing biography prior to his walkout.

Yet these black holes in fan understanding and competitive matchups often contain potential star-making performances. A recent example is Lima’s compatriot Filipe Dos Santos, who in his barnburner of a performance against the explosive Manel Kape, established an immediate reputation inaccessible to most of the fighters who emerge through Dana White’s Contender Series or the Ultimate Fighter.

Additionally, there is a long history of star making performances by late replacements, including the likes of Kevin Holland and Darren Till. And although the former was handed a defeat, this only extended to the scorecards, with Holland in particular making good on further lucrative opportunities within the promotion, no doubt in part thanks to the character on display in his debut.

Defeat and fan interest should never be mutually exclusive when it comes to appreciating fighters. A binary view of the sport leaves the beholder forever poorer, and the athletes that seize the gauntlet in defiance of the odds, deserve the attention and commendation that is denied to the names not plastered across posters.

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Noah Ricketts is a writer and a third year student at Oxford University. He has previously written for the Medievalist magazine. In his spare time, he trains Jiujitsu and wrestling, along with being a keen chess player.