Nicolini has had four professional MMA bouts and Mazepa only two, but career records tell only a fraction of the story about why this is the best matchup on the card, and the one I’m personally most looking forward to.
The classic grappler versus striker contest is the foundation of great matchups in mixed martial arts, and these two convincingly embody the epitome of each category. Demonstrating this isn’t difficult.
Nicolini is an eight-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion. While she is as qualified as any person in the world to teach grappling, she is very much still under the tutelage of her Muay Thai world champion teammates at Evolve MMA, as far as striking goes.
Mazepa, on the other hand, has demonstrated striking of a very high order in the ONE cage, which is no surprise given she’s a five-time wushu world champion and K-1 kickboxing world champion.
The Russian brought her kickboxing base to the fore in a shocking and conclusive one-punch knockout of Ann Osman, before unanimously outpointing multiple world title-winning boxer Ana Julaton only two months later.
Having whetted our appetite with those two earth-shaking wins, we have been kept waiting for over a year for her third fight, and Nicolini provides the perfect challenge.
Neither Osman nor Julaton have the ground game that the Brazilian brings to the cage, and therefore Mazepa is about to find herself in unchartered waters.
Personally, I would always have been happy at the thought of Mazepa fighting for a world title in 2017. That could happen either at strawweight, where she fights Nicolini, or flyweight, where she fought Osman.
Nicolini hasn’t yet beaten a mixed martial artist of the pedigree that warrants a world title challenge, but if she beats Mazepa, that will have ticked the appropriate box.
I’ve gone on record proposing the maxim that in women’s MMA, a good puncher beats a good grappler. Genuine power is harder to find in WMMA than it is in the men’s arena. That rare quality brings with it a game-changing factor that is hard to prepare for, defend, and absorb.
Either woman could take the win in an instant with their world-class skill sets, but I find it hard to move away from my opinion that kickboxing beats grappling at this level. We’ve seen it before, and we’ll see it again.
If we see it in Manila on Friday, Mazepa’s next fight will likely be with a championship belt at stake.
Steve Dawson is ONE Championship’s lead commentator, a Fox Sports presenter and an author of sporting biographies. He can be found on Twitter & Instagram as @Gulasahi and on Facebook as Steve Dawson.