UFC Fight Night 171: Benitez vs. Morales - Preview & Prediction

By Nick Cowie

Despite its spot as the third fight on the prelims this Wednesday, Gabriel Benitez vs. Omar Morales figures to be a fun one between two skilled strikers. Benitez moves up from the featherweight division to take on the undefeated Venezuelan prospect. Will the experience and poise of Benitez help him bank rounds or will the explosive power and size advantage of Morales get him the win?

Gabriel Benitez (21-7)

Hailing from Mexico, Gabriel Benitez loves a good war. We saw that his last time out in a matchup with Sodiq Yusuff which was a back and forth firefight for about four minutes. Eventually, Benitez dropped, but not before wobbling Yusuff who was a heavy favorite. Benitez looked like even money on the feet against Yusuff and managed to legitimately hurt the Nigerian who typically has a solid striking defense. If Benitez can get inside the range of Morales, he has a legitimate chance to hurt him over the course of three rounds. While Benitez is not known for his grappling credentials, he is an opportunistic submission artist and has a nasty guillotine. If Morales shoots a sloppy takedown, this fight could be over soon after.

One issue we have seen from Benitez in the past is difficulty getting inside of longer strikers. We saw this against Andre Fili where Benitez had trouble touching the longer fighter. He was eventually finished with a head kick and follow up shots after finding very little success on the feet. On Wednesday, Benitez will be the smaller fighter by quite a bit and will also have a three-inch reach disadvantage. He will have to be extremely careful closing the distance on Morales or he could get seriously hurt on his way into the pocket.

Omar Morales (9-0)

We don’t have a ton of tape to look at for Omar Morales but so far, we can see that he is a powerful finisher who also has the ability to win rounds. He punched his ticket to the UFC with a convincing Contender Series finish of LFA Lightweight Champion, Harvey Park. That fight was highlighted by the crushing power Morales possesses in his leg kicks. If Morales can slow the movement of Benitez, he could be chasing a finish soon after. Of his nine wins, six of them are finishes. The pure size and power that Omar Morales brings to the lightweight division is concerning in its own right for Gabriel Benitez, a rather average-sized featherweight. With the technical ability and seemingly adequate fight IQ of Morales added to the equation, he is a dangerous matchup.

While Omar Morales is expected to stop his opponents, his last performance against Dong Hyun Ma taught fans a lot about him as a fighter. We saw his ability to work on the ground, accumulating consistent damage and maintaining heavy top pressure. Ma was able to recover guard on Morales, but the Venezuelan was able to put a stop to Ma’s submission attempts before they really started. That kind of composure and intelligence on the ground should give Morales bettors confidence that he should not get caught in a guard sub or anything else flukey. Omar Morales has the tools to win this fight on the feet or on the ground and should take the fight wherever he feels a wider advantage.


Gabriel Benitez has the experience edge here, but that is really where his advantages come to an end. Morales is a powerful striker but he is hardly a wild or reckless one. He looks like a far more experienced fighter than he is, feinting, circling, and implementing proper defense. Morales is a relatively low volume in his striking which is a bit of a drawback, but he can still win rounds with striking or wrestling. The bottom line here is that Gabriel Benitez is an average-sized featherweight while Omar Morales is a huge lightweight. Morales will decide where this fight takes place and as long as he can win at his own game, he should go home with a victory.

Omar Morales should probably be lined over -200 in this spot so there is certainly still value at the current -165 price.

Pick: Omar Morales (-165)