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.

The UFC returns after UFC 281 with a Fight Night card that isn’t exactly stacked with huge names, but events like these always provide great opportunities to highlight specific matchups. The card features the UFC’s heaviest weight classes in the main and co-main events, but the Sleeper Scrap for UFC Vegas 65 is the bantamweight fight between Ricky Turcios and Kevin Natividad.

The Matchup

Ricky Turcios suffered the first loss of his career in an appearance on Contender Series 2017, but “Pretty” got a second chance at the UFC when he joined Season 29 of The Ultimate Fighter.

A split decision against Brady Hiestand (who’s also fighting at UFC Vegas 65) on the finals of TUF earned him a UFC contract before the 29-year-old came up short in his formal debut for the promotion in July against Aiemann Zahabi.

Turcios put on an exciting performance against Hiestand, and in the end two judges felt that the striking success from “Pretty” outweighed Hiestand’s takedowns and control time. Even when he was taken down during that fight, Turcios rarely rested on the canvas and would quickly work back to his feet or attempt strikes and submissions from his back.

Another thing Turcios showed off in his bout with Hiestand was a tremendous chin, as “Bam-Bam” landed quite a few punches in between his takedown attempts. The Texan certainly didn’t seem bothered by the strikes he was eating, and more often than not he’d answer Hiestand with combinations of his own.

Turcios lost a decision to Aiemann Zahabi in his last fight in July. (Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Turcios’ work rate and willingness to brawl won him the fight with Hiestand, but “Pretty” found himself in a difficult matchup in his next fight with Zahabi. The 29-year-old was fed a steady diet of low kicks and counter shots from the Canadian while he desperately tried to get Zahabi to stand and trade, which resulted in Turcios landing only 11% of his strikes by the end of the fight.

Originally slated to make his UFC debut against Brian Kelleher before contracting COVID, Kevin Natividad ended up facing Miles Johns in his first fight for the promotion in October of 2020.

“Quicksand” ate an uppercut off a clinch break late in his debut that left him on the canvas, and his second UFC bout against Batgerel Danaa last year ended in less than a minute when he was stopped by strikes again.

Natividad appeared to be extremely aggressive for the short period that the fight with Danaa last, which was a start contrast from the approach he took in his UFC debut. Against Johns, the Hawaiian mainly relied on his jab to keep “Chapo” on the back foot and only started to open up whenever his opponent was covered up against the fence.

Any success Natividad had in his UFC debut was undone when he was finished in the third round. (Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Johns responded to those early moments of aggression by hitting some well-timed takedowns, but he had no success at keeping Natividad down for more than a few seconds. As the bout went on, “Quicksand” showed some solid takedown defense when Johns got tired and couldn’t set up his shots as cleanly.

Natividad began to have more success in that fight as Johns started to fade, but the 29-year-old was still hesitant to open up with strikes in open space. Despite throwing plenty of feints and jabs that could have set up more substantial strikes, “Quicksand” was still hesitant to throw combinations until Johns was covered up against the fence.

The Stakes

Neither man is in a particularly comfortable position at the moment, but Natividad is clearly the one on the hot seat after his recent results.

“Quicksand” entered the UFC on a five-fight win streak and had a successful run in LFA, but an underwhelming performance against Johns and that quick knockout against Danaa don’t bode well for how patient the UFC will be with him. Even if this fight turns out to be an entertaining one, a third-straight loss would almost certainly be the end of his time with the promotion.

Natividad is likely fighting for his job at UFC Vegas 65. (Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)

It may not carry the same amount of shine as it did for early seasons of the show, but being a TUF winner probably provides Turcios with a bit more room to establish himself in the UFC.

Even if the win against Hiestand was a close split decision, the fact that it was an entertaining scrap certainly works in Turcios’ favor. That being said, two-straight losses wouldn’t be an ideal way to start your time in the UFC, particularly if that second loss were to come against a fighter that already has his own back against the wall.

Some previous editions of the Sleeper Scrap were selected because of the technical skills that might be on display, but this bout has a much higher chance of turning into a wild scrap than it does a technical masterclass.

Turcios’ status as a TUF winner could give him a larger margin for error in the UFC. (Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

It wasn’t a massively exciting bout, but Aiemann Zahabi put on a good performance against Turcios by staying patient and denying him the kind of wild fight he desperately wanted. Turcios still had moments of success during that bout but given what Natividad has shown thus far in the UFC, there’s a good chance that he provides exactly the type of fight that “Pretty” is hoping for.

Even if “Quicksand” tries for a patient approach that’s closer to his UFC debut against Johns, Turcios will almost certainly come forward with volume and force the Hawaiian to trade with him.

There’s certainly the possibility of a quick finish given how Natividad’s last fight went, but if this bout goes beyond a round it’s a Sleeper Scrap that also has a chance of being one of the more entertaining fights at UFC Vegas 65.

How do you think this bout between Turcios and Natividad will turn out? Are there any other fights from UFC Vegas 65 that you feel deserve more attention?

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