Mathieu Nicolau Vs Matt Schnell Technical Preview

Mathieu Nicolau Vs. Matt Schnell Technical Preview (UFC ESPN 42)

    UFC Orlando (UFC on ESPN 42) takes place at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida on December 3rd, 2022. While the main event features a fun fight with big names, down the card features well-rounded fighters and interesting matchups. One that stands out to me is the Flyweight (125 Lbs) matchup between Mathieu Nicolau and Matt Schnell. Flyweight fights are some of the more technically interesting fights to watch, as the occasional check hook slipping through is not ending the fight as it does in bigger divisions. Nicolau and Schnell both embody the division in a lot of ways, and I'm glad they got high placement on the card. Both fighters have fought at the UFC level since 2016, despite Schnell only being 32 and Nicolau being 29. Two well-rounded veterans face each other to see who gets to face the elite of the division next, with both having very active fight styles. This is a rare treat I'm looking forward to.  


The Backstory
   Matheus Nicolau and Matt Schnell were both pushed up the rankings quickly back in 2017-2018 when the division was as thin as could be. They even cut Nicolau himself after going 3-1 and only losing to Dustin Ortiz in 2018. Since then, both have been able to get back on track. Schnell had struggled with bad weight cuts, injuries, etc. from 2020 to 2022, but corrected course this year. With Schnell having made weight two fights in a row, without looking like totally being on death’s door both times, I think he’s gotten over that hump in his career. Most recently, Schnell beat Su Mudaerji in an extremely fun fight that included a round-of-the-year contender. Nicolau had faced “minor-league,” level competition for two fights in 2019 before coming back to Kape and Elliott in 2021. The long time between fights for Schnell, as well as being able to train less opponent-specific for Nicolau, means both worked on their overall game. Their two most recent fights have shown a lot of interesting ways their strengths and weaknesses align, likely contributing to the line movement for Nicolau. A summary of each fighter will bring some of this to light, and I’ll speculate on what we could see play out on December 3rd.

Mathieu Nicolau


    Nicolau has exhibited some very strong abilities in all of his fights


  • Fight IQ and Discipline: From the Kape fight through Dvorak fight, Nicolau hasn’t extended past working his jab and leg kicks unless he needs to. Even when finding success in brawls or pocket exchanges, the risk is much less when sticking to the at-distance success. Works well for someone so naturally long and strong as Nicolau.

  • Power Shots That Compliment The Core Strikes: Nicolau’s jab/stiff lead straight baits the guard high and out front. The leg kicks bait the defense low, the hooks, knees, and power straights he throws force you to have a high defensive IQ or eventually succumb to how diverse his strikes are.

  • Strong Gas Tank: The ability to push a pace can make up for a lot of technical deficiencies. Nicolau uses it to have his “conservative,” strategy often do significant damage. If you are landing shots that do 20-25% damage of a power shot, but land 6 or 7 while limiting your risk, that’s +EV.

  • Sharp Grappling: You would expect someone from Maia’a grappling gym to have sharp and disciplined BJJ, and Nicolau does not disappoint. In the Elliott fight, both times Elliott went for risky position changes Nicolau swept him to end up in the dominant spot. Dvorak got controlled all 3 times they went to the mat as well. While not a submission snatcher like Ryan Hall, Nicolau has smothering grappling. 

Matt Schnell

    Schnell has had a couple reinventions during his UFC run, but his two recent fights against Su and Royval showed a few repeating patterns

  • True Faith In Ability To Brawl: Once Schnell sat down on his shots and committed to trading against Royval, he dropped him with a straight right. Almost same exact situation occurred in Su fight, with the final wobble coming from a hook instead of straight. These shots come from him entering these trades with no fear and full focus on landing.

  • Creative grappling to change situations: From Omoplata transitions to diving double legs, Schnell is great at mixing in less used grappling techniques. 

  • Leaving a lot of space when grappling: A big downside to the active and non-traditional grappling is that it leaves a lot of opportunity for the upper end of grappling spectrum to punish. When going for ground and pound against Royval and Su, he loosened the body triangle and lost position entirely. Against Su he got body slammed chasing an omoplata. Grappling decision making very questionable at times.

  • Landing hidden straight right: The ability to hide your power shots is almost as important as how hard you hit. With how active Schnell is with footwork and hanging in the pocket, fighters often look to head hunt in return. This has allowed him to find success with the straight right for a long time, including Royval and Su recently. Many fighters throw leads away chasinf finishes, Nicolau has not.  

How Do They Match Up? 

  • Nicolau’s recent opponent Tim Elliott provides a lot of the same X-Factors Schnell does. Unorthodox angles, lots of pressure, and grappling that takes risks but leaves space. 

  • Schnell’s recent opponent in Royval showed Schnell has questionable fight IQ once it hits the mat against elite grapplers. Schell also struggled to make the most of his positions against Su.

  • Schnell loves to chase finishes and take risks on the mat for improved positions. Nicolau punished Dvorak and Elliott for attempting similar game plans. 

  • Schnell has hardwired tendency to defend with a full shell in front of his face. Can help with defending jab, but can otherwise leave him open to leg kicks, takedowns, and hooks behind the guard. instead of _1, 1_ he has both arms up in front of his face like ||
  • Schnell's a risk-taker and likes to create scrambles, but often times doing so in a -EV manner. Nicolau eats up even small amounts of space when grappling, and Schnell often leaves big gaps between him and his opponent when grappling.
  • Nicolau's discipline, along with his active footwork setting the pace, sets him up to overwhelm Schnell more generally without taking major risks. For example frustrating Schnell with circling and dodging until reading when Schnell plants his feet, that's his chance to jab or leg kick and get out.
  • Schnell has shown he likes to be very active in terms of forcing exchanges or clinches, and when he gets tagged or can't bait the opponent, he borders on reckless. The durability and survivability behind shelling up won't be as useful against someone like Nicolau that will just take the round lead and disengage.
    Overall, Schnell likes to push forward and take some risks, and Nicolau has showed a good ability to pick that fight style apart. While Elliott did have the best showing against Nicolau, and closely matches some of Schnell's strengths, Elliott was mostly solved by round 2 outside of a couple sneakers.

Now that we understand each fighter, and how their more general fight patterns align with each other, we can deduce some keys to victory for each fighter.

Matheus Nicolau

Establish and Stay Behind Jab: Nicolau is long and strong for the division, and has worked a very educated jab his last two fights. Against Dvorak, who is a well-rounded fighter with good striking, he won two rounds largely due to the jab. Against Elliott, he landed a lot of lead straights to the body in round 2, and Elliott was gassed by round 3. Nicolau can pepper away and force Schnell's hands up, and then pound the body. Establishing the jab allows him to use his other skills, such as leg kicks and hooks, much more effectively when responded to with a covered guard.

Leg Kicks and Lead Hooks: The previously mentioned leg kicks and lead hooks have been the 2nd gear strikes Nicolau works in the most. He dropped Dvorak with a quick turnover hook, almost like Pereira (IN TECHNIQUE NOT POWER). As Nicolau gets your eyes focused higher up from the jab and hook, it leaves the body and legs more open. Between having good pop in the lead hook, good timing for going to the body, and having constant footwork which disguises the leg-kicks better, Nicolau can attack all 3 levels with skills he's very adept at.

Discipline, Particularly Grappling: Whether it be staying disciplined behind the jab, or holding dominant positions until opportunities to advance appear, Nicolau needs to remain disciplined. Schnell has a great chin and a true faith in his ability to fire back, and one big shot could win a round over 4 minutes of picking apart. A disciplined jab, combined with being able to find ways to bring the fight to the ground, can help Nicolau establish and then push a lead.

Matt Schnell

Wrestling: One benefit to the activity of Schnell and his willingness to throw is that opponents have to respect him when he comes in. If they are not defensively skilled enough to slip, then the covering up or dramatic shift leaves them open to takedowns. If Schnell can get a feel for when Nicolau circles one way or the other, he can initiate an exchange and then level change. Doing this repeatedly, and limiting the risk-taking once you get it down there, can win rounds.

Combos: If this contest comes down to point fighting and footwork, that heavily favors Nicolau. As a result, if Schnell can throw combos when Nicolau is up against fence, it increases likelihood of a brawl-type exchange. After a few combos, Nicolau's guard will come up which will make takedowns easier to enter.

Clinch and Preserve: Schnell has shown an incredible amount of durability and resolve in his last two fights. While he lost the Royval fight, the shell and return strategy did send Royval to the mat. Against Su, he was able to eat 5 or 6 elbows without leaking. Schnell ended up finishing Su by shelling and returning, sending Su wobbling into the fence, followed up by a nice double leg takedown to full mount. If Schnell can bait Nicolau into brawling, Schnell's ability to survive and return will be a major advantage.

Prediction and TLDR Summary:

Nicolau Via UD.
  • Nicolau establishing jab early, keeping range, and either taking Schnell down or mixing up angles once Schnell starts coming in over-aggressively. 
  • When fight goes to ground, there may be impressive moments for Schnell, but most exchanges will end with Nicolau in dominant positions as Schnell tries to advance. 
  • In rounds 2 and 3, watch for Schnell's gas-tank and overall movement changes as the body shots and leg kicks start to accumulate. 

Should be an exciting fight that forces Nicolau to show his full-suite of skills, even if not likely to end in a finish. If you enjoyed this piece please subscribe to this blog and check out my other forms of media.

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