UFC 154: Facebook preliminary card Dissection

Dallas Winston takes a walk through the match ups on UFC 154's Facebook preliminary card.

Georges St. Pierre, the unparalleled welterweight champion and pride of Canada, makes his return against Carlos Condit on his home turf -- Montreal, Quebec -- at UFC 154 this Saturday. The full event is stacked with a rollicking 13 fights spread out over the featured pay-per-view (10:00 p.m. ET) and two quartettes of preliminary match ups split between the FX channel (8:00 p.m. ET) and Facebook (6:00 p.m. ET).

We'll focus on the Facebook section here, which consists of the following bouts:

UFC 154 on Facebook (6 p.m. ET)

Antonio Carvalho vs. Rodrigo Damm
Azamat Gashimov vs. Ivan Menjivar
Darren Elkins vs. Steven Siler
John Maguire vs. Matt Riddle

Antonio Carvalho (14-5) vs. Rodrigo Damm (10-5) -- Featherweight bout

Damm is a heavy-handed BJJ black belt (6 subs, 2 TKOs) who appeared on TUF Brazil but carried a deceivingly solid record into the show. He'd already made some waves in smaller promotions, mostly for his upset knockout over Jorge Masvidal in Sengoku, but Damm has other admirable wins over Shooto lightweight Ryan Bow, former TUFer Santino DeFranco and Pride vet/old school Vale Tudo fighter Johil De Oliveira.

It's Damm's losses that are the most respectable though, which include Strikeforce lightweight champ Gilbert Melendez, Strikeforce lightweight Justin Wilcox, UFC featherweight Maximo Blanco, Japanese vet and recent UFC acquisition Eiji Mitsuoka and, in Damm's MMA debut, former Pride fighter and Luta Livre phenom Luciano Azevedo.

Carvalho has a similar background: he streaked off to a 10-2 start from 2002-2007, splitting the last 4 matches in that streak to top-shelf competition in Rumina Sato, Hatsu Hioki (wins) and "Lion" Takeshi Inoue and UFC featherweight Jeff Curran (losses). "Pato" then suffered a pair of losses before taking a 2-year hiatus, but returned with 3-straight wins to earn a UFC contract. In the Octagon, he's even with a loss to Felipe Arantes in his debut (decision) and a highlight-reel KO of Daniel Pineda in his sophomore effort.

On paper, this bout is looking relatively even: both are laudably well rounded, close in size, considerably experienced with some big-name wins, somewhat inconsistent, and perfectly capable battling on the feet or on the mat. Carvalho is a decent Judoka and a supremely technical kickboxer with a few atypical kicks in his arsenal that stem from his Shotokan karate background; Damm was a 7-time Brazilian champion in wrestling and BJJ and he's more of a head-hunting boxer.

Damm should have the power advantage on the feet but Carvalho has an iron chin and is more polished -- "Pato" might be a tad more technical on the ground but Damm should have a slight edge in the clinch and wrestling departments. This one could go either way and I'm entirely split on a prediction, so consider it a coin flip.

My Prediction: Rodrigo Damm by decision.

Azamat Gashimov (7-1) vs. Ivan Menjivar (24-9) -- Bantamweight bout


Gashimov's bio and Q&A on UFC.com relays that he's a Combat Sambo and BJJ world champion who trains alongside the UFC's Khabib Nurmagomedov, a fellow Russian and Sambo champ, and Strikeforce's Adlan Amagov at the AMA Fight Club and Kdojo. The once-beaten bantamweight is also being billed as a Jackson's MMA rep.

As Nurmagomedov is showing, the huge bonus with prospects who come up in Combat Sambo is their diversity. Fighters are trained in striking, clinching, takedowns and submission grappling -- this not only gives them a distinct familiarity with all the key aspects of MMA but, more importantly, allows them to transition between different phases of combat like it's second nature. Pivotal techniques like integrating smooth takedown attempts into their striking combinations and clinch work makes Combat Sambo an unusually effective foundation for MMA.

At 30-years-old, Menjivar is approaching his 12th year in the sport. The Tristar Gym vet has competed as high as 170-pounds but is now settled in at 135. Under the Zuffa umbrella, Menjivar has lost the first (decision to Brad Pickett in the WEC) and last (Mike Easton by decision at UFC 148) of 5 outings with 3 wins in between. Barring his highlight-reel TKO of Charlie Valencia with a horizontal elbow, Menjivar struggled in his defeats of Nick Pace (unanimous decision) and John Albert (submission) but managed to pull off the victory.

I have no idea what to expect here -- I'd normally take an established vet like Menjivar in a heartbeat over relatively untested debutante like Gashimov, but the Russian will be well trained and well rounded, and Menjivar might be winding down a little at this stage of his career. With that disclaimer, I'll still play it safe and lay a hesitant pick on "The Pride of El Salvador" by veteran craftiness.

My Prediction: Ivan Menjivar by decision.

Darren Elkins (14-2) vs. Steven Siler (21-9) -- Featherweight bout

Call me crazy, but I'm rather intrigued by the last pair of match ups here. Both Elkins and Siler have made a habit out of defying the odds with hard-fought upsets and deserve to be considered rising featherweights. Elkins was a state champion wrestler in high school who's concocted quite a formidable takedown and top game for MMA. His quick submission loss to Charles Oliveira hinted at a sub-grappling deficiency but, after dropping from lightweight to featherweight, his strong showings against Tiequan Zhang, Michihiro Omigawa and Diego Brandao -- which propelled him to a 3-0 start at 145 -- have encouraged me that Elkins is more than a one-dimensional takedown artist.

Siler, of course, put his name on the map by beating an unusually bold Micah Miller on TUF 14, then thwarting Cole Miller's attempt to avenge his brother's loss in an even bigger win. Siler choked out Joey Gambino in his last turn, putting him on a 3-fight surge just like Elkins.

I don't have a firm grasp on Elkins' ceiling as a fighter -- he's improving at a rapid rate and shows some new tricks almost every time out. Based on the way he moved right into a deep-half guard, under-hooked a leg to hit a sweep and transitioned into a single leg takedown against Brandao, I get the vibe that Elkins could fit the Jake Shields mold of high-level wrestling mixed with technical submission grappling, which is still a rare combo for some reason. His boxing is painfully basic but he's applied it intelligently enough to shrink the gap and set up his wrestling.

Siler is just a mean S.O.B. and monstrous for a featherweight (a strong 5'11"). He's 25-years-old with 30 fights and, again, just like Elkins, shows improvements in every performance. His specialty is a dynamic boxing game with a good jab, a great left hook and a feisty clinch game. His takedown defense has been solid thus far, though Elkins will be his stiffest test in that department.

I've gone back and forth on this all week and decided to lean towards Siler by just out-toughing Elkins, even though Elkins is a tenacious wrestler and more polished on the mat. Siler is definitely in trouble with Elkins in grappling exchanges, but I think his size and raw fighting skill will allow him to shuck off his share of takedowns and dot Elkins up on the feet ... but this should be another razor-thin match.

My Prediction: Steven Siler by TKO.

John Maguire (18-4) vs. Matt Riddle (6-3)

Gypsy Jiu-Jitsu practitioner John Maguire just suffered his first UFC defeat (John Hathaway) after debuting with 2-straight wins (decisions over Justin Edwards, submission over DaMarques Johnson). The southpaw is wily in attaching himself and maneuvering for trips and throws in the clinch or slipping under the over-hook to to the rear waist cinch position. His boxing is decent but typically a distraction to close the distance, work takedowns and impose his stellar submission grappling.

I always have to issue the polite reminder that Riddle is age 26 and all 9 fights have transpired in the Octagon. The Division 1 wrestler has learned to straighten his punches and fluster opponents with his range on the feet and also complemented his wrestling skill with BJJ technique, as evinced by the standing arm triangle he finished Chris Clements with (though the win was changed to a No Contest after Riddle tested positive for wacky tobackey.)

Maguire seems like a top-notch sub-grappler but I think Riddle's size, length and wrestling will make it tough to create that scenario. Riddle is a lanky 6'2" tall with a 76" reach; Maguire is 5'9" with a 70" reach, and that size disparity should make it a stiff challenge for Maguire to land takedowns, especially considering Riddle's wrestling background. Hathaway laid out the perfect gameplan to dismantle Maguire and, though it will be a big test of his maturity and Fight I.Q., Riddle should be able to replicate that type of sprawl-and-brawl strategy.

My Prediction: Matt Riddle by decision.


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