UFC 146: FX Preliminary Card Dissection

Fighter images via UFC.com

Sandwiched in between the UFC 146: Dos Santos vs. Mir main card and the Facebook stream, the FX channel will air 4 preliminary card fights at 8:00 p.m. ET. The live pay-per-view features the heavyweight championship bout between Junior dos Santos and Frank Mir along with 4 other heavyweight bouts, and the lineup for the FX preliminary card is as follows:

Diego Brandao vs. Darren Elkins
Edson Barboza vs. Jamie Varner
Jason Miller vs. C.B. Dollaway
Dan Hardy vs. Duane Ludwig

Diego "Ciera" Brandao (14-7) vs. Darren Elkins (13-2)

Diego Brandao is the can't-miss, pint-sized bruiser who won TUF 14. The emotional Brazilian reps the Jackson/Winklejohn team and stomped his first 3 TUF opponents (Jesse Newell, Steven Siler, Bryan Caraway) with malicious 1st-round TKOs. In the TUF 14 Finale, Brandao met hard-nosed wrestler Dennis Bermudez in a barn-burner that saw both fighters wobble each other with punches, but Brandao tied on a beautiful armbar in the waning seconds of the 1st to become the TUF 14 featherweight champion.


Other UFC 146: Dos Santos vs. Mir Dissections

Dos Santos vs. Mir | Velasquez vs. Silva | Nelson vs. Herman
Struve vs. Johnson
| Miocic vs. Del Rosario | Facebook Prelims


Darren Elkins was a state champion wrestler in high school (1x folk style, 4x freestyle, 2x Greco Roman) with an overall record of 191-9. He made his Octagon debut on the UFC Live: Vera vs. Jones card in 2009 with a 11-1 record, having finished every opponent (5 via strikes, 4 submissions) except for former UFCer Gideon Ray and Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran, both of which were unanimous decisions. I asked our resident wrestling expert, Mike Riordan, to chime in on Elkins' wrestling:

Mike Riordan: He looks good against the guys he has fought but he looks like he is enjoying a huge asymmetry in wrestling skills both from the feet and on the ground. He is particularly adept in back control and I'd have to assume he was one hell of a leg-rider back in high school.

Elkins was paired with Duane Ludwig for his intro, who wrenched his ankle horrendously on an early takedown from Elkins just 44-seconds in for a TKO via injury. In almost the exact same amount of time, Elkins would tap to a Charles Oliveira armbar in the Brazilian's UFC debut, which inspired a drop from lightweight to featherweight. He's since tacked on a pair of relevant decision wins -- Michihiro Omigawa and Tiequan Zhang -- though the score in the Omigawa bout was hotly contested by many.

Continued in the full entry.

SBN coverage of UFC 146: Dos Santos vs. Mir

This is a tough match up to call: Elkins' wrestling has been unstoppable thus far, he's made dramatic improvements with his boxing technique, his submission defense was rock-solid against Omigawa and Zhang and Brandao has quite a few suspect losses on his record in which he was finished (Gert Kocani and Ran Weathers by TKO, George Clay and Daniel Trindade by submission). Conversely, Elkins was submitted, quickly, by the only BJJ specialist he's encountered in Oliveira, his striking has become capable rather than exceptional, he also has a TKO loss to Ted Worthington and I'd speculate that the Brazilian circuit is more inclement than the local Indiana fight scene.

My instincts are that Brandao will pressure Elkins at a high pace like Omigawa did and, while his takedown defense probably won't be as sound, his striking and submission potency should be more hazardous. I can see a case for either fighter but will side with Brandao for having more options and opportunities, where as Elkins will likely have to contain Brandao for all 3 rounds -- though Brandao's striking defense has been a little sketchy and an Elkins TKO is not unfathomable.

My Prediction: Diego Brandao by submission.

Edson Barboza (10-0) vs. Jamie Varner (19-6)

Former WEC lightweight champion Jamie Varner returns to the UFC for the first time since 2007 against undefeated assassin Edson Barboza. Varner went 1-1 in his previous UFC stint -- eating a Hail Mary knee from Hermes Franca after handily winning 2.5 rounds and submitting Jason Gilliam -- and, leaving on a win, chalked up 4-straight in the WEC to earn the lightweight strap. Varner was eventually unseated from the WEC throne by none other than Ben Henderson and was released after tapping to a Shane Roller choke in the follow up. He's since notched 3 of 4 in smaller organizations; a sequence that includes 3 1st-round stoppage wins (the last of which was Drew Fickett) and a decision loss to former TUFer Dakoda Cochrane.

Barboza debuted at UFC 123 at 6-0 with 5 TKOs and 1 submission, 5 of which were concluded in the opening stanza. He treated late replacement Mike Lullo to an unending stream of vicious low kicks to force a 3rd-round stoppage, eked out closely contested decisions against Anthony Njokuani (unanimous) and Ross Pearson (split) and added Terry Etim to his extensive highlight reel with an unforgettable spinning wheel kick KO in the 3rd round. Barboza is one of the most enticing pure-Thai strikers in the game and unleashes a whirlwind of spinning shenanigans, but comes equipped with a high-level sweep and submission arsenal that seems more effective than his purple-belt in BJJ would indicate.

Varner was a D1 wrestler at Lock Haven University, a National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) All-American and an avid boxer since he was young. He'll also have a significant experience advantage over Barboza, having tangled with the likes of former UFC middleweight Jesse Bongfeldt (TKO win), former UFC lightweight Kyle Bradley (submission win) and current UFC lightweight standouts Kamal Shalorus (controversial draw), Donald Cerrone (controversial split-decision win), Henderson and Roller (submission losses).

Varner has never lost via TKO but has 3 defeats by submission to match his 3 by decision. I'd consider him worth a chance-wager at the +400 betting odds even though he should be out-classed everywhere but in wrestling. Varner's boxing is definitely solid and he's a tough-skinned scrapper, but I think Barboza's quickness, length, footwork, takedown defense and stellar Muay Thai will be too much.

My Prediction: Edson Barboza by decision.

Jason Miller (23-8) vs. C.B. Dollaway (11-4)

Fresh off what was ultimately the most disappointing performance of his career, Jason "Mayhem" Miller will seek retribution against TUF 7 finalist and All-American wrestler C.B. Dollaway. Miller opposed Michael Bisping as a coach on TUF 14 and, after a strong opening round, absolutely fizzled out in the 2nd and 3rd, enabling a Bisping TKO. "Mayhem" is well known as the host of Bully Beatdown, the instigator of the infamous Strikeforce brawl in Nashville, and for his flashy entrances and competitive showings against Ronaldo Souza and Jake Shields. A BJJ black belt, Miller has submitted the great Kazushi Sakuraba, Robbie Lawler and Denis Kang and broke even in a pair of fights with Strikeforce's Tim Kennedy.

After Amir Sadollah defeated him by armbar (again) at the TUF 7 Finale, Dollaway went gangbusters with wins in 5 of his next 6, some of which were particularly compelling -- such as the overhead sweep to high-lift guillotine transition against Joe Doerksen, the 1st-round Peruvian necktie he finagled on Jesse Taylor and the ruthless shellacking of Mike Massenzio for a 1st-round TKO. Dollaway's momentum has been shredded by consecutive losses in his last two; a 1st-round KO delivered by Mark Munoz and a 2nd-round beatdown from Jared Hamman after Dollaway gassed horribly. These were the first and only defeats via strikes on his record.

Dollaway's strides in submission grappling will come in handy on the defensive end against Miller. "Mayhem" is a clever and experienced grappler who's well versed in a broad range of sneaky sweeps and set ups. On the mat, he's the complete package: he picks away with ground-and-pound to force his opponent into changing position to defend, then preys on their reaction with submission attempts and positional improvement. His striking is quite wild and unkempt, as we saw against Bisping. It's usually a viable distraction for Miller's takedowns or rushes into the clinch, but not a significant threat in open space. In the clinch, however, Miller has solid Thai skills, and he clips with knees and short elbows while seeking trips and throws from the body lock or dropping levels for singles and doubles.

Miller is a dangerous technician on the mat, but he'll be slightly over-matched standing -- Dollaway's hands will be sharper and heavier -- and at a clear disadvantage in the wrestling department. Out-striking Miller is the best choice, though I'm not sure Dollaway's game is polished enough. C.B. should be extremely hesitant to duel with Miller on the ground but, coming off a pair of losses, I feel like he'll want to get back to his roots rather than gamble on a sprawl-and-brawl strategy. Considering the way he's sputtered out in his last few, I'll take a chance on Miller redeeming himself and finding a way to impose his submission grappling.

My Prediction: Jason Miller by submission.

Dan Hardy (23-10) vs. Duane Ludwig (21-12)

Team Rough House slugger Dan Hardy always prefers an opponent who will stand with him, and he gets his wish in professional kickboxer and Muay Thai champion Duane "Bang" Ludwig. Hardy is even in the UFC after 8 turns, though it's been a substantial dose of one or the other: he opened with 4-straight wins (Akihiro Gono, Rory Markham, Marcus Davis, Mike Swick) to earn a title shot, but has now suffered 4-straight losses (Georges St. Pierre, Carlos Condit, Anthony Johnson, Chris Lytle).

Ludwig started out as a kickboxing purist and accrued some national ISKA and IKF titles and competed in K-1. MMA legend Bas Rutten took him under his wing and Ludwig began focusing strictly on MMA. Ludwig made the global tour and fought for the UFC, Strikeforce, King of the Cage, Ring of Fire, K-1 and Sengoku, and the welterweight initiated a 6-fight trial at lightweight in 2006. He was expected to become a powerhouse in the sport after Bas began to hone his grappling. Ludwig made huge strides with his guard game, sweeps, escapes and takedown defense, but just didn't have enough time to equalize his ground skills with the astronomical level of his stand up -- which is more of a testament to his striking than a dig on his grappling.

There might not be a title shot nor an expected run up the contender ladder for either Hardy or Ludwig, but they're both game and talented fighters, I'm glad they're in the UFC and I'd watch them fight anytime.

The emphasis in a Dan Hardy fight is whether or not his opponent can take him down to neutralize his striking, but the same goes for Ludwig. All of his losses were dealt by grapplers except for top-notch marksmen like Takanori Gomi, Paul "Semtex" Daley (Hardy's teammate) and an uncharacteristic defeat to Sam Morgan, which Ludwig brutally avenged with a 1st-round TKO. His experience and technique in Muay Thai is one that few can match in a standing shootout.

Hardy is mostly a boxer who prefers to slice a shoulder-level, horizontal left hook upstairs. His left hand is such a powerful weapon for him that he's occasionally susceptible to right-sided strikes, as he's constantly probing with it and his hands can drift away from his chin. Hardy definitely has the power advantage, as Ludwig is more of an accumulative striker (though he's not absent power), and a slight edge in height (6'0" vs. 5'10") and reach (72" vs. 70"). While Hardy has sound boxing technique, the real gleam in his style is his fearless aggression and willingness to trade.

Ludwig has unparalleled Thai fundamentals and, now that he's abandoned lightweight and accepted that he'll always be a smaller welterweight, his speed is phenomenal. Ludwig loves to either open or close his combinations with kicks: he'll circle left to center his opponent in his power zone, rattle off a sequence of tight punches and side-step into a devastating right low kick. Or, on occasion, he'll lead with a roundhouse or front kick and lunge behind it to assault with a frenetic volley of strikes. In open space, he should be a handful for Hardy, and Ludwig's Thai clinch is vicious as well -- where he goes high with the plum grip or settles for the over-under to crack short elbows and knees.

I would advise Hardy to employ his wrestling, if for nothing more than to control the momentum, augment the score cards and make Ludwig hesitant about committing to his combinations. Ludwig is feisty off his back and should be able to create scrambles and escape, but Hardy will benefit from the control and aggression factors even if he can't capitalize on takedowns. There's not many I'd pick over Ludwig in a striking battle, which is how this match up would seem to play out.

My Prediction: Duane Ludwig by decision.

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