Fighter images via UFC.com
The broadcast portion of this Saturday's UFC on Fox 3 event will light off on Fuel TV at 5:00 p.m. ET with a 3-hour preliminary card. The 6-piece lineup will lead into the featured offering on Fox at 8:00 pm, which is headlined by a lightweight clash between Jim Miller and Nate Diaz along with a trio of supporting matches.
Distinguished by the Octagon's 2nd wave of flyweight fights, the Fuel TV preliminary card consists of the following:
Anthony Ferguson vs Michael Johnson (lightweight)
John Dodson vs Tim Elliott (flyweight)
Pascal Krauss vs John Hathaway (welterweight)
Danny Castillo vs John Cholish (lightweight)
Dennis Bermudez vs Pablo Garza (featherweight)
Louis Gaudinot vs John Lineker (flyweight)
More UFC on Fox 3 Dissections
Parallels abound in this lightweight tilt: Ferguson and Johnson are both TUF standouts -- Ferguson won TUF 13, Johnson was a TUF 12 finalist -- with a wide range of athletic experience, a background in wrestling, ever-improving boxing and great instincts for the game. Both are steadily accelerating with only 4 years of pro experience under their belts and look better in every performance.
Ferguson was a cold-blooded killer on TUF, smashing his way through everyone they put in front of him by TKO, including fellow finalist Ramsey Nijem at the season 13 live finale. "El Cucuy" sustained his brutality against crafty vet Aaron Riley, who was unable to answer the bell in the 2nd due to a shattered jaw. Drawing yet another dangerous and experienced lightweight, Ferguson had his hands full when jousting with Yves Edwards but scored a win that was much closer than the unanimous-decision result reflects.
Johnson's road, both on TUF and in the Octagon, was a little more perilous than Ferguson's and he's dead even after 4. On his unofficial record from the reality show, Johnson was paired with the then-unknown Pablo Garza, who's also competing on the card, in the elimination round and earned a hard-fought decision to get into the house. A rear-naked choke on Aaron Wilkinson in the sudden-death round preceded another duo of competitive decision over Alex Cacares and Nam Phan, both of whom exceed the typical talent of a TUF opponent.
Detailed scrutiny of the entire Fuel TV preliminary card awaits in the full entry.
Johnson was putting it on Jonathan Brookins at the live finale but fizzled out in later rounds, eventually losing momentum, succumbing to takedowns and dropping a decision. He went on to dust Edward Faalaloto by 1st-round TKO but couldn't stave off a heel hook from submission savant Paul Sass in the follow up. Johnson was getting off on the feet early and the lapse that led to the tapout was more mental than physical, which made his intelligent display of takedown defense and footwork against Shane Roller all the more impressive in his last.
With a similar wrestle-boxing style accented by quick hands, youthful agility and aggression, the key differences are that Ferguson is a rangier striker with a gangly reach (76") who bobs side-to-side with wider, power-torque punches; Johnson cracks off tight and straight shots and employs more up-and-down level changes, either alternating from upstairs to downstairs or shooting takedowns.
Ferguson has tangled with striking-based opposition where Johnson has been forced into more of a sprawl-and-brawl strategy against grapplers, which could have added some luster to Johnson's sharp stand-up performances. Additionally, in these match ups, Johnson didn't mix in takedown attempts, pressure with forward movement and bully his opponent like on TUF, but played a defensive striking game with carefully measured bursts and evasive footwork.
Because of that, I'm not exactly sure what to expect here and feel the match up is tighter than the -270 to -300 push for Ferguson would indicate. The quick and explosive timing of Yves Edwards showed how Ferguson's defense can be penetrated with counters when he plants and rolls his long hooks over, and I envision Johnson's straight punches causes some of the same havoc. Ferguson has been content to stand and bang while using his wrestling to stay upright, but keeping the other honest and hesitant by plugging takedown attempts into their combinations should be useful for both combatants.
Johnson will be a bit of a different animal for Ferguson, as he brings a level of diversity, athleticism and size that he hasn't encountered in the Octagon. Johnson has never lost via TKO but has been submitted in 5 of his 6 defeats, so Ferguson would be wise to change up his style and score takedowns. I'm going with Ferguson for his length, power and slightly superior wrestling but a well-timed double leg for either fighter could make a world of difference.
My Prediction: Tony Ferguson by decision.
Dodson, the Jackson's MMA product who won TUF 14 as a bantamweight, returns to his natural 125-pound fighting weight against new entry Tim Elliott, who's filling in for Darren Uyenoyama. I'm mildly surprised that Dodson took the plunge considering that his jaw-dropping speed and agility was almost unparalleled at 135 and abstaining for a while would be like having a "Get Out of Jail Free" card.
Even though he was a small bantamweight at 5'3", Dodson is a strong, compact little tank with good wrestling and you'd swear he was stuck in fast-forward as no one was able to match his speed in the Octagon. A southpaw, "The Magician" is also a master of angles with his footwork in open space and his pivots and upper-body movement when trading in the pocket. He lances hard and straight punches with excellent timing and his dexterity, scrambling and wrestling makes him ultra-slippery and a challenge to mount any offense against.
If you take away Tim Elliott's first 3 fights when he was a raw wrestler with no formal MMA training -- a draw to one-time Bellator fighter Jerrod Spoon and consecutive losses -- you'd be left with an undefeated prospect who's hitting his stride with an 8-fight win streak. Regardless, he's now worked out the kinks and grown as a fighter, and debuts on the heels of impressive stoppages over Jens Pulver (above) and reputable flyweight Josh Rave.
Elliott is a former 2x All-American wrestler for the University of Central Oklahoma with good boxing and finishing instincts who now trains with Grindhouse MMA in Pennsylvania. He has a balanced win-ratio of 4 submission wins, 3 TKOs and a single decision.
Though it may become a concern in the future, Dodson's quickness and experience should be the difference maker against Elliott, who will be tasked with trying to get his hands on the freakishly energized athlete. Dodson's speed is overbearing on its own but becomes nearly insurmountable when combined with his brilliant footwork and angles. This should be too much for Elliott to handle on short notice.
My Prediction: John Dodson by TKO.
German mixed martial artist Pascal Krauss debuted against Mark Scanlon at UFC 122 in November of 2010 and sustained his flawless record with a unanimous decision, but has been sidelined with injuries since. He started out as a boxer, incrementally added wrestling, Judo (with black belt Gregor Herb) and BJJ (a blue belt under Roberto "Gordo" Correa) to his arsenal and now trains part-time at Roufusport in Milwaukee. Krauss is a young talent (age 25) in just his 3rd year of pro MMA and thus has a tremendous upside and bright future.
English welterweight John Hathaway is one of the Octagon's first rugby crossovers. Enamored after taking in a UFC event on television, Hathaway found a home in MMA by steam-rolling 10 foes in a row with 8 stoppages (5 via strikes, 3 subs) to earn a UFC contract. Though all of his premiere bouts have been decided on the score cards, his dominance continued, as Hathaway picked off a trio of experienced welterweights in Rick Story, Paul Taylor and Diego Sanchez to vault upward in the division as a legit contender. He would suffer his first career defeat to the wily Mike Pyle at UFC 120 but rebound with a split nod over Kris McCray in his last turn.
With the disclaimer pertaining to the obvious concerns surrounding ring-rust and recovering from his injuries, I like Krauss here for his formidable combination of boxing and wrestling. Hathaway is a lanky welterweight (6'2", 76" reach) who'd been able to adapt his rugby background into a sort of "tackle or punch" strategy quite effectively, but his raw instincts and lack of a particular specialty can be exploited by a technical boxer like Krauss, who also has auxiliary skills like serviceable wrestling and blistering low kicks.
My Prediction: Pascal Krauss by decision.
John Cholish started wrestling at age 4 and continued through college, then Googled the closest Gracie, which turned out to be none other than the legendary Renzo. His wrestling platform was rounded out by the submission master and Cholish also dabbled in the striking arts to prepare himself for MMA. His first contest was a submission loss but the rest have all gone his way, and Cholish earned the Ring of Combat lightweight strap while compiling 8-straight wins, the most notable of which have been under the Strikeforce (heel hook over former TUFer Marc Stevens) and UFC banners (TKO over Mitch Clarke in his Octagon debut).
Team Alpha Male lightweight Danny Castillo has displayed admirable perseverance throughout his WEC and UFC ventures, each of which were accented by highs and lows. He lost his WEC debut to Donald Cerrone, tacked on 3-straight victories (including a TKO over current UFC featherweight Ricardo Lamas), dropped a pair (Shane Roller, Anthony Pettis), strung together another trio of wins (once again knocking a reputable lightweight down to featherweight by beating Dustin Poirier; defeating Joe Stevenson in his UFC debut) but lost momentum against when he was out-wrestled by Jacob Volkmann.
Undeterred, Castillo absolutely destroyed Shamar Bailey and agreed to the dangerous proposition of facing Anthony Njokuani on 5-weeks notice, and the risk paid off with a grinding, semi-controversial split decision. Castillo reminds me of a young Eugene Jackson in that he hurls heavy leather on the feet and imposes a formidable wrestling game despite having no distinguished collegiate accolades. He's more of a gritty brawler than a technical wizard, he wisely exploits his strengths and excels at turning things into a dog fight.
Castillo will have the edge in experience and strength, yet Cholish will have a slight height advantage and his submission grappling offers more technically sound and diverse grappling. He might be the cleaner striker, as his punches are straighter and he's more focused on defense, but Castillo has massive power and a knack to balance the scales with pure ferocity.
The betting lines reflect how evenly matched these two are, and I don't feel confident assessing who will be the better wrestler. Cholish's BJJ acumen and more fortified style have me leaning his way in the closest match up on the Fuel TV undercard.
My Prediction: John Cholish by submission.
Pablo "The Scarecrow" Garza has been tough to assess. He's shown shades of utter genius, such as his consecutive highlight-reel performances against Fredson Paixao (TKO by a "OMG he's dead?" flying knee) and Yves Jabouin (flying triangle choke), but looked somewhat lackluster in both defeats. He was ensnared in a Tiequan Zhang guillotine at WEC 51 and tapped to a Dustin Poirier Brabo choke in his last outing. Garza also lost to Michael Johnson by decision in the TUF 12 elimination match. The 6'1" Garza is a gangly featherweight with volatile striking and submissions (despite being just a blue belt in BJJ) but prone to inconsistency.
Dennis Bermudez was a D1 wrestler and TUF 14 finalist known for persevering through serious punishment. His spirit and big heart seem to be his best attributes until his striking improves (though he has decent power) and he adapts his wrestling to MMA's environment.
The telling factor here is Garza's past level of competition and tremendous size advantage (6'1" vs. 5'6"). His footwork and evasive movement will be tested by Bermudez, who will look to lower his head and charge in with huge punches to set up his takedowns. Bermudez comes in as a narrow favorite which his durability justifies. I'm going to take another chance on Garza, thinking he can capitalize on Bermudez's shoddy striking defense and implement his fiery offense more intelligently.
My Prediction: Pablo Garza by TKO.
Gaudinot was a seriously undersized bantamweight on TUF 14 who was defeated handily by Johnny Bedford at the live finale. Now back to his natural weight class, the former Ring of Combat flyweight champion greets sizzling Brazilian phenom John Lineker, who is 24-fights deep at just 22-years-old.
By all accounts, Lineker will be a big name in the sport and enters on a 13-fight win streak. His past defeats on the Brazilian circuit include current UFCers Erick Silva and Felipe Arantes, and his surging momentum is too hard to pick against when Gaudinot has yet to perform at the UFC level.
My Prediction: John Lineker by decision.
All betting line references via BestFightOdds.com
Ferguson vs. Johnson, Castillo vs. Cholish
Ferguson and Castillo (163 votes)
Ferguson and Cholish (65 votes)
Johnson and Castillo (43 votes)
Johnson and Cholish (13 votes)
284 total votes