Before the big show, the FX channel will air 4 preliminary card matches at 8:00 p.m. ET on the heels of the evening's lone opener on the UFC's Facebook page. Here's how the preliminary action shapes up:
Nik Lentz vs Eiji Mitsuoka
Even though this match up is at the bottom of the lineup, I think it's deceivingly intriguing. Both Lentz and Mitsuoka are longtime lightweights making their featherweight debuts. While neither have been considered elite, they're both hard-nosed gamers with strong wrestling and submissions, ever-improving striking and respectable showings against top competition.
36-year-old Mitsuoka is a durable overseas veteran with a strong wrestling base that he's accented with submissions. He boasts 11 stoppages in the 1st-round and, though a newcomer to the UFC, he's far from untested. Noteworthy wins include hefty lightweight Gleison Tibau (2nd-round TKO), TUF Brazil's Rodrigo Damm (1st-round rear-naked choke), short-stint UFCers Brian Cobb (3rd-round guillotine), Gerald Strebendt (1st-round via strikes) and Samy Schiavo (1st-round rear-naked choke) and former DREAM and Shooto champion Joachim Hansen (decision).
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In his Octagon debut, Mitsuoka was a late-notice replacement for George Sotiropoulos at UFC 144, drawing Japanese compatriot Takanori Gomi. Mitsuoka won the 1st round with his simple but stiff boxing, dropping Gomi with a short right hand and cinching an inverted triangle from mount that was airtight but interrupted by the bell. Between rounds, Gomi brandished the Flux Capacitor, punched 2-0-0-5 into the DeLorean's digital console and drowned Mitsuoka under a relentless barrage of strikes to notch a comeback TKO.
Continued in the full entry.
Lentz, a D1 wrestler at the University of Minnesota, has been a work in progress. Though he was flawless in his first 6 UFC outings (5 wins, 1 draw) and picked off a perennial lightweight contender in Tyson Griffin (split decision), Lentz was branded as a boring leg-humper for his clingy, cage-control strategy against Andre Winner. That performance, unfortunately, over-shadowed much of his success.
Lentz lost his closing trio of lightweight matches, though the TKO loss to Charles Oliveira was changed to a No Contest because of an illegal knee. Despite the ineffectual results of that stretch, Lentz was noticeably more aggressive and effective on the feet, he unveiled a surprisingly technical and feisty guard game against BJJ black belt Mark Bocek and reminded us of his true foundation by taking down Evan Dunham with relative ease.
Lentz and Mitsuoka are eerily similar in that they're the same size and wrestlers at heart -- though Lentz' D1 tenure holds more water -- with effective striking and submission skills to boot, making them both legitimate 3-dimensional fighters. Standing, Lentz is a little more diverse with his kicks and combinations, but also more susceptible to strikes and defensive lapses (mostly due to lax hand position and head movement). Mitsuoka keeps things simple by throwing straight and sharp punches with his chin tucked well.
Both employ their striking to set up takedown opportunities -- Lentz is a little smoother in dropping levels and shooting from outside whereas Mitsuoka is reminiscent of Bocek in that his persistent follow-up takedowns are generally more effective than his initial attempt. I'd have given Mitsuoka a substantial edge in submission grappling before Lentz flaunted his slick guard against Bocek, so now I feel his advantage there is marginal.
There's no question that Lentz has tackled the steeper competition and he also switched camps and joined American Top Team this year. It might not unfold as pure entertainment, but Lentz vs. Mitsuoka has the potential to be a technical scramble-fest or a gritty war to determine the superior wrestler. I like Mitsuoka's chances here -- he's not your typical Japanese crossover -- but the logical choice is Lentz in a close one.
My Prediction: Nik Lentz by decision.
Bermudez was a D1 wrestler at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and a featherweight finalist on TUF 14, losing to Diego Brandao by armbar after flooring the Brazilian with big punches. Bermudez showed tremendous heart in his TUF elimination bout by battling through some serious 1st-round punishment from Jimmie Rivera -- a King of the Cage champ and Tiger Schulmann product who's defeated Jared Papazian -- before turning the tables with a 2nd-round TKO.
Hayden made his UFC debut on short notice in the lightweight division against the stalwart Fabricio Camoes. The Jorge Gurgel understudy displayed a rock-solid boxing acumen despite tapping to a choke in the 1st round, flicking out a crisp jab from the southpaw stance and demonstrating a good grasp of footwork and angles. Hayden tried out for TUF 9 but was defeated by Cameron Dollar in the elimination match.
Hayden should be a hefty featherweight at 5'9" with a spidery 72" reach. He's billed as having a wrestling background but specifics were unavailable. Bermudez proved in his last outing, a methodical smothering of Pablo Garza, that his tenacity and the power of his punching and wrestling are a formidable medley. I expect Hayden to dot him up in all standing encounters but I don't think he can repel the stifling wrestling of Bermudez. As a disclaimer: Bermudez' standing defense is notably porous and Hayden has the high-level boxing to make him pay for it. He might not be a bad option for a chance-bet.
My Prediction: Dennis Bermudez by decision.
Perez is the Jackson's MMA fighter who debuted at the TUF 15 Finale and defeated John Albert by submission, but the outcome was embroiled in controversy as referee Kim Winslow called a halt to the bout even though Albert never tapped. The bantamweight extended his win streak to 6-straight with the victory over Albert, who was by far Perez' biggest test to date. Perez claims a background in Muay Thai but has won 7 of 11 by submission with 2 TKOs.
Stone had a tough introduction to the Octagon by drawing longtime top 135ers in Eddie Wineland and Scott Jorgensen, both of whom finished him in the 1st round. The ATT wrestler and kickboxer rebounded with a 1st-round submission over Donny Walker and a split decision over Dustin Pague. Even though he was trounced by Wineland and Jorgensen, Stone showed a lurking potential and deceiving creativity with his crafty guard and precision striking.
With the jury still out on Perez after his controversial debut, I like Stone here -- he's still getting his feet wet at the top level but has impressive diversity with solid wrestling, kickboxing and submission grappling.
My Prediction: Ken Stone by submission.
After posting a 1-2 pace in the UFC's light-heavyweight division (TKO loss to Alexander Gustafsson, decision loss to Kyle Kingsbury), Hamman dropped to middleweight and upset by C.B. Dollaway by dramatic 2nd-round TKO. The viciously accurate boxing of Costa Philippou stopped him in his tracks in his last -- Hamman has a reputation for persevering through heart and determination rather than technical finesse but Philippou simply found his chin at will.
Kuiper made his Octagon debut at UFC 143 and suffered his first career defeat; a competitive decision to Rafael Natal. The talented Netherlander is just 23-years-old and nicknamed "Judo" for his black belt in the "gentle" art, but backs up his fierce clinch tactics with impressive boxing, which is evident in his balanced finishing ratio of 6 TKOs and 4 submissions.
Hamman is a true scrapper but his base is athleticism, agility and intractable fighting spirit. He was a standout football player before undertaking MMA and he's made encouraging strides with his wrestling, takedown defense and submission grappling. He's also a beast-size middleweight at 6'3" but his boxing is still quite wild and unkempt. Though he's a complete wild card who can always pull out some surprises, and considerably more experienced against top competition, I think Kuiper will bloom into a serious talent and I'll take a chance on the youngster for the upset.
My Prediction: Michael Kuiper by TKO.
Pague was a bantamweight on TUF 14 who had a respectable loss to eventual finalist T.J. Dillashaw. He's been tough to read since then: he was thoroughly manhandled by John Albert at the TUF 14 Finale, allowing an arm to be "gift-wrapped" behind his head in full mount, which left him wide open to a fierce top-side flurry from Albert. The performance was either groundbreaking for Albert or substandard for Pague, as "The Disciple" returned with a vengeance against Jared Papazian and dusted him by 1st-round submission. Pague stepped up on short notice to face Stone in his last and dropped a competitive split decision.
Camus, a Roufusport rep, is making his big-show debut. The biggest names on his record are former WEC fighter Jameel Massouh (decision loss) and the well-traveled Joe Pearson (TKO win). As with most new entries, I'll make Camus, who has decent striking and wrestling, prove his status before I pick him over a hard-nosed kickboxer with a substantial height and reach advantage.
My Prediction: Dustin Pague by decision.