UFC 166: Full Facebook preliminary card preview and prognostications

Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting

UFC 166 in Texas kicks the action off with a better Facebook card than usual. Shooto champions, and TUF winners comprise an interesting night of action in the land of Instagram.

TJ Waldburger (16-7) vs. Adlan Amagov (12-2-1) Welterweight

When we last left our heroes...Normally a fight between two middling fighters in the division, but both of these men are more than your average middling fighters. They are middling pugilist auteurs, and that can be a great thing for fans.

Waldburger is coming off his second Submission of the Night victory against Nick Catone which puts him at 4-2 in the UFC. His opponent, a Strikeforce import, made his debut against Chris Spang at UFC on Fuel TV: Mousasi vs. Latifi in victory.

What both can do: Waldburger's game depends on how effectively he can impose his submission prowess. He's clearly a technician, but most importantly, he has that grappling "switch" you need in MMA. Where it's not enough that you know how to grapple, but when to grapple. This is the distinction subpar grapplers or rather, grapplers who can't make the transition to MMA, fail to understand.

Other than that there's not much to say about his game. As for Amagov, he's a Sambo guy with a whizzer obsession. Is it fine if I stop there?

What both men can't do: Amagov's striking is exactly what you'd expect out of whizzer-worshipping Sambo guy; raw, and unfiltered. He had a pretty ridiculous slugfest (at times) with Ronald Stallings, which is not really something to brag about.

Both guys are adept at grappling, but the question is what happens when the fight stays on the ground, and the leather starts flying?

X-Factor: Waldburger's striking/Amagov's cardio. Waldburger has the slightly more polished striking, which I think will be a factor once Amagov's cardio problems begin to show up. This could be an ugly one, but it should be a very fun ugly bout.

Prediction: TJ Waldburger by Decision.

Tony Ferguson (13-3) vs. Mike Rio (9-2) Lightweight

When we last left our heroes...Tony Ferguson has been an unexpected success in the UFC. Debuting as an ‘ultimate fighter', not much was expected of him until he started picking up real wins, like the one over Yves Edwards.

We haven't seen much of Mike Rio, but we know what he brings. Which is what I'm about to talk about...

What both can do: Rio has a wrestling pedigree that once got him ‘featured' in Sports Illustrated's ‘Faces in the Crowd' segment (a much better accomplishment than being arbitrarily featured on the front page of Sports Illustrated, I'd argue). Needless to say, it shows in his style.

He's got a little Alpha Male in him; using his wrestling to supplement his submission game, where he has shown to have excellent back control. His striking is like you'd expect out of a wrestler, so need to describe ‘raw power good/versatility bad' for the bagillionth time.

Ferguson does a lot of things well. He's tough, has good wrestling, and strikes well, and does so from difficult angles.

What both men can't do: I think the problem for Rio is that he'll be dealing with a solid wrestler himself, who also has the reach advantage. While it's nothing extraordinary, Ferguson should be able to exploit his limitations on the feet. This won't be an easy fight for either guy in my opinion, but I do feel like the edge goes to Ferguson.

X-Factor: Ferguson throws at a ton of uppercuts. Even if he starts to get outwrestled, I feel like a well timed uppercut during an attempted Rio double could be the difference.

Prediction: Ton Ferguson by Split Decision.

Andre Fili (12-1) vs. Jeremy Larson (8-4) Featherweight

When we last left our heroes...This will be Fili's UFC debut as he's been cutting teeth on the Midwestern circuit. At 12-1 there's a little concern as to what he's doing fighting someone who is 8-4 and 0-2 in the UFC. Larson isn't a bad fighter, but he's not UFC material. His two losses have been emphatic though to be fair, in his last fight against Lucas Martins, it's quite possible we're in another universe where THIS happens.

What both can do: Fili is primarily a striker. With good length, he generally utilizes it well enough, mixing his strikes with body kicks, jabs, etc. He's always moving, bouncing around, and he has a real penchant for when to transition.

Larson is your average journeyman. He knows the mechanics. Just not the game. He does have have a decent right hand, and his takedowns are persistent and well executed when he's on his A game.

What both men can't do: I had to be real generous on Larson in that last section, because everything he does well is consumed by what he doesn't do well. What good is ok power if your chin is always begging for a right hand? His chin is a concern here.

Though Fili, I'd argue, is the benefactor of a padded midwestern record. He doesn't have much power to speak of, and his defense is sorely lacking on the feet. Against the 5-3 Adrian Diaz he got outjabbed with ease so even though Fili could look impressive here, a loss is not out of the question.

X-Factor: One of the monsters from Pacific Rim turns this into a No Contest. Speaking of which, I'm sure there are plenty of Sons of Anarchy fans who will hate this, but Charlie Hunnam is a terrible actor.

Prediction: Andrew Fili by Decision.

Dustin Pague (11-8) vs. Kyoji Horiguchi (10-1) Bantamweight

When we last left our heroes... Can I first just say ‘F*** Yea!' I've always been a Shooto mark, and I've got the sore passenger seat on the Ryoto Matsune hype train to prove it. Kyoji kind of takes me back and gets me all misty-eyed. It sucks what happened to the MMA Japan scene, and while this is quickly turning into otaku tripe, Shooto always had interesting fighters to promote because a real amateur system was in place despite the bizarre rules.

Anyway, Kyoji is on a five fight winning streak, and current 132lb Shoot champ after beating the very underrated Hiromasa Ogikubo. Pague, meanwhile, is 1-4 in his last five but unlike Andrew Fili, he's a good case study in misleading records as his losses to Yves Jabouin and Ken Stone were competitive enough, and neither fighter is a schlub.

What both can do: Pague is a decent fighter. He's finished in all of his wins, and his grappling prowess should not be understated. While Kyoji will receive plenty of hype from fight snobs like me, this isn't a showcase fight for him. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Chang Sung Kung vs. George Roop. Pague will have the reach advantage in this one, and that Kyoji's game will have difficulty adapting.

Speaking of, Kjoji is not like most Shooto products, where you look at their record, and 99% of their wins are by decision (this is not a statement about their abilities, or whether or not they're exciting). He has solid power in his right hand, and moves around swiftly to land the punch he loves the most. He also owns some of the heaviest leg kicks you're likely to see in MMA. He's a real talent, but not a perfect one.

What both men can't do: Kyoji's big problem is rhythm. He falls too easily into the rhythm of moving east and west to land a right hand, and sometimes nothing more. Shintaro Ishiwatari had him all but figured out.

As for Pague, he's a tough kid. But his willingness to strike when it doesn't suit him can be problematic. Pague's general toughness will not be what he wants to rely on against the power punching of Horiguchi.

Ultimately I think the story of this fight will be Pague getting stuck, but being aggressive enough to potentially sway the judges to a Garcia/Jung-like decision. Naturally I hope I'm wrong, but in a perfect world, assuming I'm correct about my profile about both fighters, I think Kyoji works hard to defend the takedown while landing heavy punches to punctuate enough of the action to get the decision win.

X-Factor: I'll let my shameless plug about my article on jet lag do the talking.

Prediction: Kyoji Horiguchi by Decision.


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