I don't hate these prelims (they are certainly better than the New Zealand offering), but I feel they could have used a better headliner. Or at least another potential breakout prospect. Borg is the only one that I believe has massive potential. Oh well. To business!
Story Thus Far: Smith is on the verge of doing something no other TUF winner has done: washing out of the UFC without a victory outside of the TUF finals victory. Everyone agrees that the 16th season was weak with talent... this would only accentuate that idea. Smith isn't without talent and is fighting at a more appropriate weight class now... but he needs to make his move NOW!
Ferreira will be making his UFC debut here after taking the lightweight title in the Legacy FC promotion. He holds victories over two UFC veterans in Carlo Prater and Jorge Patino and has been tearing up the grappling scene in the southwest United States. Interesting to note that the Brazilian's MMA career only began after his move to the US. He is an older prospect at 29, but worth taking a look at.
Fighting Style: Smith certainly hasn't gained a lot of fans with his grinding style that was unable to produce a single finish in his 5 fights for the TUF tournament. Whether you like it or not doesn't matter to him though and isn't going to change that. He gave renowned grappler (and fellow TUF winner) Mike Chiesa a hell of a run in their encounter by nearly submitting him and is about as fundamentally sound a wrestler as you are going to find. His striking needs work as he largely swings wildly in an attempt to get in for his takedowns. If he could develop some range attacks, he'd be much more efficient.
Based on his credentials already mentioned, its clear that Ferreira is a hell of BJJ practitioner. 5 of his victories have come by submission and is quite adept at getting his opponents back. He does a good job of utilizing his GNP to loosen up his opponent for the submission, but his overall striking is still a work in progress. Right now he is more of a brawler with wild punches that an skilled striker could expose. He'll throw in some kicks for good measure too. Overall he has some potential as a striker, but needs refinement.
What to Expect: Smith doesn't care who he is in there with. He is going to go for the takedown, grind you out, and take the submission if it opens up. He should be careful with Ferreira though. Yes, Smith is good at grinding opponents, but Chiesa was able to drop Smith on his head and submit him. Ferreira is better at pure BJJ than Chiesa so he might be a greater challenge to grind out. This will be interesting.
I said that Ferreira could be exposed by a skilled striker. Smith doesn't qualify. Neither one of these guys are favored in many standup battles overall, but I'd have to give Ferreira a slight edge based on his power and slightly more diverse game. I mentioned that Smith lacks a potent attack from a distance (leg kicks are about all) which means he'll have to wade into Ferreira's punches to either provide a meaningful attack or get a takedown.
The ground game is going to be a fun chess match. Overall submission skills I give easily to Ferreira, but Smith does a more efficient job of blending wrestling with BJJ. Ferreira has faced some solid BJJ practitioners, but not any wrestlers of Smith's caliber. If there is a finish, Ferreira gets it. A decision not so easy to say.
X-Factors: Ferreira has struggled to put away recent opponents and I've learned ability to finish opponents the higher the level of competition faced is a pretty good indicator of ceiling. That's a bad sign for him. Smith is fighting in front of his home crowd, but should be fine with the pressure. The dude has been deployed in the Middle East. You think a fight intimidates him?
Who Will Win: I've gone back and forth on this one, but in the end I'm gonna go with Smith due to the fact that I don't think the UFC is going to set him up to fail here. He is a TUF winner and him going down here only tarnishes a brand that they have been struggling to sell as legit as of late. He won't make it pretty, but he'll pull it out. Smith by Decision
Story Thus Far: If Bedford's last fight was your only exposure to him, you probably think he is a hot-headed jerk as he flew off the handle when it was announced his fight with Rani Yahya was a no contest. Bedford is actually a pretty good guy who let the lack of paychecks get to him (it was his first fight in a year). He may need a win here as a no contest and a loss in his last two (plus the very public freak-out) don't look good to the brass.
Gibson debuted against the highly touted Aljamain Sterling as an injury replacement and took the fight right to him in a competitive but clear decision loss. Gibson wasn't on the radar of many as a prospect to watch before that fight, but he is now. Like Bedford, he could be on the chopping block too, but his youth (26) and exciting style will give him a little more leeway.
Fighting Style: Bedford is a bit of an enigma as you would expect someone of his size (5'10) to throw a lot of jabs and/or leg kicks, but he is a through and through brawler. To give him credit, he does a solid job using his reach to keep his opponents at bay, but he doesn't fully utilize his physical gifts. Overhands and knees are his preferred methods of striking, but he does have some vicious GNP when he takes the fight to the ground. Speaking of which, he wrestled at Cleveland St. and owns a brown belt in BJJ which he does a good job utilizing. Now if he can just avoid being submitted himself...
Gibson is a balls-to-the-wall fighter that makes it hard to not like him. He loves to get into range and start swinging and often does so with reckless abandon. Owning a similar frame to Bedford (he is also 5'10), he throws a good variety of strikes (including the jab) and will even throw in some flash like a spinning back kick. A two-time JUCO All-American, Gibson does a great job on his double legs and is willing to utilize unorthodox tactics (he jumped directly onto Sterling's back from the front) to gain the upper hand on his opponent. Thus he can open up himself to being countered... but is one of those things fans love about him.
What to Expect: Gibson loves a slugfest and Bedford will likely be happy to oblige as he has yet to have an opponent who can truly engage him in that manner for a full 15. Can you say Fight of the Night candidate? Gibson's greater arsenal will likely give him an overall advantage, but he'll have to be careful not to let Bedford clinch up with him. Gibson doesn't suck there, but Bedford is a beast.
The wrestling might be just as entertaining. While Gibson's willingness to take chances helps him on his feet (at least in this fight), I think it hurts him on the ground with Bedford. But who knows... 9 of Bedford's losses have come by way of submission. And to Gibson's credit, he has done a better job of effectively blending his BJJ with his wrestling. Tough call here, but Bedford is the safe bet to have the advantage.
Bedford's striking, though limited in what he throws, is quite tight. Gibson on the other hand... well, yeah. You know what I mean. He usually starts out technically sound and loses it in the heat of the moment and often drops his hands too. He is a tough bastard and knows how to take a punch, but you don't want to utilize that tool too often.
X-Factors: Bedford has to be feeling the heat and I feel he doesn't perform so hot when the heat is on. Why do I say that? Do I really need to point out his reaction in Abu Dhabi again? Gibson on the other hand is complete California cool. Why doesn't he work with Team Alpha Male? He seems like he'd fit right in.
Who Will Win: In many ways these two seem like mirror images... just at different points in their careers... except for the whole demeanor thing. I gotta side with the youth on this one though. Gibson still has holes in his game, but he looked as though he has been working on them in his fight with Sterling. Gibson by Decision
Story Thus Far: Who hear remembers Guimaraes and the fact he has already fought twice in the UFC, including a victory in his debut? That's what happens when you have 16 months between fights. Guimaraes is moving up to middleweight despite the fact that he was outmuscled in his last fight at welterweight by Hyun Gyu Lim. He'll need to win to stay employed though. It isn't difficult to cut someone that on one else remembers.
Enz took on Uriah Hall to gain entry into the TUF 17 house and suffered a broken arm in the bout. He kept fighting regardless and earned the respect of the UFC brass. Thus why he is now an employee. Hailing from Alaska, he has fought better competition than you would think he could up there, but he is coming off a loss to Clint Hester in his UFC debut. This is likely his last shot... this time around. He is just 22.
Fighting Style: Shot after shot after shot is Guimaraes' plan. Well... he won't if he can get a takedown. And he has only been successful on 6 percent of his takedowns thus far. Not a typo. He should trust his boxing more as he is pretty tight with his jab and hook and does a nice job changing levels. If he established his boxing more, he would be able to get the takedowns he seeks. Once on the ground he prefers to use GNP to loosen up his opponent to hope for a submission opening.
Enz is a scrappy dude who looks to overwhelm his opponents with the sheer volume of his strikes. He doesn't possess a lot of power, but peppers his opponent with a lot of jabs ala the Diaz brothers. He isn't as smooth as the brothers at putting together combos, but isn't bad. His takedowns need some work as he doesn't time his shots particularly well, but his offensive from his back and has some of the best survival instincts I've seen after getting rattled. And can he ever take a shot. This kid is as tough as they come.
What to Expect: Guimaraes' will try to take Enz down. There is no doubt about that as he wants to prove his BJJ black belt is legit. I haven't seen anything to show me that Enz will be able to stop him, but Guimares couldn't get Dan Stittgen to the ground. I know you are asking who and that is my point. His doggedness will likely pay off with a few takedowns, but he'll have to keep Enz down and hasn't shown the best ability to do that in the UFC thus far.
Most of Enz' victories have come by submission and the fact that he grew up wrestling indicates that he has a very solid ground game. But he also has a 5' reach advantage and does a solid job using that advantage on his opponents. So yeah, he's gonna pepper Guimaraes with a lot of punches. Guimaraes struggled with the reach of Lim, but he did land some nice uppercuts and overhands when he got frustrated and rushed in there swinging. It should end up being a slugfest... or a pepperfest(?) since neither has great power.
Guimares best strike may actually be his leg kicks. He throws a hell of a lot of those with the likely intention of weakening his opponents base for the takedowns. Look for more of the same. Closing the distance to strike could result in Enz clinching up with him and Enz has some nice knees there that would qualify as his most powerful strikes.
X-Factors: Its been a long time since Guimaraes has stepped into the Octagon and may have some rust to deal with. Last I heard Enz was training at The Lab in Arizona, so Guimaraes will be the only one dealing with a long flight now.
Who Will Win: Neither one of these fighters seem to have any potential to contend someday (particularly Guimaraes at 31), but they have lots of potential to put on some fun fights. I like Enz better at this point. He fights a smarter fight and I don't see how moving up in weight will solve Guimaraes' previous issues. Enz by Decision
Story Thus Far: Borg was largely unknown in his UFC debut as he was essentially an injury fill-in for Alp Ozkilic against Dustin Ortiz. Even though he lost, Borg made a hell of an impression giving Ortiz absolutely everything he could handle. Some media pundits believed he won. At the tender age of 20, the UFC may have found a diamond in the rough.
Howell is a journeyman willing to take a fight on short notice. Best explanation I can offer. Ryan Benoit fell to injury and Howell stepped up. He is riding a 6-fight win streak, but only one of those opponents has a winning record (Mark Oshiro at Bellator 42). Howell is out to prove that he is more than just a journeyman... but it'll be tough for him to do that.
Fighting Style: If there is anyone who is going to challenge Demetrious Johnson for the fastest fighter in the world crown, its going to be Borg. He is seriously lightning quick and an expert at getting his opponents back in the midst of a scramble. Plus, he is very strong at 125 despite being on the smaller side for the class. His problem is that he hasn't figured out how to get past his size disadvantage on the feet yet. At 5'4 with 63' reach, he needs to figure it out if he is to have any true impact.
If Howell can make the weight (I don't believe he has ever fought at 125), he'll be a huge flyweight. At bantamweight he has proven to be scrappy (can that apply to someone bigger for a weight class?) who can punch his way out of a corner. The bigger problem is that he would allow himself in there in the first place as he can be stationary and allow his opponent to pick him apart. Its like he has to get hit a few times before the switch goes on. When it does, he throws looping hooks and uppercuts that aren't very technical.
What to Expect: Howell's looping punches could be the opening that Borg needs to test out his striking. Borg is fast enough that he can get inside of Howell's range and land first. I can't say that I've seen Borg counter punch, but it would be a waste of speed if he can't do so. If nothing else, he'll be able to get off his punches first with little problem.
Howell is savvy enough on the ground to have picked up 7 of his wins by submission, but I haven't been impressed with his wrestling. Borg's combination of speed, strength, and technicality will be hell on earth for Howell. He hasn't shown great ability to maintain control on your average journeyman much less fend off someone like Borg.
I know that I keep harping on Howell (I did refer to him as a journeyman taking a fight on short notice... what did you expect?), but his best chance is for him to capitalize on a mistake by Borg and submit him. He's done that a few times to pick up a win before, but Borg's speed allows him to make mistakes others can't get away with. Can Howell catch him?
X-Factors: Howell hasn't fought in over two years. He's gonna have to shake off a lot of ring rust. He's also taking the fight on a little over a weeks notice. The deck is really stacked against him.
Who Will Win: It seems I'm not the only one who likes Borg. Rather than scrap the bout after Benoit got injured, the UFC went out to find a sacrificial lamb for him to beef up his resume and get a bit of experience. Think I'm being harsh? You won't after you see this fight. Borg by Submission 1st Round
Story Thus Far: Oliynyk has been fighting professionally since 1997... so no, he isn't a spring chicken at 37. With that record he clearly has a long resume and has a number of notable names on there with wins over Mirko Cro Cop and Jeff Monson (both past their prime) and a loss to Chael Sonnen. He isn't going to make a run at the title, but can test the youngsters at the bottom of the division.
Also making his UFC debut, Hamilton isn't exactly one of the youngsters I was referring to at the age of 34. Fighting out of Jackson MMA in New Mexico, you know he has a solid camp and some big bodies to work with. His most recent victory came over former TUFer (and one-time UFC vet) Darrill Schoonover.
Fighting Style: Oliynyk isn't a big heavyweight at all, weighing about 230 pounds and even has fought at light heavyweight. Don't let that fool you though. It is easier to list all the ways he hasn't submitted an opponent than the ways he has as he very aptly lives up to his name of the Boa Constrictor as he owns 39 submission victories. He's also a two-time world champion in Combat Sambo (which does help explain his submission record). His punches are awkward (like a half of a hook) as he uses his punches more as a distraction to set up him closing the distance for a takedown (usually accomplished by clinching up for a trip.
Hamilton is a big boy pushing the 265 pound limit. The best way to describe him is a brawler, but he does have a bit more technique than that would indicate... when he isn't gassed. Short range and in the clinch is where he is most comfortable. He can surprise you with his athletic ability as his head kick KO of Smealinho Rama showed. He was a junior college All-American in wrestling, but it doesn't really show. His takedowns consist of body locks and dragging them down if the trip isn't available. I've seen nothing to indicate a sound ground game either.
What to Expect: Oliynyk has been playing this game for a very long time and is as savvy as they come. He knows that Hamilton tends to gas quickly and will try to get him to chase him early on. Hamilton struggles with distance, so if Oliynyk can keep moving (perhaps even losing the round as a result), he shouldn't be in significant danger and tire out the bigger and heavier opponent.
Oliynyk has shown great survival instincts from his back if not exactly great submissions off of his back. Hamilton isn't likely going to try to take him to the ground as a result, but I could see that situation if Hamilton were able to score a reverse early in the fight simply based on his sheer strength advantage. Hamilton's top control isn't very secure though which is further reason to expect Oliynyk to have no problems from the bottom.
What may be the biggest question is if Oliynyk can get Hamilton to the ground. I don't think that will be too big of a problem. If the fight goes past the first round the answer is a resounding yes. Though his striking is awkward, it can surprise as well if not given respect. Don't be surprised to see Hamilton not pay it any respect and end up paying the price for that. Why mention that when I'm talking about takedowns? Oliynyk will get him to the ground easily if he gains an advantage in striking.
X-Factors: Clearly gas tanks are a question here. Hamilton isn't the worst I've seen, but he is bad. Jitters is a question for the debutantes as well, but seeing as how Oliynyk has seemingly fought everyone and everywhere in Europe, don't expect him to be intimidated. Hamilton is the one I would worry about.
Who Will Win: Oliynyk is too crafty for Hamilton. He reminds me of a better version of Fabio Scherner... someone Hamilton has already lost to. Oliynyk by Submission 2nd Round
It kind of pains me to say this as I have thoroughly enjoyed putting together these previews... but life has taken a turn and I can't justify doing this anymore. I'm not going away permanently and hope to occasionally offer an opinion or two, but can't keep up the previews at this point. There are just too many events! Not that I'm complaining... I just figure if you're going to do a job, then do it right. And I can't justify my own expectations. Not that it was truly a job anyway... but I think you get my drift.
On a slightly different note, I do have a different project that is a bit less time consuming (and with less deadlines) that I believe some may enjoy. It will be a while before I throw it out to the public to see (not like anyone cares... this is a fanpost!), but I'll be busy still trying to contribute to MMA knowledge.
So if anybody has enjoyed these, thank you for taking the time to read them. I actually did enjoy throwing them out there.