UFC 171 is an excellent show on paper and probably the best offering from the promotion this year. Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler battle for the vacant welterweight title, with contenders Carlos Condit, Tyron Woodley, Jake Shields, and Hector Lombard all in action before the night's main event. Lest we forget the return of Diego Sanchez after his last Texas outing, a FOTY candidate vs. Gilbert Melendez. The lightweight will take on prospect Myles Jury on the main card.
But before we get to the main card we will look at the prelims, which are stacked with 8 fights in total, split evenly between UFC Fight Pass and Fox Sports 2 (TWO) with FS1 airing college basketball. There are four ranked fighters on the prelims and plenty of exciting fights to look forward to, so let's dive right in. The FS2 prelims begin at 8 PM ET but are preceded by the Fight Pass bouts at 6 PM ET.
Once a contender, Story has fallen into a gatekeeper, top 13-15 type of role that has seen him easily defeat the likes of Quinn Mulhern and Brock Jardine, but fall to Demian Maia and Mike Pyle. It's a shame, because "The Horror" was the first man to defeat Johny Hendricks, beat Thiago Alves at the height of his winning streak, and is one of the most efficient body punchers in the sport. That doesn't mean Story can't find a second wind, and that starts with a solid performance against the surprisingly favored Gastelum.
Gastelum was never considered a favorite to win TUF 17. He was undersized, inexperienced, and expected to lose both in the semifinals to Josh Samman and in the final vs. Uriah Hall. Gastelum choked out Samman and got the split decision over Hall to become the unlikely middleweight tournament winner. In his first fight post-TUF, he needed less than 2 minutes to dispatch Brian Melancon, and now he's been thrown a big step up in competition in Story. Disappointingly, he failed to make weight so this is now a catchweight.
Andrade entered the UFC on short notice, losing by ground-and-pound TKO to recent title challenger Liz Carmouche, but the young Brazilian showed off aggressive and brutal striking against veteran Rosi Sexton at UFC Fight Night in London. She picked up a clear decision victory and never let her foot off the gas. Undersized at this weight class, she'll be giving up 5 inches in height and will have a 5.5 inch reach disadvantage.
Pennington took part on the historic TUF 18 cast, the first to ever include women's fighters. She choked out veteran Tonya Evinger to get into the TUF house, won a Fight of the Season bonus in her quarterfinal matchup with Jessamyn Duke, but couldn't get past the semifinal stage after a tough loss to Jessica Rakoczy. As was the case for several other of the TUF women, she was given a spot on the finale and she proved her worth with a decision win over Roxanne Modafferi. The win snapped her 2 fight pro losing streak and put her above .500. Pennington is filling in for the injured TUF 18 champ Julianna Pena.
Bermudez is a TUF 14 runner-up who has not lost in the UFC since that epic 1 round war with Diego Brandao in the show's finale. His chin, heart, and strong wrestling background has propelled him to a top 15 ranking and 5 successive wins. Submission defeats have been a problem for him in the past, so unless he's improved significantly in that department he might not want to tangle with Hettes on the ground for too long.
Hettes came into the UFC as a quality prospect who showed off slick grappling moves and a very active pace, and it showed in his wins over Alex Caceres and Nam Phan. An upset loss to Marcus Brimage fanned the flames a bit and halted any talk of him being an immediate contender. The 26-year-old returned after a long layoff due to injuries and submitted Rob Whiteford in England last October.
Alex Garcia (11-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC) vs. Sean Spencer (11-2 MMA, 2-1 UFC) - Welterweights
Garcia is a Dominican-Canadian welterweight prospect coming out of Tristar MMA, home to GSP and Rory MacDonald. He can finish you both on the ground and on the feet, and Australia's Ben Wall knows all about his KO power. Garcia's precision and timing completely overwhelmed Wall and he was out of the fight in just 43 seconds. He is a whirlwind of violence and probably the best "up and comer" on the prelims.
Spencer drew a tough debut in Rafael Natal in January 2013. The Texas native was choked out by the Brazilian at middleweight, which prompted the drop to welterweight. From here, "Black Magik" has picked up victories over Drew Dober and Yuri Villefort, both by decision. Garcia is not a top 15 guy, but he's definitely a step up in competition frmo Spencer's last two opponents.
Renee Forte (8-3 MMA, 1-2 UFC) vs. Frank Trevino (11-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) Lightweights
Forte didn't last long on TUF Brazil 1, losing to Daniel Sarafian by RNC in a middleweight bout. The Brazilian dropped to welterweight and lost the finale fight to Sergio Moraes (again by RNC), but fended off a release with an upset win over Terry Etim at lightweight. His latest lightweight bout didn't end well, as John Makdessi knocked him out in a round and the stoppage was far too late. To make matters worse pertaining to tonight, he missed weight on his first and second attempts, so read into that for what it's worth.
Trevino is one of two newcomers to the Octagon. and he has yet to taste defeat in his pro career. The 32-year-old has fought exclusively in Texas and was signed on the heels of a decision win over Lester Batres in Legacy FC. He's a functional wrestler who has otherwise not been tested by any notable competition, so tonight marks a chance to get a win in the big time in front of his fellow Texans.
Campuzano has not had a good time in the UFC, having lost all 3 of his bouts. His first stint came at the end of the WEC era, and after his release he dropped to flyweight, where he scored 4 straight victories. After beating Hideo Tokoro at 135, he was called in on late notice to face Sergio Pettis and acquitted himself well in what otherwise was a decision loss. Campuzano is back at flyweight, and maybe if he gets that elusive first UFC win we will stop talking about that one time he had an erection at the UFC 167 weigh-ins!
At just 21, Scoggins is one of the youngest fighters on the roster. He's a fun and creative striker who was given the opportunity to compete in the big leagues last December, and he made a great impression by stopping Richie Vaculik in the 1st round. Keep in perspective though that he's fought primarily regional level competition and Vaculik himself is no world beater, so Campuzano is a stern test for him this evening.
Bubba McDaniel (21-7 MMA, 1-1 UFC) vs. Sean Strickland (13-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) - Middleweights
Viewers of TUF 17 will definitely remember Bubba's run on the show, which saw him brought back by Jon Jones as a "wild card". He looked almost terrified to fight Uriah Hall and the end result was a 7 second KO in the quarterfinals. McDaniel easily beat Gilbert Smith in the season finale but was last seen dropping a decision to Brad Tavares in August.
Strickland is coming in on short notice for injured TUF 17 alum Tor Troeng. "Tarzan" hails from California and has been a staple on the KOTC circuit, and was their reigning middleweight champion. He consistently looks for the finish and has the power to trouble McDaniel, who is not a particularly good striker. McDaniel should have the advantage on the ground.
Daniel Pineda (18-10 MMA, 3-3 UFC) vs. Robert Whiteford (10-2 MMA, 0-1 UFC)- Featherweights
Pineda is a pure action fighter who, win or lose, is normally going to leave you entertained. But lately he's been doing less of the "winning" part, and his last fight was a decision loss to Diego Brandao. The Texan has failed to win 3 of his last 4 after a 2-0 start and is a bit on the desperate side to snap out of this funk. An interesting fact about Pineda: All 18 of his wins have come by either submission (12) or KO/TKO (6), so if he wins, expect a finish.
Rob Whiteford is a Scotsman who ran into a buzzsaw in Jim Hettes last October. Hettes' superior ground game pulled through and he tapped out in the 2nd round to a triangle choke. Don't use that as reason to write him off just yet. He's still an exciting talent with 6 wins by knockout who is likely not in jeopardy of losing his job given the UFC's plans to head to Scotland next year.