With the dizzying array of events which the UFC puts on, sometimes they just need to put a foot down, and really establish just what they're capable of. The last time they really pulled it off was at UFC 175. Now, it's that time again: Two title fights and a great main card at the tried and true Mandalay Bay Arena, in Las Vegas Nevada. It's the big show. Let's do this.
Sometimes, in these situations, the undercard quality is sacrificed due to the drawing power of the beasts at the top of the card, but this is really a very solid selection of preliminary bouts which is well worth your time.
The Line Up
Bantamweight Urijah Faber vs. Francisco Rivera
Middleweight Eddie Gordon vs. Josh Samman
Light Heavyweight Corey Anderson vs. Justin Jones
Women's Bantamweight Raquel Pennington vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith
Preliminary card (UFC Fight Pass)
Bantamweight Sergio Pettis vs. Matt Hobar
Featherweight Alex White vs. Clay Collard
3 Things You Should Know
1. Do not miss the Fight Pass portion of the undercard. Really, don't.
The fight between Clay Collard and Alex White has the potential to be ridiculous fist-flying insanity. White had a tragic incident as a toddler where he scorched his vocal cords by accidentally drinking gasoline, and whether it's left him with an impression of his own biological immortality or an overwhelming sense of carpe diem, he goes out there and just throws, bell-to-bell, with no sense of self-preservation.
"Cassius" Clay Collard also fights with a marrow-deep conviction that there is simply no way he's going to lose. It's the sort of breathtaking hubris you might conceivably expect from someone who looks like a babyface stockbroker yet names himself after the most famous pugilist in the world. In his last bout, you could see Max Holloway almost getting puzzled as his short-notice opponent threw himself repeatedly into Holloway's fists like a demented honey badger.
White is probably the superior athlete and has made an effort to establishing some form of defense. The fight hinges on whether this is actually a good idea: we've seen individuals like Luke Barnatt suffer from building ostensibly more technical styles which don't necessarily jibe with their strengths as a mixed martial artist. Most troublingly, White retains the common tendency to retreat with his head bolt upright. Against a fighter as purely rabid as Collard, this could get him chased down and hurt.
In both their last fights, each man was finished late. In other contests, this might translate to a different tenor, as they'd fight extra hard to stay employed. However, in this particular case, it probably doesn't matter because both chaps have only one gear anyway: pure lunacy.
Sergio Pettis and his brother occupy approximate bookend spots at the top and bottom of the card. Like Tony Showtime, Pettis has an excellent kicking game. However, he lacks some of Pettis the Elder's pantherine fluidity, fighting from a wider, stable base with a more grounded and static approach. This can at times leave him stranded on the outside, flicking out kicks, as he does not have much of a safe approach on the way in, and this is exacerbated by the fact that he is not a tall 135er. I do think he'll almost certainly become more comfortable in the pocket as time moves on- I suspect he may evolve into something closer to Joseph Benavidez's style than his brother's. For that evolution, he needs to fight tough, beatable opponents with different looks.
Enter Matt Hobar. Hobar is something of a throwback to that halcyon time before wrestlers started getting corrupted with all that "boxing" flim-flammery. Being one-dimensional doesn't necessarily mean that you're bad at it and Hobar is a more than adequate wrestler with a strong double and single leg and even some picturesque slams. He doesn't appear to do anything else particularly well at all, so he functions as a marker for our expectations of Pettis. Pettis blows him away: revise upwards. Pettis wins a solid unanimous decision: hold. Pettis struggles or loses: revise downwards. Like his brother, Pettis has a strong submission game, so it'll be interesting to see if he can get Hobar desperate enough to dive into something fight-ending.
2. TUF 17, 18 and 19 are all represented here... but not all TUFs are not created equal
Raquel "Rocky" Pennington came up through the 135lb of TUF 18, including a memorable scrap with Jessamyn Duke. Ashlee Evans-Smith has a perfect 3-0 professional record, and comes in as a short-notice replacement for Holly Holm. She almost certainly got the call up due to her KO victory over Fallon Fox, and this is as close to the UFC as Fox is going to get: a Tim Silvia-type figure, where beating her gets you a phone call to come up to the big leagues. While Pennington has only really lost to quality opposition, she doesn't have any good scalps on her resume either, and remains a gritty, high-volume, low-power action fighter. In particular, her inability to effectively dictate range combined with her lack of finishing power means that Evans-Smith should be able to close inside and bully her effectively.
After a long layoff laced with heartbreaking personal tragedy, BE frequenter Josh Samman finally returns to the octagon to take on Eddie Gordon. Samman was tapped out in the TUF 17 semis by Kelvin Gastelum, whereas Gordon won Season 19. So... Gordon wins? Maybe not. When looking at the two seasons, there is a distinct talent gap. Gastelum in particular is one of the very brightest prospects to ever come out of TUF, and the season produced a number of other UFC mainstays like Clint Hester, Dylan Andrews and Luke Barnatt (even if all three have stumbled of late). Gordon's season, conversely, was... not good.
Samman is a natural athlete who can generate significant power while standing, on the ground, and in the clinch. He keeps a high pace, occasionally supplementing solid fundamental strikes with more exotic techniques like the Sakuraba double axe-handle or a switch knee from the double collar. Whilst he's had problems defensively early on in fights, his workrate and power make him a tough out for most middleweights. Gordon is harder to get a bead on- he's also a good athlete, but with relatively little in-cage experience. However, he won a whole bunch of upsets to take TUF whilst showing clear improvement, and he's at a very good camp in Serra-Longo. This all normally bodes well for future development. However, the Pendred fight was really notably terrible and Pendred has not impressed at all since then. I can't shake the sneaking suspicion that Gordon did well because he was one of the the only actual middleweights on the show and that he may struggle against someone who can physically match him. Long story short: this fight is extremely difficult to call.
Finally in TUF-related bouts, Corey "Beastin' 25/8" Anderson, the TUF 19 light heavyweight winner (and owner of the best / worst ring name in the UFC) takes on Justin Jones, a short notice replacement for Gian Villante. This fight is a continuance of the current trend for light heavies to get injured, and then to get short notice middleweight fill-ins as opponents. Sometimes it takes a long time (King Mo vs Joe Vedepo). Sometimes it doesn't (Ilir Latifi vs Chris Dempsey). Sometimes the guy goes on to look OK in the subsequent fights (Patrick Cummins vs Roger Narvaez). What does happen almost every time is that the middleweight gets run over. Beasted, you might say. But not 25 hours a day, or 8 days a week.
That is frankly impossible.
3.Urijah Faber is doing Urijah Faber things, and that's awesome
Of all the possible people to dethrone Renan Barao, any of them would have been more amenable to Urijah Faber's hopes for winning a belt than his teammate T J Dillashaw. With absolutely no immediate path to a title shot, Faber is left fighting the remnants of the top 15 that he hasn't already beaten.
Francisco Rivera is physically gifted, with a particularly devastating right hand, but his grappling deficiencies have never gone away, or even come close to going away. Takeya Mizugaki was probably the closest thing he had to a favourable stylistic match-up in the Top 10, and he still lost that fight. Conversely, this time around his deficiencies feed directly into Faber's strengths, and while Faber occasionally takes a while to get the engine running, it's hard to see an end to this fight which isn't Faber getting some kind of awesome, violent choke. Frankly, Rivera's best chance is a big right hand, but I'd give Faber more of a chance of actually winning by knockout. Either way, should be some solid violence to close out a strong preliminary selection.
Alex White by unanimous decision.
Sergio Pettis by unanimous decision
Ashlee Evans-Smith by unanimous decision
Corey Anderson by TKO, round 2
Josh Samman by TKO, round 3
Urijah Faber by submission, round 1