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UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Bader - Idiot's Guide Preview to the Fox Sports 1/Fight Pass Prelims

Veterans and former prospects turned veterans come together to put on a show for the crowd in New Jersey this January 30th at the Prudential Center.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Veterans from all walks of MMA life come together in this quantity with a dash of quality over straight up quality this January 30, 2016 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.

The Line Up

Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1)
Welterweight Tarec Saffiedine vs. Jake Ellenberger
Lightweight Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Carlos Diego Ferreira
Middleweight Kevin Casey vs. Rafael Natal
Flyweight Dustin Ortiz vs. Wilson Reis
Welterweight George Sullivan vs. Alexander Yakovlev
Bantamweight Alex Caceres vs. Masio Fullen

Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass)
Featherweight Levan Makashvili vs. Damon Jackson
Lightweight Tony Martin vs. Felipe Olivieri
Welterweight Matt Dwyer vs. Randy Brown

The Odds

Jake Ellenberger +205 Tarec Saffiedine -245 
Diego Ferreira +245 Olivier Aubin-Mercier -290 
Kevin Casey +145 Rafael Natal -165 
Dustin Ortiz -220 Wilson Reis +180  
Alexander Yakovlev -130 George Sullivan +110  
Alex Caceres -290 Masio Fullen +245  
Damon Jackson +255 Levan Makashvili -310  
Felipe Olivieri +155 Tony Martin -175 
Matt Dwyer +140 Randy Brown -160

The Rundown

Welterweight Tarec Saffiedine vs. Jake Ellenberger

Both men are coming off drastically different losses amidst career trajectories that are somewhat similar. At this point, I'm not even sure if Jake Ellenberger will even be in the UFC for the calendar year if he loses. Not only his he underperformed in big matchups, but he's looking flat out mediocre at times. Looking mediocre and actively being mediocre are obviously different things. Ellenberger is as dangerous a fighter as there is, but so was Maximo Blanco once upon a time.

Saffiedine has been sidelined by a groin injury since losing to Rory McDonald. But otherwise he hasn't had a real opportunity to shine in the UFC. This is either a great matchup for Ellenberger, or the worst. There's no in between here. Tarec isn't a hard striker despite his patient, technical acumen on the feet. So he'll need to stand tall in all three rounds to win. But Ellenberger is the kind of one track minded puncher who is prone to being flustered when opponents don't let his hand inside the concussion cookie jar.

Lightweight Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Carlos Diego Ferreira

This is a very much a fight between mangled equals. They both gravitate towards a grapple-centric style of fighting that can operate on whatever pugilism plane the bout takes them. Diego is coming off two consecutive losses, but one was to Beneil Dariush, and the other was to Dustin Poirier. That's a ridiculous two fight stretch. It's a miracle he doesn't eat out of a tube, to be honest.

Ferreira is the better grappler when it comes to X's and O's, but MMA has become increasingly hostile, not to the fundamentals of grappling, but to the way the changing fundamentals aren't present in a top fighter's diet. Aubin-Mercier has this part covered, but he's also the better athlete. This is a closer fight than the odds indicate. There are ways in which it might resemble a grappling version of Ross Pearson vs. Cole Miller, but it's more likely that it resembles a grappling version of Urijah Faber vs. Jeff Curran.

Middleweight Kevin Casey vs. Rafael Natal

This one is just brutal. Believe it or not, Natal is undefeated in his last three, and that's over decent competition (Uriah Hall included). Yet you'd be hard pressed to convince me that this bout will be anything but the moment of silence in the water cooler conversation.

Both guys are decent mixed martial artists. I'd never thought I'd add the words "in a vacuum" as a qualifier for a fighter's abilities. But it's true. Fundamentally, they have a decent arsenal of traditional skills. And they're decent athletes. But they their vision, and awareness slow their games down. As a result, they're fighters with one foot on the gas, and one foot in the blender.

Natal is quicker, and at least has the kind of leg kicks that should be able to punish Casey's plodding movement. Whereas Casey doesn't have the wrestling acumen to close the distance with any regularity or efficiency.

Flyweight Dustin Ortiz vs. Wilson Reis

Finally, some elite-ish action on the undercard. Wilson Reis started his career out on fire, beating Makovsky, and Caraway before losing to Joe Soto in Bellator. Since then he's had an up and down career, but mostly up. He's never suffered a real bad stretch of losses, and sometimes resembles the blue chip prospect he was once seen as.

However, he's got a tough outing this weekend against Dustin Ortiz. Ortiz is like a fixed Tyson Griffin; limited, but his combination of versatility and durability make him a deceptively efficient all around fighter. Unlike Griffin, he goes for the jugular with the quickness. His grappling isn't elite, but he's such a fantastic, tic tac toe scrambler. Reis might want to keep it on the feet, but he's never shown a willingness to commit with vertical pugilism. Which sounds about right to casual fans, as he's never officially TKO'ed or KO'ed someone. Yet I think he has solid natural power in his straight left. The lack of knockouts speak more to his early entrance into high level MMA. From his 3rd pro fight onward, he's been in the pros where hierarchies are real.

I suspect the story of this fight will be who transitions best defensively, as I believe the counterwarfare going on during the wrestling exchanges will seal the deal for the winner in the judge's eyes.

Welterweight George Sullivan vs. Alexander Yakovlev

Not a whole lot to say here. Yakovlev is a solid fighter, who clearly benefited Lightweight by being much bigger, which is partially why that Gray Maynard fight went his way but that experiment didn't last long, as Yak is now back to 170. At welterweight, Yakovlev isn't anything unique beyond his gangster rap career, but sometimes it pays to be mundane. Against Sullivan, who likes to pressure forward with heavy strikes, mundane will have value. Anything to ugly the bout up, and keep it from being a barnburner will benefit Yak. I believe this strategy will favor him as well. Sullian's striking is efficiently chaotic in spots, but a seasoned veteran should be able to neutralize his sometimes aimless fury.

Bantamweight Alex Caceres vs. Masio Fullen

Caceres is 0-3 right now, and in serious danger of getting cut. After stabilizing and looking to have a solid UFC future ahead of him, he's stagnated. It's not just that he's losing, but how he's losing. It's kind of shocking for a 27 year old to be trend downward so dramatically.

Having said that, this is a good matchup for him. Alex has always benefited against fighters who were good enough to challenge him, but not dangerous enough specialists to distract him from his eccentric approach. Fullen is kind of that guy; decent striker with a good understanding of the game, but nothing that stands out as "holy s***" or anything that would cause Rogan to interject himself with "BIG RIGHT HAND!". Goldberg may get in a "WOOOOOOOOWWW...", but only because the soundboard studio experiences glitches every now and then.

Featherweight Levan Makashvili vs. Damon Jackson

Makashvilli is the favorite for obvious reasons; he has strong combinations that he commits to, and has a veritable arsenal when it comes to close quarter combat. Jackson isn't a professional of close quarter combat so much as hobbyist of it. He has a decent skillset for the sport, but his defensive liabilities in places he draws his greatest strength from make him a flawed fighter who won't get much rope from Dana and Co. unless his defeat involves flying knees, inverted armbars, and in-cage references to pro wrestlers.

Lightweight Tony Martin vs. Felipe Olivieri

Here's a fight that I think can either way. Either Olivieri blasts him with the usual assortment of knuckle friction, or Martin (who will see his last UFC bout if he loses) will work top control, and potentially nab a potential submission.

I don't see Martin able to successfully get Olivieri to the ground without taking some serious heat. In that scenario, Martin has a nominal chance, but to do for three rounds is a bridge too far. His quality of competition masks his actual skill, but I think his chances against Olivieri reflect the rapid growth of prospects more than anything.

Welterweight Matt Dwyer vs. Randy Brown

Dwyer was last seen in a comical foot fist way war that saw neither combatant (in this case Alan Jouban) care much for lost wits. Dwyer can take a capoeira kick to the head pretty well. If Dwyer didn't fight Jouban like that, I'd consider him the favorite, but Randy Brown would love nothing more than to finish the job Jouban nearly managed. He's got the pedigree to scramble Dwyer's essence. With his high octane combinations on the feet, Dwyer will get tagged regardless of Randy's inexperience. That fact is enough to make me overlook the lack of facts on Brown's resume.

Predictions

Saffiedine by Decision

Aubin-Mercier by Decision

Natal by Decision

Ortiz by Decision

Yakovlev by Decision

(I don't expect real 'page turners', as you can see)

Caceres by RNC, round 3

Makashvilli by RNC, round 2

Oliviera by TKO, round 2