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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Fight Night: Mousasi vs. Hall 2 - Prelims preview Part 2

As the preliminary action carries on in Belfast, a pair of pivotal flyweight contests take place, featuring the return of “Uncle Creepy” Ian McCall against Neil Seery.

MMA: UFC 183-Silva vs Diaz-Weigh Ins Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Though this card – and the card scheduled in Brazil later in the night – have gotten a lot of flak for the quality of the card, there are actually some quality fights on the undercard. The second half of the preliminary contests of UFC Fight Night: Mousasi vs. Hall 2 feature two former flyweight title challengers squaring off, another flyweight who was once seen as the best in the sport at that weight class, and a pair of top lightweight prospects clashing. What isn’t to like about that? For a Fight Pass only card, that is better depth than to be expected.

The prelims begin on Fight Pass at 12:15 PM ET/ 9:15 AM PT.

Ian McCall (13-5-1) vs. Neil Seery (16-12), Flyweight

A likely emotional contest as McCall returns to the cage for the first time in 22 months while Seery has already announced this will be the final contest of his long career.

McCall is the bigger name by far as he was once known as the best flyweight in the world when the UFC began integrating the division into its ranks. Outside of his UFC debut against Demetrious Johnson, McCall has never come close to looking like that, though injury has played a large part in the narrative as well. Despite having discussed the possibility of retirement earlier this year, Uncle Creepy has decided to try making one last run.

Seery has been in the fight game for well over a decade and was a journeyman for a good chunk of it before hitting his stride in his early-to-mid 30’s. Now 37 – a genuine dinosaur at flyweight – there may not be a better way for the Irishman to call it a career than fighting in Belfast against one of the best the division has seen.

Despite his age – and impending retirement – Seery hasn’t had any noticeable drop off in his performance. A lot of that has to do with Seery never being a great athlete in the first place – also why he continues to be effective in his later 30’s. As he has gained experience, he’s also picked up a greater amount of craft to his boxing, putting together tight combinations while switching stances. Power is something he is in short supply of, even for the flyweight division.

McCall possesses a number of similarities to Seery. He’s difficult to put away, last being finished in 2007. He doesn’t have a lot of power in his strikes. He is also pretty sound on the defensive front… when he is fighting smart. McCall has a bad habit of playing to his opponents’ strengths which is the biggest reason for his limited UFC success. When he sticks with his outside lateral movement, searching for angles in which to land his strikes, he’s very successful. His jab is especially effective and his leg kicks can leave his opponent gimpy before too long.

Once upon a time, the strategy to dealing with Seery consisted of getting the fight to the ground. Not anymore. The Irishman has proven to be very difficult to submit while displaying a creative and aggressive submission attack of his own. McCall is very meat and potatoes on the ground – at least as far as flyweight is concerned – though he usually looks for the takedown at least once a round to keep the opposition guessing what is coming next. McCall is the more technically sound wrestler of the two, though neither is particularly notable for their exploits in that area.

While I think I have a good feel for who is going to win, it isn’t easy for me to pick this one. I’d love to see McCall make a successful return as his personality and presence would be a boon for a flyweight division that is lacking in the exposure department. But I’d also love to see the veteran score a victory in his final MMA fight. I’m picking McCall as that appears to be the obvious thing to do, but a Seery win isn’t out of the realm of possibility should rust play a factor for Uncle Creepy. McCall via decision

Magnus Cedenblad (14-4) vs. Jack Marshman (20-5), Middleweight

Four straight wins and rather than give the Swede a step up in competition, Cedenblad gets to welcome a newcomer. Is there something about either Cedenblad or Marshman I’m not aware of?

It appears Cedenblad’s 19 month absence from the sport – from which he returned this past May -- hurt him more than anyone thought as he appears to be treading water in terms of competition. The only impressive name in the midst of that streak is Krzysztof Jotko who is currently on a four-fight win streak of his own. The other names? Jared Hamman, Scott Askham, and Garreth McLellan. Perhaps a win over Marshman will finally get Cedenblad an opportunity against a ranked opponent.

Marshman is fresh off of capturing the Cage Warriors title this past July over Frenchman Christopher Jacquelin. Though a nice accomplishment, it doesn’t quite have the same merit it did before Cage Warriors took a lengthy hiatus. Nonetheless, the Wales native offers some promise at the age of 26 as well as an opportunity for the UFC to break into an area in which the UFC hasn’t been able to break into Wales.

Perhaps what is holding Cedenblad back is his relatively boring style. It isn’t fan friendly and never will be, something he has acknowledged himself. He has tried to change that narrative a bit by better utilizing his 79" reach by fighting on the outside. He had a bit of success against McLellan, landing a round kick to the dome that stunned the South African which led to the finishing sequence, though it still feels a bit like fighting against type for the grinder. Leaning his massive 6'3" frame against his opponent on the cage was the recipe to his early success and I’d expect him to go to that should he struggle to get his jab and front kicks going.

Marshman has worked to become a more technical fighter, but it doesn’t take long before the fists start flying for the brawler. Powerful hooks to the head and body are the staple of his arsenal and they have served him relatively well as 12 of his 20 wins have been KO/TKO stoppages. When he isn’t exchanging in the pocket, Marshman throws a less-than-technically sound jab with leg kicks from the outside to chip away in hopes of inducing an exchange from his opponent. Defense isn’t a strong suit of his, though he does well in chaotic environments, his chin usually holding up well.

Cedenblad will probably want to avoid a brawl at all costs, which is why I was emphasizing his ability to grind away in the clinch. He also has a nice variety of trips and throws from there that he tends to go to where he can put his underrated submission game to good use. His massive frame his heavy from the top and his long limbs tend to entangle opponents on the ground to prevent them from escaping. Marshman has a real knack for survival as he has never been submitted while making noticeable improvements in his own ground game. Going to the ground will never be his first option, but he has the ability to take the fight there from the clinch – like Cedenblad – and threaten with his own chokes.

Cedenblad is a huge challenge for someone making their UFC debut. Brad Scott or Jake Collier felt like more appropriate opponents for the Welshman, but instead he gets the massive and savvy Cedenblad. Knowing Cedenblad wants to make his performances more entertaining could provide the opening Marshman needs to land a KO blow, but I feel Cedenblad’s durability allows him to survive that possibility and eventually find a choke on the debutant. Cedenblad via submission of RD2

Kyoji Horiguchi (17-2) vs. Ali Bagautinov (15-5), Flyweight

Though both Horiguchi and Bagautinov have lost to champion Demetrious Johnson, both have aspirations of getting a return fight. Those chances evaporate here for the loser.

Perhaps I’m being too quick to say Horiguchi’s chances of challenging for the title ever again disappear if he loses. He is only 26-years old after all and it doesn’t appear he has reached his peak quite yet. Despite that, he had his moments against the champ about 19 months ago and has shown signs of improvement in his wins over Chico Camus and Seery since that loss. Bagautinov will be his biggest challenge outside of Johnson, so a win is hardly a sure thing.

Even if Bagautinov wins here, his road to another title shot may be too much to overcome. Not only did he lose to Joseph Benavidez in his first fight after his loss to Johnson, he was popped for PED’s following his loss to Johnson. One thing people tend to forget about the Russian: he has a win over John Lineker in his pocket.

What allowed Bagautinov to pull out that win was a combination of counter punching, wrestling, and durability. He has never been finished in his career, giving him confidence that he can absorb a punch or two as he looks for the right opportunity to hit back. It can be troublesome when looking at a decision as he doesn’t throw a lot of volume, though he made strides to address that issue against Geane Herrera in his last contest. Even then, Bagautinov has an inordinate amount of power for a flyweight. He wouldn’t be on Lineker’s level, but a step below seems about right. That’s still a hell of a lot of power.

Horiguchi isn’t the powerhouse that Bagautinov is, though it is fair to say he is more explosive. With a burst and speed that is probably second only to Mighty Mouse, Horiguchi tends to surprise the opposition with sudden surges of offense. He rarely throws in combination, but volume isn’t much of a problem for the Japan native. He’ll back out and try again if he is unable to put his opponent away. Horiguchi’s lateral movement makes it difficult to chase him and his countering ability makes it ill-advised. Look for Horiguchi to throw some flashy techniques in there as flying knees are a favorite of his.

Bagautinov isn’t a bad athlete, but he isn’t on Horiguchi’s level. Look for him to try to utilize his wrestling as he has had success against both Lineker and Herrera with that approach. The issue there is the only person who has found success getting Horiguchi to the ground is Johnson and even then Horiguchi continued to find ways back to his feet. Horiguchi isn’t a bad submission fighter, though he is far more likely to end the fight in a scramble than passing the guard to do so.

Bagautinov’s win over Lineker is easily the most impressive between these two as Horiguchi’s level of competition has been marginal for someone who is thought of so highly. No one believed Horiguchi was ready to face Johnson when he did, but he appears to have grown from it. Combine his improvement with his vastly superior athletic skills and it is hard not to pick Horiguchi. If nothing else, Bagautinov continues to prove him damn near impossible to finish in a losing effort. Horiguchi via decision

Kevin Lee (13-2) vs. Magomed Mustafaev (13-1), Lightweight

Perhaps the most underrated contest on the card, whichever young stud emerges the victor appears primed to make a run up the lightweight standings.

Lee has had a few stops and starts in his UFC career. Matched against Al Iaquinta in his UFC debut, he lost that only to run off four wins in a row before falling to Leo Santos to derail his own hype train. The train appears to be running again as he is fresh off an upset over another young stud in Jake Matthews. It wasn’t just the win over Matthews that turned heads, it was the ease in which Lee was able to do it.

Mustafaev hasn’t been seen in nearly a year, not since the UFC 194 card where Lee suffered his loss to Santos. The only one to hang a professional loss on a Nurmagomedov – it was Khabib’s younger brother Abubakar – Mustafaev hasn’t done much to market himself which is why fans have been unaware of him. A win here will help gain notoriety, but what Mustafaev needs to start talking to get the attention he deserves.

Mustafaev isn’t a rangy lightweight at 5'8" with a 71" reach. He is stocky as hell and deceptively so. He is patiently aggressive – I know that is an oxymoron, let me explain – in that he waits for an opening before unleashing a torrent. It may only be a single shot that he lets fly, but if it connects in the slightest, he’ll let a few more go. There isn’t a lot of technique in his punches, but his kicks to the body are an absolute thing of beauty. Flashy strikes like spinning backfists are another staple of his arsenal.

Lee is one of the best pure athletes in the UFC. Though it is a huge part of his success, he has relied on it less and less which is a good thing. His boxing game is still somewhat raw, but it is coming along beautifully. His combinations aren’t very complex, but they don’t need to be as his fast hands are often enough to overwhelm his opposition if he can tag them. His confidence can be a weakness and not because he is lacking in that category. No, Lee tends to border on cocky and leads to him dropping his defenses from time to time. He hasn’t done so since it cost him against Santos, but he did just dominate Matthews….

Where Lee truly shines is on the ground. Growing up a wrestler, he’s very technical with his shots and trips. If he doesn’t get his opponent down on the first attempt, the second or third try often does the trick as he chains his attempts together. While he is excellent in scrambles with the ability to snag a choke from there, he isn’t a great traditional grappler. That may be a problem as Mustafaev is extremely aggressive in looking for submissions. Don’t discount his ability to submit Lee from off of his back either. Mustafaev isn’t a bad wrestler, though he takedown defense has been spotty due to his comfort level operating from his back.

Lee’s been in the spotlight a bit more than Mustafaev, which I believe will lead to more people picking him than Mustafaev due to name recognition. While I’m picking Lee myself, that has more to do with Mustafaev’s faulty gas tank. If Lee can survive the first round where Mustafaev traditionally expends an exorbitant amount of energy, he should be able to take the fight easily. That won’t be an easy task, though it is one Lee is fully capable of doing. Lee via decision

Anna Elmose (3-1) vs. Amanda Cooper (1-2), Women’s Strawweight

There is only so much room on the roster for these women to stick around despite the promise both have exhibited.

Elmose generated a bit of a cult following heading into her fight with Germaine de Randamie back in May on account of her ultra-aggressive style. It didn’t pay dividends against the much larger kickboxer, who disposed of Elmose with relative ease. Realizing she can’t hang with the women in the larger division, Elmose now drops to 115 in hopes of extending her UFC career.

Cooper may be the more promising of the two. At 25-years old, she began her career at flyweight. When The Ultimate Fighter sent out a casting call for strawweights, Cooper jumped on the opportunity to make her way into the UFC in a new division and got all the way to the finals. Tatiana Suarez made short work of her there, though the consensus is that Cooper has the tools to stick on the roster for an extended period of time.

Cooper’s experience in boxing is on clear display in her contests as she usually has a decided advantage on the feet. Good lateral movement and cage awareness with sound punching combinations make up the basis of her attack. Where she has been losing is on the ground as wrestling and grappling have been the last thing in her skill set she began developing. She isn’t as bad there as her performance against Suarez would indicate as Suarez was a former Olympic hopeful. Cooper actually has sound takedowns and a basic BJJ attack that should improve over time.

While Elmose’s aggression is her calling card, it is hardly reckless. She is surprisingly technical with her strikes, throwing almost everything in combination as she looks to work her way into her wheelhouse of the clinch. Can you see why de Randamie had such an easy time against her? Elmose was on the tiny side at bantamweight, though she should find much more success at the lighter class to implement her strategy.

Neither of these women have developed their true identity in the cage at this point in their careers which makes it a bit difficult to predict. I can see Cooper improving enough to take Elmose down and submitting her quickly, but I can also see Elmose blitzing Cooper with a flurry to end the fight in a hurry. I know finishes are more uncommon than decisions in this division, but I don’t see this one going the distance. Flip a coin, you’ll probably have better luck with that than listening to me. Elmose via TKO of RD2

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