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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Fight Night: Mousasi vs. Hall 2 - Main card preview

The Fight Night main card features a Japanese playboy, a circus strongman, a Bellator champion, and a UK clash between Ross Pearson and Stevie Ray. What isn’t to like?

MMA: TUF Finale-Team Brooks vs Team Person Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not going to sugarcoat this: this main card for UFC Fight Night: Mousasi vs. Hall 2 sucks. Sure, Ross Pearson still has some name value and is usually fun to watch. But he is on the downward slope of his career and shouldn’t be in the co-main event of a card at this stage. I know the UFC loves to feature the heavyweights, but Tim Johnson isn’t the dude you want to be in the spotlight even if it is his opponent the promotion is trying to prop up. He’s durable as hell and very unlikely to deliver a highlight reel finish. And Artem Lobov opening the main card? He probably shouldn’t even be in the UFC much less on a main card.

Despite my objections, I still have the ins and outs of the fights covered. Pearson should still be able to entertain, as should Lobov and his opponent Teruto Ishihara. And how can you not love the Japanese playboy? Wait… why am I telling you this? If you’re reading this and going to watch the event, you own Fight Pass which means you’ve got an unhealthy obsession with watching people punch one another in the face. Well, enjoy it.

The main card begins at 4:00 PM ET/1:00 PM PT.

Ross Pearson (19-12) vs. Stevie Ray (19-6), Lightweight

Originally scheduled to be Pearson against James Krause, an injury to Krause opened the door for Ray to step in on short notice.

Pearson continues to rack up the UFC miles as this marks his fifth appearance in 2016. It hasn’t been too kind to him as he has only gone 1-3 in that time, though no one will dock him too much for losses to Francisco Trinaldo, Will Brooks, and Jorge Masvidal. Still, he needs to start winning right away or he could end up on the unemployment line despite his reputation as a favorite of management.

Ray suffered the first setback of his UFC career this past September against Alan Patrick to take a lot of the steam out of his hype train. Prior to that, he won three in a row within the Octagon, including two finishes. Perhaps fighting in Brazil played a part in his loss as he remains in Europe for this contest, where he has yet to lose in his UFC run. Clearly the loss left a sour taste in his mouth as he his making a very quick turnaround.

What Patrick exposed was a lack of takedown defense against anyone with a modicum of wrestling ability. Ray had success stuffing the likes of Marcin Bandel and Mickael Lebout, but no one has ever thought of their takedown abilities as even average. Fortunately for Ray, Pearson isn’t on Patrick’s level. Then again, he’s better than both Bandel and Lebout. Pearson usually only looks for reactive takedowns or to have them serve as a change of pace. He may look to use them with more frequency here.

The feet is where both competitors really shine. Though Pearson’s reputation is that as a counter striker, he’s actually not too bad at leading the dance should he choose to do so. Leading with a potent jab, Pearson has a nice variety of kicks at his disposal that he makes good use of as well. His head movement and footwork is what makes him so effective as a counter striker as he is generally able to avoid his opponent’s lead fire while returning his own.

Ray is also at his best on the counter, so this could end up being a contest to see who can draw the other into throwing first. Don’t expect it to be Ray who has had problems with bouts of inactivity. He has been developing some slick boxing combinations in order to help combat those issues, but he needs to press the action more if he wants to win a decision against Pearson who shouldn’t have problems racking up the necessary volume to sway the judges.

Though Pearson has traditionally had sound takedown defense, it isn’t impenetrable. He tends to lose when opponents make grounding him a focus. However, he also tends to win when an opponent looks to throw down with him. With that in mind, I’m favoring him to rebound from his recent losses as Ray rarely looks to go to the ground. Pearson’s growing willingness to hit the takedown when he sees the opening should also come into play to help convince the judges he deserves the decision. Pearson via decision

Tim Johnson (10-2) vs. Alexander Volkov (26-6), Heavyweight

Former Bellator heavyweight champion makes his UFC debut against the strong man from the circus… I mean, Tim Johnson.

I know it is childish and corny of me to say it, but throw Johnson in a leopard singlet and he looks exactly like the stereotype strong man! That aside, the massive man has quietly established himself as a sound gatekeeper to the top 15. His lack of athletic ability is seriously lacking – even for heavyweight – which will limit his ceiling. Still, he’s capable of beating over half of the heavyweight roster on a regular basis.

As was the problem when Bellator was running the tournament format, Volkov was champion for almost a year without a single title defense. When he finally got the opportunity to do so, he lost the belt to Vitaly Minakov. Following consecutive losses last year, he left the organization and has picked up a pair of wins in the M-1 organization since. Now he gets to ply his trade on the grandest stage.

Johnson’s lack of athletic ability severely limits what he can do on the feet. Without much speed and explosion, the big man struggles greatly at a distance. Knowing this, Johnson makes good use of his girth to pressure and cut off his opponents escape routes in order to push them against the cage. His incredible durability allows him to eat a number of punches to accomplish his goal. Once he does this, he leans his massive body against them, either looking for the takedown or wearing them down with short punches.

Volkov will need to avoid that at all costs. At 6'7" with an 81" reach, Volkov will look to stay on the outside a pick apart the big man with his jab. Kicks to the body and legs are a major staple of his arsenal too. It isn’t that Volkov doesn’t land these shots when he throws them. It’s that he doesn’t actively move around the cage, making him a relatively easy target to pressure and takedown. The one thing Volkov does very well in the clinch is deliver vicious knees which are leveraged by his height. Outside of that though, he wants nothing to do with a close quarter fight.

Volkov’s guard can be dangerous as he uses his long legs to good effect, a rare trait in the heavyweight division. The problem is that it may not matter as Johnson is so massive that he is damn near immovable once he gets top position. Ask Shamil Abdurakhimov about that. That’s where Johnson does the most damage as he’ll unleash a torrent of powerful ground strikes that usually end the fight. Johnson’s wrestling ability isn’t strictly dependent upon his strength. He has some actual technical chopes, evidenced by his being a Division II All-American in college.

If you’ve seen Volkov’s losses to Tony Johnson and Cheick Kongo, you know where I’m going with this. Johnson is a terrible stylistic matchup for the lanky Russian. I wasn’t sure if the UFC was going to try to develop the youngster – he is only 28-years old – or try to embarrass the former Bellator champion. Matching him up with Johnson gives me the impression they are looking to embarrass him. Johnson via TKO of RD1

Artem Lobov (12-12-1) vs. Teruto Ishihara (9-2-2), Featherweight

For being near the bottom of the featherweight talent pool, Lobov and Ishihara have done a hell of a job getting their names out there.

Lobov has the benefit of being Conor McGregor’s teammate to boost his profile and it is unlikely he’ll ever do anything to be known for more than that. True, his run through to the TUF tournament finals in season 22 was impressive and surprising, but how much do we really value what happens on The Ultimate Fighter anymore? Lobov needs favorable matchmaking to remain on the roster and there is no doubt his association with McGregor ensures that will continue to happen.

While Ishihara does represent a favorable contest for Lobov on paper, the young and charismatic womanizer has been growing in leaps and bounds with every ensuing UFC contest. Translation: he may be far ahead of Lobov in his abilities at this point. Too bad the UFC has decided to censor the youngster, telling him he can no longer use his catchphrase of “I love my bitches!”

Regardless of whether or not these guys belong in the UFC, both employ styles that are fun to watch and actually match up very well. Ishihara is incredibly aggressive, firing out of the gate with a pace that is damn-near impossible to maintain for 15 minutes. In fact, he has tired long before that mark ever hits. He usually starts out fairly technical, staying on the outside before bursting forward with spinning strikes or heavy overhands to highlight his explosion. Though he always fights with a degree of recklessness, his style grows more dangerous the longer the fight goes as he doesn’t quit trying to finish the fight even when he has little left to offer.

Lobov is a veteran counter puncher who usually tries to goad his opponent into throwing by wading forward with his hands down. He won’t need to encourage Ishihara, though it doesn’t mean the Russian-born Irishman won’t employ that strategy as he places a high degree of trust in his durability. He does pack a lot of power in his punches, but his 65" reach limits his opportunities to land flush as he lacks the athleticism to consistently make up for that limitation outside of the regional scene. Don’t expect the ground to come into play as neither has any inclination to take the fight there.

Lobov barely squeaked by a Chris Avila who was suffering from stage fright in his UFC debut. Ishihara may be inexperienced, but he embraces the spotlight and is a far superior athlete to Lobov. I admit that I won’t be surprised to see Ishihara get overconfident and do something stupid to get caught by a hard Lobov counter, but my money is on him to either find a way to finish the notoriously durable Irishman or rack up enough points early on to take a decision. Ishihara via TKO of RD1

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