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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs. Brunson FS1 prelim preview

The televised portion of the prelims for UFC: Melbourne kick things off right with an excellent flyweight bout between Geane Herrera and Ben Nguyen.

MMA: The Ultimate Fighter Finale-Sanchez vs Herrera Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The FS1 prelims kick off with what is expected to be my favorite contest of the card… aside from the main event of course. Ben Nguyen and Geane Herrera are two of the more unheralded flyweights. I admit I don’t ever see either developing into a title contender, but I expect both of them to staples as action fighters for a few years at least.

Aside from that, there isn’t a lot to get excited about for the televised prelims. Richard Walsh and Jonathan Meunier are fighting for jobs. Damien Brown and Jon Tuck could be fun, but it could also be very ho-hum. Dan Kelly has developed a reputation as a boring fighter. There is hope in his contest with Chris Camozzi as Camozzi is rarely in a boring contest. Here’s hoping for some good, solid entertainment.

The FS1 prelims starts at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT.

Dan Kelly (11-1) vs. Chris Camozzi (24-11), Middleweight

It’s hard to find two fighters on the roster who better define the term of overachiever. Is it an honor to win the title of ultimate overachiever as the winner of this contest could?

Kelly was expected to have a quick cup of coffee in the UFC following his stint on TUF Nations, then settle into a retirement from competitive sports after a long judo career. Instead, he has reeled of four wins in five tries despite being the underdog in every one of his fights on the grandest stage. Who would have believed the former Olympian would still be in the UFC at this point?

Camozzi is like a cockroach in that he just won’t die. He’s already been cut from the UFC two times yet continues to make his way back into the organization thanks to his willingness to step in with anyone. While his resilience is impressive, it’s worth noting that there is a reason he has previously been cut. Nonetheless, he has looked better than ever in his recent run which included a three-fight win streak that was snapped in his last appearance by Thales Leites.

Even though he is 39-years old, Kelly looks as though he is still improving. His fighting style doesn’t rely on athleticism – thus why he continues to improve -- instead utilizing toughness and guile to overcome his opponent. Possibly the slowest athlete on the roster, Kelly’s standup is downright atrocious to watch, though effective in limited doses. It hurts him most defensively as he struggles to move out of the way of his opponent’s attack. If Kelly can close the distance, his strength makes him difficult to deal with in the clinch as he typically looks to take the fight to the ground with a trip or a throw.

Camozzi isn’t a great athlete, but this will be one of the rare occasions in which he is more fleet of foot than his opponent. That should allow him to utilize his outside attack, constantly flicking a jab with the occasional kick to all levels. He isn’t a traditional combination puncher, but throws a high volume of strikes nonetheless. At 6'3" with a 76" reach, Camozzi is usually bigger and rangier than his opponent and this contest should be no exception.

If Kelly is to win, he’ll need to get the fight to the ground. While he does possess some submission skill, Kelly is more likely to use his nearly immovable base to pound out a victory with punches and elbows if he can achieve a dominant position. Camozzi isn’t bad at defending takedowns, though he has struggled with anyone who prefers a ground based attack. That doesn’t bode well for his chances with Kelly.

I’m sure I’m going to regret picking against Kelly again, but he has to hit his ceiling sooner or later… right? Camozzi’s volume striking has improved little by little, with his power making itself better known as of late. Between that and his active striking from the clinch, I see him scoring enough points to sway the judges despite Kelly’s home field advantage. Camozzi via decision

Damian Brown (16-9) vs. Jon Tuck (9-3), Lightweight

Lower level lightweights square off as Australian countryman Brown welcomes Tuck to the land Down Under.

Brown, a former member of the Australian army, made his UFC debut on short notice when Abel Trujillo had visa issues in March. A tough and scrappy dude without any major physical advantages on most of his opponents, most expected Brown to wash out following his second fight. Instead, he surprised everyone by knocking out Cesar Arzamendia before the first round was even halfway over. Now he gets a step up in competition.

Tuck has been in the UFC for quite a while, four years to be exact. He has consistently alternated wins and losses since making his entry, falling every time he gets a step up in competition. Then again, this last contest saw him fall to Josh Emmett after Emmett filled in on very short notice while also making an overseas flight to Europe. Is this an indication of Tuck slipping?

Tuck has slowly been improving his standup skills, turning himself into a technically sound kickboxer with excellent cage awareness as he rarely allows himself to be backed into the fence. Though he lacks power, his volume helps to make up for it as he throws a lot of jabs and leg kicks. Tuck hasn’t been responding well to his opponent’s pressure, often freezing up as he tries to deflect his opponent’s offense rather than returning fire.

Brown has never been a standout on the feet, which is why his beatdown of Arzamendia was such a surprise. He dropped the Paraguay native twice with counters, showing power that most didn’t know that he possessed. If the power continues to make consistent appearances, his relatively basic Muay Thai kickboxing will be exponentially more dangerous. He was struggling with Arzamendia’s length at times which could come into play with Tuck as the Guam native possesses almost a 5" reach advantage.

While most believe that Tuck’s biggest strength is his BJJ, earning submissions in his last two victories. His back control is difficult to escape as he stays active hunting for the RNC. The problem is that he doesn’t have the wrestling to get the fight to the ground in a favorable position for himself. Brown isn’t a great wrestler either, though he has a knack for timing reactionary takedowns. He’s been prone to submissions in the past, though his defense has looked much sharper in recent contests.

Though neither Tuck nor Brown is going to climb out of the doldrums of the division, this could still be a fun contest. While Brown possesses the better ability to take the fight where he wants, I’m favoring Tuck as he should have a slight advantage in either area. It will either be a decision or a submission. Tuck via submission of RD3

Richard Walsh (9-4) vs. Jonathan Meunier (7-1), Welterweight

Umm… not much to get excited about here. Walsh hasn’t been able to beat anything more than the bottom dwellers of the UFC roster while Meunier’s UFC debut did nothing to create excitement about his future.

The jury is still out on Walsh. Yes, he’s picked up a couple of wins in the UFC in dominant fashion. The problem is the guys he beat combined for zero wins in the UFC in four attempts. To give him some credit, he has been competitive in his losses and many believe that he was robbed in his loss to Kiichi Kunimoto. Despite the positives, there is no doubt his UFC employment hangs in the balance of this contest.

Meunier’s job prospects are at stake as well. A former professional kickboxer, Meunier is one of the few Canadian prospects who has shown potential to develop into a mainstay in recent years. He’ll need to perform better than he did in his debut, though he did have the excuse of taking the contest on short notice.

What is most frustrating about Meunier is his inability to utilize his large frame effectively. At 6'3" with a 75" reach to go with a kickboxing background, you’d think he’d be comfortable fighting on the outside. Nope. It is true that his lackluster performance against Colby Covington could be attributed to Meunier being wary of Covington’s takedown abilities, but Meunier fought in a similar manner on the regional circuit. If he lets his kicks in particular fly, he has serious power in them to do some damage.

Walsh isn’t quite as big as Meunier, though he isn’t a small welterweight by any means. In fact, it could be argued he makes better use of his size than Meunier. Using a pressuring style highlighted by short punching combinations and leg kicks, Walsh’s fight often turn into an ugly clinch war against the fence where he uses his plus strength to bully his opponent against the cage. The native Australian has worked hard to remain a capable striker from the outside, a pumping jab taking a lot of credit for the improvement.

Expect the ground game to come into play. Meunier’s greatest MMA success has come in his takedowns and ground control. It isn’t anything flashy, but it gets the job done. Walsh isn’t as active in looking for the takedown, often using reactive shots as an opponent comes forward or when he is hurt. Though Walsh’s ground strikes are very powerful, he tends to be overaggressive in pursuing the finish and can tire himself out if he doesn’t end the contest.

I’m not crazy about either fighter, but someone is going to walk away with a win. It’s hard to get a read on Meunier, especially given that Covington never let him fire away on his feet. Still, I don’t like the tentativeness he showed, leading me to believe Walsh’s aggression should allow him to walk out of the arena with a victory as well as his job. At least Meunier has his clothing store he can fall back on…. Walsh via decision

Ben Nguyen (15-6) vs. Geane Herrera (9-2), Flyweight

Flyweight fights are always fast paced, but Nguyen and Herrera tend to add an extra element of excitement to their contests. Expect this to be a FOTN contender.

Nguyen was a bit of an afterthought when he signed on in early 2015. Two impressive first round finishes later and he transformed himself into a major dark horse in the division. Unfortunately, his run came to a crashing end, taking a violent beating at the hands of Louis Smolka. Fighters have struggled to recover from the type of shellacking Nguyen received, so it will be interesting to see how he bounces back.

Herrera has been dealt a difficult hand in his short UFC run. Debuting against Ray Borg in a losing effort, he rebounded with a win over youngster Joby Sanchez. A loss to former title contender Ali Bagautinov followed in his most recent contest. A talented young prospect, financial issues have been a concern for Herrera which has forced a pause in some of his training pursuits. Here’s hoping that doesn’t continue as he looks like he could develop into a serious player in the near future.

What makes Herrera unique is his fantastic athleticism. Seriously, he’s one of the absolute best in a division full of them. He doesn’t solely rely on that either, owning an impressive BJJ pedigree while aggressively hunting for submissions. That aggression translates to his standup as well where he operates a counter striking game that mixes in more than the occasional high risk maneuver such as flying knees. What has been holding him back is everything between the ears. There is often little rhyme or reason to the strikes he throws and getting back to his feet isn’t always his top priority when he has an opponent beating on him from the top position.

Nguyen is a bit more grounded in his striking approach, though it doesn’t make him any less exciting. Like Herrera, he has rare power for a flyweight and is better able to effectively use it thanks to his technical kickboxing. Working behind a nice jab, he mixes in kick-punch combinations and has a good sense of when to sit down on his strikes. He can still be over aggressive at times, though he generally has a good sense of when to let loose for the finish and when to remain disciplined. Where he got into trouble with Smolka was his willingness to remain on the ground with the Hawaiian. He showed awesome BJJ skills in reversing Smolka more than once, but was also content to remain on the floor.

Wrestling could be the x-factor in this one. Neither is great at it and rarely look to use it. However, Herrera has slowly been making strides here, surprising Bagautinov with a double-leg. Whoever can get the initial advantageous position on the ground will probably be able to squeak this one out.

My natural inclination is to pick Nguyen. He’s more disciplined and fighting out of his current country of residence. He’s also the inferior athlete against a more dynamic grappler. I’m going with Herrera as I expect the wrestling comes into play. Herrera showed a lot of toughness too in eating some bombs from Bagautinov. I don’t have a lot of confidence in the pick, but I’m sticking with it. Herrera via decision