When it comes to contest with major long-term implications near the top of any division, there is only one fight on the televised prelims that falls into that category: Johny Hendricks vs. Neil Magny. There was more depth to the prelims before injuries to the main card completely sapped it of its quality depth. Not that the other contests are lopsided or ill-matched, but they feel more appropriate for Fight Pass than they do on FS1. Regardless, there is a strong probability of each contest ending before all three rounds are completed.
The FS1 prelims begin at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT.
Johny Hendricks (17-5) vs. Neil Magny (18-5), Welterweight
The fall of Hendricks has been sudden, but it isn’t as surprising as it would appear to be on the surface. The former welterweight champion has been struggling with the weight cut to 170 for a number of years now, leading to listless performances in the cage. He also left his camp, Team Takedown, before his contest with Stephen Thompson, at which point his decline was most noticeable. At 33-years old, Hendricks shouldn’t be so shopworn that a career revival would be impossible. Even so, he has talked of retiring if he doesn’t win here, so he himself has stated that it is now-or-never.
Magny is coming off an upset loss to Lorenz Larkin, a loss that silenced those who believed that he could make himself a mainstay in the top five… at least in the short term. Due to his frequent appearances in the cage, it’s been easy to forget that Magny has plenty of room for growth. Given his freakishly long frame and reach for welterweight -- 6'3" and 80" respectively – he has a natural advantage over everyone he has faced and most likely will face.
What has held Magny back is that he has yet to master the use of his length, far too frequently letting the opposition into his range and piecing him up. To be fair, he has consistently improved to the point that he throws a steady one-two combination when he establishes his rhythm. Hendricks is a fantastic combination puncher who often punctuates the end of the combos with a leg kick. It’ll be a chore to establish himself first as Hendricks’ 69" reach has already proven troublesome as he was eaten alive by Stephen Thompson from a distance. Magny doesn’t have the mastery of range that Thompson does, but he does have a greater margin for error.
The one place that Hendricks does have an advantage on the feet is his incredibly powerful left hand. He has finished four UFC contests in less than two minutes after connecting with his power shot, though it has been four years since he last secured one of those finishes. Has his power disappeared? Though it is a possibility, it’s more likely that opponents have figured out how to avoid his power in addition to Hendricks’ poor conditioning making it more difficult for him to land those shots. Magny isn’t a one-shot artist like Hendricks, but he has shown enough to floor an opponent, throws at a high volume, and has yet to show cardio issues when given a full camp.
The other area where Hendricks should have an advantage is in the wrestling. A former NCAA champion, Hendricks has relied less and less on his wrestling in recent years as his striking has become more polished. The lone exception in recent years was Matt Brown who he took down time and again… which was also one of the few contests where he didn’t have an issue with his weight cut. Magny has improved his offensive wrestling, though there are still holes in his takedown defense that hasn’t been addressed when facing an opponent with a legit wrestling background.
Hendricks NEEDS to address his conditioning and his weight cut before he can re-enter the talk of the divisional elite. If I were to know that he was coming into the contest with those issues addressed, I would absolutely be confident in picking him. Considering this has continued to be an issue even after it cost Hendricks his title, I see no reason to believe that he has answered those questions. He still has a chance to KO Magny at any point, but I’m favoring the younger and better conditioned Magny to continue his growth as a fighter and pick up the biggest scalp in his career. Magny via decision
Antonio Carlos Junior (6-2, 1 NC) vs. Marvin Vettori (11-2), Middleweight
Considering Carlos Junior entered the UFC with a total of three professional contests, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he wasn’t ready to face even the middle of the pack of the middleweight division. Sure, his loss to Daniel Kelly doesn’t look as bad in retrospect, but the youngster still has a lot to learn in terms of striking and cage awareness. He still has plenty of time to turn himself into the contender many believed he could be, but it’s going to take more time than many believed.
Vettori is in a similar situation as he is younger (23 compared to Carlos Junior’s 26 years of age) with a low amount of high level experience. However, he didn’t win a TUF season the same way that Carlos Junior did which means he doesn’t have the same amount of pressure on him as his opponent does. Even though he is lesser known than Carlos Junior, Vettori is a far more appropriate level of opponent for him than the majority of Carlos Junior’s previous opponents.
Both have reputations as submission specialists, though there is no doubt that Carlos Junior will have a major advantage in that department. The winner of multiple BJJ tournaments – we’re talking high level tournaments – Carlos Junior is one of the best pure grapplers in the division. It’s when strikes and stamina are factored into the contest that he struggles. To be fair, he has been making strides in all areas, especially in his wrestling. Carlos Junior’s takedowns in particular are surprisingly technical, a major key to his finding success as his grappling does him no good if he can’t get the fight to the ground.
Vettori is reckless in all phases, no surprise given his youth. It has led to the high amount of submission victories in the midst of scrambles, though it can also lead to him giving up position in traditional grappling situations. Vettori should only become a better grappler with experience, though Carlos Junior isn’t the one he will want to test his chops against. Vettori isn’t a horrible wrestler considering he comes from Italy, but he still has a long way to go if he wants to regularly take the upper level opponents.
The standup is likely to be a sloppy affair between these two. Carlos Junior is more stiff as he tries to remain technical whereas Vettori is constantly looking for KO’s with his roundhouses. Both have shown potential in the clinch, with Vettori taking a more active role in pursuing the contest from there. There is a good chance this contest will end up being a sloppy kickboxing exchange should Vettori be able to stuff Carlos Junior’s attempts to take the fight to the ground.
Even though I’m picking Carlos Junior to win this contest, I’m not completely sold on the idea of him emerging the victor. Vettori is just as athletic and presents a greater likelihood of landing a KO blow, but Carlos Junior has faced a higher level of talent thanks to his longer UFC stint and has a superior grappling acumen. Either way, it is an appropriate contest for both. Carlos Junior via submission of RD2
Alex Garcia (13-3) vs. Mike Pyle (27-12-1), Welterweight
It’s amazing how many similarities there are between these two for all of the differences. For example, Pyle is in the twilight of a long and semi-storied career while Garcia should be entering his prime. Pyle rocks the mullet like it is 1991 while Garcia comes from the clean-cut world of Tristar Gym up in Canada. But for all of that, both have disappointed on the whole of their career and are now on the verge of receiving their walking papers.
Garcia has to be the bigger disappointment as he has been unable to even break out of the middle of the pack of the division. His best victories have come over a past-his-prime Mike Swick and a controversial decision over pillow-fisted Sean Spencer. But he hasn’t been able to put together at least a decent showing when given a step up from the middle of the pack. Now it is do-or-die for the former top prospect.
At 41-years old, you can’t help but think every time Pyle steps into the cage that it might be the last time we see him. Though his reputation as a gym warrior never fully manifested itself in the cage, Pyle has turned in a more than respectable career due to the veteran tricks and guile that he has picked up over time. He’s not afraid to play possum in order to lure an opponent into rushing wildly at him, exacerbated by the fact that his chin – never that strong to begin with – has weakened further in the waning years of his career.
Despite his fading chin, Pyle has been willing to keep the fight standing. That is due to his finding power in his striking late in his career, with five of his last six victories coming by way of KO/TKO stoppage. He’s at his best in close quarters where he knows how to generate great power in short distances and his lack of speed and quickness is less likely to be exposed on the defensive end. Garcia’s speed and explosion should allow him to take advantage of that despite his 5'9" frame, but his stiff movement and poor footwork have prevented him from using his gifts to the best of their abilities.
Where Garcia has found success in in the wrestling department where his bowling ball frame is an advantage to creating leverage for his double-leg takedowns. Pyle has long been known as a skilled submission artist, just as dangerous off of his back as he is from the top position. Occasionally he makes ill-advised decisions going for the sub as he’ll give up position going for the finish. Garcia has a tight squeeze on his chokes, but he’s a longshot to catch someone like Pyle in a finishing submission sequence.
For all that I’ve commentated on this contest, it comes down to a few simple factors. Pyle tends to lose early in his fights if he is going to lose while Garcia’s gas tank is more than questionable. If Pyle can survive the first round, he should coast the rest of the way. However, Pyle was KO’d by Alberto Mina in his last contest, someone hardly known for their KO power. I’m going with the powerful Canadian on this one. Garcia via KO of RD1
Brandon Thatch (11-4) vs. Niko Price (8-0), Welterweight
Has Thatch fallen hard or was he never really at the heights many thought him to be at? When your UFC wins consist of Paulo Thiago and Justin Edwards, I’m more prone to believe the latter rather than the former. It isn’t that Thatch doesn’t have the skills to be a major player at welterweight; he’d already be cut if he didn’t. No, it’s his durability and grappling that have to be questioned as he has been submitted in each of the three consecutive losses he has suffered.
So now Thatch goes from facing former lightweight champion Benson Henderson to welcoming unheralded newcomer Niko Price in less than two years. That isn’t to say that Price doesn’t have potential; he has finished all but one of his opponents after all. The problem is that he has faced less-than-sterling competition on the regional Florida scene. Even worse for predictions sake, the most recent footage that I have been able to find on him is almost two years old. Considering seven of his eight fights have occurred in the last two and a half years, he’s likely a different fighter than what is shown there.
What I did find of Price is someone who is aggressive in moving forward on his opponents winging punches with reckless abandon. He does have a fair amount of power, but also very little attention to defense as his chin has been touched here and there. He hasn’t faced anyone with nearly the size or strength of Thatch, who could very well make Price pay.
As already mentioned though, Thatch has his own questions with his durability. Though Gunnar Nelson is a gifted grappler, it was a punch that set up his RNC victory. Thatch has been able to use his long jab to keep opponents at bay, though disciplined opponents have been able to find a way around that and drag him to the ground. Thatch hasn’t faced anyone known as a strong wrestler at welterweight – Benson Henderson – yet has been taken down with relative ease. Price does have a little bit of a grappling experience, but nothing like what Thatch has faced so far.
I have seen a lot of people picking Price and I don’t get it aside from the fact that Thatch has struggled recently. The names he has lost to aren’t pushovers by any means, but the only thing people see is the three losses in a row. Perhaps they should go back to Thatch’s first two UFC contests to remind themselves of why everyone was so high on him at one point. Price is more akin to Thiago and Edwards than he is to Thatch’s recent opponents. Thatch’s reach and pressure should be difficult for Price to overcome. I won’t necessarily be shocked to see Price win, but I am expecting Thatch to get the job done. Thatch via TKO of RD1