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Diggin' Deep on the UFC Fight Night 89: MacDonald vs Thompson FS2 prelims

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Get the rundown on the four televised preliminary card fights slated for UFC Fight Night 89: MacDonald vs. Thompson Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Lightweights Jason Saggo and Leandro Silva are the feature fighters on FS2.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Am I the only one who finds it a bit weird that there is only one native Canadian in the middle stretch of the card? Are there really not that many Canadian fighters anymore? Granted that it can be argued Misha Cirkunov is Canadian as he does currently live and train up in the Great White North, but the chiseled immigrant is originally from Latvia. Even if he is counted, the televised portion of the prelims only feature a Canadian in half of the fights.

Regardless of how many Canadians appear in the cage on FS2, Joe Silva and Sean Shelby have done a good job in piecing together matches that may lack sex appeal, but should nonetheless leave the viewer satisfied at what they consume. The preliminary headliner exemplifies this perfectly as Jason Saggo and Leandro Silva are hardly attractions, but they do match up well against one another in what should be a competitive fight. Wait... Saggo is the only true Canadian in this portion of the prelims? Well at least that explains how his fight ended up being the preliminary headliner....

The FS2 prelims start at 8:30 ET/5:30 PT.

Jason Saggo (11-2) vs. Leandro Silva (19-3-1), Lightweight

Saggo and Silva have both been treading water in the mid-to-lower levels of the crowded lightweight division. Will a win here get them a definitive step up in competition? I can't say definitively, but chances are pretty good it will.

Saggo offers a bit more promise if avoiding the judges decision counts for anything due to his two first round stoppage finishes sandwiched around a competitive split decision loss to one of Joe Silva's recent favorites Paul Felder. The Canadian entered the UFC with a reputation as a submission specialist but has picked up both of those wins from his fists. Then again, those were both ground and pound stoppages set up from his grappling.

Silva is a bit of an enigma as he has great physical gifts and often displays them only to then utilize a head-scratching strategy and piss away a victory. The Brazilian has been ironing those issues out a bit as he has been able to avoid the losing column in his last four appearances after opening his UFC career with two losses. Despite the success and improvements, it still feels like he has yet to drop into the extra gear his physical abilities indicate he possesses.

Saggo is actually about as well-rounded as you will find, having traveled all over the world to receive training in all of the various arts. That includes a stint as a professional Muay Thai fighter that belies his reputation as a grappler. His well-roundedness has allowed him to develop a hell of a killer instinct with a nose for the finish. Because his strikes don't particularly have much power behind them, he looks to take the fight to the ground where he can either fish for a submission or pound them out with his underrated ground and pound which is set up by his smooth guard passing.

Saggo regularly maintains a lot of pressure on his opponent as he looks for the takedown any way he can get it. He isn't a powerful wrestler, but he is a relentless one. This should be problematic for Silva whose offense is most effective when he is given plenty of space where he can let his powerful kicks fly. His opponents know this which is why he only has a single KO/TKO, highly contrary to what his actual striking abilities are. Thanks to his opponent's pressure and him trying to maintain space, he often ends up backing up against the fence and throwing a low volume of strikes.

Silva has been able to make up for his low strike total as his wrestling has improved, though it would be a stretch to call it a strength on the offensive end in particular. Stronger in his BJJ skills, Silva has shown a real knack for getting his opponent's back. Like his striking though, he falls into periods of inactivity when on the ground as he is content to look for the submission off of his back rather than looking to get back to his feet. Like his struggles to remain active on the feet, Silva has wasted opportunities on his opponent's back too.

This is an excellent piece of match making by Joe Silva. Saggo is much more aggressive with a clear path to victory while Silva is the more physically gifted fighter despite owning holes in his overall process. Silva has improved his decision making since his UFC inception by far, but I still favor Saggo who looks to be a horrible stylistic matchup for the Brazilian. Silva hasn't been finished in his career which means it will be difficult for the Canadian to do so. Saggo via decision

Misha Cirkunov (11-2) vs. Ion Cutelaba (11-1), Light Heavyweight

Cirkunov is a rare breed in the UFC as a legit prospect in the light heavyweight division. Looking to continue to develop him rather than throw him into the fire too early and stunt his growth, the UFC is giving him his third debuting opponent in a row.

Some would say that Cirkunov has been lobbed softballs in his first two UFC appearances in Daniel Jolly and Alex Nicholson and there is definitely some truth to that. It's hard to blame the UFC for taking it easy with him as he is still fairly raw and there isn't much young blood at 205 with as much potential as him. Throwing him to the wolves too early could stunt his development.

Cutelaba appears to be the toughest opponent Cirkunov has faced thus far in the UFC as he offers a lot of potential himself in addition to being younger than the 29-year old Cirkunov, making his debut at the tender age of 22. The problem is that he has been a can crusher in Europe so it's hard to get a feel for just how good he is or can be. He's done what he is supposed to do to them as only one of his fights has left the first round and six of his eleven wins coming in under a minute.

The area that Cirkunov is still developing is in his striking which happens to be where Cutelaba is strongest which makes this both a reasonable matchup for the development of Cirkunov as well as a strong possibility for the upset to occur. Cutelaba doesn't bother trying to measure his opponents, finding little use of a jab. Instead he prefers to go for the kill out of the gate with hard hooks that he throws with speed more than accuracy. His power and aggression has overwhelmed his opposition thus far, but there are certainly holes in his defense that could be attacked by a skilled striker.

Fortunately for Cutelaba that doesn't describe Cirkunov. Cirkunov too has a lot of power which means his striking needs to be respected, but he still looks uncomfortable in space with kicks to the legs and body being his most efficient strike when given space. He'd would rather not have that space as he is most comfortable in the clinch with sound dirty boxing while proving very effective at navigating his opponent's strikes in order to close the distance. A black belt in judo, he tends to look for a trip or throw right off the bat though he'll settle for various short strikes if neither of those are available. He's also shown good timing on his level changes too.

What could be the most entertaining part of the fight is the ground war. Cirkunov is a very polished BJJ practitioner with smooth guard passes with a variety of ways to find his opponent's back. Cutelaba can scramble while owning an odd fondness for omoplatas -- both of his career submissions came that way -- which could result in some fun sequences, but he prefers to throw ground strikes if he can't get attain his favorite submission.

Cutelaba has a better chance of developing into a keeper than the majority of the light heavyweight prospects that have come through the UFC doors the last five years. Problem is that he is still very green and Cirkunov is far ahead of him in development. It should be pretty similar to Cirkunov's first two UFC appearances with a ground stoppage in the first half of the 15 minute time limit. Cirkunov via submission of the first round

Tamden McCrory (14-3) vs. Krzysztof Jotko (17-1), Middleweight

Though a part of the large field of middleweights who struggle to separate themselves from the pack, a win here will likely set up McCrory or Jotko to earn them an opportunity against a ranked opponent.

McCrory is one of the better recent story's as he took a five year hiatus from the sport only to return with a vengeance, scoring stoppages of 21 and 66 seconds upon his return in Bellator. He jumped to the UFC when he couldn't reach an agreement with Bellator and scored an impressive upset finish on Josh Samman. His nerdy demeanor and balding appearance make him a most unlikely badass, but everyone on the roster is aware of what a tough SOB he really is.

Jotko flies under the radar more than McCrory despite his own three-fight win streak, but that is largely his own fault as his style isn't very fan friendly. Regardless of that, his recent success can't be denied he has the physical attributes to continue to move up the ranks as he continues to improve the areas that he is weak in, demonstrating improved distance striking in his last appearance against Brad Scott. That could be attributed to Scott being a less versatile grinder himself, but the improvements on the outside by Jotko are undeniable.

Considering McCrory is one of the rare fighters in the division with a longer reach than Jotko (78" as opposed to 77") while also being a better out-fighter in general, look for Jotko to return to his grinding roots against his lanky opponent. Jotko is a bit of a rarity as a grinder in that he doesn't often look for the takedown, preferring to clinch against the cage and use dirty boxing and knees from there. McCrory has been a sound clinch fighter himself in the past, but that was also when he was fighting against welterweights where he had a significant size advantage. He was taken down by Samman a few times with little resistance while in the clinch which is certainly cause for concern.

Where McCrory excels is as a submission fighter as he is an expert at using the long limbs on his 6'4" frame. While his wrestling is more than questionable, he usually doesn't mind being taken down as he owns one of the most aggressive guards in the sport that opponents need to be wary of entering. Even if he doesn't get the sub he usually ends up getting himself an improved position by initiating a scramble or nailing a sweep which can also lead to him getting back to his feet. Jotko is usually a position based grappler with a preference for ground and pound with periods of inactivity on the ground. Don't be surprised to see him frozen for a good chunk of time due to respect for McCrory's grappling acumen.

It isn't that I don't believe that Jotko deserves the jump in competition that he is getting here. He absolutely does. I just think McCrory is too big of a jump for him. Jotko needs to grind out MCcrory in order to pick up the win and there are simply too many ways for McCrory to end the fight for me to feel comfortable picking the Pole. The greatest mystery in my mind is how McCrory wins as opposed to who wins. McCrory via submission of the second round

Chris Beal (10-2) vs. Joe Soto (15-5), Bantamweight

No way in hell the loser of this contest avoids the chopping block as Beal has dropped his last two while Soto is swinging 0-for-3 in his UFC stint. At least these two usually put on a good show...

Beal is returning to the bantamweight division after finding no success at flyweight. Though many initially thought flyweight would be a good fit for him, he didn't fight with as much energy. It appears the weight cut took a lot of the oomph off of his punches in addition to being noticeably slower than the opposition at 125. He wasn't glacially slow, but the difference was visible and negated any size advantage he had.

It appears Soto exhausted all of his luck upon his UFC debut when he walked into a title shot against TJ Dillashaw on short notice thanks to Renan Barao's botched weight cut just days before Barao's and Dillashaw's scheduled rematch. Since lasting into the fifth round against the then-champion, Soto has been quickly starched by Anthony Birchak and dropped a controversial decision to Michinori Tanaka. It seems as though the UFC is giving him one last shot as a reward for his game performance upon his debut. I can't imagine him staying on the roster if he drops to 0-4.

Beal and Soto have very similar games with a boxing-heavy style while mixing in the occasional takedown... at least that is how it is on paper. Beal is very flat-footed while throwing simple one-two combinations, usually waiting for his opponent to come at him. When he does move forward he flicks out a jab accentuated by his 69" reach, which will be a full 4 inches longer than Soto's reach. Soto is much more active on his feet, bouncing in and out of range while working in a nice mix of leg kicks and more diverse boxing combos than Beal. Beal has the power advantage and has shown a tendency to go for the occasional high-risk maneuver (see his flying knee on Patrick Williams), but Soto's overall movement makes him a harder target to hit.

The difference in their ground games is a much more stark contrast than that on the feet. Beal hasn't known what to do with his opponent once he gets them on the ground recently, but that has also coincided with his move down to flyweight. He had powerful ground strikes when he previously fought at bantamweight as well as a knack for getting the back. If he returns to that form he'll stand a chance of being competitive with Soto who is extremely active off of his back and at times too comfortable. He lost his fight with Tanaka due to Tanaka's top control with the two of the three judges overlooking Soto's submission attempts. Beal doesn't have the grappling acumen Tanaka possesses, so if Soto can catch him much the way he was able to catch Tanaka, we're more likely to see a tap as opposed to an escape.

This should be a hell of a curtain jerker for FS2 as it doesn't have a clear favorite. Soto has more savvy than Beal in addition to a deeper toolbox which is why I'm favoring him slightly. Beal could get a KO, but I see Soto's aforementioned savvy making that doubtful and he could even nab a submission. Otherwise his ground abilities should be the difference in earning his the judge's nod. Soto via decision

Get the rundown on the four televised preliminary card fights slated for UFC Fight Night 89: MacDonald vs. Thompson Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Lightweights Jason Saggo and Leandro Silva are the feature fighters on FS2.

Odds (by Odds Shark)

Jason Saggo (-154) / Leandro Silva (+126)

Misha Cirkunov (-280) / Ion Cutelaba (+200)

Tamdan McCrory (-165) / Krzysztof Jotko (+125)

Chris Beal (+100) / Joe Soto (-140)