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Diggin' Deep on UFC Fight Night 91: McDonald vs Lineker Fight Pass prelims

Get the rundown on the Fight Pass portion of the UFC Fight Night 91: McDonald vs Lineker card out of South Dakota headlined by grappling ace Rani Yahya welcoming prospect Matthew Lopez to the UFC.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Have you recovered from your MMA hangover following UFC 200? Whether you have or not, another serving of MMA is being served up in the middle of the week as the UFC travels to South Dakota for the first time.

Dana White was blown away by the reception the fans gave at an event in South Dakota during one of his excursions on his internet show Lookin' for a Fight. As a result, he's not only rewarding the state with their first UFC card, he's also bringing a few of the prospects he watched at that same show to the big leagues in Matthew Lopez and Devin Clark.

Admittedly this is probably the worst showing that Fight Pass has featured in a while. Lopez is a good prospect, but he's hardly a blue-chipper fans a curious to see perform while most are surprised Clark is even getting a shot in the UFC at this juncture of his career. The perks of Uncle Dana watching you in person, right Sage?

The Fight Pass prelims start at 6:00 PM ET/3:00 PM PT on Wednesday, July 13.

Rani Yahya (21-8, 1 NC) vs. Matthew Lopez (8-0), Bantamweight

Either the UFC has a lot of faith in Lopez or they really don't like him as they are giving him a hell of a test in grappling ace Yahya for his UFC debut.

Remember when Yahya was the hot new thing on the MMA scene getting a title shot in the WEC? Seems like a lifetime ago. Yahya doesn't seem to care too much about fighting for a title anymore as he has been content to fight infrequently and against newcomers like Lopez despite being on a two-fight winning streak. Considering his style doesn't involve a lot of wear and tear nor does it require skills the body quickly loses as it gets older, he could maintain this role for many years to come.

As stated earlier, Lopez was discovered on Dana White's foray into South Dakota for his Lookin' for a Fight web series. He's been on the radar of pundits for a while as a prospect to watch as he has found success in RFA, one of the UFC's primary talent feeders. He doesn't have a signature win as he has largely been taking out fellow prospects, but he has done so quickly with only one of his contests leaving the first round.

Lopez is like Yahya in that he prefers to go to the ground. No surprise given Lopez's stellar high school wrestling career. His shot is extremely quick and technical, often getting his opponent to the ground even before they know what hit them. Lopez hasn't shown much in terms of positional dominance, showing more skills as a transitional submission specialist and a scrambler. He showed creativity and strength in his face lock submission of Justin Linn last year and he's adept at getting his opponent's back.

Thanks to his Abu Dhabi championship and high-level BJJ accolades, Yahya's wrestling is very underappreciated. Part of that is probably due to his lack of formal background and his unorthodox style, but Yahya's wrestling melds perfectly with his grappling as he sticks like glue to his opponent. He stays with them as they climb to their feet and drags them right back down or transitions to the back as they scramble up. Wrestlers have had the most success against him as it is very possible to outmuscle the Brazilian. That course of action requires being on alert at all times as Yahya's BJJ credentials need to be taken serious as he can snatch a submission out of nowhere.

Seeing as how Lopez has some good wrestling credentials, it will be interesting to see how willing he is to go on the ground. I'd still expect him to try to keep the fight standing as that is where he has the most defined advantage. Yahya isn't as bad on the feet as his reputation claims as he has some good leg kicks and punching combinations used to disguise his unorthodox takedown entries, but he isn't going to stop anyone with strikes. Lopez likes to pressure with a steady stream of punches moving forward. Like Yahya, he uses his punches to disguise his takedowns. Considering defense has often been an afterthought for him, don't be surprised if he shows Yahya's striking little respect and gets clipped a time or two when he shouldn't.

Yahya has become a forgotten man of sorts due to his inactivity and I wouldn't be surprised if Lopez thinks this will be an easier fight than it actually is. Lopez is a savvy wrestler with a number of little tricks that will help him survive on the ground with the grappler. Then again, Yahya has just as many if not more of those types of tricks and has plied them against the highest level. Should be an interesting ground battle. Yahya via decision

Devin Clark (6-0) vs. Alex Nicholson (6-2), Middleweight

Is it just me, or does it seem like every time the UFC signs a new light heavyweight prospect they immediately drop to middleweight? That's what we have here with these ex-205ers.

Clark was the headliner on the show in which Uncle Dana found Lopez and was able to secure a contract in that manner. He hasn't exactly dominated prospect lists, but he did impress the boss and that's enough to get the likes of Sage Northcutt and Randy Brown employed. Joking aside, he is worth taking a look into as he does have both a wrestling and boxing background.

Nicholson's UFC debut came as fodder for one of the few legit light heavyweight prospects in Misha Cirkunov. While he was clearly overwhelmed in the bout, he did show a lot of heart and toughness. He's made the middleweight limit of 185 lbs. before, so this drop in weight shouldn't be too big of an issue for him.

At 6'4" with a 77.5" reach, Nicholson has a frame that should cause quite a few matchup problems at 185. The problem is that his fighting style largely negates his reach as he is a brawler who likes to throw punches in the pocket. The combinations he throws are pretty wild, making him extremely easy to lay into for any striker with a modicum of countering ability as he hasn't figured out how to use angles appropriately. He's at his strongest in the clinch where he lays into opponents with heavy knees to the body and head using a Thai clinch. The one thing he does with consistency and efficiency from the outside is throw kicks to the body and head.

Clark has a bit of the brawling nature in him as well, though he's a much more technical boxer than Nicholson. His combinations are pretty crisp, but he also tends to leave his chin up high and will rush into his opponent with reckless abandon from time to time. He might be able to get away with these holes against Nicholson, though he'll need to tighten things up in a hurry if he wants to hang around for a while. High kicks are a regular part of his arsenal as well.

The wrestling is what I see being the biggest factor here. Double-legs and body-lock trips are Clark's usual tools for takedowns. He isn't the most technically sound, but I'd guess it is enough to get Nicholson to the ground. Nicholson showed improved takedown defense against Cirkunov, though the adopted Canadian was still able to take him down when it mattered. While Nicholson was taken down with ease on the regional circuit, that may have something to do with him taking fights against much larger foes at heavyweight. Neither Nicholson nor Clark has shown much grappling ability with ground strikes being their preferred offense, though Nicholson has threatened with the occasional guillotine.

This is what curtain jerkers should be: wild and entertaining affairs that have little technique. I don't have big expectations for either fighter in the future, but they do tend to put on a good show. It's pretty much a coin flip. I'm going to lean towards Nicholson since Uncle Dana's pets haven't been doing so hot lately. Scientific, right? Nicholson via decision

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