I hope you people realize how long I've been sitting here trying to come up with an introduction for this portion of the card that doesn't just throw it under the bus. Apparently I can't do it since I'm just admitting to you all that I've got nothing.
To be fair, perhaps I'm coming off of a UFC 200 high in which every fight on the card (Northcutt-Marin excluded) was high quality in terms of name value. The fights themselves were overall pretty good too. And isn't it the entertainment value of our fights that matters? That's actually what this portion of the card has to offer as the two women's fights look promising from that perspective and there is a good chance for a knock out any time Smilin' Sam Alvey is fighting. Then again, he also showed in his last outing that he's capable of major stinkers....
The FS1 prelims start at 7:00 PM ET/4:00 PM PT
Lauren Murphy (9-2) vs. Katlyn Chookagian (7-0), Women's Bantamweight
Murphy goes from fighting former title contenders competitively in her UFC debut as well as her sophomore effort to back-to-back debutants in her third and fourth contests.
Make no mistake, Murphy is one of the toughest outs in the women's bantamweight division. Her fights against Sara McMann and Liz Carmouche very easily could have gone her way and we very likely could be talking about a Murphy who is one of the top contenders in the division had the MMA gods smiled upon her. Instead she is welcoming newcomers in one of the shallower divisions. I guess someone has to do the job....
Chookagian was the CFFC flyweight champion when she got the call up to the UFC, having beat mainly credible competition along the way. She hasn't exactly been on a lot of prospects-to-watch lists, but the UFC needs new blood in the division badly - bad enough they are pulling women out of the flyweight division -- and she is certainly worth a look.
Chookagian prefers to let the fight come to her, circling around the cage using her jab to keep her opponent from getting too close. Occasionally she backs herself into the fence, but her overall cage awareness is pretty good. She mixes kicks in with her punches well and has flashed a step-in knee recently. Chookagian takes a while to warm up, proving quite hittable in the early portion of the fight. She gathers steam in a hurry once she gets her blood flowing, tending to finish strong. She has a nice killer instinct too, throwing power punches with accuracy and hard knees from the clinch when she has her opponent on the ropes.
Murphy matches up well against Chookagian as aggression is the name of her game. Defense doesn't play a large part of her strategy as she is willing to eat some in order to get her licks in. Her punches are very technical for the amount of power that she puts into them and she's pretty accurate too. Her constant forward motion often leads to a clinch battle against the fence where dirty boxing and knees become the theme of the moment.
Despite Murphy's reputation as a solid wrestler, she has struggled to get her opponents to the ground during her UFC stint. A large part of that can be attributed to her facing superior wrestlers in McMann and Carmouche who have proven tough to take down for anyone. Look for her to try to bully the undersized Chookagian to the ground where she can unleash a torrent of ground strikes that could possibly be her strongest attribute. Chookagian hasn't shown much wrestling herself, but she does have an active submission game whether from the top position or off of her back.
I don't like Chookagian's chances here not because I don't like her, I just don't like how she matches up against the physically stronger Murphy. If Chookagian can avoid her usual slow start and start working her diverse striking set, she could pull off the upset. That'll be a tall order and one that I don't see happening against Murphy. Murphy via TKO of the 2nd round
Eric Spicely (8-0) vs. Sam Alvey (26-8), Middleweight
You won't find a true striker vs. grappler fight in today's iteration of MMA. This contest is about the closest you will get to the throwback days when those were common.
Spicely was on the recent season of TUF, falling short in the semifinals to eventual winner Andrew Sanchez. I was surprised he was given a shot on the big stage as his fighting style isn't the most aesthetically pleasing and Uncle Dana tends to reward fighters who throw down. That doesn't describe Spicely in the least. Nonetheless, he has a shot to win if he can get Alvey to the ground.
It's a good thing Alvey is so damn likeable as he probably wouldn't be getting this opportunity to keep his job following the disaster of an outing he had in his last appearance against Elias Theodorou. The three consecutive first round KO's he scored in a span of six months last year kind of helped his cause too. Smilin' Sam will need a win here if he hopes to remain in the UFC as he looked bad in his loss to Derek Brunson before his contest with Theodorou.
Theodorou exposed Alvey's lack of range striking, staying on the outside and picking him apart with kicks and jabs. Alvey didn't have a response. He continually looked for openings for him to counter with his big left hand which has always been the heart of his strategy. Theodorou never gave him that opening. Alvey never pressed the action until it was too late and didn't even throw kicks of his own to counter Theodorou's. His left hand is one of the most potent single strikes in the sport as it can drop a bull, but he has offered nothing else if it isn't landing. No doubt Alvey is aware of why he lost and will look to make adjustments. The question is what those adjustments will be.
Spicely isn't going to look to stand and trade himself as he is a grappler first, second, and third. He's had a number of fights were he hasn't landed a single strike on the feet and still come out on top. If forced to stand, he has an awkward jab and a kick heavy offense. You would think he might throw strikes to cover him as he shoots for takedowns, but it's rare that he does. He circles looking for the right angle to shoot and has been successful more often than not on the regional scene in completing his single-leg takedowns.
Can Spicely get Alvey down? Alvey has some good takedown defense with a solid sprawl and regularly makes his opponent pay with punches for the attempt. Spicely can do it, but it isn't going to be easy. If he gets it to the ground, Spicely is very quick snaking around to his opponent's back and controlling them from there. He'll patter his opponent with strikes hoping to create the opening he needs to sink in a choke, but his ground strikes aren't going to elicit a referee's stoppage. Alvey's grappling is all defensive minded, focused on getting him back to his feet. If he does somehow get top position on the ground, he can end the fight with ground strikes, though that isn't the likeliest of outcomes unless he knocks Spicely to the ground with his left hand.
Alvey has been around this sport for a long time with well over 30 professional contests. There isn't much he hasn't seen or experienced. Spicely will have to come into his range if he wants to get the takedown and though it is plausible for him to either control Alvey on the ground for 15 minutes or sink in a sub, I think Alvey will make him pay before the night is up. Alvey via KO of the 1st round
Cortney Casey (4-3) vs. Cristina Stanciu (5-1), Women's Strawweight
While these ladies are positioned near the bottom of the standings, they are also two of the most exciting fighters in the division. My early pick for FOTN.
To help back up my claim, Casey snagged a FOTN bonus in each of her previous Octagon appearances after engaging in firefights with Joanne Calderwood and Seo Hee Ham. Coming up on the short end of the stick in each of those contests did nothing to hurt her stock as she had her moments in each contest and managed to go the distance while eating some heavy leather. She needs to get a win here though if she hopes to stick around beyond this fight.
The shorter Stanciu was unable to secure a FOTN bonus in her lone UFC appearance, but few would argue against her battle with Maryna Moroz being the most entertaining of the night. One of the better prospects in the division, Stanciu is still only 22-years old and has been a professional for less than two years. She is far from seeing her best fighting days.
Stanciu's debut offered a lot of promise, but also showed a lot of holes. Her aggression was apparent right from the beginning as she threw an early flying knee and went for an armbar shortly after only to drain herself early on. Considering it was her first fight at 115, it isn't much of a surprise she tired so quickly. She is an extremely aggressive submission artist, taking any opening she finds. Her armbar attempt on Moroz came when she was on her back and she attempted a kneebar later in the fight as well with little hope of actually securing it. If she can learn to be economical in her submission attempts, she'll be able to better conserve her energy.
While Casey may seem similarly inexperienced, she has 8 amateur fights under her belt as well. She doesn't necessarily fight with any less aggression than Stanciu - she did try a flying armbar against Calderwood - though she does pick and choose her spots a bit better. She's very active off of her back with both strikes and submission attempts, but she can be too content to just stay there rather than get back to her feet.
The striking should be a pleasure to watch even if it isn't the most technically sound showing. Casey wings hard hooks that have as much finishing potential as anyone else in the division. Owning a big frame for the division, she can slow the fight down by pressing the action against the fence and wear out her opponent with knees. Stanciu will want to maintain space where she can avoid Casey's clinch and have room to land her kicks. She is a bit more technical in putting together punching combinations than Casey, but is still largely a brawler at heart just like her opponent.
I really hope the loser of this bout doesn't get cut as both are exciting to watch. I'm favoring Casey since her gas tank is more proven. It isn't that she doesn't fade, it's that she doesn't seem to fade as fast as Stanciu. Look for her to grind out the smaller Stanciu against the fence when they aren't letting their fists fly freely and pick up a clear decision. Casey via decision
Scott Holtzman (8-1) vs. Cody Pfister (12-5-1), Lightweight
Not an easy fight to get worked up for as neither appears to have much in terms of a long-term future in the UFC. Would filler be the right word?
Holtzman is the definitive favorite as he is the better athlete. Coming off of a competitive loss to Drew Dober, it's hard to see Holtzman as a long-term prospect as he turns 33 in September. He's been pretty fun to watch though so there is no reason to think that he can't hang around for a little while as an action fighter.
Pfister is looked at by many as the bottom of the lightweight division. Why else would the UFC match him against Sage Northcutt? That fight could be the best and worst thing to happen to him as a good chunk of MMA fans know who he is now. The issue is why they know who he is. It's possible he was the only one who wasn't happy to see Bryan Barbarena upsetting the apple cart that is the Northcutt hype machine as the MMA math adds up against him in the current scenario.
The main thing that Pfister has going for him is toughness and wrestling. With that said, he has worked hard to develop a striking game that features a jab and the occasional straight right. That's about the extent of it. He does swing punches at his opponent as he covers ground to look for the takedown though those haven't proven effective besides helping his entries. Then again, that's what their supposed to do. He keeps the pressure on his opponents regularly, but rarely lands any strikes of significance.
Like Pfister, Holtzman is a pressure fighter. Unlike Pfister, Holtzman has a little bit of depth to his striking. Preferring to employ a countering strategy, Holtzman can go on the offensive with a jab and kicks to the legs and body if he can't get his opponent to do what he wants. He's shown some good dirty boxing and elbows against the cage to wear down his opponent. Though he isn't a powerful striker, he has a deep gas tank and can lay the offense on heavy and thick in hope of outpacing his opposition with sheer volume.
While Holtzman will look for the occasional takedown out of the clinch, Pfister absolutely needs to get the takedown if he hopes to have any sort of success. Though he usually covers his takedowns behind a swarm of punches, he'll shoot for naked singles and doubles from time to time. He doesn't do much once he gets the takedown besides pitter-patter punches and has absolutely no offense off of his back, simply looking to close his guard and hold his opponent down waiting for the standup. Holtzman's top game is similar, though he is a bit more willing to posture up to put some power behind his punches. He has a bit more depth in his grappling skills too, but he is hardly going to be referred to as a Gracie for his ground abilities.
The biggest advantage that Holtzman will have over Pfister is in athletic ability as Pfister is one of the worst athletes in the division. Pfister picked up his lone UFC win against Yosdenis Cedeno who is one of the worst wrestlers to step in the Octagon in recent years. Considering styles make fights, anyone with a bit of takedown defense can be competitive with Pfister. Holtzman has a lot more than that. Holtzman via decision