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Diggin' Deep on UFC Fight Night 91: McDonald vs Lineker main card

Get the rundown on the main card portion of the UFC Fight Night 91: McDonald vs Lineker card out of South Dakota featuring lightweight title contender Tony Ferguson and a pivotal flyweight clash between Louis Smolka and Ben Nguyen.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

I kind of crapped on the card quality in the earlier previews for this card, but it isn't completely the UFC's fault. Tony Ferguson was supposed to fight Mike Chiesa in a highly anticipated lightweight battle. Chiesa was forced to pull out of the fight roughly three weeks before the scheduled fight due to injury and the UFC couldn't find an in-house replacement. We still get Ferguson, we just don't get a high level opponent standing across from him.

Aside from the main event, there is one other fight in particular that most are looking forward to between a pair of exciting young flyweights. Louis Smolka and Ben Nguyen aren't household names (name flyweight that is), but they're a hell of a lot of fun to watch and could face Mighty Mouse for the title by then end of next year if they are able to keep up their current streak.

The main card starts at 9:00 PM ET/6:00 PM PT on Wednesday, July 13.

Tony Ferguson (21-3) vs. Landon Vannata (8-0), Lightweight

You'd think with roughly 100 lightweights on the roster that Joe Silva would be able to find someone willing to step up and fight Ferguson on short notice. Apparently not as the UFC has to pluck Vannata off the regional scene to find someone willing to fight Ferguson.

It isn't hard to figure out why no one wanted to step up against Ferguson as he's one of the top lightweights in the world at the moment. Forced to pull out of his contest with Khabib Nurmagomedov in April, he likely would be looking at a title shot had he stayed healthy and been able to earn himself a victory. It isn't out of the realm of possibility for him to earn a title shot with a win here, but he'll have to win impressively.

Despite being the sacrificial lamb for Ferguson, Vannata is actually a prospect who could grow into a mainstay. Despite having fought his entire career at lightweight or higher, Vannata has been seen by most as a featherweight prospect to keep an eye on as he is a small 155er by UFC standards. Not only is he not on the same level competitively as Ferguson, he probably isn't even competing in his appropriate weight class.

It's been a lot of fun to watch Ferguson grow from a prospect fresh off of TUF into a verified contender. The pieces were always apparent, but it's only been recently that he's been able to meld all the parts into a well-oiled machine. Using a pressure-based attack, Ferguson mixes boxing combinations with hard kicks to the legs and body. Despite his heavy emphasis on offense, Ferguson's defense is hardly lacking as his head and feet always seem to be moving, presenting a difficult target. He uses unorthodox techniques such as the Imanari roll into a leglock attempt or simply to change where he is at in the cage to keep his opponent off-guard. Stance switching is another common theme for him. Simply put, it's hard to poke holes into Ferguson's standup.

While Vannata shares the same love for flashy strikes possessed by Ferguson, that's about where their similarities end on the feet. Vannata prefers operating with plenty of space, dancing around his opponent looking for an opening to attack with. High and front kicks are a favorite of his from a distance and he's shown a hard right hand in the pocket. He tends to fight with his hands low which does allow his punches to come at awkward angles, but also makes him an open target if his opposition catches him. Vannata has also shown an aversion to the clinch, attempting to escape as quick as possible rather than engage from there.

The ground game is a bit of a wild card in terms of Vannata as the only footage I've been able to find of him on the ground was from his second fight where he was taken down quite a few times. He's shown better takedown defense since that time and has shown good scrambling ability. He's probably going to need to use it as Ferguson is not only excellent in transitions and scrambles, he's a master at creating them. He hasn't looked for takedowns much in recent years, but he's pulled out his NCAA Division II championship wrestling pedigree from time to time while continually stopping his opponent from getting him to the ground. Ferguson's biggest weakness is his tendency to give up position for ill-advised submissions, though at this point he's notorious for his slick D'arce choke.

Vannata should be happy if he can simply make this fight competitive. He's a good athlete, but is severely undersized compared to Ferguson without the high level experienced possessed by the heavy favorite. I haven't even mentioned the wrestling or striking attack. If Vannata walks out with a win, it wouldn't be out of place to put it amongst the greatest upsets in UFC history. I wouldn't count on it. Ferguson via submission of the 1st round

Tim Boetsch (18-10) vs. Josh Samman (12-3), Middleweight

The Barbarian has to be on his last legs after dropping three in a row and six of his last eight. Unfortunately for himself, he doesn't get a softball to get himself straightened out as he meets Bloody Elbow favorite and staffer Samman.

Remember when Boetsch was being talked about as a possible title contender? Yep, 2012 was certainly a long time ago. His downward slope began with an eye-poke filled loss to Costas Philippou and it has been disappointment after disappointment ever since. Perhaps he'll have more success back at middleweight after a single fight venture back up to his old stomping grounds of 205.

Samman saw a nice stretch in which he won his first three UFC contests snapped when he fell prey to a triangle choke from Tamdan McCrory. Though stuck in the middling mass that is the middleweight division at the moment, Samman's physical gifts indicate that he should be able to break out of the mire he currently is in.

Despite owning an impressive 79" reach, Samman prefers to use a wide variety of kicks to establish distance with leg and front kicks being the most common. After he's established distance with his kicks, he'll continue to throw them as he covers distance. Yes, Samman really likes his kicks. He switches stances often to keep his opponents guessing and throws fast combinations when he decides to throw his fists. His aggression leads to him eating a lot of damage himself and he's had issues with counter strikers as a result. As long as he can weather the early storm, Samman is usually the last man standing as he pushes a ridiculous pace that often leaves his opponent gasping for breath after 15 minutes.

Boetsch doesn't exactly push a slow pace, but he's much more likely push his opponent against the fence where he can best use his size and strength to utilize a slow, grinding approach. Boetsch has some of the best dirty boxing in the game as he is able to generate insane amounts of power from a short distance. Opponents have been keen to that recently and made it a point to avoid his short punches. Samman isn't bad in the clinch himself, but he'll likely try to avoid that area as Boetsch is one of the few at 185 that is bigger and stronger than him. Leg kicks are about the only distance strike that Boetsch throws without the intention of ending the fight as he wings overhands and hooks with ill intentions. He isn't a great athlete, but Boetsch has covered a surprising amount of ground when he needs to for someone who isn't thought to be fleet of foot.

Boetsch was a collegiate wrestler is his younger days and that used to be a big part of his strategy. Not so much anymore as he hasn't done a good job disguising his level changes which has allowed them to find a lot of success in stuffing his shots. Perhaps he'll find success against Samman who has been prone to reactive takedowns. Otherwise he has traditionally had good defense. Samman has a good defensive guard and some heavy ground strikes from the top. He played around too much with noted grappler McCrory which resulted in his submission loss, though he likely has little to fear in that category from Boetsch who has never provided much of a submission threat.

This one feels pretty academic to me. I'm favoring Samman and not just because of his association with Bloody Elbow. More than Samman being a superior athlete, Boetsch appears shopworn as he has looked bad even in his most recent wins. The only reason I feel any need to pause is Boetsch seems to do his best with his back up against the wall, but that isn't reason enough to pick in his favor. Samman via TKO of the 2nd round

Aleksei Oleinik (50-9-1) vs. Daniel Omielanczuk (18-5-1, 1 NC), Heavyweight

Wait... Oleinik is still in the UFC? The well-traveled vet hasn't been seen in 20 months! He reappears in an attempt to turn away fellow European Omielanczuk. The winner likely gets a crack at a ranked opponent.

Oleinik has floated in and out of the top 15 himself, though his inactivity has had him on the outside looking in more often than not recently. Having just turned 39, it's unlikely Oleinik will be able to make a run to the top at this stage of his career. That doesn't mean he can't pick up a few paydays while playing a gatekeeper role which seems to be exactly what he is doing here as a victory over Omielanczuk isn't likely to advance him much if at all.

That shouldn't be taken as a slight to Omielanczuk as he isn't a gimme by any means. It's simply that he has fallen short to anyone who isn't making their UFC debut during his stint in the organization. Plus, if MMA math means anything, both of Omielanczuk's UFC loses came to the two fighters Oleinik beat. Still young in heavyweight years at 33, Omielanczuk has the youth to make a run up the ladder if he can start putting everything together.

What has prevented Omielanczuk from finding more success has been his inability to stop takedowns. To his credit, he prevented Jarjis Danho from taking him to the ground at all in his last appearance. Danho is no Brock Lesnar, but progress is progress. He'll occasionally look for a takedown of his own, though that is hardly to be expected here as Oleinik is considered to be one of the better submission specialists in the division. Oleinik is patient from the top position, raining down strikes in strategically placed spots in order to open up the opportunity to pass guard and sink in a submission. Neck cranks and ezekiel chokes are Oleinik's specialty, though simply keeping him away from the neck is advised as roughly 75% of his 40 career submissions have come from a crank or choke.

Even though he knocked Jared Roshalt out cold in his last appearance, Oleinik isn't known as a striker. Stalking forward with his chin low, Oleinik throws heavy hooks as the punches are usually a cover for him to cover the distance needed to shoot for a double leg. His shot isn't powerful nor is it especially powerful. What allows Oleinik to finish the job is how he relentlessly chains his attempts together. He throws uppercuts to the body and head from the clinch as he hunts for the proper position for the takedown.

Omielanczuk will look to not only keep the fight on his feet, but he'll look to keep his distance from the submission specialist as that is where his most effective offense comes from. His pudgy frame is quite deceiving as he is a skilled and nimble kickboxer with serious power in his head kicks. He puts together good punching combinations when he is still fresh with power shots and leg kicks begin to come out with greater frequency later in the fight. Don't make the mistake that Omielanczuk is a grappler as his nine submission wins is misleading. Most of those have been set up by knocking his opponent to the ground ala Donald Cerrone. He offers solid ground and pound as well when he can achieve the mount.

This fight completely depends upon whether or not Omielanczuk can keep his distance from the Russian. Omielanczuk isn't a poor clinch fighter by any means, but messing with someone as experienced as Oleinik where they are most comfortable is a recipe for disaster. I hard head kick KO from Omielanczuk won't surprise me, but I'm favoring Olienik to close the distance and get the fight where he wants it long before the time limit is up. Oleinik via submission of the 1st round

Kyle Noke (22-8-1) vs. Keita Nakamura (31-7-2), Welterweight

This is pretty much filler. Neither of these 30-somethings have much hope of making a serious run and there is a very good chance the loser will be cut.

At one point some would have argued Noke was the best fighter on the UFC roster from Australia. Those days are long past with Mark Hunt's resurgence and Robert Whittaker's emergence, but he is still a serviceable test. Some would say he deserved the W in his last appearance against Alex Morono while others would argue he was getting his just due from the MMA gods for his undeserved victory over Jonavin Webb. The real question is how much tread is left on the tires of the 36-year old.

Nakamura's 1-4 UFC record is deceiving as three of those losses came in his first UFC stint that ended in 2008. He's proven to be hard to put away and even surprised many with how competitive he was with highly touted Tom Breese. He is quite a bit younger than Noke at 32-years old, but he also has a lot of mileage of his body with 40 listed fights.

In many ways this represents your classic striker vs. grappler, though each are well-versed enough in their supposed weak areas to hold their own. Noke would be regarded as the striker as two of his last three wins have come by way of violent finishes. Kicks to the legs and body are a major staple of his arsenal, along with hard straights from both hands as he switches stances often. Preferring to press forward, Noke's massive frame makes it easy for him to press his opponent against the fence and wear them down. He's been vulnerable to reactive takedowns, but typically has solid takedown defense. His athleticism has decreased with age and he doesn't avoid strikes as well as he used to, though his head movement is still fine.

Like Noke, Nakamura switches his stance with regularity. Unlike Noke, Nakamura prefers the jab as opposed to the power punch. Nakamura doesn't have a lot of power, but he's technically sound enough that he can put his opponent on their butt from time to time and is savvy as hell. His defensive skills leave a lot to be desired as his chin is there to be tested and head movement is pretty much nonexistent. His chin has held up well for the most part, but -€” I know I've said this before -€” they don't last forever. Noke isn't one he'll want to have testing that.

Though Nakamura isn't a great wrestler in the traditional sense, he's dogged in chaining his attempts together and utilizing trips from the body-lock position. Scrambles are the real strength of his game as he's cat-quick to take an exposed back to sink in a RNC. Noke is very heavy from the top position and has sound defense off of his back, but his lack of fluidity prevents him from truly threatening from the bottom. Nakamura is great at creating space from the bottom in order to escape, though he had trouble doing so against Tom Breese who has a similar build to Noke.

The modus operandi for Noke recently has been to lose when he's favored and win when he's the underdog. Bad news for him in that he's favored in this contest. I'm reminded of how badly Noke struggled with Webb's grappling when they met and can see him having similar problems here with Nakamura to help back up my theory of him losing as the favorite. It at least adds a little bit of theory behind my pick. Nakamura via submission of the 3rd round

Louis Smolka (10-1) vs. Ben Nguyen (14-5), Flyweight

While it feels like Demetrious Johnson has completely cleaned out the division, there is a possibility one of these youngsters could develop into a threat on the horizon.

Smolka is the one that has most pundits excited as he is not only on a three-fight win streak, but he has done so in a highly entertaining manner while showing improvements with every match. With an absolutely massive frame for 125 at 5'9" with a 68" reach, the 24-year old presents an unusual set of skills that most of his opponents are not accustomed to.

Nguyen was a veteran of the US MMA seen for a number of years before hitting some rough waters and moving to Australia. He hasn't lost since. Many -€” myself included -€” attributed his success to the lesser competition found in Australia, though he's proved his success wasn't a fluke with victories over Alp Ozkilic and Ryan Benoit since joining the UFC. A victory here well likely turn him into a real dark horse candidate for title contention.

Regardless of whether he has been looked at as a quality prospect or as an also-ran on the regional scene, Nguyen has always been an exciting fighter with only two of his fights going to decision, an impressive feat for a flyweight. He likes to attack with kicks to the body and leg along with a jab while countering with power punches -€” and I don't just mean power for flyweight, but actual power. He alternates between single shots and combinations, swarming with punches once he has his opponent on the ropes. The reason he's only recently found success is he has reined in his wildness and done a better job of avoiding his opponent's return fire, though he still has his issues.

Despite his rangy frame, Smolka doesn't utilize to the fullest extent of his abilities as he's most effective in close quarters. He does throw out front side kicks with regularity to establish distance, but the lack of a regular jab makes him far more hittable than his frame would suggest. He throws punching combinations to the head and body with mixed results as his defense in the pocket is, well, like his defense from a distance. The clinch is his wheelhouse where he wracks his opponent with devastating knees from the Thai clinch while also being able to threaten with trips and throws.

Both have aggressive submission games with Smolka's spidery limbs giving him a slight advantage as he knows how to use those limbs to wrap up his opponent with hooks and body triangles to maintain control. Nguyen doesn't often look for the takedown, only going after submissions once he has knocked them to the ground, the RNC being his go-to. Smolka has improved his offensive wrestling, but is still horrible at stopping takedowns, often relying on his sweeps and scrambling ability to get back to his feet.

This is not an easy fight to pick by any means. I'm probably going against the grain in picking Nguyen as I admit Smolka has the greater physical gifts. However, he also features a questionable fight IQ as he tends to let his opponent dictate where the fight takes place too much. Regardless of who wins, expect this to be one of the better fights on the card. Nguyen via TKO of the 2nd round

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