Well this feels like a let down. The UFC had been promoting Fight Pass in recent months by putting some high level fights on their online subscription service such as Aljamain Sterling vs. Bryan Caraway. Thus we've come to expect some high quality fights. That isn't the case this time around as the Fight Pass contests are the usual low-level fights we all came to know at the inception of its inception. Well... kind of.
Some may argue that Alex Oliveira is a high level fighter - by UFC standards of course -- as he did headline a card with Donald Cerrone in his last appearance. No offense to Oliveira, but he was never a valid headliner. The fact he was a late replacement provides further proof of that. That doesn't take away from his ability to entertain as he has consistently put on a good show. That shouldn't be a problem against James Moontasri, another consistently exciting fighter. The other fights on Fight Pass? It's debutants, disappointing prospects, and vets hanging on by a thread.
The Fight Pass prelims will begin at 4:00 PM ET/1:00 PM PT.
Alex Oliveira (13-4-1) vs. James Moontasri (9-3), Welterweight
Though this Fight Pass headliner isn't up to par with what the UFC has given us lately, that doesn't mean we should turn our nose up at it as these two know how to throwdown.
Oliveira fought five times within his first year within the UFC, taking a number of short notice bouts, swinging between both welterweight and lightweight. It appears he'll be staying at welterweight as this wasn't a short notice fight for him. He is still relatively young in the sport, having turned professional less than five years ago.
Moontasri has had his ups and downs in the UFC, opening up his career at lightweight before deciding the weight cut was too much for him. He showed great energy in his welterweight debut against Anton Zafir, but Zafir hasn't proven to be UFC caliber in addition to being a short-notice opponent. Moontasri's other UFC victory was over Cody Pfister, another fighter who doesn't appear to be on the UFC level. This fight is pivotal for him if he wants to be more than an action fighter.
There is no mystery to Moontasri's game as he is a striker first, second, and third. It doesn't get much clearer when Fight Metric shows him attempting zero takedowns over the course of his four UFC fights. Known for his wide variety of spinning strikes and aggression, Moontasri is cat quick to start throwing his fists in combination following a one of his flashier maneuvers. He's prone to counters and can be out of control at times, but he normally utilizes good movement and distance management which helps to negate his lack of size at welterweight. He typically shows good takedown defense, though he did struggle with the athletic Kevin Lee to stay upright.
Lee is worth mentioning as he is the most comparable of Moontasri's past opponents to Oliveira in terms of athletic ability and length. Wrestling ability is a different story, though Oliveira isn't a slouch in that department by any means as he uses his physical gifts in combination with a dogged determination to finish the job as opposed to traditional technique. That same aggression can hurt him as a grappler as well as he's gone after submissions only to give up position in the effort. Oliveira striking technique has proven inconsistent as he'll charge wildly swinging his fists at times and circle while picking apart with a jab and quick 1-2 combinations. The clinch may be his greatest strength as he has a strong Thai plum along with knees and elbows when he pushes the fight against the fence.
Moontasri is the more technical striker which could very well give him the advantage that he needs to take the win. He isn't a bad scrambler either, but Oliveira's athleticism, speed, and strength will probably allow him to beat Moontasri in transition. Though Oliveira still doesn't use his 76" reach to its fullest extent, he uses it well enough that it - along with the threat of a takedown -- should be able to neutralize Moontasri's flashy and powerful techniques. Regardless of who wins, I expect this to be a damn good contest. Oliveira via TKO of the 3rd round
Hector Urbina (17-9-1) vs. George Sullivan (17-5), Welterweight
This fight is happening. I'm aware of how dumb that sounds, but how many times can I say that two guys with little name value are fighting for their jobs? So I'm sticking with the fact that this fight is happening.
Urbina's route to the UFC came through the TUF ranks, losing to the legendary - Conor McGregor's words, not mine -- Cathal Pendred in the quarterfinals. Though only 28, he's been fighting for a decade at this point making it hard to see him making any great leaps at this stage in his career.
While Sullivan has also been fighting for a decade and doesn't have as many fights on the odometer, he is 35-years old and coming off of the first KO loss of his career. A chin is easier to crack once it's been done the first time and Sullivan's age is probably going to catch up to him sooner rather than later. Is this where he suddenly becomes old? Hard to say.
Few have gotten more out of their skill set than Urbina. He's not a good athlete, he's incredibly slow, his wrestling is poor outside of the occasional reactive takedown, and he isn't a technical striker. Damn... I sound like a hater. What Urbina does have is a lot of pop in his fists, a nice variety of chokes, and a usually sturdy chin that allows him to stay alive. Knowing his physical gifts are usually below par of his opponent, Urbina tries to drag the opposition to a dimension where skill matters least that fight fans refer to as a brawl. He gets hit a lot this way, but his chin and power are well-suited for him to thrive in that environment.
Sullivan isn't a fantastic athlete himself, but he is a far superior striker who has enough power in his fists to end the night early for the Urbina. While he is the technically sharper striker, that isn't what gives him the advantage on his feet. It is his ability to put together combinations after finding his way into their range with his jab. He's pretty comfortable fighting against the cage too. Where Sullivan has issues is stopping takedowns and even bigger problems in scoring his own. Normally a competent grappler, Sullivan is prone to being submitted the later the fight goes as his gas tank typically fades in the final round.
I'm very much tempted to pick Urbina as I haven't liked the way Sullivan has looked as of late which is why I questioned if Father Time is starting to catch up to him. Looking into who Sullivan lost to, the common theme is they were much more technical strikers than he is. That doesn't describe Urbina at all. Urbina could easily catch Sullivan with a bomb or get ahold of his neck in transition for a submission, though I'm counting on Sullivan using striking volume to sway the judges into seeing the fight in his favor. Sullivan via decision
Jim Alers (13-2, 1 NC) vs. Jason Knight (13-2), Featherweight
It isn't enough to have promise anymore. You have to win as this fight will prove for these prospects as the loser is expected be back on the regional scene.
Alers was once a rival of Conor McGregor's before the Irishman entered the UFC as he was scheduled to fight for McGregor's featherweight title in Cage Warriors twice before injuries derailed their rivalry. Alers eventually got that belt, but only after McGregor vacated it to go to the UFC. Alers hasn't been able to translate that potential in the UFC, sporting a slightly disappointing 1-1 record with a NC.
Knight wasn't nearly as hyped upon his entrance, coming in as a short notice opponent against Japanese legend Tatsuya Kawajiri. It ended up being a pretty one-sided victory for Kawajiri as most expected, though Knight's grit and toughness was readily apparent.
Knight's biggest strength might also be his biggest weakness as he has a very good submission game off of his back. He's proven to be too willing to pull guard, remaining on his back for long periods of time while he searches for a sub. He ate a lot of damage from Kawajiri from there as Knight was unable to finish any of his submission attempts while utilizing his notorious rubber guard. Knight's activity from the bottom does make it difficult for his opponent to land clean strikes or nab their own submission while also threatening with his own sub, but we all know how judges value top control. On the feet, his standup is fully concentrated on offense with a nice repertoire of strikes.
The biggest reasons for Alers' hype is his above-average athleticism and well-rounded game. For the most part, nothing has changed in that narrative as he has shown equal comfort to either stand and trade or take the fight to the floor. The problem that has arisen has been his lack of defense. His footwork needs sharpening and his head movement needs a lot of work. He pokes out a nice jab and throws punching combos with some pop. He hasn't used his wrestling as much upon coming to the UFC, though he times his shots well and is good in scrambles.
Knight will look to get the fight to the ground. Alers has excellent takedown defense and probably won't want to go to the ground. Everyone knows if you can keep the fight where you want it, you're likely to win the fight. That's why I'm favoring Alers. While Alers' striking defense is a concern, Knight is just as open to be hit and Alers' striking is more technical and powerful. Knight has a solid chin which should allow him to go the distance. Alers via decision
Luis Henrique (8-2) vs. Dmitry Smolyakov (8-0), Heavyweight
The UFC continues its desperate search for new blood at heavyweight by signing up anyone whose found success outside of the organization, throwing them in the cage with one another, and seeing if anything rises to the top.
This will be the 22-year old Henrique's sophomore UFC effort, falling short to Francis Ngannou in his debut. He had some early success before gassing and being finished by the promising Frenchman. There is some talk that he may be better off at light heavyweight as he spent a good chunk of time at 205 in Brazil. For better or worse, he's staying at heavyweight for the time being.
The undefeated Smolyakov comes from Russia without a single one of his fights making it out of the first round. The concerning thing is that he hasn't faced anyone of note to genuinely test his skills, beating up on cans and inexperienced fighters. He's very much a wild card going into the fight.
A Greco-Roman wrestling champion in Brazil, Henrique will need to rely heavily on that skill in order to pick up a W here as his striking is still very green. He has proven to be very effective at maintaining dominant position whether it be against the cage or on the ground. Staying busy in those positions is a different story as he struggles to throw with regularity or to put much mustard into those strikes. Most worrisome is Henrique's complete lack of defense as he exhibits no head movement and mostly wasted motion. He has the physical tools to get better such as raw power, his potential just hasn't been tapped yet.
Smolyakov is similar to Henrique in that he too has a Greco-Roman background in addition to a freestyle background and both come out in force. His technique isn't very clean as he's had a size advantage on everyone he's faced, allowing him to muscle them around the cage without too much trouble. He isn't afraid to charge with a spear-like double-leg takedown, though he might want to learn to set up his takedowns, something Henrique struggles with as well. Smolyakov has a number of submissions on his record, though most of those are simply him overpowering the opposition with a choke or a torqueing submission like a kimura.
The striking is what will likely decide this match as their wrestling could very well negate one another. While Smolyakov isn't close to being a finished product on the feet, he's developed more to work with than Henrique, flinging out an awkward jab before following up with power shots. While I haven't been impressed with Smolyakov's striking defense, I'm not too concerned about that here as Henrique has shown a great reluctance to throw any type of strike in space. I realize heavyweight fights are a crapshoot, especially when they're new to the UFC. I feel pretty confident in picking the bigger and stronger Smolyakov in this one. Smolyakov via TKO of the 1st Round