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Diggin' Deep on UFC 201: Lawler vs Woodley FS2 prelims preview

Get the rundown on the Fight Pass portion of the UFC 201: Lawler vs Woodley card out of Atlanta featuring the return of cult favorite Nikita Krylov and an exciting clash between Jorge Masvidal and Ross Pearson.

Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

I started writing these previews wanting to complain about everything on these prelims since they looked like crap at first glance. Then I started digging deeper and realized this isn't the worst offering I've seen put on FS2. Nikita Krylov is never in a boring fight, and how in the hell can you hate the matchup of Jorge Masvidal and Ross Pearson? That's one of the rare cases where injuries actually resulted in a stronger matchup being made by the replacements.

Of course Anthony Hamilton and Damian Grabowski represent everything that I didn't want to look into when studying up for the prelims. No disrespect to Wilson Reis -€” he is a quality fighter -€” but you may be better off skipping the first hour of the televised prelims. I'm being serious. Hmm... I guess I got some complaining in after all.

The FS2 prelims start at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT.

Nikita Krylov (20-4) vs. Ed Herman (23-11, 1 NC), Light Heavyweight

The quirky Krylov has developed a cult following as his fights are anything other than typical. The youngster receives his toughest test yet in longtime middleweight Herman.

Krylov has had to deal with upheaval in his training recently thanks to the unease in his home country of Ukraine, but has dealt with it surprisingly well. The 24-year old turned in a solid effort against the notoriously boring Francimar Barroso in May to give him four wins in a row. Being one of the few youngsters in a division largely ruled by dinosaurs, the UFC has been careful to avoid giving him more than he can handle as they hope to develop him into a mainstay.

Originating from the third season of TUF, the 35-year old Herman has managed to hang around the UFC for a decade. No longer wanting to make the cut to 185 following the IV ban, Herman jumped to light heavyweight at the beginning of this year. While the gritty vet will be the smaller fighter in just about every contest at his new weight class -€” including this one -€” he has enough know-how picked up over his long career to overcome the disparity.

What often makes Krylov fights so entertaining is his complete disregard for defending himself, rushing recklessly into the fray with his chin wide open. Though his punches have a fair amount of power behind them, they are often thrown with poor technique. Fortunately, his onslaught has been too much for his opponents to overcome thus far, so he's been able to avoid any unfortunate consequences that often come with the territory. When Krylov stays of the outside he throws hard round kicks to the head and body at a surprisingly fast pace. He's also incredibly aggressive looking for submissions, though he is prone to go for them before obtaining proper positioning.

Herman operates at a much slower pace, largely due to his physical lack of speed. Though he has been able to remain competitive even with that deficiency, expect it to be less noticeable in his new division. On his feet, a stiff jab is his strike of choice occasionally followed up with a power hook. It shouldn't come as a surprise that his wheelhouse is in the clinch where he learned from Randy Couture during his years at Team Quest the intricacies of dirty boxing. His knees are the most devastating weapon from there as he proved dropping the usually durable Tim Boetsch in his last outing. Herman used to be active for takedowns and submissions, but not so much the last few years. No reason to believe he doesn't still have those skills if the opportunity presents itself.

Herman is nothing more than a gatekeeper and he knows that at this point of his career. Krylov's ceiling has yet to be established, meaning he has a lot more riding on this than Herman does. Krylov is the favorite at first glance due to his size and athletic advantage. While Herman is typically durable and should be able to survive the early onslaught that will inevitably come from Krylov, I still favor the youngster. Herman's struggles have come against opponent's with a noticeable advantage athletically. As stated earlier, that very much describes the Ukranian. Krylov via TKO of the 2nd round

Ross Pearson (19-11, 1 NC) vs. Jorge Masvidal (29-11), Welterweight

Originally scheduled to be Siyar Bahadurzada against Claudio Silva, injuries cropped up and this fight evolved into a welterweight contest between two fighters who've spent the majority of their UFC career at lightweight. At least it is an upgrade in terms of quality of fighter...

Pearson hasn't won or lost consecutive fights since 2013 and wants to ensure that it stays that way for this fight as he is fresh off of his loss to Will Brooks earlier this month. The action-fighter is fighting out of his natural weight class for this short notice bout, but it shouldn't be much of an issue for him as Masvidal is a smaller welterweight.

Masvidal is currently riding a two-fight losing streak as his move up to welterweight hasn't been as kind to him as he thought it would be. Granted, he has been losing to high level opponents in Benson Henderson and Lorenz Larkin and he has been competitive. Still, one can't help but wonder if he would be better off dropping back to 155. Unfortunately we won't find out too much in this contest whether or not Masvidal isn't cut out for 170 since Pearson is a natural lightweight.

One of the better all-around fighters, Masvidal is versatile enough to take the fight almost anywhere he wants. Owner of some of the best takedown defense when he was at lightweight, Masvidal hasn't been quite as staunch in staying upright since making the move. That shouldn't be an issue for him as it is rare that Pearson looks to go to the ground. Masvidal however might look to go for a takedown or two and he's been pretty successful at doing that when he so pleases, usually resorting to trips from the clinch to accomplish that. From a distance he typically operates behind a jab and cross combo with a variety of kicks thrown out there to compliment his punches. Masvidal has been his own worst enemy at times, going on cruise control if he believes he has won the first two rounds. The Al Iaquinta bout is a perfect example of that.

Pearson is noted counter striker and a fun one to boot. Long lauded for his head movement and defense in general, Pearson is pretty solid when it comes to stopping takedown attempts himself. He proved that by stuffing most of Brooks' attempts in his last contest. Even when he does hit the ground he's pretty good about climbing back to his feet in a quick manner. Operating behind a Muay Thai base, he does a great job of mixing kicks into his arsenal with a jab being the core of his attack. Pearson does have above average power when he commits to landing with authority and mixes his punches to the body as well as the head.

Look for this fight to take place on the feet not because Masvidal and Pearson are incapable of takedowns, but because they prefer to stay on their feet in addition to their excellent takedown defense. That makes this an early favorite to be FOTN. While this is largely a coin flip, I'm leaning towards Masvidal due to his reach advantage (74" as compared to Pearson's 69") and his slight offensive wrestling advantage. Even if most of the fight takes place on their feet, a single takedown could end up being the difference. Masvidal via decision

Anthony Hamilton (14-5) vs. Damian Grabowski (20-3), Heavyweight

You know how heavyweight MMA either ends with a wicked-awesome KO or is a sloppy crap-fest that no one enjoys? Bank on the latter in this one.

The most exciting that Hamilton has been was when he got KO'd in 33 seconds by Todd Duffee. He really is the epitome of a heavyweight that does everything well while exceling at nothing. He's been competitive with those that don't have a major advantage in a particular area while falling quickly to those with a modicum of athletic ability or savvy vets.

That could very well be music to Grabowski's ears. One of the top grappling big men in the European scene for years, Grabowski finally made his UFC debut in February only to be completely bull-rushed by Derrick Lewis in one of the most non-competitive bouts seen this year. It's put up or shut up time for the Pole.

Possessing a very workmanlike approach, Hamilton knows where he's at his best. While he can surprise with his athletic ability and possesses sound technique, he's usually a bit too slow on the feet to consistently win that battle as quick-twitch explosion is lacking. That's why he usually looks to fight in the clinch with dirty boxing and battling for underhooks. Once in close quarters, Hamilton will push the fight against the fence and look for the takedown. He hasn't shown any real grappling offense, but he does stay heavy from the top while keeping a steady stream of ground strikes coming down hard and heavy with serious fight ending potential.

Hamilton may look to alter his strategy this time as Grabowski isn't noted for his striking ability. He's usually slick enough to either clinch up or shoot for a surprisingly quick double-leg without accruing damage. Once in the clinch is a different story. He has often been bullied against the fence by larger opponents, though he is often able to lull them to sleep and hit a trip before they know it. Possessing a large arsenal of chokes and power submissions, Grabowski is often too aggressive in seeking out a finish, giving up his positioning and either allowing his opponent to hit a reversal or scrambling back to their feet.

This feels like a coin flip. I don't think Hamilton will be able to bully the smaller Grabowski the same way that Lewis did as Lewis is a unique animal. He could control him enough on the feet in addition to maintaining top control and pounding out the Pole. However, Grabowski does have some skill off of his back. What is really swaying me is recalling Hamilton's quick loss to submission minded Aleksei Oleinik in which Oleinik had zero problems passing through Hamilton's guard. That doesn't inspire me to pick the American. Grabowski via submission of the 1st round

Wilson Reis (20-6) vs. Hector Sandoval (12-2), Flyweight

From getting a title shot to welcoming a newcomer to the UFC. It's amazing just how far Reis has fallen on this card thanks to Demetrious Johnson's injury.

Reis falling to the televised opener of the prelims speaks volumes about how deserving he was of that title shot. Translation: not very. The problem is that Johnson has cleaned out the division and Reis was getting the shot due to being the highest ranked fighter coming off of a win that Johnson hadn't dispatched of yet. While he may not exactly be title material, he is a legit top ten flyweight who looked better than ever picking up a clear victory over Dustin Ortiz in his last appearance.

Sandoval has been considered to be one of the top flyweights not to touch down in the UFC for quite a while. His only losses have been to UFC veterans Ulysses Gomez and Willie Gates, the latest coming almost two years ago. Representing Team Alpha Male, Sandoval has rattled off four wins in a row since with the last one being a first round TKO.

The thing that has probably kept Sandoval out of the UFC is that he is small even by flyweight standards. Standing only 5'2", that may have worked to his advantage in getting this fight on short notice as making weight likely isn't going to be too difficult of a proposition for him. Despite his lack of size, he's a hell of a takedown artist, having little trouble getting underneath his opponent's hips on his powerful double-legs. Sandoval's ground game is pretty much limited to maintaining top position and throwing heavy ground strikes. His standup is similarly limited as he tends to rely solely on heavy-handed hooks with the occasional leg kick being the only regular variance.

Reis will pose a very difficult challenge for the newcomer as he showed much improved takedown defense against Ortiz. One of the bigger 125ers in terms of girth, Reis has long been considered one of the best BJJ practitioners which has scared away many from wanting to take the fight to the ground anyway. His shot isn't very powerful, but he's savvy with his trips which allows him to execute his strategy with sudden back-takes and cat-quick submissions. Despite not owning a single KO/TKO victory, he packs some good power in his punches too. He showed much better technique and timing against Ortiz as he quit looking for the kill shot and just looked to land. Don't sleep on his leg kicks either as they typically land with a thud.

Sandoval may or may not be UFC caliber, but this may not be the fight that we find out whether or not he is. Despite his old-school approach -€” it would be fresh circa 2006 -- he has shown improvements recently. I still don't think it will be enough. If Reis continues to show the improvements he displayed against Ortiz, he should easily walk out of this with a victory. Outside of a hook catching Reis clean, I don't see Sandoval pulling off the upset. Reis via submission of the 2nd round