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Diggin' Deep on UFC 200 PPV Fight Pass prelims

Get the rundown on the Fight Pass portion of the UFC 200 card out of Las Vegas featuring former Pride lightweight champion Takanori Gomi, former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi, and fan favorite Diego Sanchez.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Once upon a time it would have been unthinkable to open a card with likes of Takanori Gomi, Gegard Mousasi, and Diego Sanchez. It is true that the magnitude of UFC 200 is playing a large part in why they are on the Fight Pass portion of the prelims, but to say that it isn't a sign of times either is to ignore present results. Of the three Mousasi seems most likely to return to his formerly lofty status, though that doesn't exactly seem likely.

The UFC has done well in matching them up with opponents who are likely to draw out an entertaining fight out of them making this portion of the card very much a portion fight fans won't want to miss. I'm not about to compare it to any other portion of UFC 200, but it certainly is better than a good chunk of FS1 main card programming.

The Fight Pass prelims start at 6:30 ET/3:30 PT on Saturday, July 9.

Diego Sanchez (26-8) vs. Joe Lauzon (25-11), Lightweight

How has this match never been made up to this point? Oh wait... they tried making this fight at UFC 180. Bottom line is that two longtime favorites will collide in a battle of action fighters on the downside of their careers.

While a legitimate contender for the first five years of his UFC run, Sanchez has turned into a punchline for horrible judges decisions. Before winning his last contest against Jim Miller in March, most pundits agreeing he hadn't legitimately won a fight since his contest with Paulo Thiago at UFC 121 in October of 2010. Rather than marching forward with his chin out as had become his trademark since that time, Sanchez returned to his wrestling roots to pick up his victory over Miller. Could he be experiencing a late career resurgence?

Lauzon was considered the king of Fight Night bonuses for a long time with his slick submission skills and penchant for exciting fights. He also had a tendency to take a lot of damage in those contests. He's wizened up as he's gotten older which has resulted in less damage and less bonus money with only one performance bonus in his last six fights. No one sees him as a potential contender anymore, but he still has his reputation as a fan favorite.

For better or worse, Sanchez's chin has become legendary as he has never had a fight stopped by the referee without the doctor's recommendation due to a cut. As he has lost some speed and athleticism due to the ravages of Father Time, he's taken more and more damage and has seemingly done so gleefully. Sanchez took a methodical approach with Miller, utilizing a jab and making an actual attempt to avoid damage rather than marching forward launching bombs as he had done in previous years

Lauzon has never been a reputed striker, though he has made subtle improvements in recent years. He's learned to time his attacks better while putting together sharper combinations. What hasn't improved is his defense, as his lack of head movement and tendency to freeze up when he gets hit makes him vulnerable to combinations himself. A lot of that is due to his offensive minded approach. If he can navigate his opponent's punches and get into the clinch where he offers sharp elbows and knees, he stands a chance of winning the striking battle. He was never a great athlete to begin with and the years of damage his body has taken has created a noticeable toll.

It's no secret that most are anticipating the ground battle between Sanchez and Lauzon. Sanchez isn't the submission threat that he used to be, but he can still apply heavy top game focused on control and position. His takedowns are relentless even if they aren't the most powerful. Lauzon's ground and pound doesn't get the recognition it deserves, primarily because he uses it to loosen his opponent's defense so he can sneak in a submission. If that isn't working, he's still deadly in scrambles despite having lost a step and is willing to offer an opening for an opponent to take to get the back.

Another major note is Lauzon's tendency to fade in fights whereas Sanchez seems to get stronger later in fights. Lauzon has one career decision victory to help illustrate that while Sanchez hasn't scored a finish since 2008. Sanchez's ability to somehow sway judges into seeing things in his favor can't be discounted either.

My first inclination was to pick Lauzon as Sanchez isn't the combination striker that tends to give Lauzon fits. The more I researched the more I leaned toward Sanchez, especially given the adjustments he made against Miller. Sanchez isn't easy to finish and his fight style is favorable in the eyes of the judges. I can't guarantee I'll agree with their decision and I can see Lauzon catching him in a scramble off of a failed takedown attempt, but I'm tempting fate and picking Sanchez. Sanchez via decision

Gegard Mousasi (38-6-2) vs. Thiago Santos (13-3), Middleweight

Some new blood at the top of the middleweight division would be refreshing. But who gets the opportunity to break through? This bout could very well decide that.

It's easy to forget for all the tread on Mousasi that he is still just 30 years old as he started his career at 17. Expected to be a contender upon his UFC entry, Mousasi has stumbled every time he's been faced with an opportunity to prove himself as one of the elite. Despite his relatively young age, he can't afford a stumble here as the years of fighting are sure to catch up to him sooner rather than later.

Santos pulled himself out of the doldrums of the nearly indistinguishable sect of fighters in the middleweight division thanks to his current four-fight win streak to earn this opportunity. Many expected him to wash out of the UFC after a few fights, but he's made improvements to all areas to make himself a viable name worth watching. While he is representing the new guard in this fight, it's worth noting that he is older than Mousasi, clocking in at 32.

Mousasi's demeanor makes it appear as if fighting in the cage is as exciting as your everyday desk job as he looks uninterested. Don't let that fool you as he is as calculating as they come. Skilled in every phase, Mousasi takes the fight wherever his opponent is weakest. Uriah Hall and Costas Philippou were both strikers, so he took them to the ground. Thales Leites is a BJJ ace, so he kept the fight standing. Only the elite have been able to make him fight their fight. He tends to keep things simple on the feet, peppering his opponent with jabs or simple one-two combinations. Defensively he keeps his chin down, hands up, and his head moving at the necessary times.

Santos has been revealing more depth to his striking recently as his reputation was that as a dangerous kicker on the outside. As opponents have become aware of the book on Santos, he's added some short punches and elbows in the pocket and clinch. Most devastating from that range has been his knees in the clinch as he latches on with a Thai plum and wrecks the body, draining his opponent's gas tank in the process. Santos has also developed an awesome sprawl, making great use of the cage to stay on his feet. His trademark will always be his kicks which he throws with an intense amount of power (see his KO of Steve Bosse). He knows when to take the power off of his shots too, often using lighter kicks to the legs and body as a substitute for a jab.

Considering Mousasi's typical strategy, look for the fight to go to the ground. Mousasi isn't a wrestling maestro, but he does time and disguise his shots well to get the necessary leverage for the takedown. His BJJ is phenomenal with slick guard passing and effective ground and pound to set up his submissions, preferably arm triangles. Santos has made massive improvements in this area since his UFC inception and generally gets to his feet pretty quickly. He doesn't offer anything offensively and If he ends up on his back, his chances of surviving aren't good.

I get the feeling Santos saw Hall pull off the upset over Mousasi and figures he can do the same thing as he and Hall have very similar styles. Perhaps he can pull off the upset, but Hall's victory required just as much luck as it did skill and Mousasi was mauling him in the first round. Should be a similar fight in terms of how that round played out. Mousasi via submission of the second round

Jim Miller (25-8, 1 NC) vs. Takanori Gomi (35-11, 1 NC), Lightweight

Miller and Gomi have been doing this for a long time. Now they are on their last legs, no longer able to find success at the mid-levels much less the elite they used to compete against. The likelihood of the loser being cut is very high.

Gomi was neck-and-neck with BJ Penn as the greatest lightweight in the sport a decade ago when Pride was on its last legs. Like Penn, Gomi has been a shell of his former self recently, being finished in the first round in his last two appearances. Some will argue that he has looked flat before only to rebound with an impressive performance, but those last two appearances were by far the least competitive of his career and he is now 37.

Miller never quite reached the heights that Gomi did, but he's had a very successful career in his own right over the course of his 22 UFC appearances. He's faced a lot of the top names over that time and taken a lot of damage in the process and it is starting to show as he has dropped four of his last five appearances. He doesn't have the same legendary status that Gomi possesses, so he's likely to be cut loose if he doesn't pull out a win here.

Miller's reputation is that of a grappler, but he isn't a stiff on his feet either. Though he's never been a great athlete, he's made up for it with a very technical skill set. He's most comfortable countering with punches with a steady stream of kicks when there is room between him and his opponent, but it is in the clinch where he finds the most success. Using dirty boxing and sharp elbows from there, Miller's primary goals from there are to wear down his opponent and get them to the ground as he is efficient at transitioning to takedowns from there.

Gomi's preference is to stand in the pocket and trade bombs as he still possess a lot of power in his fists even if he has lost speed and declined as an athlete. He pumps out a jab a lot, though it is more to gauge distance than to do any damage. Gomi is a skilled counter puncher as well, but that belies his naturally aggressive nature. He's had an issue of overextending on his punches which makes him easy to counter at times. Perhaps what has hurt him more than anything else has been the decline of his formerly iron clad chin. He can probably eat the shots Miller throws at him, but I would have said the same thing about Myles Jury and Lauzon at the time he fought them only to crumble.

The most integral aspect of the bout will be the grappling as that is Miller's wheelhouse while representing Gomi's Achilles heel. Gomi is actually a skilled grappler offensively, but tends to panic when he finds himself on the defensive which has led to him being submitted in over half of his losses. Miller is exceptionally aggressive going for the sub which results in him losing position from time to time. Don't sleep on him off of his back as his guard is nothing to toy with.

While the decline for both has been quite precipitous and Gomi had further to fall than Miller, he looks the worse for wear between the two. Make no mistake that while he could catch Miller with one of his legendary bombs and put him out cold, counting on that wouldn't be wise. There is a good chance this could be Gomi's final fight as he simply no longer has the skills to be fighting even middling opposition, much less the elite. Miller via submission of the first round

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