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Diggin' Deep on UFC 202: Diaz vs McGregor 2 FS1 prelims preview

Get the lowdown on the FS1 prelims of UFC 202: Diaz vs McGregor out of Las Vegas! Cody Garbrandt and Takeya Mizugaki headline the televised portion as Garbrandt looks to keep his undefeated record intact.

Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

Is it just me, or has Cody Garbrandt been in more headlines the last week than anyone else other than headliners Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz? The youngster continues to voice his opinion that he is the best in the world and whether you believe him or not, he's getting the attention that type comes with backing it up. I'm not saying he's going to take the belt -€” not yet at least -€” but he has done what he is supposed to do thus far in his career which allows him to talk like that. Many feel he is getting a step back in competition going from Thomas Almeida to durable veteran Takeya Mizugaki, but all he can do is beat those placed in front of him.

The rest of the televised prelims don't have much heat behind them. Artem Lobov and Chris Avila are probably getting the most attention and that contest was put together because of what camps they come from and not what they can do in the cage. Maybe I'm the only one who isn't that excited about that contest, though I doubt it.

The FS1 prelims begin at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT

Cody Garbrandt (9-0) vs. Takeya Mizugaki (21-9-2), Bantamweight

Garbrandt thinks a victory here will get him a title shot. I'm not so sure about that, but the savvy Mizugaki does offer Garbrandt potentially his toughest competition. The key word is potentially....

Garbrandt has been playing it smart by keeping his name floating in the press with his callouts of champion Dominick Cruz, creating hype in a division that lacks a clear cut contender behind TJ Dillashaw. If he can produce another highlight KO like the one he scored over Thomas Almeida, he could have his wish granted as a large contingency of fans are already behind him.

Mizugaki never has been a fan favorite in that sense and never will be, a shame considering he has often been a fun one to watch. The penultimate gatekeeper in the bantamweight division, Mizugaki has been in that position ever since the division was introduced to the UFC. It's possible that he is slowing down at this point as there is a lot of tread on his tires, though he should still be able to pull out a few victories here and there.

Much has been made of Garbrandt's amateur boxing career and rightfully so to this point. He rarely throws single strikes, almost always throwing his punches in combination, even when he is countering. The combination of technique and raw power found in him is unique which is why the UFC has put him front and center on the hype train to this point. Garbrandt tends to load up on his punches when he feels the end is nigh with his overhand right being especially deadly. However, has also shown the ability to sit back and win the fight strictly on his volume. He isn't very defensively sound, but his fast hands have made opponents reluctant to take advantage of that.

The often used tag of good-at-everything, great-at-nothing fits Mizugaki to a tee. He throws a lot of hooking combinations that are technically sound enough. His lack of speed and athleticism often lead him to look for the clinch where he grinds away at his opponent slowly while looking for the opportunity to hit a body-lock takedown. Rarely looking for the submission, ground and pound is Mizugaki's preferred method of offense when the fight hits the ground. He isn't much of a finisher, but has proven to be durable which allows him to stay strong until the final bell.

What strongly slants the fight in Garbrandt's favor -€” at least in my eyes -- is his wrestling and athletic ability. He's proven difficult to take down thanks to both of those factors. If Mizugaki is unable to score his takedowns, his chances of success dwindle greatly. Even worse for him is his last two losses were fairly non-competitive as he dealt with vastly superior athletes in Cruz and Aljamain Sterling. Garbrandt is on their level in terms of athleticism. That isn't good for Mizugaki.

Even though I strongly doubt that Mizugaki wins, I do see a route to victory for the Japanese representative. His power in underrated (see his knockdown of Francisco Rivera) and Garbrandt's chin is usually there to be hit. He'll need to anticipate the opening since he can't hope to match Garbrandt's speed and that is probably asking too much. Throw in that Mizugaki is showing signs of being more frail than in years past and I see Garbrandt getting a finish. Garbrandt via TKO of RD2

Raquel Pennington (7-5) vs. Elizabeth Phillips (5-3), Women's Bantamweight

Fresh off of back-to-back victories for the first time in her UFC career, Pennington looks to build on her momentum against Phillips.

Pennington has been seen as a dark horse ever since her stint on TUF 19. It's been clear she has the talent and toughness to go far, she just hasn't been able to put everything together at the same time to make the leap most believe she is capable of. Her wins over Jessica Andrade and Bethe Correira offer promise that she will soon be ready to compete with the divisional elite.

Phillips was dealt a tough hand upon her UFC entry, making her debut on very short notice to Valerie Letourneau only to follow that up with a controversial decision loss to Milania Dudieva. She has since rebounded with a win over Jessamyn Duke, though the fight was closer than most expected. Perhaps she has made massive strides as it has been over a year since she last stepped into the cage, though counting on those type of improvements without any type of proof is unwise.

Many mistake Pennington for a brawler, but that is far from the truth. Sure, she is capable of standing in the pockets and trading punches as her chin has held up remarkably well throughout her career and she made a habit of that early in her career. Pennington has since improved her technical boxing with slick combinations, good head movement, and the occasional kick in there for good measure. She's strong in the clinch too. She isn't elite in any single area standing, but she is good enough in all of those areas that she won't be dominated by those who do excel in those fields either.

Phillips is a less experienced version of Pennington which also means that her holes are more obvious. For example, she throws her strikes in combination quite a bit, but they are a bit clunky in addition to putting her head down when she throws. Where Phillips does have the advantage is in the wrestling and grappling department... at least when the fight gets to the ground as she has struggled to get it there during her UFC run. Despite that, she's great at scrambling with solid positional control and good abilities to take the back.

Where Phillips will be in major trouble is if she hasn't done anything to improve her gas tank. Pennington has gone the distance multiple times consistently throwing hard strikes all the way through. Phillips on the other hand has tired in the third round, keeping her hands low and proving easy to take down. If she hasn't fixed that problem, Pennington is the easy pick as few are stronger at the end of a fight than Pennington.

Even if Phillips has improved her stamina, Pennington should still be the favorite. Though they are very similar fighters, Pennington is the more polished fighter who has proven herself against a higher level of competition. Pennington's also shown sound takedown defense which makes Phillips best avenue to victory a bit more difficult to achieve. Both women are tough, so I expect this one to go the distance. Pennington via decision

Artem Lobov (11-12-1, 1 NC) vs. Chris Avila (5-2), Featherweight

Fans only care about this fight as Lobov is a teammate of Conor McGregor while Avila trains with Nate Diaz. Will this fight be a precursor of things to come?

Lobov put on an impressive run through the TUF house with McGregor as his coach only to stumble badly upon leaving the confines of the UFC gym. He lost one-sided decisions to Ryan Hall -€” losing the TUF title in the process -€” and Alex White while looking as though he doesn't deserve to be in the UFC cage. This is likely his last shot at redemption.

Avila is a baby in terms of experience, only having turned pro in 2014. He hasn't faced anyone of note with his most experienced opponent having only seven fights under their belt, leading most to believe -€” including me -€” he is only getting the call-up due to his association with the Diaz brothers. Going from fighting relative newcomers to the sport to jumping into the cage with an opponent as experienced as Lobov is a huge leap.

It isn't hard to see the Diaz connection with Avila's style. He isn't a strong wrestler, using trips and body-lock drags to get the fight to the floor. He showed a knack for obtaining back mount and some submission skills from there. While those factors do remind us of a Diaz, it's his long 73" reach and boxing style that really evoke comparisons. He's nowhere near as polished as his teammates, but he pokes out a jab and has a bit of power in his hooks that offer promise for the future.

Lobov is about as tough as they come, completely willing to eat a shot or two in order to get his. That isn't entirely by choice as he isn't much of an athlete and owns a rather miniscule 66" reach, a bit of an oddity considering he isn't that short at 5'9". Despite his pressuring style, he usually doesn't lead the dance, preferring to bait his opponent into throwing by keeping his hands low and countering with a hard punch. He utilizes solid angles and isn't too bad in the clinch either.

This is very much a tossup. Despite not being a notable athlete himself, Avila possesses the better physical tools by far. However, I think he is being rushed into the UFC far too soon in order for the UFC to capitalize on McGregor-Diaz feud as much as possible as he is far from a finished product. Then again, Lobov has been exposed time and again when opponents have sufficient time to prepare for him as there is nothing special about his style. If Avila can find a way to drag the Russian to the ground, he stands a very good chance of submitting Lobov or at least controlling the fight. Otherwise, don't be surprised to see Lobov score a finish as he won't be scared away by a few punches from the wiry Avila. Avila via decision

Randa Markos (6-3) vs. Courtney Casey (5-3), Women's Strawweight

Thrown together on relatively short notice, Markos and Casey are two of the most exciting strawweights in the organization. This should be one of the early favorites for FOTN.

Markos became a fan favorite on the 20th iteration of TUF with her aggressive style resulting in a couple of upset victories and more notoriety than she had ever experienced. She hasn't had as much success since leaving the house, owning a 2-2 record. Coming off of a victory over Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger, Markos believes she's ready to emerge as a contender now that she has found a comfort level with her training camp.

Casey is a highly aggressive fighter herself, resulting in FOTN bonuses in her first two contests. The excitement level of her contests saved her job as she fell short in both, finally earning her first UFC victory only last month with a first round stoppage against Cristina Stanciu. It appeared she turned a corner in that contest, executing her game plan to perfection to get the early finish.

Being unable to stick with her strategy cost Casey in the past. The former collegiate soccer player bursts out of the gate quickly, laying the punishment on thick with her punch-heavy attack. However, her tendency to look for the finish had her pulling guard for an armbar shortly after hurting Joanne Calderwood, in essence giving up the dominant position and potentially the victory in the process. Against Stanciu, she picked her spots to engage, landing trip takedowns, and unloading with vicious elbows from on top, all of which play to her strengths.

Markos' has turned down her aggression levels a tad, showing a countering jab which she occasionally uses to press forward as well. She's still most comfortable blitzing with a flurry of punches to the head and body with some power, though a skilled counter puncher will catch her coming in more often than not. Fortunately for her, that isn't Casey.

This will likely come down to who can win the takedown battle. Markos will likely be more aggressive looking for that as few are better in the division at chaining submissions together, but Casey is very strong and difficult to move. Markos does have a wrestling background and has worked to do a better job of disguising her level changes. Unfortunately, the results haven't been there. Expect the clinch against the fence to come into play, Casey throwing knees while Markos prefers to use uppercuts in the dirty boxing format.

I love this matchup. It's one of the fights I'm most looking forward to as both Casey and Markos are amongst the most exciting women in the division. I'm going to lean towards Markos based on Casey's willingness to accept a poor position. Considering Markos is a skilled armbar specialist, I'll predict she's able to snag one of Casey's arms to secure a finish. Markos via submission of RD2

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