Now here are some names that fans recognize! While there is no doubt that Paige Van Zant's fame exceeds her actual abilities - at least for now - she isn't a pushover by any means even if she was beaten from pillar to post by Rose Namajunas last December. She faces another one of the more familiar faces at strawweight in Bec Rawlings in what should be a hell of a contest.
The opening fight of the main card is a repeat of a 2012 classic between Joe Lauzon and Jim Miller. Miller came out on top in the first contest and though neither fighter will ever be mentioned in title talks ever again, they showed a little bit of gas still in the tank in each of their respective performances at UFC 200. Even though there isn't much at stake in terms of the standings, there is a reason the UFC picked them to open up the main card.
The main card starts on FOX at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT.
Paige Van Zant (6-2) vs. Bec Rawlings (7-4), Women's Strawweight
Van Zant and Rawlings both have a large fan base, but also have a fair amount of haters. If nothing else, it should be an interesting clash of styles.
Van Zant is coming off of her stint on Dancing with the Stars which turned her into more of a household name than fighting ever did. She's still one of management's favorites despite the loss to Namajunas, meaning we can expect a healthy dose of her in the spotlight whether we like it or not. Keep in mind her fight with Rose was only her 8th professional fight at the age of 21. It's doubtful we've seen the best out of her.
Rawlings is a bit of a controversial figure as some have called her a bully... or worse. Whatever your opinion of her, she has recovered from a disappointing UFC debut to score two wins in a row. Few believe that she'll be able to become a title contender at this stage, but three wins in a row would be difficult to ignore in a division still trying to find its identity.
The youngster Van Zant - now 22-years old - is pathologically aggressive with a strategy heavy on getting the fight to the ground. Though she has made significant progress in the technical aspects She doesn't commit enough on her strikes besides when she is looking to use them to cover distance. Favoring body kicks and short punching combinations, Van Zant's defense is the next aspect she should look to shore up. Her wheelhouse is when she can push her opponent against the cage and use all of her available appendages to her benefit.
Rawlings is also an aggressive fighter, though she prefers to use that aggression in the pocket as she developed a reputation as for being as much of a brawler as you will find at this level. Knowing that's the book on her, Rawlings showed a more disciplined approach in her last appearance, throwing tight punching combinations with increased craft. Like Van Zant, she does her best work in the clinch as she uses her larger frame to outmuscle and punish the opposition with knees and elbows.
Whoever wins the takedown game is bound to be the victor here. Rawlings will occasionally look to land the occasional trip, but those usually only serve as a change of pace. On the other hand, as mentioned earlier, it is integral for Van Zant to take the fight to the ground. With her seemingly endless cardio, she often gets her opponent to the ground based on sheer will and force rather than actual technical wrestling. Rawlings has proven difficult to take down. If Rawlings is able to remain vertical, she should have the slight advantage in the fight.
If there is one thing to take out of Van Zant's fight with Namajunas, it is her toughness and will, not that she got dominated. If there is somebody whom Rawlings will have a difficult time of matching their pace, it is Van Zant. I'm not proclaiming that Van Zant will blow her out of the water as it should be a closely contested fights, but I see Van Zant scoring enough takedowns to sway the decision in her favor. Van Zant via decision
Joe Lauzon (26-11) vs. Jim Miller (26-8, 1 NC), Lightweight
If the sequel ends up being anywhere near as good as the original, we're in for a real treat as longtime veterans Lauzon and Miller attempt to top their classic from UFC 155.
Lauzon has resembled Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with his recent performances, alternating dominating performances with less than inspired ones. He's fresh off of one of those dominant performances, becoming the first person to stop Diego Sanchez due to strikes while accumulating his 14th performance bonus.
Miller's career looked to be winding down, dropping four of his last five before rebounding with a resounding win over Takanori Gomi. Miller was actually considering making that his retirement fight only to find out he had been struggling with Lyme disease in his previous contest. Feeling rejuvenated following the diagnosis and victory over Gomi, Miller hopes to have one last noteworthy run before hanging them up.
There should be some notable changes from the first contest, at least on the feet. The first fight saw Miller piece up Lauzon in the pocket with punching combinations and elbows in the clinch as Lauzon has never had very good striking defense. Miller also threw a good chunk of leg kicks early with a lot of success. Expect him to try and repeat those strategies as they were effective early before he slowed down. About the only place Lauzon found success was with knees in the clinch, though he usually has some good dirty boxing and elbows from there as well. Lauzon has improved his timing on his feet since then and should offer more resistance this time around. Even better for him, he has improved his power which is notable as Miller isn't as durable as he was the first time they squared off.
Not much has changed in the wrestling and grappling department. Lauzon has never been the most technical or powerful, but he is relentless in chaining together his attempts. Once he gets the fight to the floor, there are few who are more dangerous as Lauzon is aggressive in hunting for the finish and only needs a small opening. Don't count out him finishing Miller with ground strikes either as that is one of the most underrated aspects of his arsenal. Just ask Gomi.
Miller is also a reputed grappler with a lot of submission victories under his belt, but he doesn't have the same reputation as Lauzon. That's due to him being a more technical grappler than Lauzon. That doesn't make him any less dangerous, it just means that he isn't as willing to give up position for the slim chance of ending the fight. He has been overpowered more in recent years as his body hasn't seemed hold up as well as it used to which has made his takedown defense - never spectacular to begin with - a greater liability. Fortunately for him, he has proven to be proficient off of his back.
It's probably asking too much to expect these two to put on a show the way that they did last time. Miller did look great against Gomi to signal that he could have a career revitalization, but it could be argued that Gomi doesn't belong in a cage anymore. I think Lauzon has a bit more mileage left in him. Look for him to take advantage of Miller's declining state and snatch a submission sometime after the first round. Lauzon via submission of RD2