Yeah... there isn't much to look at here. I don't want to sound like a downer, but this may be the most depressing set of FS1 prelims that the UFC has ever put together. The reason Court McGee and Dominique Steele are the FS1 preliminary headliners is due to McGee's status as Utah's favorite MMA son in the UFC's debut in Salt Lake City.
Now that I've spilled my guts on my honest opinion, I'll put a positive spin to these fights. Name value doesn't always produce the best fights. Look at UFC 200 compared to UFC Fight Night 91 out of South Dakota. UFC 200 had all the name value while Fight Night 91 had all the action. And to be fair, I do see a couple of fights on here that have that type of potential. Even the heavyweight fight has some potential to be fun. When it turns out to be a dud, don't get mad at me... I only said it had potential. Ask Johnny Manziel about that....
The FS1 prelims start at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT.
Court McGee (17-5) vs. Dominique Steele (14-7), Welterweight
Home town favorite McGee, fresh off of his first career knockout loss, looks to get back on track against Steele. Don't be surprised to see the loser get cut.
It's hard to believe that the former TUF winner McGee has been calling the UFC home for six years at this juncture. While he has rarely been the more physically gifted athlete in the cage, few have shown the durability, stamina, and determination to win that has allowed McGee to find success despite his deficiencies.
Steele has progressively looked better with each subsequent UFC appearance. That includes his last appearance which was a loss to Danny Roberts, a contest in which many believed he won. Unfortunately his UFC record sits at 1-2 with a loss here likely to leave him on the outside looking in.
McGee is volume puncher who just keeps coming. He doesn't have a whole lot of power in his punches - his last stoppage via strikes came seven years ago on the regional scene - but few are able to match his pace. Leading with a steady jab and following up with simple boxing combinations with the occasional kick mixed in, McGee is able to hide his lack of athleticism behind his supreme conditioning and insane work rate.
Steele isn't a great athlete himself, though he is able to make up for it with his exceptional power that few can meet at 170. He isn't the most technical striker nor is he a defensive guru, which is why he hasn't been able to find more success despite his natural power. Steele isn't very good on the outside due to his lack of speed, but he's a beast in the clinch with uppercuts and knees to the dome. He can also shoot his double-leg takedowns from there as he uses his strength to rip them to the ground.
Speaking of takedowns, the wrestling could be the X-factor of this fight as both McGee and Steele rely heavily on takedowns. McGee typically has above-average defense with only Ryan LaFlare being able to take him down since his move to welterweight. He doesn't land a high percentage of takedowns himself, though he is usually able to land a few due to the sheer volume of attempts that he makes. Steele hasn't had to deal with the threat of a takedown yet in the UFC run, but he had issues with pressure fighters on the regional scene getting him down and keeping him down.
While McGee was stopped for the first time in his career in his last outing against Santiago Ponzinibbio, I don't think his chin is eroding as it took everything Ponzinibbio had to put him down. Steele isn't nearly as technical as Ponzinibbio, so I don't see him putting McGee in a similar situation. Steele has looked improved and showed a deeper gas tank against Roberts, but he's never faced a cardio machine like McGee. McGee wears him out and sinks in a submission on a gassed Steele late in the fight. McGee via submission in RD3
Viktor Pesta (10-2) vs. Marcin Tybura (13-2), Heavyweight
Far too often we've been getting heavyweight contests that make you want to turn away. While this could be one of those, I have a suspicion that it could just as well be a lot of fun despite the high altitude.
It's been 10 months since we've seen Pesta, losing to emerging fan favorite Derrick Lewis after having some success early in the contest. It's weird to look back on that contest and realize that Pesta was the favorite going in. While the 26-year old has never been looked at as a blue chip prospect, he has shown enough that many believe he'll be a mainstay in the division for years to come
Tybura only joined the UFC earlier this year after being marketed as one of the top heavyweight prospects outside the UFC. The former M-1 champion was stifled by man-mountain Timothy Johnson, only flashing signs of the potential we'd heard so much about in the final round after Johnson began to fade. It sounds a bit weird to say it, but he could already be looking at making his way out of the UFC following the hype that had been around him.
While most heavyweights lumber around the cage, Tybura moves around pretty fluidly. Now if only he could make that work to his advantage consistently. Sometimes he shows great head movement; other times he looks like he's content to let his opponent test his chin. He really gets in trouble when his opponent has him on the move, as he tends to move straight back. Tybura throws mostly one strike at a time with power hooks and kicks to the body,and legs being his preferred choice. Typically he uses the strikes as a way to cover ground for him to attempt a takedown, where he can operate out of his real wheelhouse on the ground, as he is among the better submission specialists at heavyweight.
Luckily for Pesta, he has shown fantastic takedown defense, being able to stay upright against Lewis despite the big man's takedown attempts. In fact, expect Pesta to be active in looking for his own takedowns. His takedowns have improved greatly in his time in the UFC, relying on a mix of trips and double-legs to take his opponents to the ground. Pesta loves the crucifix position, but he just hasn't found a lot of success in implementing it as he takes his time in setting it up.
Even though Pesta was finished by Lewis via ground and pound, he's proven to be very durable, eating some hard punches from busted prospect Konstantin Erokhin. He showed a deep gas tank in the process as well. What he has yet to show is a consistent outside striking game. He'll bull rush with punches, but that is usually in an effort to get the fight to the clinch where he is most comfortable. Tybura is comfortable in that area too with a similar strategy involving trips and body-lock takedowns. Whoever wins the clinch battle is likely to win the fight.
This is very much a coin flip. Pesta is the better wrestler, while Tybura is the better submission artist. Neither are particularly skilled on the feet, though I think I'd give Tybura a slight edge. Because of that edge I'm leaning toward Tybura. Both have shown granite chins and decent stamina. Hopefully this doesn't turn into the typical slopfest that seems to plague heavyweight decisions. Tybura via decision
David Teymur (4-1) vs. Jason Novelli (11-1-1), Lightweight
This is a fight that is happening. Seriously, it's difficult to hype this fight without the usual clichés that I reluctantly find myself using anyway. At least I'm trying to be honest.
Teymur is a veteran of the TUF 22 season, representing Conor McGregor's team from Europe. He made a good showing overall by winning a striking battle with Thibault Gouti and getting past wrestler Johnny Nunez before falling to Marcin Wrzosek. His best showing was actually his official UFC debut when he made short work of fellow cast mate Martin Svensson. Having only turned pro in 2013, Teymur has a lot of growth potential.
Novelli is a bit of an oddity in a few ways. First, he's making his UFC debut at the age of 37. That wouldn't be out of place if he were a heavyweight, but a lightweight making their UFC debut at 37? His pro debut came in 2005, but he didn't fight again until 2013 when he started racking up appearance after appearance with Titan FC providing the stage for his most recent contests. His 6'0" frame with 77" reach make him worth looking into, but his age makes for some real hesitation in regards to his growth potential.
Novelli prefers to pressure his opponent, using his length to keep them on the end of his jab and kicks. His jab doesn't offer much in terms of power, but it serves its purpose well by gauging distance where he can throw his stinging leg kicks and the occasional one-two combination. Most of his power comes from his kicks as he throws some heat with his round kicks in addition to targeting the legs. Despite owning a wrestling background, it has been nonexistent in his recent bouts.
Teymur isn't exactly on the short side for lightweight, but he'll look like he is at 5'9" with a 73" reach. Fortunately for him, he has proved that he knows how to navigate past lengthy opponents when he pieced up Svensson. He does utilize powerful punching combinations, though it is his body kicks that will make opponents cringe. Knowing his inexperience in the sport, opponents have tried very hard to get Teymur to the ground. In response, he's put a lot of effort into tightening up his takedown defense and it has really shown through. He even hit a beautiful reactive double-leg against Svensson, showing a bit of offensive wrestling of his own.
While Teymur showed some real skill in navigating Svensson's length effortlessly, Svensson isn't known for his striking, meaning Novelli is going to be a different beast all together. Still, I like the progress that I've seen out of Teymur and have every reason to believe that he should continue to grow. Novelli will prove to be an interesting test, but one that Teymur should be able to pass. Teymur via decision
Teruto Ishihara (8-2-2) vs. Horacio Gutierrez (2-2), Featherweight
Expect a striking battle between these international representatives whose potential shines through their raw skills. Make no mistake though, they have a very long way to go.
Ishihara appears to have the greater potential between the two. Co-winner(?) - the final ended in a draw -- of the UFC's Road to UFC Japan series, Ishihara surprised most with his winning effort against Julian Erosa this past March. He's still a very long way away from being a true player, but with patience, good coaching, and experience, Ishihara could become one of the better fighters out of Japan in recent memory.
Even though Ishihara is very much a wild card, even less is known about Mexico's Gutierrez. With a total of four professional fights under his belt, he's as green as they come in terms of those on the UFC roster. He showed a bit of promise getting the finals of the most recent season of TUF Latin America, but I've got an overwhelming feeling that he may have had more luck than skill to get that far. That's just me though...
One key worth noting is that Gutierrez competed at lightweight in the TUF tournament where he was grinded out pretty easily by Enrique Barzola. Dropping down to 145 against fellow striker Ishihara will give him a much better chance to show off his slick boxing. He hits very hard and is extremely aggressive, but that also results in him taking a lot of punishment in return as defense is an afterthought to him. He winds up on his leg kicks, but they have a hell of a thwack when they connect.
Ishihara is a lot more unorthodox in his approach in addition to making Gutierrez's aggression look meek by comparison. Ishihara leaves absolutely nothing in the tank, winging kicks with reckless abandon. It highlights his explosiveness and athleticism exceedingly well, but also shows how much he has to learn as his technique comes and goes. He packs more power than you'd think at first glance and is an efficient counterpuncher as well.
This is anyone's fight. Ishihara is more explosive and more likely to pull a finish out of nowhere. Gutierrez is the more technically sound puncher with the ability to string together combinations. If the fight goes the distance, I'm prone to give Gutierrez the edge as Ishihara typically doesn't have much left in the tank by the time the third round rolls around. However, I'm guessing Ishihara pulls a rabbit out of his hat like he did against Erosa and gets a finish before he gases. Ishihara via TKO of RD2