Call me crazy, but the most interesting part of this card may very well be on the Fight Pass prelims. It feels like a given that Cris Cyborg and Renan Barao should run through their underwhelming opposition amongst other not so intriguing contests. Fight Pass offers a bunch of prospects who aren’t very far along in their development. At one point or another, Stevie Ray, Vincente Luque, Glaico Franca, and Gregor Gillespie have all received high praise from MMA scouts trolling the scene for promising young talent. And yet, I’ve heard nary a word on any of them as their contests approach. Don’t worry about that though, I’ve got ya covered.
The Fight Pass prelims begin at 6:30 PM ET/3:30 PM PT.
Alan Patrick (13-1) vs. Stevie Ray (19-5), Lightweight
Prospect test here for Ray as he gets his toughest challenge yet in facing the athletic Patrick in his home country of Brazil.
While the Brazilian home-court advantage isn’t as pronounced as it once was, it does still exist which is great news for Patrick. He has never lost in Brazil, though he has only fought one time on home soil for the UFC. He once looked as though he could be a sleeper with his athletic gifts, but he has leveled off and now just looks like a run-of-the-mill tough out at 155.
Ray on the other hand looks as though he could be a major player in the future. The Scot picked up three wins with relative ease in 2015, but this marks the first time that he’ll be traveling across the ocean for a fight. If the 26-year old can pass this test, you better believe that that expectations will be skyrocketing for his potential.
Patrick is a bit of an exercise in frustration as he doesn’t fully utilize his physical gifts to the best of their abilities. At 5'11" with a 74" reach, he has the length necessary to stay on the outside and flick a jab and throw kicks out. He’ll often stay on the outside, but jabs are almost nonexistent and the kicks don’t come as often as they should either. Instead he relies on his athleticism to blitz his opponent with either a flurry of punches or a takedown attempt. It works very well against opponents with subpar athletic ability, but not so well otherwise.
Ray is a pretty solid athlete and a solid counter striker to boot. He isn’t the most technical striker, but he has a lot of power and a knack for catching an opponent coming in, matching him up very well with Patrick’s style. Like Patrick, he doesn’t always throw enough volume, but it isn’t nearly as pronounced as the Brazilian’s bouts of inactivity as he throws his fists with more regularity. Short punching combinations are a developing part of his game, but it appears to be coming along nicely and should have come along further since it has been nearly a year since he last fought.
The most interesting aspect by far will be the ground game. Four of Ray’s five career losses came via submissions as he has been too aggressive in the past and put himself into compromising positions. He’s more calculated in his scrambling now and has always been difficult to take to the ground. Patrick showed improved wrestling in his last outing against Damien Brown, but Brown has never been a noted wrestler. Perhaps Patrick will just be happy to create a scramble in hopes of exposing Ray’s weakness, though Ray is just as liable to catch Patrick in a choke in that circumstance.
I feel reluctant to pick Ray as Brazil is a hostile environment for newcomers and Patrick’s athletic skills make him dangerous for anyone on the roster. However, Ray has fought all over Europe and has a far more disciplined approach than his counterpart. I’m doing so with hesitation, but I’m picking the Scot to upset the home crowd and make a loud claim for a step up in competition following his victory… provided the judges aren’t swayed to heavily in Patrick’s favor. Ray via decision
Vicente Luque (9-5-1) vs. Hector Urbina (17-9-1), Welterweight
You know how I know the UFC sees something in Luque? Because they are giving him a disposable veteran to help in his development.
Luque lost his first official UFC fight to Mike Graves as he simply didn’t have the wrestling to combat with the ATT representative. Since then, the 24-year old has received a pair of opponents who would rather stand and trade with him and he has responded beautifully to the measured approach. There is no reason to believe the Brazilian native won’t continue to progress in the immediate future.
Urbina on the other hand has the look of someone the UFC keeps around to feed to their prospects. He scored an upset win over Edgar Garcia in his UFC debut only to be mauled by Bartoz Fabinski in his next appearance. Urbina is tough and durable and those are probably the best qualities about him. I know I’ve said it before, but that is never a good sign at the highest levels of competition.
Urbina isn’t without a chance. True, he isn’t a very good athlete. He isn’t a very technical striker either. What he does is drag opposition into his world by making the fight a brawl where his durability can best be utilized. He has some pop in his fists too which is again magnified in a brawling environment. When utilizing a more disciplined approach, leg kicks are much more common from him, but it doesn’t stay that way for long as he’ll shoot for a double leg before too long or make the fight ugly.
Expect Urbina to look for takedowns early and often as that is the one major chink in Luque’s armor. Luque hasn’t faced a wrestler since Graves, so there is no way of knowing if he has made strides to improve his defense based on his recent fights. However, he did manage to take Alvaro Herrera down almost at will in his last performance. Granted, Herrera is hardly a skilled wrestler, Luque’s technique looked improved and complimented his submission game off of his back and in transition. Urbina is underrated in transition as well, particularly skilled at getting a hold of the neck for a choke. Like Luque though, he has shown a weakness in takedown defense.
Luque’s safest bet is to remain standing and put together his vaunted punching combinations. He sticks out a jab with regularity, mixes punches to the body and head, and tosses in a good amount of kicks to the body and legs for good measure. He’s also been willing to open up recently and attempt the occasional spinning elbow or jumping front kick. His defense could use shoring up, but part of the damage he takes is due to his high volume style more than him being porous defensively.
The UFC sees something in Luque which is why they are taking their time with him rather than throwing him to the wolves. Urbina is a great test in his development at this time as he knows a bunch of subtle veteran tricks to help make up for his physical deficiencies. I do like the progress that I’ve seen out of Luque and expect he’ll be able to do just enough with his volume and occasional takedowns to sway the judges. Luque via decision
Glaico Franca (13-4) vs. Gregor Gillespie (7-0), Lightweight
For some reason I haven’t heard any excitement about this contest and I don’t know why. Both are talented prospects with a bright future people!
Franca is the less heralded of the two despite owning previous UFC experience. In fact, he won the TUF Brazil 4 lightweight tournament before receiving a tough draw in James Vick in his first contest after the tournament win. He’s replacing Joaquim Silva on short notice, perhaps thinking fighting in his home country will give him the edge he was missing in his loss to Vick.
Gillespie wasn’t just a four-time All-American wrestler out of Edinboro University. He was NCAA national champion back in 2007. The man can wrestle. He only started fighting professionally in 2014, so he is still relatively inexperienced in the MMA sphere which has some concerned he isn’t quite ready for the big stage yet. The brash and confident Gillespie feels he was ready to step into the UFC from day 1.
It is rare that Gillespie doesn’t go for a takedown within 10 seconds of a fight, shooting for a single or double-leg depending on whatever angle his opponent gives him. Even though they know it is coming, Gillespie’s opponents haven’t been able to stop him from taking the fight to the floor. Once there he sticks to them like a wet blanket, smoothly passing guard while working his way for either an arm-triangle choke or a RNC, depending on what his opponent gives him. His ground and pound has proven to be effective as well. Franca has shown good takedown defense and is slick with his chokes as well, but he has never faced a wrestler the same caliber as Gillespie.
Where Franca has a chance is on the feet as Gillespie is still incredibly raw in his standup. Gillespie pokes a jab out there, but it seems to be more for measuring distance than to do any real damage. He still hasn’t figured out how to effectively use his fists to cover his takedown entries either. He does have some real power in his fists, but he still is trying to grow out of that wrestling mentality. Until he does that, he’ll always be a wrestler as opposed to a true mixed martial artist.
Franca is absolutely huge for a 155er, clocking in at 6'0" with a 77" reach. The problem is that he hasn’t figured out how to use his length to his advantage. He is difficult to deal with in the clinch and uses his height to leverage his knees into the midsection, but that’s about it. Franca throws his punches in less-than technical combinations, though he is able to make up for that with his natural power. Franca has shown improved wrestling as well, but the question is whether or not he wants to try that with Gillespie.
Gillespie’s wrestling really is on another level. Think of him as the lightweight version of Kamaru Usman in that he doesn’t need a competent striking game on the lower levels of the UFC. Franca is no slouch and could easily pull off the upset. Gillespie has also lost a lot of his explosion in his shots late in fights, so there could be an opening for Franca to find the finish late. Don’t be surprised if he does, but I’m guessing Gillespie grinds out a decision much to the dismay of the Brazilian crowd. Gillespie via decision