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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Portland: Lineker vs. Dodson FS2 prelims preview

Take a deep look at the televised prelims on FS2 from UFC Fight Night 96 from Portland, Oregon, including a key featherweight contest between Hacran Dias and Andre Fili.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Dias vs Swanson Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

On a card full of underwhelming contests, the one fight on the preliminary contests with a ranked fighter, Hacran Dias, isn’t the featured contest on FS2. In fact, the featured fight is between a pair of fighters with one combined UFC appearance between them. Not trying to rip on Luis Henrique da Silva and Joachim Christensen, but why in the hell are they the featured bout?

Perhaps the UFC considers Dias to be a boring fighter. He isn’t the most entertaining fighter by any means, but his opponent should allow him to do so. Andre Fili has consistently been an exciting fighter to watch whether he is the one getting the finish or it is his opponent finishing him off. With their contrasting styles and the heavier divisional implications on their bout than any of the others on the prelims, it is easily the contest I’m looking forward to the most. Otherwise, you can probably pass on the rest of the card.

The FS2 prelims start at 9:00 PM ET/6:00 PM PT.

Luis Henrique da Silva (11-0) vs. Joachim Christensen (13-3), Light Heavyweight

Nobody is sure what the UFC has in da Silva and Christensen. The only way that we can find out if they are actual players is to give them fights. So why not go with one mystery against another?

Da Silva – best known as Frankenstein – had a successful UFC debut against Jonathan Wilson after eating a lot of damage in the first round and being knocked down in the second. Da Silva persevered and ended up turning some heads. Before too much excitement is made about the raw Brazilian, it should be noted Wilson is quite a raw specimen himself, making da Silva very much a conundrum.

Christensen is a bit more of a proven commodity despite not having fought in the UFC. He’s had a long yet sporadic career, being in the sport one way or another for 13 years. At damn near 38-years old – his birthday is in November – Christensen isn’t expected to be a long-term fixture. If nothing else, he provides a solid test for the youthful light heavyweights for the UFC to sift through in order to find keepers.

Da Silva has shown the toughness to hang around for a while as well as he wades forward almost oblivious to the damage his opponent throws at him. Eventually that will catch up with him as the damage accumulates and his opposition gets tougher. For now, he’ll be competitive at the very least. He’s usually throwing as he approaches, with hard kicks and wild punching combinations being his favorite. Where da Silva is really most comfortable is in the clinch where he drives knees into his opponent’s midsection with the Thai clinch.

Christensen can be dragged into a brawl himself, but his first choice is to take a much more measured approach and avoid damage. He likes to operate in the clinch himself, though his style is to grind away against the fence with head positioning and underhooks being key while throwing short punches and knees. Christensen throws longer punching combinations when he has his opponent on the ropes, though his boxing is usually very basic with single shots or short combos.

What da Silva has yet to show is any wrestling skills. He never attempts to take the fight to the ground and has poor takedown defense. He does have a very basic defensive guard where his goal is to get back to his feet in the quickest way possible, though he has been able to do so against either smaller opposition or those without a much of a grappling or wrestling background. Christensen isn’t much of a traditional wrestler, but he is capable of nailing takedowns from the clinch and either continuing to grind away from there with light ground and pound or looking for a finish with his better-than-adequate submission abilities.

Not an easy fight to call. Christensen is the better-rounded fighter who has never been finished in his career. Da Silva has shown the ability to thrive and not just survive in a brawling environment. If I thought Christensen was a harder puncher, I’d probably favor him. Unfortunately for him, he isn’t and da Silva won’t stop coming until he gets the finish. Should be a fun one to watch. Da Silva via TKO of RD3

Hacran Dias (23-4-1) vs. Andre Fili (15-4), Featherweight

Both of these featherweights are underachievers based on their physical attributes. A win here will give one of them an opportunity to start fulfilling their potential and move up the ladder.

Dias has a reputation as a gym star, though he has also come close to beating the likes of Ricardo Lamas. His UFC stint was plagued with injury early on and he is now running short on time to fulfill his vast potential as he is now 32-years old. Otherwise he’ll be relegated to being a gatekeeper at best for the rest of his UFC career.

Fili has yet to score a signature win in the UFC, but he also has a lot more time to improve and establish himself as he is only 26-years old. His propensity for high-action affairs have made him a favorite of the brass who have made a habit of putting him on the main card opener to kick off the action. Now he needs to put together some consistency in order to reach the high expectations many placed upon him. He’s taking this contest on short notice after Brian Ortega was forced pull out due to injury.

Hardly a surprise for a fighter coming out of Nova Uniao, Dias’ best strike is hard kicks to the legs. The problem is that he also tends to fall into long periods on inactivity as he prefers looking for the counter which often puts him behind on the judge’s scorecards. Seeing as how every one of his UFC contests has gone to decision, that’s very problematic. When Dias does decide to let go of his hands, he puts together slick punching combinations with finishing power.

Fili is on the opposite end of the spectrum as his aggression has gotten him into trouble more often than not. He throws everything but the kitchen sink in the cage, doing so with reckless abandon in hopes that his overwhelming offense serves to make up for his lack of defense. Fili tries to take advantage of his 74" reach by commonly doubling up on his jab and has incorporated head kicks more regularly as of late. He rarely throws one strike at a time, though his combinations can be exceedingly wild at times.

Where Fili tends to get himself into trouble is in the grappling aspect. He is a more than capable wrestler with an explosive double-leg. The issue is that he can be so focused on finishing it or dishing out punches from the top position that he can be ignorant to his opponent setting him up for a submission. Fortunately for him, Dias isn’t much of a specialist off of his back, doing his best work from the top with punches while looking for chokes. What doesn’t work in Fili’s favor is that Dias is one of the more underrated wrestlers in the division, excellent at getting takedowns and preventing them.

If Fili can’t pull an entertaining contest out of Dias, no one can. The greater question is whether or not Fili can get a signature win as he has fallen short every time he has had a step up in competition. I expect he’ll win the striking battle as Dias has proven far too tentative. The problem is that I haven’t been impressed with Fili’s takedown defense and he hasn’t faced anyone close to Dias’ level in terms of wrestling and control. It will probably come down to what the judges are looking for, but I’m giving Dias an ever so slight advantage. Dias via decision

Shamil Abdurakhimov (16-3) vs. Walt Harris (8-4), Heavyweight

With some signs of the old guard at heavyweight preparing to step aside, the time is right for one of these athletic big men to make their move up the ladder.

Abdurakhimov was once upon a time one of the most touted heavyweight prospects in the world. A relatively inactive schedule coupled with a disappointing UFC debut killed a lot of the shine on his star and many wrote him off. He rebounded with a complete performance against Anthony Hamilton to once again put his name back into good graces as someone who could make waves in a division that hasn’t had many major changes in the last five years.

Harris could be the most athletic heavyweight in the division. Seriously. A former collegiate college basketball player, Harris got a late start to his career and is already 33-years old despite having only competed since 2011. Nonetheless, he has a lot of room for improvement and put that on display in his last appearance when he scored his first UFC win over Cody East.

Harris’ strengths and weaknesses aren’t a surprise for someone with his physical gifts and experience. Extremely quick for his size, Harris also has a lot of strength with the ability to floor opponents without landing cleanly. He still tends to leave his head on a straight line which exposes him to more damage than someone with his gifts should endure. Harris doesn’t put together combinations, but has fast hands with a powerful straight right. He likes to pull out the occasional head kick as well.

Abdurakhimov isn’t quite on the level of athleticism as Harris, but he isn’t as far off as you’d think at first glance given his appearance. What he really has working in his favor is his technically sound counter-punching combinations. He attacks from the outside with a stiff jab and low leg kicks to stay busy while doing most of his damage with his vicious dirty boxing from the clinch. He isn’t particularly powerful – at least for a heavyweight -- though he makes up for it by avoiding most damage from a distance.

Though Abdurakhimov traditionally doesn’t look to take the fight to the ground, don’t be surprised if he makes the occasional attempt despite Harris’ excellent takedown defense. Abdurakhimov possesses an underrated submission game from the top, focusing on the arm with keylocks and armbars. Harris’ grappling acumen is largely untested, though it is hard to imagine him having the advantage. If Harris can get the top position on Abdurakhimov, the Russian has shown a major weakness off of his back. Harris has never shown a desire to go to the ground, though it should be noted all of his opponents thus far have been better wrestlers than him.

Believe it or not, I’m kind of looking forward to this contest. Yes, I know that heavyweight contests can be very ugly if an early finish doesn’t come and this one is no exception. Harris has the physical tools to beat anyone on any given night, including our current champion. But he is still incredibly raw and I have questions about his gas tank. I like Abdurakhimov’s polished approach and think he’ll be the victor in a decision that will have its highs and lows. Abdurakhimov via decision

Keita Nakamura (32-7-2) vs. Elizeu Zaleski (15-5), Welterweight

Neither Nakamura nor Zaleski are prospects and neither are anywhere near contending. But the recent success of both is a bit of a surprise and at least this is a way to guarantee the success continues for one of them.

Nakamura has a more extensive UFC background than most realize due to his three fight stint from 2006-08. He washed out as he didn’t pick up a win in three tries and only came back last year as an injury replacement. He has since picked up two wins in three tries despite being the underdog in every contest. No one will mistake Nakamura as a contender, but he is a dangerous test for youngsters due to his savvy and experience.

Zaleski is a bit younger, clocking in at 29-years old compared to Nakamura’s 32 years. But with a career that stretches back to 2009 with 20 fights, it’s hard to call him a prospect. He has proven himself to be a fun and durable action fighter, pulling out a surprising victory over Omari Akhmedov back in April. If either of these two are going to make a run, the smart money would be on Zaleski even if Nakamura is the favorite in this contest.

What makes Zaleski potentially a better long-term fixture is the power that he brings in his striking. 12 of his 15 victories have come by way of KO/TKO to emphasize that point. Versatile enough to go on the attack or to counter, Zaleski prefers to counter and will use a lot of feints to get a reaction. The problem is that Zaleski ends up not throwing enough volume at times and puts himself behind on the scorecards. A few more of his hard kicks to the legs and body would help to remedy that. He does unload once he has an opponent on the ropes and will stop at nothing to finish them off.

For someone who is considered a weak striker, Nakamura has looked incredibly good in his standup as of late. Utilizing a lot of pressure against Kyle Noke in his last appearance, Nakamura threw a steady stream of hooks and body kicks at the Australian before surprising Noke with a knee to the body that dropped him. Switching stances and a constant jab are the most common pieces of his arsenal, though his lack of defense has been a long noted weakness of the Japanese veteran.

The clinch is where this fight will be won or lost. Both prefer to fight from there, Zaleski attacking the body with knees and punches while Nakamura is usually looking to drag the fight to the ground utilizing trips. Zaleski has the power to end the fight from there, but he needs to be careful as his wrestling and grappling skills have been what holds him back. Nakamura is very fluid on the ground and prone to taking the back in a scramble. Considering Zaleski has shown a weakness to RNC’s, that could be particularly worrisome for the Brazilian.

This isn’t an easy contest to pick. Nakamura has been very durable over the course of his career and has surprised many in this UFC run with his abilities. Then again, Zaleski is easily the best pure striker Nakamura has faced since returning and is more likely to expose that as Nakamura’s weakness as anyone else has been. Without any conviction, I’m picking Nakamura to find a way to outwit the Brazilian and continue his improbable run. Nakamura via submission of RD2