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Diggin’ Deep on UFC: Rodriguez vs. Penn - FS1 preliminary preview

Get the dirt on UFC: Rodriguez vs. Penn FS1 prelims, headlined by Frankie Saenz and BJJ champion Augusto Mendes.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Saenz vs Wineland Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Normally there is at least one contest on the prelims that fans can point to and say that it should have been on the main card over another fight that was there. This isn’t one of those cases, as all of the best fights are on the main card. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if every fighter on the televised prelims that loses ends up getting a pink slip. Yeah... there isn’t a whole lot of quality being offered on this card. Sorry.

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

Frankie Saenz (11-4) vs. Augusto Mendes (5-1), Bantamweight

This is probably the hardest contest on the card to predict. Saenz has lost his last two contests, including a violent KO to Eddie Wineland. Is he nearing the end of the line at 36-years old or was it simply a matter of him being caught by a crafty vet? On the other side of the bracket, Mendes is very much a wild card as a 33-year old BJJ champion with only six MMA contests under his belt. His lone loss came against current champion Cody Garbrandt which offers hope that he could make a successful transition to the highest level of MMA competition, though we’ve also seen plenty of BJJ experts who’ve been unable to make the transition.

The early indications are that Mendes should make a successful transition. He has some natural power in his fists and throws a high volume of leg kicks as his primary offense from the outside. He hasn’t shown much craft in terms of avoiding damage, often using a bull rush to close the distance so that he might be able to get the fight to the ground. He relies on his physical talents more than actual technique to get the fight to the ground, but he’s shown to be very dangerous once the fight is officially on the mat.

Saenz has a few similarities in that he comes from a ground-based background while starting his MMA athletic career late. The former Arizona St. wrestler doesn’t feel the same urgency to get the fight to the ground as Mendes, having put together a competent boxing-centric approach that somehow works despite the absence of a jab. The clinch serves as his wheelhouse where he throws any available limb to score points, complimented by the threat of a takedown from a double-leg or trip. He isn’t much of a submission threat, but more importantly in this contest is that he has never been submitted himself.

Strictly based on their track record, Saenz is the rightful favorite. He’s shown the ability to hold his own on the feet and was able to avoid being subbed by a choke expert like Urijah Faber. But Mendes offers a completely different threat that is rarely seen at the highest level. Mendes has shown enough raw skill and aggression on the feet that I think he can hang with Saenz on in that area. It’s his grappling that I fully expect him to steal the fight as his ability to snag a sub off the back could be second to none. I’m going out on a limb and picking the Brazilian to pull off an upset. Mendes via submission of RD2

Aleksei Oleinik (50-10-1) vs. Viktor Pesta (10-3), Heavyweight

Pesta’s 1-3 mark has him barely hanging on by a thread with his youth and potential being the only things that are keeping him around at this point. Oleinik actually has a winning mark in the Octagon at 2-1, but his lackluster return this summer after 20 months on the shelf put him on thin ice. Even though heavyweights tend to age slower than the other divisions in the sport, Oleinik’s age of 39 makes him more expendable than most others would be in his situation.

Replacing Damian Grabowski due to injury, Oleinik is a submission specialist. Well… maybe a choke expert is more appropriate as all but seven of his forty career submission victories have been some kind of choke or neck crank. He isn’t a great wrestler either, but he is relentless at chaining his attempts together in order to get the fight to the ground. His stiff movement limits his effectiveness on the feet, but he’s dangerous in the clinch with his powerful uppercuts and short hooks on the break.

Pesta is similar to Oleinik in that he is at his best chaining together takedown attempts, but he lacks the submission savvy that his opponent possesses. I don’t expect him to shy away from taking Oleinik to the ground – Pesta does appear to be the better wrestler – as he relies on quality top control to grind away at his opponents… something Daniel Omielanczuk was able to successfully execute on Oleinik. He’s been employing a slip and rip strategy on the feet that has produced mixed results at best. He’s shown better movement, but he hasn’t been able to connect much with his leather.

This is not an easy contest to pick. Pesta is a sound wrestler in the division in which wrestling means the least, limiting his ceiling severely. Oleinik is similar, but he can at least fall back on his submission skills and experience. However, Oleinik was not the same fighter upon his return from his layoff. Was it merely ring rust or are the miles and age catching up to him? Or was it a combination of both? If Oleinik is unable to secure an early finish, I see Pesta’s deeper gas tank allowing him to grind out a decision with most of the action coming in the clinch. Pesta via decision

Tony Martin (10-3) vs. Alex White (11-2), Featherweight

Originally scheduled to face Erik Koch – who has now pulled out of six fights due to injury since 2012 – Martin now welcomes White to the lightweight division. I haven’t been able to find anything indicating whether or not the move up to 155 is permanent after White’s first four UFC contests came at featherweight, but my guess would be it is permanent as he had more than a month’s notice to prepare for this contest.

White’s defense has often been an issue for him and moving up a class where his opponents are going to have longer reaches – an area he is used to owning the advantage -- isn’t expected to help him improve in that area. However, he did show progress with better footwork and head movement in his last contest with Artem Lobov. He’s always had KO power in his fists complimented by his plus athleticism. If he can better avoid his brawling tendencies and continue to progress technically, those features will only be amplified.

Martin doesn’t always put his gifts to the best use. He’s still very raw on his feet despite being five fights into his UFC career, often looking unsure of himself and reluctant to commit to anything more than a jab. Martin is at his best on the ground where he knows how to use his hulking frame to wear down his opponent to compliment his surprisingly savvy submission game. The problem is his weight cut often drains him so badly that it doesn’t take long before fatigue begins to show itself.

This should be a fun contest with a clear direction for each contestant. Martin wants the fight on the ground while White will look to keep things standing. I haven’t been particularly impressed by Martin’s wrestling technique, but I have just as many questions about White’s takedown and submission defense. I won’t be surprised if White is able to survive Martin’s early onslaught and score a decision victory, but I’m predicting a short night for the both of them as Martin’s size advantage proves to be too much for White to overcome on the ground. Martin via submission of RD1

Devin Powell (8-1) vs. Drakkar Klose (6-0-1), Lightweight

Given the lack of success for recent finds on Dana White’s Lookin’ for a Fight, it is hard to get excited about Powell’s future. Then again, it’s unfair for me to predict his future success on past failures of others who have followed a similar path. What’s unusual about this is Klose is the better regarded prospect despite being the one who was signed on short notice.

That isn’t to say that Powell has no chance of finding success, but his lack of athleticism is going to hurt him as he faces higher level opposition. The fact that he doesn’t have truly notable victory on his ledger doesn’t help things either. Nonetheless, his aggressive, kick-centric approach can be difficult to deal with as it is anything but conventional. More enthusiastic than technical in his wrestling, Powell is quick to look for a choke.

Klose’s standup is far more commonplace than Powell’s, offering far more danger from his fists. He is still raw as his professional debut came less than three years ago and can fall into inactivity from time to time. He’s at his best in close quarters, bullying his opponent in the clinch with uppercuts and knees. I haven’t found recent footage of Klose on the ground, making him very much a mystery in that area.

When it comes to potential, Powell offers the lowest ceiling out of Uncle Dana’s finds on his show. He’s tall, aggressive, and has a toughness element that makes him difficult to put away. But he’s in the deepest division in the sport and lacks the athletic skills to hang around long-term. I’m not crazy about Klose’s future either, but he’s got more skills to work with in addition to having defeated better competition on the regional circuit. I’m going with Klose. Klose via decision

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