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Diggin’ Deep on UFC: Rodriguez vs. Penn - Main card preview

Get the dirt on UFC: Rodriguez vs. Penn FS1 main card, featuring longtime fan favorites Court McGee and Ben Saunders facing off in a welterweight battle.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-McGee vs Steele Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

For all of the crap that has been thrown at Fight Night 103 – and I’m not saying that it doesn’t deserve it – these are actually a couple of intriguing contests. Are they the highest level of competition? Not particularly, but entertaining and competitive will likely be used to describe both of them. Though Court McGee and Ben Saunders may have more name value – largely due to their longevity – Sergio Pettis and John Moraga have higher stakes. If Pettis is to convince fans he can still live up to the heavy expectations placed on him upon his UFC inception, he’ll need to get past Moraga.

Bottom line: the card isn’t great, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything worth catching. It’s not like the NFL playoffs will still be on by the time the main card rolls around….

The main card starts at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT on Sunday.

Court McGee (18-5) vs. Ben Saunders (20-7-2), Welterweight

McGee and Saunders are members of the old guard of the division, having made their UFC debuts in 2010 and 2007 respectively. Seeing as how both are firmly entrenched as gatekeepers after having never ascended beyond the middle of the division, this matchup is simultaneously appropriate and curious.

Saunders – long an active member of the Bloody Elbow community – is a conundrum in the sense that he rarely looks to keep the fight on the outside despite owning a 6'2" frame with a 77" reach. That’s because few know how to better leverage their size in the clinch, wresting his knees into his opponent. It isn’t just the body that absorbs the punishment either. His Muay Thai clinch is amongst the best in the sport. He can score from the outside as well as he regularly keeps his jab out there.

McGee is far less dynamic, relying on a meat and potatoes boxing game that doesn’t produce much of a finishing threat. That doesn’t mean that McGee is boring or that he doesn’t pose a threat. Few in the sport push a harder pace than the Utah native. He just continues to throw basic punching combinations complimented by the occasional leg kick while mixing in the occasional takedown attempt. The problem is that his athleticism – never great to begin with – has taken a noticeable drop since returning from a two-year layoff due to injury. As a result, he has struggled to finish his takedowns.

Despite McGee’s lack of success in the takedown department as of late, there is reason to believe that his grinding style could find success against Saunders as the lanky Floridian’s Achilles heel has long been his wrestling. Saunders has been able to survive thanks to his dangerous guard. McGee has never been submitted in his career and is an underrated grappler. But don’t be surprised if Saunders – the owner of the only omoplata submission in UFC history – is able to do so.

The odds for this contest have pretty much been dead even ever since they were released and with good reason. It’s very easy to see either one walking out with a victory, dependent on who is able to implement their strategy. McGee has shown signs of slowing down recently, struggling to impose his will on Dominique Steele in his last contest after being finished for the first time in his career by Santiago Ponzinibbio before that. With that in mind, I’m leaning towards Saunders. Saunders via TKO in RD2

John Moraga (16-5) vs. Sergio Pettis (14-2), Flyweight

Moraga and Pettis are on different trajectories as they cross paths. Moraga, a former title contender, is looking to remain relevant as his career appears to be on the downslide. He has lost two in a row and while a loss to Joseph Benavidez is nothing to be ashamed of, losing to unheralded Matheus Nicolau raises a huge red flag. On the other end, Pettis has looked sharp recently, piecing up Chris Cariaso and Chris Kelades in his last two appearances.

Being the younger brother of former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis has put a lot of unfair expectations on Sergio, as he is still only 23 years old despite having been in the UFC for three years. He’s experienced some growing pains all youngsters typically go through while appearing to learn from those losses. He isn’t as flashy as his brother, nor does he possess the power of Anthony. What Sergio does have is a stronger fundamental foundation for his striking, making great use of the jab and stringing together combinations that rack up the points rather than looking for an opening to go for the kill. Since making the move to flyweight, Sergio has also made greater use of his wrestling, averaging more than two takedowns per contest after securing less than one per fight at bantamweight.

Moraga is more like Sergio’s brother in that few are better at capitalizing on openings than he is. Four out of his five UFC wins were finishes, including two guillotine chokes on unsuspecting opponents trying to take him down. Moraga’s reputation is that of a wrestler thanks to his pedigree honed at Arizona State. The problem is that he has largely shied away from using it, landing a single takedown over his last five contests. He doesn’t offer a consistent strategy on his feet, alternating between leading the dance and countering with hard hooks being his preferred strike.

This is a great opportunity for Moraga to get his career back on track. Pettis’ losses have been due to a lapse in concentration, something Moraga is great at capitalizing on, making it understandable for pundits to pick him. However, Pettis has maintained his focus in his last two appearances and offers the type of technical attack Moraga struggles with. I don’t know if this would qualify as a signature win for Pettis, but it would without a doubt be the biggest scalp the youngster has grabbed. Pettis via decision

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