Given this isn’t one of those cards the UFC is blatantly stacking – such as the UFC’s trips to Madison Square Garden or UFC 200 – UFC 218’s televised preliminary bouts are about as good as a fan can ask for. None of them are going to impact the title picture in any way, but that hardly means the competitors are middling. In fact, some are knocking on the door of major divisional relevance. Even if these contests were between less-than-stellar competition, the action in the cage looks like it should be must-see-TV.
The FS1 prelims begin at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Despite talks of wanting to return to the featherweight division, Oliveira remains a lightweight…for now. If he knows what is good for him, he’ll stay there. Long regarded as one of the top submission specialists in the UFC – not just whatever division he’s competing in – Oliveira has been plagued by accusations of being a quitter. Missing weight four times and several unusual finishes in which he collapsed/was injured have contributed plenty of ammo to that debate. Regardless, Oliveira’s talent can’t be questioned and he has shown flashes of toughness. He just needs to put it all together on a consistent basis.
On the flip side, Felder’s toughness has never been questioned. Further evidence of this is provided by his lone stoppage coming via doctor stoppage due to a cut. To an extent, it could be said that Felder is the antithesis of Oliveira except for the fact that Felder is does have a fair degree of athleticism, even if it isn’t on the same level of Oliveira.
In terms of his actual fighting style, Felder used to throw a lot of high-risk attacks with little set up. He’s improved immensely in that area, making greater use of a jab and implementing more fakes and feints to disguise his high impact strikes. The result has been two first round finishes and a greater level of comfort in the pocket. His timing on his counters has never been sharper, but it should be noted that he has struggled with pressure fighters in the past.
Oliveira isn’t thought of as a pressure fighter, especially when fans notice his 74" reach and classify him as an out-fighter. Oliveira does have some nice kicks from his classic Muay Thai stance and a proficient jab, but there is no secret that his preferred distance to strike from is in the clinch. He likes to latch on with a Thai plum and either drive his knees into his opponent or search for a headlock as he has secured a fair number of chokes from that position. Opponents can’t forget about Oliveira’s trips from there too. He doesn’t necessarily need to complete the takedown in order for him to create a scramble and nab his opponent’s back.
This is a very difficult contest to project. Felder is the harder hitter and does a solid job of mixing his strikes up. Given Oliveira’s weakness to the body, it’s easy to see Felder walking out the victor. However, Felder’s grappling ability has yet to face a stern test and his defensive wrestling hasn’t proven to be all that sturdy. There won’t be any surprise should Felder win, but I think Oliveira will find a way to secure a submission. Oliveira via submission, RD1
It isn’t always beneficial being the bigger man in the cage. Oliveira and Medeiros are perfect examples of this. Not only have they been able to avoid any losses since making their move up from lightweight permanent, they’ve secured finishes in each of their wins.
Oliveira is the better known of the two for a couple of reasons. For one, he headlined a card opposite of Donald Cerrone almost two years ago. Secondly, he received a lot of attention when he badly missed weight in his beatdown of Will Brooks, prompting his move up to welterweight. A supremely gifted athlete with explosive power, Oliveira is a very patient fighter, attempting to lure his opponent into his range where he can attack suddenly. It’s a very simple strategy and one not everyone can use at the highest level, but Oliveira’s length and explosion make it an ideal one for him. Oliveira’s grappling, much like his striking, is heavily dependent on his athletic skills, making him vulnerable to technical submission artists.
Medeiros has a good reputation as a grappler, but he’s more akin to Oliveira in that department as he relies on his physical gifts in scrambling situations rather than using the technical skill set he possesses. The reason he doesn’t use those skills is his preference for brawling and his insatiable lust for the finish, lacking the requisite patience to create a submission. Calling Medeiros a brawler is a bit unfair as he throws technical boxing combinations and mixes in some sharp kicks, but his lack of attention to defense is impossible to ignore.
Medeiros isn’t a tiny welterweight, but he also lost the size advantage he possessed when he left lightweight. Thus, I see him having a hard time with Oliveira as the Brazilian’s favorite place to take the fight is the clinch. Oliveira did struggle from there against Ryan LaFlare, but Medeiros doesn’t have the wrestling pedigree that LaFlare possesses. Oliveira’s growing ability to make in-fight adjustments is another factor further pushing me in the Brazilian’s favor. Either way, expect this to be one of the favorites for FOTN. Oliveira via decision
In terms of the aesthetic, Teymur is far more pleasing out of the two. A professional Muay Thai fighter prior to transitioning over to MMA, Teymur is amongst the most technical strikers at 155. A steady stream of body kicks is the staple to his attack as it opens up his punches while also depleting their opponent of their energy reserves. His fists aren’t particularly powerful, but his precision in his counters is good enough to put an opponent to sleep. Given his lack of wrestling, opponents have made a point to go to the ground with the Swede, but Teymur’s takedown defense has been surprisingly solid.
Klose’s striking isn’t nearly as smooth as Teymur’s and he knows it. However, Klose also knows it doesn’t have to be so long as he can fight his fight. A stocky lightweight, Klose prefers to bully his opponent against the fence in the clinch before looking to drag them down. It isn’t very pretty, but it’s a strategy he has mastered. There is still a lot of ground for Klose to cover from the outside with low kicks the only consistent weapon in his arsenal.
Neither fighter is particularly a good matchup for the other. Teymur could end up exposing Klose’s shallow outside game or Klose could end up bullying Teymur against the fence or on the ground. They have faced opponents of similar experience too. What has me leaning towards Teymur as he has shown a better ability to dictate where the fight goes as his wrestling – offensive and defensive – continues to improve. Teymur via decision
Apparently, the UFC doesn’t want Herrig to be anything more than a gatekeeper. Despite three wins in a row – and literally choking the crap out of Justine Kish in her last contest -- Herrig still can’t get a crack at an opponent ranked higher than her. That isn’t designed to be a knock on Casey as Casey is the stiffest test Herrig has faced in her UFC career, but many believe Herrig should have received an opportunity to crack into the divisional elite.
Herrig took a long break from the sport following her loss to Paige VanZant in April 2015 and it proved to be the best thing for her. Herrig looked far more comfortable after dealing with her long-time anxiety in her time away from the cage. The best part has been her rock-solid strategies, attacking their opponents at their weakest points. She stood up and traded with Alexa Grasso, landing hard counters when her more touted opponent stepped into the pocket. Against Kish, she went to the ground at every opportunity and continually passed through Kish’s guard like it was butter. Herrig isn’t a specialist in any one area, but she is proficient enough everywhere that she can feel comfortable fighting anywhere.
Casey was developing into the premier action-fighter at women’s strawweight, picking up FOTN honors in her first two appearances – both losses -- thanks to her brawling nature. Then she decided she wanted to be winning fights and she began to settle down, picking her spots to throw with reckless abandon. The brawler still comes out at times, but she usually puts together technically fluid punching combinations. The glaring hole Casey has yet to address is her takedown defense, though she has displayed some slick submission skills off her back, catching Randa Markos by surprise with an armbar. However, opponents have been hip to her capabilities since that contest .
This is a great contest for Casey to prove she is ready to make a big jump in the standings. Herrig is as durable as they come and has the skill to expose Casey’s lack of wrestling. However, Herrig isn’t likely to overwhelm the MMA Lab representative either provided Casey has made incremental improvements in every contest. It’s a close call, but I’m going with experience in this one. Herrig via decision