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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Norfolk: Poirier vs. Pettis - Fight Pass prelims preview

Get the inside scoop on Fight Pass action for UFC Norfolk, featuring a welterweight scrap between TUF winner Court McGee and young up-and-comer Sean Strickland.

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

On paper, UFC Norfolk is one of the better cards from top to bottom. There isn’t a singular contest that fans are clamoring to see, but there are a bunch of evenly-matched contests that are difficult to predict. Well… at least they are when you dig a bit deeper. Sure, there are clear favorites in most contests, but the underdogs are also live dogs. Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard deserve a lot of credit for the putting together of this card.

The Fight Pass prelims begin at 6:30 PM ET/3:30 PM PT on Saturday.

Court McGee (19-6) vs. Sean Strickland (18-2), Welterweight

Strickland’s ceiling is something that has been debated by many analysts. Is he a future top ten mainstay or is he going to be stuck in the middle of the division for the rest of his career? Losses to Santiago Ponzinibbio and Kamaru Usman have been proven to be nothing to be ashamed of – his only career losses – but none of his victories have come over impressive names either. McGee has traditionally been a sound gatekeeper to determine who belongs where. Thus, why this match was made.

There are a lot of things McGee isn’t. He isn’t a powerful hitter. He isn’t an overwhelming wrestler either. Part of the reason for both shortcomings is because he isn’t much of an athlete. What McGee does possess is an everlasting gas tank with an incredibly durable chin. Despite his lack of power, McGee’s boxing is technically sound with nonstop combinations put together. However, in recent contests he’s made a greater effort to employ his wrestling, resulting in contests being contested mostly against the cage when he’s unable to complete his takedowns. It isn’t very exciting and has been working against him in the judge’s scorecards in recent contests. Given Strickland’s size, McGee would be wise to go back to his boxing.

It isn’t that Strickland is a poor boxer. In fact, his striking has been coming along at a nice pace with his jab becoming his primary weapon. However, that is part of the problem as the youngster has been hesitant to go for the kill the way he did on the regional circuit. He has the power to put people away, he simply hasn’t been utilizing everything in his arsenal. Strickland’s superb takedown defense is another reason McGee might want to try going with his boxing. Strickland is about as physically strong as they come at welterweight, making it difficult to get him to the ground.

There are a couple of x-factors to consider. McGee’s BJJ is amongst the most underrated in the division, though Strickland’s defensive grappling could have the same thing said about it. All that leads to the durable Strickland being a favorite, though there is one major caveat: his tendency to fall into bouts of inactivity. McGee could end up stealing away the contest if he pours on the volume as Strickland doesn’t tend to throw back in large quantities unless he has his opponent hurt or they have hurt him. Considering McGee’s pillow fists, that could lead to Strickland not throwing much volume. For those reasons, I smell an upset coming. McGee via decision

Jake Collier (10-4) vs. Marcel Fortuna (9-2), Light Heavyweight

Fortuna made a hell of a splash when he KO’d heavyweight Anthony Hamilton despite being outweighed by nearly 50 lbs. What really surprised everyone is Fortuna has been known as a grappling expert, not a striker. In fact, that was the first KO of any type of his career. Nonetheless, he showed in his first contest back at 205 that he needs to be taken as a threat on the feet, outstriking Jordan Johnson. Though his striking has been more fluid, his BJJ is still his base with a penchant for chokes. The question is whether his wrestling has improved enough that he can get the fight to the ground. There were signs it has as his takedown defense looked good against Johnson, but his own takedowns are still in question.

Collier applies the philosophy that the best defense is more offense. He doesn’t have an exceptional amount of power, but he has a solid gas tank with a high level of output that can be overwhelming. However, his lack of defense extends to his ability to stop takedowns as well. Formerly fighting at 185, Collier struggled to stop Devin Clark’s takedowns in his first contest at light heavyweight as his lanky frame isn’t ideally suited to stop bigger opponents in their tracks. Nonetheless, he isn’t helpless on the ground as he’s a solid scrambler with some submission ability. He’s capable of hitting the occasional reactionary takedown himself too.

Collier’s willingness to throw volume – something Fortuna struggles to do – gives him the advantage should this contest go the distance. However, Collier’s lack of defense and brittle chin – two of his three UFC losses came by stoppage – leaves me with doubts that he’ll be able to last that long. Whether it’s via strikes or submission is the question. I’ll say it’s a club-and-sub. Fortuna via submission of RD2

Darren Stewart (7-1, 1 NC) vs. Karl Roberson (5-0), Middleweight

One of the winners of the Contender’s Series, Roberson is dropping from light heavyweight to middleweight. Not a big surprise given his previous experience in the division prior to his appearance on the show. Roberson also has experience in professional kickboxing, including a controversial loss to the legendary Jerome LeBanner. In his appearance on DWTNCS, he showed incredible short-range power, knocking Ryan Spann out with a series of short elbows as Spann tried to clinch up with him. Given space, he has good footwork and fast hands with a wide arsenal of attacks.

Stewart is also making the drop from light heavyweight, following his loss to Francimar Barroso. A brawler with a preference for operating in the clinch, Stewart comes out guns firing with reckless abandon from the get-go. Thusly, all his finishes have occurred in the first round. He tends to fade after that, making him a bit of a sitting duck beyond that point. From a distance, he relies on sudden bursts of attack to cover ground in hopes of landing a kill shot and a stream of leg kicks.

Given neither fighter shows much of a penchant for the ground, I don’t expect wrestling to come into play. If it does though, Stewart could be in trouble as he couldn’t stop Barroso from getting him to the ground. Granted, he showed a proclivity to get back to his feet. Regardless, Roberson’s power and kickboxing experience should be enough to stop the Englishman in what should be a solid opener. Roberson via TKO of RD2