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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Norfolk: Poirier vs. Pettis - FS1 prelims preview

Get the inside scoop on the televised prelims of UFC Norfolk, featuring an important bantamweight scrap between two-time title contender John Dodson and former WSOF champion Marlon Moraes.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Dodson vs Wineland Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Wait… this isn’t the main card of UFC Norfolk? It’s the prelims? Damn…. While I need acknowledge not all of these contests should be main card fights, keep in mind the UFC featured a contest between Teruto Ishihara and Rolando Dy on a televised main card less than two months ago. And why would the UFC put Sage Northcutt on anything other than a main card? He’s on commercials after all. Hmm… I guess not. I’m not the only one who finds this curious, am I?

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

John Dodson (20-8) vs. Marlon Moraes (18-5-1), Bantamweight

Is it just me, or have a number of high-profile free agent additions have turned out to be busts for the UFC? Hector Lombard has been the poster child, but Will Brooks hasn’t exactly been a success either. Will Moraes fall in line with the likes of Lombard and Brooks?

Perhaps a better comparison for Moraes is Eddie Alvarez. I’m not saying Moraes is going to become the bantamweight champion sometime soon – I’m not saying he isn’t either – but Alvarez lost his first UFC contest against one of the more established members of his division in Donald Cerrone. Moraes lost to bantamweight mainstay Raphael Assuncao. Just as the UFC didn’t give Alvarez a notable step down in competition when they pit him against a former title contender in Gilbert Melendez, Moraes is getting a former title contender in Dodson. I’m just saying….

While Dodson is small for the division, it hasn’t affected his level of success at all. Amongst the quickest and fastest fighters in the history of the UFC – not a hyperbole – Dodson uses his elusiveness to avoid his opponent’s takedown attempts and attacks. His defensive skills have been enhanced by improvements in his footwork too. Offensively, he puts his speed to effective use as well, scoring with sudden bursts of attack, often leading to a KO finish. However, if Dodson doesn’t find a counter he can exploit, he tends to coast through the fight, though that hasn’t necessarily been the case since moving up to 135.

Moraes is just as capable of securing the highlight reel finish as Dodson… just in a different manner. Moraes throws a high volume of kicks to all levels, even showing the ability to double up on kicks if the opportunity is there. Like Dodson, Moraes prefers to throw his fists off the counter while mixing his punches to the body and head with equal aplomb. However, if Moraes is to secure a finish, it is likely to come via a head kick.

Neither fighter looks to take the fight to the ground very often, so expect a standup battle in this one. Moraes should easily land the greater amount of strikes with his low kicks likely leading the way. However, Moraes isn’t a defensive savant by any means and it doesn’t take Dodson long to find an opening he can exploit. If Moraes can take the fight the distance, he’s the favorite. However, despite my comparison of him to Alvarez, I don’t see him doing that. Dodson via KO of RD2

Tatiana Suarez (5-0) vs. Viviane Pereira (13-0), Women’s Strawweight

Tatiana who? Thanks to injury, Suarez hasn’t been seen in the cage since winning the 23rd season of TUF 16 months ago. The cancer survivor had a lot of hype behind her at that point. She has an opportunity to regain that hype against Pereira.

It was a bit surprising to see the UFC give one of their brighter prospects such a tough test in Pereira. Younger than Suarez by almost three years, Pereira has picked up wins over former title challenger Valerie Letourneau and Jamie Moyle since coming into the UFC as a short notice injury replacement. Owning an unexpectedly stout jab given her short frame, Pereira keeps a consistently steady pace throughout the contest. She doesn’t pack a whole lot of power, but her damage adds up in a hurry and she has shown the ability to make in-fight adjustments, a promising development for a 24-year old.

Suarez’s striking is still very raw, a fact she is aware of. Side kicks and leg kicks make up the majority of her strikes, weakening her opponent’s legs to help set up her takedowns. A 2012 Olympic hopeful in wrestling, Suarez is relentless in hunting for the takedown, chaining takedown attempt after takedown attempt with great technical aplomb. Suarez knows what she is doing when the fight hits the mat too, throwing heavy ground strikes that will end the contest if she gets proper positioning. She does tend to allow her opponent to get back to their feet often, but given how easy it is for her to get them back down, that isn’t a very big worry.

Pereira has shown a very strong base in the clinch and is far more advanced in her standup. However, those attributes won’t mean a thing if she can’t keep the fight standing. Suarez may already have the best wrestling in the division and has a deep array of chokes too. Pereira has shown solid takedown defense thus far and will probably have some success on the feet, but I’d be shocked if Suarez doesn’t find another choke before the time limit expires. Suarez via submission of RD3

Sage Northcutt (8-2) vs. Michel Quinones (8-2), Lightweight

Everyone’s favorite spikey-haired kid returns to the cage for the first time in nearly a year. How much progress has the 21-year old Northcutt progressed in that time?

Northcutt has received a lot of hate from MMA fans, though it isn’t necessarily his fault. Being shoved down the throats of fans by UFC management long before he was ready for the big stage, Northcutt was simply along for the ride. Would you have turned down a $40,000 per fight contract at the age of 19? What nobody can deny is his high level of athleticism that is unparalleled. He hasn’t been able to put those natural skills together quite yet, showing plenty of holes in his grappling – being submitted in both of his losses – but these are the type of losses you’d expect from someone his age.

What Northcutt has developed is an impressive array of kicks honed by his years of training various martial arts since the age of 4. If given the proper space, Northcutt’s speed and quickness can catch an opponent unawares. He doesn’t have the timing and angles for an effective striking game out of the pocket quite yet, showing a lot of needless footwork with single strikes. He has shown progress in his wrestling and grappling, resisting some submission attempts from Enrique Marin, but the ground game is still his weakest area by far.

Quinones has some similarities to Northcutt with kicks being his primary source of offense. He’s more comfortable in the pocket, tossing out a steady jab with good timing on his counters. However, Quinones has proven to be an especially weak wrestler. Despite that, he’s shown some good grappling skills and some scrambling ability.

Make no mistake, Northcutt is going to be under the microscope in this contest, just like in every contest. Quinones is a step up from Marin and probably from Mickey Gall, Northcutt’s last opponent. If Northcutt’s training begins to take hold, his freakish athleticism should be too much for Quinones to handle. However, if Northcutt underestimates Quinones, an upset will be in the making. Given he has already lost twice despite his massive push from the UFC, don’t expect Northcutt to underestimate Quinones. Northcutt via TKO of RD1

Angela Hill (7-3) vs. Nina Ansaroff (7-5), Women’s Strawweight

Though largely an overlooked contest on the card, Hill and Ansaroff are similarly exciting fighters with an improving skill set. Do not sleep on this bout as you will surely regret it.

A favorite of the hardcore fans, Hill has come a very long way from her time on the 20th season of TUF. Just a striker at that time, Hill has developed the ability to take the fight to the ground herself, even if just for a change of pace. Regardless, that ability should help open up her striking… not that she really needs much help in that area to begin with. Despite her reputation, Hill isn’t a particularly powerful striker. She is an overwhelming volume striker with a stinging jab and a devastating clinch attack. Though her defense has some pretty big holes in it, she’s proven to be durable as hell, allowing her survive any possible firefights she might find herself in.

Though many know her best as the girlfriend of bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes, Ansaroff has also improved by leaps and bounds since her UFC entrance. Showing continued improvement in her footwork and angles coinciding with increased accuracy in her striking, it could be argued that Ansaroff is becoming just as big of a threat on the feet as Hill. An underrated athlete, Ansaroff has developed a strong boxing approach, turning her kicks into a strong complement rather than the basis of her attack. Much like Hill, Ansaroff has developed the ability to hit the occasional takedown herself, though the rest of her ground attack still has a way to go.

There is a lot to like about both fighters, enough that it is impossible to pick a clear winner in the contest. Their wins have come over opposition that has yet to pick up a win inside the UFC of their own while falling to more proven competition. Though it’s hardly scientific, I’ll favor Hill due to her experience against a higher level of competition with her losses coming against Tecia Torres, Rose Namajunas, and Jessica Andrade. That type of experience should begin paying off for her. Hill via decision