It looks like the UFC is learning from its mistakes… Well, at least one of their minor ones. After their latest “find” on Lookin’ for a Fight, Devin Powell had his ass handed to him, the UFC has decided it isn’t in its best interests to be pushing Dana White’s prospects to the forefront. Now, I’ll acknowledge that the episode featuring Ricardo Ramos hasn’t aired – and I don’t know if it will – but he did fight at a show where it was well publicized that White would be there to scout talent. Plus, the kid is only 21-years old, and now he is on the big stage. He fit the Lookin’ modus operandi for sure.
The FS1 prelims begin at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Adam Milstead (8-1) vs. Curtis Blaydes (6-1), Heavyweight
While the UFC already has its next big thing at heavyweight primed and ready to make a run to the top in Francis Ngannou, it’s never a bad idea to look for the next person to step into those shoes once Ngannou is actually on the big stage. Considering Milstead and Blaydes are two of the younger heavyweights on the roster, it’s highly likely they will be groomed to be the next big thing… hopefully.
Blaydes has been in the cage with Ngannou already and put forth the best effort out of all of the big Frenchman’s victims. The former junior college wrestling champion was unable to get him down, but has been able to do so against all of his other opponents with ease. Checking in just under the heavyweight limit, Blaydes has the rare blend of size and athleticism that makes it easy to see why many are so high on him. It isn’t just your classic double and single-leg takedowns that he is capable of hitting, but a large variety of trips and throws. He’s still got a way to go in terms of developing his striking – particularly his defense – but his 82" reach has made his jab particularly devastating.
Milstead has shown a lot more comfort on the feet than his opponent, owning a deep array of strikes that he’s willing to throw. A sound athlete with good power, Milstead’s weakness is his lack of attention to defense as his preferred range is in the pocket trading bombs. He stands a great chance of winning if he can convince Blaydes to keep the fight standing, though that appears to be an unlikely proposition. To be fair, Milstead has shown solid takedown defense, popping right back to his feet when he does hit the mat. However, the likes of Chris de la Rocha doesn’t even begin to compare to Blaydes in terms of wrestling.
I like the potential of both contestants, but Blaydes is easily the favorite here. His wrestling is a rarity amongst the younger heavyweights in the sport and is far more reliable than Milstead’s brawling style as all it takes is one good connection for the big guys to put one another to sleep. Blaydes’ ground and pound looked very sharp against Cody East and I’d expect it has only improved as Blaydes is still very raw. Blaydes via TKO of RD1
Chas Skelly (16-2) vs. Chris Gruetzemacher (13-1), Featherweight
A bit of confusing matchmaking. Skelly has proven to be a UFC level featherweight with a 5-2 record with his only losses coming to Mirsad Bektic and Darren Elkins, the only ranked opponents he has faced. You’d think he’d get another shot at a ranked opponent after a 19 second destruction of Maximo Blanco. Nope. Instead he gets TUF veteran Gruetzemacher, who hasn’t stepped into the cage for over a year.
Gruetzemacher could be in danger of being cut despite having won in his lone UFC appearance due to his less than amusing style. Seeing as how the new ownership is focusing more on entertainment than sport, that isn’t good news for Gruetzemacher. Nonetheless, he should find it easier to implement his grinding strategy now that he is fighting at his more natural weight at 145 after fighting at lightweight during his TUF run. Control and ground strikes are the basis of his offense as his standup is as rudimentary as it comes.
Skelly is massive for 145 and does a fantastic job of using his size to his advantage, either wearing his opponent down in the clinch or dragging them to the ground. He tends to come out aggressively looking for an early finish. If he doesn’t get it, he’s running low on fuel by the time the second round rolls around and completely on fumes for the last round with his toughness being the only thing that keeps him from being finished. Nonetheless, he throws his strikes with a lot of power and has a creative submission game that has led to him securing finishes in four of his five UFC wins.
To be fair to Gruetemacher, he did put on an entertaining showing – at least for him – in his UFC debut when he largely chose to stand and trade. What isn’t good was his complete disregard for defense. Fortunately for him, Skelly’s attention to defense may be the worst in the division. That gives hope for an exciting contest between two guys known as grinders.
Given all of the similarities, there are two things that stand out to me that make this an easy pick for me: Skelly’s size and his finishing ability. Gruetzemacher does have a chance to steal the win if he can survive the first round given Skelly’s history of gassing, but considering Gruetzemacher couldn’t get past Artem Lobov in the TUF tournament, I don’t think that will happen. Skelly via submission of RD1
Ricardo Ramos (9-1) vs. Michinori Tanaka (11-2), Bantamweight
Ramos is another hopeful found on Dana White’s Lookin’ for a Fight, which has turned into a major red flag for recent prospects from the show. However, Ramos may actually turn out to be a worthwhile prospect. Too bad he’s drawing a tough debut opponent in Tanaka….
Tanaka has been flying under the radar as he has only fought 4 times since making his debut in June of 2014 in addition to lacking a signature win. A well-rounded fighter who is prone to the occasional mental lapse and bouts of inactivity, he should soon be entering his prime. As his striking carries on in its development, his quickness and grappling should continue to be enough for him to overwhelm most of the opposition not ranked in the top 15.
What gives Ramos a chance is that he is one of the few that can rival Tanaka’s speed and quickness. He doesn’t have much power in addition to being very raw on his feet, but he does have a very creative submission game with slick transitions. He has proven to be too comfortable off of his back which has gotten him into trouble at times. What may work in his favors are that the judges have been putting less emphasis on merely holding opponents down.
Just because Ramos has talent, it doesn’t mean that Uncle Dana was right to put him into the UFC. He’s still extremely raw at 21-years old and hasn’t fully developed physically. Tanaka should be able to overpower him pretty easily as Tanaka, though a bit small for a bantamweight, is extremely strong. Given Tanaka’s grappling acumen and more developed striking, he should be able to dispose of Ramos pretty easily. Tanaka via submission of RD2
Tecia Torres (7-1) vs. Bec Rawlings (7-5), Women’s Strawweight
Many fans had title aspirations for both Torres and Rawlings once upon a time. Rawlings’ star began to fade even before the UFC integrated the strawweight division into its ranks while Torres’ only began to dwindle a short while ago. There are still some who believe that Torres can force her way into the title picture, though those supporters are diminishing fast.
Few in the division are more technical in their striking than Torres. Despite being only 5'0" with a 60" reach, Torres primarily operates from the outside with a wide variety of kicks and frequent stance switches to help close the distance. When in the pocket, she puts together good punching combinations. She has good defensive fundamentals too. What Torres doesn’t have is power as she has yet to score a single stoppage – via strikes or submissions – in her professional career. Until she can find a way to threaten her opponents with an early ending, she’ll never be taken serious as a title contender.
Rawlings has the power that Torres is lacking, which is why many saw so much potential early on. What she doesn’t have is the discipline to avoid turning the fight into a brawl. This not only results in her eating a lot of damage as her defense goes right out the window, but also in Rawlings expending large chunks of energy early, leaving her depleted late in the contest. Her durability and heart has helped her find success despite the recklessness, but her chin has shown cracks as she was stopped for the first time since her professional debut.
Expect this contest to play out largely on the feet as neither are very good offensive wrestlers while showing above average takedown defense. Rawlings has a chance if she can hurt Torres at some point, no easy feat given Torres’ toughness. The most likely outcome involves Torres outpointing the Aussie in a relatively ho-hum contest. Torres via decision