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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 208: Holm vs. de Randamie - FS1 prelims preview

Get the facts right here on UFC 208’s FS1 prelims, headlined by young welterweight prospects Randy Brown and Belal Muhammad.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Graves vs Brown Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Admittedly, there isn’t a contest on this portion of UFC 208 that jumps out as “must-see-TV” for fight fans. However, if you stop and take a deeper look at these contests, Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard deserve some credit for putting together some intriguing and competitive contests that don’t have a clear-cut winner — which is just how we like our fights. There is one exception to that rule, but we’ll take three out of four in a time when both the injury bug and USADA tend to ravage cards.

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

Randy Brown (9-1) vs. Belal Muhammad (10-2), Welterweight

It’s only natural that the last two men who eliminated the Montano brothers eventually meet. Though Muhammad would be the likely favorite should this contest have been made on equal ground, he’s working at a sizeable disadvantage by taking the contest on less than two weeks warning.

When Muhammad first came into the UFC, many expected him to make an immediate impact due to his technical boxing and wrestling. Unfortunately for him, his lack of athleticism has caught up to him in the UFC, and his technique hasn’t been enough to make up for it. The other part that he had been lauded for was his durability only for him to be stopped suddenly in the first round in his last appearance against Vicente Luque. Unless Muhammad can step up his attention to defensive detail, his UFC run won’t be nearly as successful as many expected it to be as he has taken some serious damage in each contest.

Brown is on the opposite end of the spectrum of Muhammad. All the natural talent in the world, he’s still extremely raw as one of the first Lookin’ for a Fight finds. However, his gifts extend to his 6'3" frame and 78" reach and he’s slowly been demonstrating better use of those tools. He still lets opponents inside of his jab more than he’d like, but he’s also learned to use the leverage his frame provides him to rock his opponent with knees to the body and head in the clinch. As he gains more experience, he should only find more ways to become dangerous.

The wrestling game will be worth watching. Muhammad isn’t overpowering, but he times his shots well and has a simplistically good BJJ game that produces more control than it does submissions. Brown rarely looks to go to the ground himself, though he’s shown the ability to quickly get back to his feet in addition to fantastic takedown defense. Another aspect of Brown’s game that has been overlooked by opponents is his front head-locks as he cinched in a tight guillotine on Erick Montano when Montano thought he was safe.

Good bit of matchmaking. Muhammad is the type of fighter that guys like Brown traditionally struggle with. Whether or not his struggles lead to a loss or not is the question. I’d likely give Muhammad the edge if he had a full camp behind him. Without it, I’m expecting Brown to continue to improve and add the biggest scalp to his list of victims. Brown via TKO of RD2

Wilson Reis (21-6) vs. Ulka Sasaki (19-3-2), Flyweight

I’m a bit lost. Reis was scheduled to face Demetrious Johnson for the title last July only for Johnson to pull out with an injury. Reis did beat the late replacement who stepped in to face him, and then now Reis gets a guy who was on the verge of being cut heading into his previous contest? Well… whatever. I should just be happy so long as the action delivers.

While one could legitimately debate whether or not Reis deserved the title shot or not, there is no debate that his track record is far superior to that of Sasaki’s. There are few in the sport that can match BJJ accolades of the Brazilian and he has become more effective since making the drop to flyweight. In two appearances at bantamweight, Reis averaged 3.5 takedowns over a 15-minute contest without a single submission victory. Since going to 125, his takedown rate has jumped to 6.6 per 15 with two submission victories in five contests. Damn.

Sasaki is a massive flyweight, clocking in at 5'10" with a 71" reach. He hasn’t figured out how to use that size on the feet yet, but he did look excellent in his flyweight debut by smothering Willie Gates. While Sasaki isn’t a very good technical wrestler, he wears on his opponent by keeping his weight on them, looking for trip takedowns, and enthusiastically chaining attempt after attempt together. If he can get the takedown, he does an excellent job of entangling his opponents with his long limbs while searching for the finish.

You’d think owning a 6" advantage in the reach would prompt Sasaki to keep things on the feet with the much shorter Reis, especially given Reis’ grappling abilities. I don’t see it as an advantage at all. He has horrible footwork, clunky technique, and a suspect chin. There is a bit of power in his fists when he connects, but not nearly as much as Reis. Reis’s striking isn’t nearly as polished as his BJJ, but the power in his fists, hard leg kicks, and basic punching combinations do make him more than credible.

Reis shouldn’t have too many issues with Sasaki. I don’t even know why he agreed to this contest as I don’t see a win here getting him any closer to regaining his title shot. The bigger question in my mind is whether or not Reis gets a finish as opposed to if he can pick up a victory. I believe he’ll be able to do so. Reis via submission of RD1

Nik Lentz (27-7-2, 1 NC) vs. Islam Makhachev (13-1), Lightweight

Though I like the matchup in terms of testing where Makhachev is in his development against grinder extraordinaire, I fear it could end up being a dull contest stylistically. Then again, I could see it being a battle of transitions and scrambles.

Lentz has been around the UFC since 2009 and had an overall successful run in that time, sporting an 11-4-1 record over that time. The issue is that his grating style doesn’t do much for fans which is why he continues to float under the radar when other fighters of similar success have achieved greater notoriety. To leave it at him being a grinder is unfair to Lentz. He pushes a very fast pace, highlighted by his relentless chain wrestling. Lentz isn’t overpowering in that aspect, but he is technically sound and has developed a competent boxing game to compliment it. Considering he was never a great athlete to begin with, age shouldn’t affect him as quickly as his contemporaries as he plunges deeper into his 30’s.

Makhachev has a few similarities to Lentz in that he is a hard-nosed wrestler who is difficult to deal with in the clinch thanks to his combat sambo background. Though he is generally a chain wrestler himself, Makhachev has a bit more oomph to his takedowns than Lentz as he is the far superior athlete. The Russian has proven himself to be a smothering control artist whether from the top position or on his opponent’s back. Makhachev fists are extremely powerful, but he loops his punches wide enough that he is easy to counter. He still has time to work out the kinks, but I would be surprised if he closed more than a few of the holes in his skill set.

This is a very difficult contest to pick. Makhachev has all the physical advantages, but Lentz has proven to be extremely difficult to either put away or outwork. What’s coming to my mind as I evaluate this contest is the Darren Elkins-Chas Skelly contest where Elkins was able to turn away the newer and supposedly improved model. Though I’m not very confident in my pick, I’m gonna go with Lentz to use his superior boxing technique and guile to pull out a very close decision. Lentz via decision

Ian McCall (13-5-1) vs. Jarred Brooks (12-0), Flyweight

With Neil Seery pulling out of this contest once again leaving McCall without an opponent – while each of McCall’s last three scheduled contests were canceled the week of the contest for various reasons – he at least left the UFC enough time to find McCall a replacement opponent in Brooks. However, there will be a huge difference in experience between the two….

Let me put this into perspective. McCall’s last contest came two years ago against John Lineker. When he participated in that contest, Brooks had just completed his fourth professional contest the night before. Another way to put it: over the course of Brooks entire professional career, McCall has fought one time. It not only indicates that Brooks is a long way away from his prime, but also how long McCall has been on the sidelines. Has the time off rejuvenated McCall or has he faded that much more from his days as the greatest flyweight in the world?

The last time we saw McCall, it didn’t appear as though he had dropped off at all physically. He could still execute his in-an-out combination boxing and hit the well-timed takedown. Perhaps the biggest feather in his cap is his ability to keep his opponent on the ground, a difficult task for anyone at flyweight. Where McCall has often run into problems is that he tends to fight like he has a point to prove, often taking the fight where his opponent is at their strongest. Perhaps the time away has helped him in his decision-making process. Then again, perhaps not.

Brooks makes no effort to disguise what he wants to do: swarm his opponents with punches as he closes the distance in order to score his single and double-leg takedowns. A decorated high school wrestler, Brooks has slowly improved his striking prowess to add some power, though he is still largely an untechnical brawler. Despite being small – he has fought at strawweight on multiple occasions – his wrestling has been effective due to his speed, timing, and technique. Even though most flyweights are fantastic scramblers, Brooks appears to have that extra gear that could give him the advantage in that area even in the UFC.

Brooks is a sound prospect whom I’m glad the UFC are giving an opportunity to. I just wish it wasn’t coming against someone as established as McCall. Then again, we really don’t know what version of McCall we’re going to get. I’m prone to believe that we won’t see the best version of him, but I do believe his size and experience advantages should be enough to overcome the youngster, even if just barely. McCall via decision