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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Fight Night London: Main card preview

Take a peak at the facts of the early main card fights for UFC London, including the retirement bout for longtime UFC vet Brad Pickett.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-VanZant vs Waterson-Weigh Ins Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Even more than the main or co-main event, the most ballyhooed aspect of this event has been Brad Pickett’s retirement fight. The fact that he has lost five of his last six hasn’t been mentioned at all, but why would the media want to bring up something like that when Pickett has been the flagbearer for smaller weight Brits in MMA for years? Whoops…sorry Brad. What I’m getting at is that it does appear to be the right time for Pickett to call it quits. He’s been around for a long time and been in quite a few memorable scraps. He was never able to get over the hump to get a title shot – much less win the title – but he should be remembered fondly for all that he has given to the sport.

The main card begins on Fight Pass at 5:30 PM ET/2:30 PM PT on Saturday.

Brad Pickett (25-13) vs. Marlon Vera (10-3-1), Bantamweight

For all of the attention Pickett has been getting for this being his last fight, many fans haven’t bothered to notice that Vera stepped in for an injured Henry Briones just a little more than a week before the scheduled event. Other fans are simply asking who Marlon Vera is…

Despite his relative anonymity, Vera has been hanging around the UFC roster for a few years. Coming out of the less-than-impressive Ecuadorian scene, Vera has moved to the US to train with Jackson-Wink with his improvements being enough to pick up a win over Guangyou Ning this past November. The raw-but-talented prospect still has a long ways to go before he is a finished product, though the hope is that his development will be accelerated now that he is getting proper training full-time.

Owner of an impressive kicking arsenal, Vera has slowly been developing better hands to compliment his powerful legs. He still tends to back himself into a corner against the fence and though his hands are improving, he still doesn’t pose much of a threat when opponents pressure him enough to limit the effectiveness of his kicks. If Vera can get the fight to the ground – an issue for him as he isn’t a great wrestler either – he’s a dangerous scrambler with a potent guard. However, he also tends to be too comfortable off of his back, giving away position and thus the fight as opponents control him from the top.

Pickett was always a well-rounded fighter lacking the athleticism to allow him to break through to the elite level. His chin was a big part of his success as well, though it has been eroded to the point that he is chinny. He’s also slowed considerably, making his physical limitations even more apparent than they were before. Regardless, the vet still flashes a stinging jab with potent combinations when he dares sit down on his strikes. Pickett’s wrestling has always been underrated – largely due to his tendency to fall into brawls – but it was once one of the best wrestling games at bantamweight. Even if it isn’t what it once was, it is still proficient enough that he should be able to handle Vera with ease.

The UFC purposely tried to give Pickett a contest he should be able to win for his final contest. Despite that, Vera does have the talent to beat him. The issue is that he is still a very raw fighter and coming in on short notice isn’t helping his cause either. Vera has proven durable, so I don’t see Pickett getting the finish, though I do see him leaving his fighting career on a good note. Pickett via decision

Arnold Allen (11-1) vs. Makwan Amirkhani (13-2), Featherweight

Moment of truth for Allen and Amirkhani. Both are young prospects who are thus far undefeated in the UFC. Given the depth at featherweight, don’t expect the loser to be given much of a push after this contest…if they get a push at all.

Allen flies underneath the radar far more than Amirkhani, in large part due to a lack of exposure. Sure, he’s made it to the UFC, but both of his previous appearances came on cards shown entirely on Fight Pass. He may be on the main card now, but it is still Fight Pass. Regardless, those that follow the sport are aware of the abundant talent possessed by the youngster. Allen just doesn’t quite know how to utilize it quite yet. Too often he just coasts through fights until he can find an opening that he can capitalize on. When it doesn’t come, Allen doesn’t resemble the talented prospect pundits have sung praises about.

What is obvious with Allen is his brute strength. He isn’t very long, but that also allows him to pack a lot of muscle on his frame, making it difficult to bully him. Allen has done well in the clinch at times, but has also had more troubles than expected from there, such as in his UFC debut with Alan Omer. However, once he has figured out how to master his skills, he’ll be a major force from close quarters. From a distance, Allen’s biggest advantage is that he is a southpaw as he is raw there too. He tends to eat more damage than is necessary, preferring to counter while not always throwing with much accuracy.

Amirkhani tricked many fans into believing that he is an explosive striker based on his flying knee KO of Andy Ogle in his UFC debut, but that is about the only thing Amirkhani has shown on his feet thus far. An explosive athlete, he has used his abilities well on his initial shots to get the fight to the ground while using his chain wrestling skills to make sure the fight gets to the ground if unsuccessful on his first attempt. What makes Amirkhani marketable is his fantastic scrambling. He has given up position many times looking for submissions based on his confidence to regain position if he loses it.

On the feet, Amirkhani is still very much a mystery. He throws with power and hunts for the head almost exclusively. Like Allen, he falls into bouts of inactivity as he looks for an opening for his takedown opportunities.

There is a lot of intrigue between these two youngsters, but it also feels like they are developing at a slower pace than the UFC would like to see. It has been over a year since we’ve seen either Allen or Amirkhani, meaning much could have changed about them since that time. I’m prone to go with Amirkhani as he at least has a strategy with every fight he goes into even if it is one-dimensional. Amirkhani via decision