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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 209: Woodley vs. Thompson 2 - FS1 prelims preview

Delve into the televised prelims of UFC 209, featuring a pair of heavyweight contests and rising star Mirsad Bektic.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Henrique vs Colombo Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

Normally this is where I give a short narrative on the overall feel of the televised prelims or highlight the fight that would appear to offer the most promise in terms of entertainment value. The problem is that there isn’t anything that feels appropriate for me to point out at UFC 209. Sure, Mirsad Bektic has high expectations on him, but wrestle-heavy style isn’t something WME-IMG would appear to be promoting — just look at Demian Maia continually sitting on the sidelines. As for heavyweights, their contests are so hit and miss, it’s impossible to say what might happen. All I can truly say is: Enjoy the fights.

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

Marcin Tybura (14-2) vs. Luis Henrique (10-2, 1 NC), Heavyweight

Originally scheduled for last month in Brooklyn, the NYSAC put a squash to that after learning of Henrique having corrective eye surgery about a year ago. Las Vegas seems to have less worries as they rebooked the contest. It isn’t like this was a highly-anticipated contest, but at the moment it appears meant to happen after all.

One of the top heavyweights on the European circuit prior to making his way to the UFC, Tybura had a rough transition to the big show, effectively being smothered by the massive Timothy Johnson. Some will point out that Johnson was unable to take Tybura to the ground and declare Tybura as a plus wrestler. Not quite. He didn’t hit the ground, but his back was against the fence for the majority of the contest, not the place he wanted to be. Tybura utilized better footwork against Viktor Pesta to avoid being controlled by his more athletic counterpart, allowing him to execute his kick-heavy offense which was punctuated by a thudding head kick KO.

Henrique doesn’t possess the same striking arsenal as Tybura despite his recent improvements in that field. However, Henrique has also been smart enough to recognize his limitations and rarely looks to engage in the pocket or at a distance. Instead, the Brazilian relies on his combination of natural athleticism and a Greco-wrestling background to control his opponents. He also shows a functioning submission game, something not always found at heavyweight. It isn’t anything special, but it gets the job done on tiring opponents.

Speaking of tiring, Henrique often pushes a fast pace most heavyweights can’t sustain, using his stamina as a weapon. It’s no guarantee that will work on Tybura as the Pole knows how to conserve his energy efficiently in addition to proving extremely durable. Both competitors have also shown a tendency to leave their chins out in the open. Henrique hasn’t proven he can take advantage of that type of opening. Tybura has.

I feel confident in picking Tybura here. Yes, Henrique executes a strategy similar to what Johnson does and also moves better. Then again, he isn’t as strong as Johnson and Tybura made some nice adjustments against Pesta to avoid those situations. Even if Henrique gets Tybura to the ground, Tybura is easily the best grappler Henrique has faced thus far, probably even superior to the youngster. What I don’t see is Henrique smoothing over his defensive deficiencies yet. Tybura should find an opening at some point to turn the lights out. Tybura via KO of RD1

Darren Elkins (21-5) vs. Mirsad Bektic (11-0), Featherweight

For years, Elkins’ job has been to turn away young up-and-comers and has been more than apt at his job, losing only to those who have already established themselves ahead of the veteran grinder. Now many believe he’s met his match as uber-prospect Bektic needs to pass this final test before getting an opportunity against the divisional elite.

Bektic has been a favorite of pundits for a few years, even being the #1 prospect in Patrick Wyman’s list of prospects for Bloody Elbow a few years ago. His combination of athleticism, explosiveness, and wrestling is so rare that it sounds incredulous to think that he won’t at least fight for a title someday at the very least. Bektic’s striking has been the weakest link and even that is good enough to beat most other featherweights on the roster as he picks opponents apart behind a stiff jab. What opponents fear most is Bektic’s nearly unstoppable double-leg delivered with authority followed by his brutal brand of ground and pound that is already amongst the best in the business.

Elkins comes from the other side of the spectrum as he has never been blessed with outstanding physical skills. Instead, toughness and grit are his hallmarks, though you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who better exemplifies those type of characteristics. Since joining the UFC only Charles Oliveira has submitted him and a peak Chad Mendes has stopped him with strikes. Not bad for someone whose had 15 fights in the preeminent MMA organization in the world. Lacking the physical gifts of most of his opponents, Elkins resorts to relentlessly chaining his takedown attempts in order to drag his opponents to the ground where he possesses sound top control with a steady stream of punches that don’t typically require a referee’s intervention.

Though most would say that Elkins’ biggest weakness is his striking, I wouldn’t be so sure. Sure, Elkins doesn’t have a lot of power in his fists with a funky jab being the only weapon he owns that consistently works the way it’s supposed to, but he knows how to survive from there. No, it would be Elkins’ own takedown defense that has surprisingly been weak against opponents with a sound wrestling game of their own. Hacran Dias rode that strategy to victory a few years ago. Part of the reason why others haven’t found success in that approach is Elkins’ aggression in seeking his own takedowns, rarely giving opponents the chance to take him down. Bektic isn’t a crazy wildman in the cage by any stretch, but it’s a stretch to think that he won’t find plenty of ways to get the Indiana native to ground due to his physical gifts coupled with his wrestling abilities.

I don’t hate Elkins. I just don’t see him standing a chance. Bektic’s development has been slowed due to injury, not because of any mental gaffes or other potential in-cage reason. Elkins is the biggest challenge that he has faced thus far in his career, but that’s hardly reason to believe that Bektic’s progress will be slowed. In fact, I’d expect this to be a hell of a statement for the ATT representative. Bektic via TKO of RD2

Luke Sanders (11-0) vs. Iuri Alcantara (34-7, 1 NC), Bantamweight

At 36-years old, the UFC has decided that Alcantara is permanently going to remain in the gatekeeper role for the rest of his career as he will be the toughest challenge of Sanders’ career despite the Brazilian coming off his most impressive victory in years.

I don’t want to BS anyone. I thought Alcantara was going to soon be put out to pasture heading into his contest with Brad Pickett. Turns out I was wrong. Granted, Pickett isn’t the quality name that he once upon a time was either, but Alcantara looked fresh and explosive, chaining his submission attempts together in rapid succession until the triangle choke did the trick. He’s always relied heavily on his athleticism and showed he still has enough to hover around the top ten of the division. If given space on the outside, Alcantara’s kicking offense is effective coupled with some good knees in the clinch.

Where Alcantara has struggled is when his opponent pressures him, either forcing him to fight in the pocket or wrestling the Brazilian to the ground. Those are the two things that Sanders does best. Despite a RNC submission in his UFC debut, he isn’t a great submission threat, but does exercise good top control and a steady stream of ground strikes. Sanders isn’t anything special on the feet, though technical would be a fair description of his standup.

The biggest constant in Alcantara’s fights since coming into the UFC has been his inability to stop the takedowns of anyone with a decent wrestling background. Jimmie Rivera, Frankie Saenz, and Urijah Faber all got him down at least three times in their contests. Hell, even Russell Doane took Alcantara down six times! Sanders may not be on the level with the first three, but he does have a stronger background than Doane.

I like this contest. Sanders surprised many by easily disposing of Maximo Blanco at featherweight, showing he could handle his own against larger opponents. Now he gets to fight someone closer to his own size – though Alcantara is pretty big for 135 – in an opportunity to showcase his wrestling chops. Should be a relatively easy victory for Sanders. Hopefully it won’t be boring. Sanders via decision

Mark Godbeer (11-3) vs. Daniel Spitz (5-0), Heavyweight

Originally scheduled to be Todd Duffee’s return to action after 20 months, an injury forced the UFC to scramble for a replacement with the relatively inexperienced Spitz getting the call with a little more than a week’s notice.

Make no mistake, Spitz certainly has the physical skills to find long term success in the UFC. An absolute infant for the heavyweight division at 26-years old, the 6'7" behemoth carries little fat on his 255-pound frame and does a solid job of using his length to his advantage. Hell, his last victory came just four seconds into the contest! But looking closer at his record, the opponent he trucked over was fighting at middleweight less than four years-ago and the lone opponent of any note he has faced, Cabbage Correira, recently had a stretch of almost five years without stepping into a cage. Even if optimists want to point out Correira once fought in the UFC, that was almost thirteen years-ago he last appeared in the Octagon. Is Spitz getting the call-up too soon?

It’s harder to predict with heavyweights as power plays a bigger part in comparison to technique at heavyweight more than any other division. Spitz doesn’t have ungodly power such as that of Derrick Lewis or Mark Hunt, but he has enough to win his fair share. He’s also shown the ability to eat a shot and an effective clinch game, using his height to lean on his opponent and leverage hard knees to the gut. There are defensive deficiencies there as his footwork needs polish and he leaves his chin out there to be touched up.

Godbeer certainly possesses the ability to touch him up. A sound combination puncher who effectively mixes in kicks, Godbeer has never had a fight of his go to decision. Hell, he’s never had a fight go into the third round! A fairly lanky guy himself at 6'4", Godbeer is used to possessing the reach advantage and has struggled – such as his losses to Justin Ledet and Chieck Kongo – when he doesn’t possess it. Against Spitz, he’ll be at the disadvantage. Godbeer has also shown some poor takedown defense, something to keep an eye on as Spitz has also shown some good submission ability.

I don’t know how to pick this contest. Godbeer has more experience, but he doesn’t exactly have any high profile victories either, falling short against every opponent with a little bit of name value. Still, Godbeer has one-punch power and Spitz hasn’t shown an unbreakable chin. Still, I’m going out on a limb and picking the younger wild card in this one, though I don’t recommend anyone putting money on either side for this contest. Spitz via TKO of RD2