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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Nashville: Swanson vs. Lobov - FS2 prelim preview

Take a deep look into the televised prelims of UFC Nashville, featuring a pivotal flyweight battle between Dustin Ortiz and Brandon Moreno and fan favorite Sam Alvey.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Marquardt vs Alvey Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Even though this card has received a lot of criticism, and rightfully so if you’re talking strictly about the main event, there are some excellent fights to be found. There is also some crap to be found – I’m looking at the Scott Holtzman and Michael McBride contest – but you can’t have UFC 205 level lineups for every card.

If I’m picking one on the prelims to keep an eye on, I’m going with the flyweight contest between Dustin Ortiz and Brandon Moreno. Ortiz should be in the midst of his prime while Moreno is one of the more promising prospects to be found on the roster… and I’m not just talking about the flyweight roster. To add further intrigue, there probably isn’t a contest on the card that offers more divisional relevance.

The FS2 prelims begin at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Thales Leites (26-7) vs. Sam Alvey (30-8), Middleweight

Do you remember how I claimed the UFC matchmaking was going in an interesting direction yesterday? This contest is further proof of that. Alvey has won four contests in a row while Leites has dropped three of his last four.

Alvey has long been known for his powerful left hand that can end a contest at any time. However, he has also become notorious for long drawn out contests with little to no action happening. That’s because Alvey is about as patient as they come when it comes to waiting for the counter to appear. This often leads to nothing happening as opponents respect his power too much to engage. Alvey has made strides to increase his activity levels, throwing more leg kicks and taking more initiative. It was enough for him to beat Nate Marquardt in a decision, but he’ll be more exposed as he continues to climb the middleweight ladder.

Whether Leites represents Alvey’s ceiling or another rung on the ladder will largely depend upon where his head is at. Having taken the current champion Michael Bisping to a split decision less than a year before Bisping claimed the crown, Leites has shown the ability to hang with the best. However, he has looked disinterested recently, something that was never more obvious than in his loss to Krzysztof Jotko. Exhibiting no confidence in his striking, Leites telegraphed his takedown attempts time and again, leading to Jotko stuffing attempt after attempt. Alvey’s takedown defense is just as good if not better than Jotko’s. How the hell is Leites going to find success?

If Leites has found his motivation once again, he is one of the best pure BJJ practitioners in the division. His top control game is suffocating with smooth guard passing skills. The problem has always been his ability to take the fight to the ground. Upon his return to the UFC, Leites showed an improved striking skill set, launching hard hooks with a pair of KO victories over Trevor Smith and Francis Carmont to compliment his hard leg kicks. However, his success in the striking department has evaporated along with his confidence.

If Leites’ confidence didn’t fluctuate so damn much, this would be a much easier contest to predict. I’ve gone back and forth, but I really don’t like the downward spiral that Leites seems to be on. Couple that with Alvey developing a better all-around game, I’ll take the American to continue his improbable run. I’m not sure about a KO given that Leites has never been finished with strikes, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen either. Alvey via decision

Dustin Ortiz (16-6) vs. Brandon Moreno (13-3), Flyweight

Considering Demetrious Johnson hasn’t faced either Ortiz or Moreno, this could end up having some serious implications in regards to who gets the next title shot.

Ortiz has been a mainstay in the division for quite a while. For quite a while, it appeared he would be stuck in a role as a gatekeeper as he was unable to get past the likes of Joseph Benavidez, Wilson Reis, and Jussier Formiga. However, it’s readily apparent the UFC is looking to give Mighty Mouse as many fresh faces as possible regardless of how many consecutive opponents Benavidez dispatches of. Couple that with Ortiz’s recent improvements in his wrestling and grappling, he could be a dark horse for the next title shot.

Despite that, make no mistake that the brass would much rather see Moreno pull this one out. A charismatic and athletic young talent from Mexico, he could be the star the UFC has long been trying to develop to attract a greater Latino audience. I would hope the UFC is patient with his as he is only 23-years old, though he has surpassed all expectations thus far in his victories over Louis Smolka and Ryan Benoit.

Moreno thrives in chaos. Whether it be in a situation littered with scrambles or a brawl, he is at his best when all hell has broken loose. His toughness is nearly unparalleled as he has shown the ability to tough out many submissions that a normal fighter would submit to as well as the ability to take a high amount of damage. Despite that, Moreno showed far more discipline against Benoit, never getting caught up in the type of brawl he usually seeks out and mixing in takedowns whenever it seemed Benoit was getting down his timing. Like most young fighters, he still has plenty of holes in his striking defense as it takes time to develop the footwork and head movement to avoid opponent’s attacks.

Ortiz isn’t quite as dynamic an athlete as Moreno, but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad athlete either. Ortiz looked fantastic in taking down Zach Makovsky multiple times in his last contest, putting together the most complete performance of his career. Moreno’s takedown defense isn’t as stout as what Makovsky had to offer, so expect Ortiz to look to take the youngster to the ground early and often. Considering Ortiz is an excellent scrambler as well, expect some fun grappling exchanges.

Where Ortiz will have his biggest advantage is in the clinch. Strong for 125, Ortiz boxes his way into close quarters where he unleashes his dirty boxing while giving himself the option to trip up his opponent. Moreno prefers to keep his distance while throwing lengthy combinations that mix to the body as well as the head. However, he has done that against Smolka and Benoit, neither of whom are noted for controlling where the fight goes. It won’t be so easy for him to do so against Ortiz.

Moreno owns the greater physical attributes, making it easy for him to pull off another upset as he looks to continue to climb the flyweight ladder. However, Ortiz knows how to execute a game plan which Moreno hasn’t really had to deal with. As long as Ortiz sticks to that, I anticipate this should be easier than expected for the mainstay. Ortiz via decision

Scott Holtzman (9-2) vs. Michael McBride (8-2), Lightweight

Yeah… this fight would fit better on the prelims of a Bellator card. Yes, you read right. I said the prelims. Hard to get excited about this one.

Somebody in the UFC offices must really like Holtzman as he continues to get favorable matchups. His two UFC victories have come over Anthony Christodoulou and Cody Pfister, two of the least physically gifted fighters to grace the UFC in recent years. Now he gets a similar opponent in McBride who got his shot in the UFC on very short notice thanks to his proximity to where UFC 203 was taking place.

To be fair, Holtzman has been competitive in his losses to Drew Dober and Josh Emmett, proving that he is a viable competitor for the UFC. He’s an above average athlete who is tough as nails. That recipe usually leads to more success than what Holtzman has found. What has limited Holtzman is his lack of experience and starting his MMA career late as he is already 33-years old. Nonetheless, Holtzman has picked up the sport relatively quickly. He’s found a real comfort level fighting up against the cage, working in the clinch while working for gritty takedowns. Even if he doesn’t succeed in getting the fight to the ground, Holtzman has found success in this approach by wearing out his opposition.

McBride does have a few things going for him. A strong submission grappler, every single one of McBride’s victories have ended before the final bell with an opponent tapping or going to sleep. He’s also very lanky at 6'1" with a 75" reach. The problem is, the advantage stop there. Nik Lentz exposed McBride’s lack of takedown defense, taking him down at will and stifling his guard. McBride is also very stiff on the feet, throwing his strikes one at a time with minimal power. Basically, he is ofrced to rely on his submission game to win as he doesn’t have the tools to do so any other way.

This contest does nothing for me. McBride showed some toughness in his UFC debut, but that is about it. Unless his poor performance can be attributed to taking the contest on short notice – and I’ve seen nothing to indicate that was the problem – it’s obvious he doesn’t belong in the UFC. Holtzman has at least proven he can be competitive even if he hasn’t picked up a notable victory yet. Holtzman via TKO of RD2

Jessica Penne (12-4) vs. Danielle Taylor (8-2), Women’s Strawweight

Hard to believe that Penne was fighting for the strawweight title less than two years ago. Now she’s fighting for her UFC career against a fellow natural atomweight in Taylor.

To be fair, Penne’s last two contests came against the two ladies who will be contending for the belt next month in Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Jessica Andrade. In other words, she isn’t losing to nobodies. However, the beating that she took in those two contests – a total of 243 significant strikes before finally being put away both times – often leaves some psychological issues that a majority would never get over.

Taylor doesn’t have the technical striking possessed by either Jedrzejczyk or Andrade, but she does have some sneaky power that is the biggest key to her arsenal. Don’t let her tiny 5'0" frame fool you, she packs a hell of a punch. She overcomes her lack of reach with incredible quickness which allows her to pull the trigger quickly as she explodes into the pocket. Taylor compliments her limited striking with a powerful double-leg attack that she usually times well… provided she can get by her opponent’s jab.

Taylor did beat another natural atomweight in Seo Hee Ham, who is a craftier striker than Penne. However, Penne’s 67" reach is the same length possessed by Maryna Moroz whom Taylor had no answer for. Penne doesn’t possess a lot of power, but she does have a potent jab and some decent kicks on the outside. Considering how often Penne was hit by Jedrzejczyk and Andrade, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out she has some defensive holes. Whether Taylor has the craft to expose them or not is a big question mark.

Where Penne does have a definitive advantage is on the ground. A crafty submission artist, Penne’s guard is among the best in the division which compliments her underrated back-take game. Taylor is unlikely to overwhelm Penne physically which should give Penne a chance to execute her judo trips should Taylor find her way inside Penne’s range. Taylor’s own takedown defense is very much a mystery given the difficulty opponents have getting low enough on her hips to get her down, though Penne’s judo is better suited to do so than a traditional wrestling base.

It is with great hesitancy that I’m picking Penne. On paper, I think she has enough advantages on paper that this should be a relatively easy victory for the former Invicta atomweight champion. But those beatings that she took…. The one thing I do know, I wouldn’t put any money on this contest at all. Penne via decision