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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 213: Nunes vs. Shevchenko - FS1 prelims preview

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Get the scoop on the ins and outs of the prelims on FS1 for UFC 213, featuring Ronda Rousey’s beau and heavyweight stalwart Travis Browne clashing with grizzled vet Aleksei Oleinik.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Lewis vs Browne Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

I get the feeling UFC 213 just isn’t going to win with me. I complained about the quality of the fights for on Fight Pass yesterday and I could do the same thing about the quality of the FS1 prelims. I won’t…as a closer look reveals some quality. Travis Browne isn’t as bad as we’d all like to believe as he has faced a high level of opposition during his recent skid. It wasn’t that long ago some saw Thiago Santos as a potential dark horse in the middleweight division. And how many of you remembered that Jordan Mein was once the hot new kid on the block when he first burst on the UFC scene in 2013? Mein may have lost his sheen since then, but there is an outside chance he could recapture some of his luster.

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

Travis Browne (18-6-1) vs. Aleksei Oleinik (51-10-1), Heavyweight

It seems like an eternity ago that we were talking about Browne being a perennial title contender. Ever since his win over Josh Barnett, Browne has gone 2-5 with his two victories coming over a pair of fighters who are no longer on the UFC roster. His physical skills haven’t seemed to decline at all. It’s been his strategy and tactics that has been up for debate.

It has been well-known among fans that Browne left Team JacksonWink to go and work with Edmond Tarverdyan, at which point he began to move away from the things that made him successful prior to the move. He had his most encouraging performance since the move in his last appearance against Derrick Lewis…a camp in which he spent most of his time away from Glendale Fight Academy…and Edmond.

Prior to the move to work with Edmond, Browne threw a wide variety of kicks. Front kicks, push kicks, round kicks, leg kicks… almost any kind of kick that doesn’t involve a spin. His boxing technique has improved, but he appeared to be relying solely on that which makes it easy to predict what he’s going to do. The kicks returned against Lewis, hurting the Black Beast badly before Lewis found his footing. Indications are that Browne hasn’t been working exclusively with Tarverdyan, which is a good indication we’ll see the competitive version of Browne.

Oleinik is a longtime veteran of the sport, having begun his career before the turn of the new century. He’s picked up a lot of tricks of the trade and remains incredibly durable despite the heavy miles he has accumulated. Oleinik does have heavy hands, but his striking is incredibly limited, hooks with both hands being the only consistent weapon. Where Oleinik is at his best is when he can get the fight to the ground and execute one of power submissions that he has perfected over his long career, the Ezekiel choke being his specialty. Neck cranks and arm-triangle chokes are other options he has used with regularity.

If Browne has gone back to Tarverdyan, I’m willing to pick Oleinik to score the upset. However, it looks as though Browne has branched out and will no longer have Tarverdyan in his corner. In that case, Browne should find a direct route to victory. Oleinik doesn’t have the athletic ability or movement to avoid Browne’s barrage of kicks if that is the route Browne takes. Oleinik will have to rely on his catch wrestling skills to get the fight to the ground and that is a tall order given Browne’s takedown defense. Browne via TKO, RD2

Chad Laprise (11-2) vs. Brian Camozzi (7-3), Welterweight

Remember when people were excited about Laprise’s future following his win on TUF Nations? That seems like ancient history. Once Laprise began facing opponents who weren’t lurking near the bottom of the totem pole, his lack of power and athleticism became exposed and losses began popping up on his record. Laprise’s technique and intelligence have often made up for his lack of physical gifts, but it’s likely it will be harder for him to do so as he moves up to his new home at welterweight.

Camozzi is the type of lower-level opponent Laprise has beaten. However, he is massive for welterweight, clocking in at 6'2" with a 78" reach. That’s a full 7 inches longer than Laprise’s reach. Camozzi still hasn’t fully figured out how to utilize his reach to his advantage, often leaping at his opponent with his powerful hooks. Where he is at his best is in the clinch, where he can use his massive frame to wear down the opposition.

Laprise is the more intelligent fighter in addition to being far more technical. But I can’t help but feel the size difference is going to be too much for him to overcome. Camozzi has a good arsenal of submissions he can lock in once he has worn down the opposition. I see no reason why this won’t be different. Camozzi via submission, RD3

Thiago Santos (14-5) vs. Gerald Meerschaert (26-8), Middleweight

Major contrasts in styles here. Santos is a quick-twitch athlete while Meershaert is a wily veteran who knows just about every trick in the book to outwit the opposition. This contest won’t get a lot of attention, but it should be a fun for those who understand the narrative.

When Santos is able to establish his range and let his lethal kicks fly, there are few middleweights on the planet who are more dangerous to trifle with. Opponents have learned not to give him that space which has put a severe cramp in his style. To his credit, Santos has developed a nice clinch game rife with elbows and knees that are almost on the same level of his outside kicks. He’s developed some good boxing offense in the pocket too, but that is still a problem area as his defense hasn’t developed at the same pace. Though Santos has made progress in his wrestling and grappling, it would still have to be considered a weakness.

Meerschaert will look to exploit Santos’ weakness on the ground. Able to quickly chain submissions together whether from his back or top position, Meerschaert is comfortable anywhere on the mat. Not an overpowering wrestler, he uses veteran maneuvers such as knee taps and sneaky trips to get the fight where he wants it. His standup isn’t as bad as many would believe, though it is obvious it isn’t anywhere near the same level as his grappling. Generally, his striking is used to set up his takedowns.

This is not an easy contest to pick. Meerschaert’s fight IQ is far superior to what Santos possesses, but Santos’ athleticism and ability to end a contest immediately make it difficult to pick against when measured up against the likes of Meerschaert. Regardless, I’m picking the longtime veteran of the regional scene as Santos fell to Eric Spicely last year…and I’d consider Meerschaert to be a better version of Spicely. Meerschaert via submission, RD2

Jordan Mein (29-11) vs. Belal Muhammad (11-2), Welterweight

Somewhat of a contrast in styles here. Mein is the hard-hitting KO artist while Muhammad is known for picking apart his opponents in a relatively boring fashion. Regardless of their styles, both have been disappointing during their UFC runs.

Mein came out of retirement last December and looked fantastic…for a round. After that, the Canadian began to fade, offering little for Emil Meek to combat. For that single round, he threw tight and technical boxing combinations and mixed in takedowns extremely well. Plus, his jab looked as sharp as ever. Perhaps the temporary retirement allowed him to find his passion for the sport again, but it also sapped his gas tank. If he can regain his stamina, Mein may begin to fulfill the vast potential that he possesses.

Muhammad regularly works behind a jab himself, while also flitting out a high volume of leg kicks. He doesn’t pack much of a wallop in his punches, so he generally tries to avoid extended exchanges in the pocket. Despite that, he has struggled in the UFC as the level of athleticism possessed by his opponents has made it difficult for him to dictate where the fight takes place. While Muhammad isn’t very athletic or powerful, he is a very technical wrestler who times his level changes extremely well. Without that, his defensive deficiencies would be magnified that much more.

Don’t expect a submission as the last time either Mein or Muhammad won in that manner was 2011. I won’t take away the possibility of them exchanging takedowns, but a majority of the contest should be spent standing. Muhammad has been very chinny in the UFC, taking a lot of damage. There is a good chance Mein will be in trouble if he can’t get an early finish, but I like the odds of him securing a TKO stoppage before he begins to fade. Mein via TKO, RD1