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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Japan: Saint Preux vs. Okami - Preliminary preview

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Get the inside scoop on all of the preliminary contests from UFC Japan, featuring perennial flyweight contender Jussier Formiga looking to thwart a surging Ulka Sasaki.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Formiga vs Borg Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

Given the short nature of the week – fights taking place on Friday as opposed to Saturday – and that there was only a single contest on the Fight Pass prelims in Daichi Abe vs. Hyun Gyu Lim, I thought it was more appropriate to combine the preliminary contests into a single preview.

To be brutally honest, there isn’t anything spectacular about any of these contests. Though reasonably matched, all of the contests were made with the Japanese market in mind. Even worse, the biggest name on this portion of the card, Jussier Formiga, is hardly a fan favorite. Despite these caveats, I’d be willing to bet these fights are worth watching. I know I say that quite a bit given I’m a sucker for fights, but I have a greater interest in these contests than the main event. No joke.

The lone Fight Pass prelim begins at 7:30 PM ET/4:30 PM PT on Friday.

The rest of the prelims begin on FXX at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT.

Keita Nakamura (32-8-2) vs. Alex Morono (13-3-1, 1 NC), Welterweight

Though most fans aren’t going to have much interest in this contest, it’s a nice bit of matchmaking by Mick Maynard and Sean Shelby as both Nakamura and Morono appear to be more than the sum of their parts.

Nakamura in particular has surprised many as his first stint in the UFC resulted in three losses in three attempts. Upon his return, he secured upset submission wins over Jingliang Li and Kyle Noke while giving Tom Breese and Elizeu Zaleski a run for their money. Even though most don’t consider Nakamura to be a dangerous striker, he’s savvy enough to make in-fight adjustments in which he can lay out his opponent with a hard left hook to floor his opponent. His defense has never been all that effective, often leading to him taking more damage than he dishes out before making the proper adjustments.

Morono’s approach is far different from that of Nakamura. An aggressive brawler who wings haymakers with little technique, Morono’s willingness to push the action has resulted in him winning his first two UFC contests, though one of them was an undeserved victory. However, that victory proves how effective his fast pace can be in the eyes of the judges. Morono has shown progress in his striking in his last contest with Niko Price, hurting the ATT representative and stringing together functional punching combinations.

If Morono’s combinations continue to improve, this could be his fight to lose as Nakamura is unlikely to keep up with Morono’s volume. That isn’t the only thing is Morono’s favor. Nakamura has been around for a long time and though his chin has been iron clad thus far, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him fall off a cliff after fourteen years in the sport. However, Nakamura has proven to be a very intelligent fighter, aggressively pursuing takedowns out of the clinch with a real knack in scrambles. Morono isn’t a bad submission fighter himself. In fact, he’s quite skilled. But he tends to give up positional advantage going for the finish and Nakamura is the type of fighter to capitalize on those type of mistakes. Look for Nakamura to finish with his signature RNC. Nakamura via submission of RD2

Jussier Formiga (19-5) vs. Ulka Sasaki (20-4-2), Flyweight

Aside from the co-main event, this is arguably the highest-level competitive contest on the card. You could even say high stakes for Sasaki. Every time someone has beaten Formiga within the confines of the UFC, they immediately get a title in their following contest. Anyone else have a hard time believing Sasaki is unaware of that fact?

It’s hard not to feel at least a little bad for Formiga as the UFC has made him a perennial stepping stone as he’s the most decorated flyweight to never have received a title shot. Yes, he has lost every time he has been given an opportunity to get over the hump. But when you see names like John Moraga, Ali Bagautinov, Chris Cariaso, Tim Elliott, and Wilson Reis getting title shots ahead of him when the general consensus is Formiga is better than all of those former title challengers, it can be a bit of a head scratcher. Hell, Formiga owns a win over Reis!

Unfortunately for Formiga, his style isn’t the most entertaining which is a big reason why the UFC hasn’t looked to push him into a title fight. Perhaps the best pure grappler in the division, Formiga’s preference of position over submission means he generally only gets a submission if his opponent has made a mistake rather than any creativity on the part of Formiga. Whether fans appreciate it doesn’t matter as it is very effective, though it is often all she wrote should Formiga find his way onto an opponent’s back. Though often overlooked as a wrestler due to his lack of explosion, Formiga makes up for it with tenacity by chaining attempt after attempt, settling for a scramble from time to time.

In terms of style and technique, it would be fair to refer to Sasaki as a poor man’s Formiga… depending on your definition. Sasaki’s wrestling is just as scrappy if slightly less effective and RNC’s are his submission of choice as well. However, Sasaki is far more aggressive in his attempts to nab a choke which has led to some of his problems as he tends to give up position. Unlike many longer fighters, Sasaki makes good use of his long limbs to entangle his opponents when he does get the back in addition to a noteworthy guard.

The standup is difficult to predict. Formiga isn’t the grapple-only fighter many often proclaim him to be. He’ll never be a real KO threat, but he does throw stinging counters in the pocket with a good mix of leg kicks too. Sasaki’s aggression should open up plenty of chances for Formiga to score some punches, but whether or not he’ll be able to overcome the additional four-inches of reach Sasaki owns will be open to debate. Sasaki’s striking can still be wild at times with the occasional high-risk maneuver, but he has shown improvements in the basics in recent contests, throwing simple combinations.

Sasaki has displayed a level of resilience many didn’t believe he had in him in his recent fights. That makes it difficult to pick against him despite Formiga’s extensive pedigree. Nonetheless, Formiga is the favorite and rightfully so. Sasaki will struggle to implement his variety of trips whereas Formiga should find multiple ways to secure takedowns against Sasaki’s poor takedown defense. He probably won’t find a submission, but Formiga should secure a clear decision. Formiga via decision

Syuri Kondo (5-0) vs. Chan-Mi Jeon (5-1), Women’s Strawweight

Though Jeon lost her UFC debut to JJ Aldrich, she showed a lot of personality and gets some leeway for taking the contest on short notice. Did I mention she was still a teenager too? Having turned 20 just last month, Jeon is still a long way from reaching her potential. She’s found her style as a come-forward, whirling dervish of punches, elbows, and knees, though she didn’t seem to have the energy level to execute in that manner to the fullest extent against Aldrich. Given a full camp to prepare, look for Jeon’s attack to come in more than just bursts.

Kondo is better known for her professional wrestling career, having only transitioned to MMA a year ago. She hasn’t completely walked away from wrestling, but she has moved on from her kickboxing career. As you’d expect from a kickboxer, Kondo prefers to operate in space. She hasn’t found the same comfort level in MMA that she had in kickboxing, but she made her MMA debut less than 18 months ago. She should look more natural in the cage as she gains experience, likely advancing past the basic one-two combos that she has relied upon thus far. She’ll mix in front and low kicks to stay busy, but she has struggled to prevent opponents from closing the distance. Despite her lack of a grappling background, Kondo scores some good elbow from the clinch, but that’s about the only positive outside of her kickboxing.

If the fight goes to the ground for an extended period of time, it will be a shock as neither woman has shown an inclination to take the fight to the mat at any point of their careers. It’s difficult to pick a favorite though as neither has faced any notable competition and both have had a full camp. I’ll favor Kondo though as she has plenty of experience on the big stage in the kickboxing field. I know I’m largely grasping at strings, but it’s difficult to separate these two ladies. Kondo via decision

Shinsho Anzai (9-2) vs. Luke Jumeau (12-3), Welterweight

Not a lot of fans are aware of Anzai due to his level of inactivity as he has only two fights in his three years on the UFC roster. Brawling like a wild man in his UFC debut, Anzai showed a lot more discipline in his sophomore effort, showing signs of a jab and using his strikes to set up his takedown entries. He’s still stiff on his feet and full of defensive holes, but he’s been making progress. His real base is his wrestling as he’s very dogged in chaining his attempts together, keeping his opponent constantly on the defense.

Jumeau could be in a world of trouble if his takedown defense isn’t up to snuff, an area that has historically been an issue for him. However, he showed excellent progress in his UFC debut, stuffing all but one of the eleven attempts from Dominique Steele. So long as Jumeau can stay standing, he stands a chance as his aggressive brawling nature can be difficult to overcome once he gets his offense rolling. Though he’ll hit the occasional reactionary takedown, Jumeau is largely limited to his striking prowess to produce offense.

This is a tough contest to call. Anzai is the better wrestler, but Jumeau is the better scrambler and submission artist. Basically, it largely depends on who can establish where they want the fight. However, there is one major factor to consider: durability. For all of his defensive holes, Jumeau has yet to be knocked out in his career whereas Anzai suffered a TKO loss to Alberto Mina who is best known for his grappling prowess. Still, if Anzai wins, I’ll hardly be surprised. Jumeau via TKO of RD2

Daichi Abe (5-0) vs. Hyun Gyu Lim (13-6-1), Welterweight

I know what you’ll be thinking as soon as I state the UFC signed Abe out of Pancrase. You’re thinking that Abe is simply a local fighter who can’t cut it in the UFC signed to generate some interest amongst local fans. That’s not the case at all… Abe is a legit prospect.

In only his fifth professional contest, the 24-year old Abe took the Pancrase welterweight title from WEC veteran Hiromitsu Miora in violent fashion. Given his youth and inexperience, it’s difficult to believe Abe has peaked. Abe opened his career as an ultra-aggressive fighter, headhunting with a violent array of punches. After being knocked to the ground with regularity against the first decent test he faced, Abe slowed his pace a bit and added a venomous counter game. The quickness in which it came together indicates Abe is a natural as his accuracy and punch selection is impressive… and I don’t just mean for someone his age. He’ll prod with low kicks and a still-developing jab to get his opponent to throw strikes he can counter.

How Lim is able to cut down to 170 pounds on his massive 6'3" frame, I’ll never know. What I do know is that Lim will give Abe the type of fight he wants as Lim is a firm believer that the best form of defense is more offense. He throws a lot of volume and his punches have a lot of power as illustrated by all but one of his victories ending before their time limit. However, his lack of defense has come back to bite him in the ass in recent contests. Lim’s durability has become a liability, being finished with punches in each of his last two contests, something that had previously never happened in his career. Perhaps adding a jab to accentuate his 77" reach would help alleviate some of his defensive concerns, but I wouldn’t count on it at this stage of his career.

It's rare that either fighter looks to take the fight to the ground, only going there after knocking an opponent to the ground… or being knocked down themselves. Both are aggressive with their ground-and-pound, adding to the already strong likelihood that a finish will eventually come. Lim’s size could be too much for the youngster to overcome, but taking momentum and Abe’s learning curve into account, I’m comfortable picking the newcomer to emerge victorious. Abe via TKO of RD1