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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 229: Khabib vs. McGregor - FS1 prelims preview

Get the scoop on the televised prelims of UFC 229, featuring a pivotal flyweight contest between Sergio Pettis and Jussier Formiga, the winner likely to receive a title shot.

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Though the televised prelims of UFC 229 received a blow when Sean O’Malley was pulled from the card for a potential PED violation, the best fight of the prelims remains. The UFC doesn’t seem to be promoting the contest between Sergio Pettis and Jussier Formiga… but when was the last time the UFC put any push behind flyweights? Nonetheless, the winner of the contest is likely to get a shot at the belt… once Henry Cejudo and Demetrious Johnson take care of their rubber match of course. The rest of the contests are unlikely to pique much interest from anyone else, though none of them are trash fires either.

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

Sergio Pettis (17-3) vs. Jussier Formiga (21-5), Flyweight

Though the traditional idea of striker vs. grappler is long since gone the way of the dinosaur, this is about as close as it gets in modern MMA. Formiga is amongst the best pure grapplers in the division, if not the best. He’s similar to Rani Yahya in that he’s a human backpack, taking the back quickly in scrambles or when the fight hits the ground. The difference between Formiga and Yahya: Formiga is a decent athlete. He’s worked hard on his striking over the years too, culminating in an awesome spinning backfist that knocked Ben Nguyen silly before Formiga submitted him. Even with the progress of his fists, Formiga’s low kicks are still his best weapon on the feet.

Pettis would be the most technical striker in the division if it wasn’t for the brilliance of Mighty Mouse. He lacks the flash of his elder brother Anthony, as well as the power. Despite that, he’s more competent defensively and more reliable when it comes to racking up the volume. He flashes enough to tease a highlight reel finish boiling underneath the surface, though it has yet to reveal itself. Like his brother, Pettis has struggled to stuff takedowns throughout his career, though he stifled Joseph Benavidez most of the time in his most recent contest. Is that a sign of Benavidez slipping due to age and injury, or has Pettis shored up his Achilles heel?

Fun fact: Every fighter who has secured a victory over Formiga in the UFC found themselves fighting for the title in their next contest. Pettis hopes that streak continues. The Roufosport representative almost certainly will end up on his back at some point. The question is whether his submission defense is enough for him to survive Formiga’s submission attempts. The guess here: it’s up to snuff. Pettis’ work on the feet secures him a comfortable decision over the Brazilian. Pettis via decision

Vicente Luque (13-6-1) vs. Jalin Turner (7-3), Welterweight

Turner made a hell of an impression in the Contender Series, beating the tar out of Max Mustaki to pick up a win over the course of a round. Despite possessing a 6’3” frame and a 77” reach, Turner’s preference is to march into the pocket and piece up his opponent with powerful hooks that belie his lanky stature with intermittent knees to the body. He even shows the ability to hit the occasional reactionary takedown should he begin eating too much return fire. Given his fighting style, the move up to welterweight shouldn’t prove to be too much of an obstacle to overcome.

Luque will certainly put Turner’s defense to the test. Though shorter in both height and reach – in addition to having his BJJ being his base – Luque has developed into a fearless pressure fighter himself. He may not do anything flashy, but he’s developed into a pure joy to watch operate in the pocket, utilizing various tactics while showing equal comfort leading the dance or countering. If given the opportunity, Luque can string together lengthy boxing combinations, often punctuated with a kick. The last area the Brazilian has left to shore up is his wrestling.

Many believe Turner could become something special. While I don’t disagree with that assessment, he’s also very green. Luque hasn’t faced the cream of the crop by any means, but his competition has been substantially tougher than Turner’s. Alll of Luque’s wins in the UFC have come well before the final bell. I see no reason why this contest will be different. Luque via TKO of RD2

Aspen Ladd (6-0) vs. Tonya Evinger (19-7, 1 NC), Women’s Bantamweight

It’s been over a year since Evinger last appeared in the cage, fighting for the featherweight title against Cyborg Justino. Though Evinger has long been noted for her grit and toughness, she has also been fighting professionally for well over a decade. Most of the miles she has placed on her body have been hard. Nonetheless, Evinger was the reigning Invicta bantamweight champion for a reason prior to her UFC debut. Her bread and butter has always been her tenacious wrestling and powerful ground-and-pound. Her boxing may not strike fear into her opponents, though she more than holds her own in that department and there aren’t many who can match her gas tank.

Ladd is one of the few prospects at bantamweight that looks as though she can break into contention sometime in the near future. She offers an exciting pressure game centered on a jab and basic punching combinations. Her wrestling isn’t too shabby either. However, Ladd’s tendency is to allow her opponent to dictate where the fight takes place. For example, in her debut, she continually allowed Lina Lansberg to clinch up, the one area Lansberg excels. Ladd did pull out the victory, but she’s going to hit a hard ceiling soon if she doesn’t tighten up her defense.

Evinger didn’t look like herself against Cyborg… but then again, who does? It is worth bringing up though given her long absence as Evinger has been forced to pull out of multiple contests due to injury. Is Evinger near the end of the road? Even if she is, her resilience and durability is going to make it hard to put her away. Those characteristics and her savvy should be enough to hang the first professional loss on Ladd’s ledger. Evinger via decision

Scott Holtzman (11-2) vs. Alan Patrick (15-1), Lightweight

Some have referred to Holtzman and Patrick as prospects, unaware that both clock in at 35. Nonetheless, neither have expended too many miles on their bodies for their age and their athleticism has largely remained on the plus side. Patrick in particular, though the lay-and-prey artist tends to attempt wild hooks and knees, expending huge amounts of energy for efforts that tend to be largely ineffective. Regardless, Patrick tends to spend more time hunting for takedowns, belying his athletic frame.

Holtzman offers a similar style, though he tends to push the action against the fence more than succeeding in securing takedowns. He’s made some minor strides in his pocket boxing, though it’s still on the rudimentary end. Nonetheless, it’s more than what Patrick provides… though he could be in some trouble if Patrick attempts to utilize the 5” reach advantage he possesses and stays on the outside.

While I like Holtzman’s game better, Patrick checks too many boxes in the categories that gives Holtzman trouble. He’s a superior athlete, tends to secure a lot of takedowns, and isn’t easy to control in the clinch. Neither has displayed much in terms of finishing tools on the higher levels, so expecting this to go to decision is an easier choice than predicting the winner. Patrick via decision