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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 230: Cormier vs. Lewis - Main card preview

Get the scoop on the early main card action from UFC 230, featuring a plethora of middleweights looking to move up the ladder, including Derek Brunson looking to turn away talented striker Israel Adesanya.

Y’all remember UFC 146? That was the PPV where Junior dos Santos made his lone successful title defense. It was also the last time the UFC had a show with a theme… at least as far as I can tell it is. UFC 230 comes very close to having a similar theme four out of the five main card contests are middleweight bouts. The lone exception: the main event between Daniel Cormier and Derrick Lewis. It paid off when Luke Rockhold was forced to pull out from injury and there was a high-profile replacement on hand in Jacare Souza. Does anyone else think stacking cards with a particular weight class is a good idea? It seems to have averted potential disaster. Come to think of it, stacking UFC 146 did the same thing when Alistair Overeem tested for PEDs….

The action in the cage is going to be good… I think. The first two contests are feature willing strikers who tend to put their opponents to sleep while the third fight features… one guy like that. As much as I admire David Branch, he does have a history of yawners on his resume. Take what you will from that, though I can guarantee I’ll be tuning in. Err… at least I would if it wasn’t part of my job.

The main card begins at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT on Saturday.

David Branch (22-4) vs. Jared Cannonier (10-4), Middleweight

Branch was hoping to launch himself into contention with a win over Jacare. Unfortunately for him, when Rockhold’s injury occurred, the UFC saw fit to replace him with Jacare, leaving Branch without the high-profile opponent he was hoping for. That doesn’t mean Cannonier – Jacare’s replacement – is a pushover. It just means Branch won’t get the shine he was hoping for with a victory.

Cannonier is making his middleweight debut, having started his UFC career at heavyweight before gradually making his way to his new home. He wasn’t exactly undersized at 205, so it will be interesting to see how he appears now that he’s dropping down yet another weight class. Though he isn’t a bad athlete, he wasn’t noted for his speed either, making his drop to 185 even more questionable. Nonetheless, Cannonier’s pocket boxing was some of the best in the division as his power and durability make him a deadly threat in a pure striking contest. The problem has been the absence of takedown defense. Despite his inability to remain standing, Cannonier has been able to avoid being submitted in his career.

It’s debatable whether Cannonier will be able to survive on the ground should Branch get him down given Branch’s extensive grappling accolades. Branch formerly struggled with his wrestling, only to have rounded out his skills to not just get his opponent to the ground – usually with savvy trips more than double legs – but to also keep the fight standing if he so desires. His striking has been shored up too. He scored a brilliant KO of Thiago Santos in his last contest and has demonstrated sufficient strength in the clinch that it has to be regularly considered a strength for him.

This won’t be the breakout performance Branch was hoping for. However, it is more than likely that he’ll walk out with another victory under his belt. There were already questions about how well Cannonier’s weight cut would go prior to his contest being moved up by two weeks. It’s an even greater question now. Plus, Branch is savvy enough that he should be able to avoid Cannonier’s powerful punching combinations. It might take just a single takedown from Branch and he’s almost assuredly going to get that. Branch via submission of RD1

Karl Roberson (6-1) vs. Jack Marshman (22-7), Middleweight

This contest may seem to be an odd choice for the main card, though it makes plenty of sense when you think about it. Roberson and Marshman are both exciting strikers who should produce a strong candidate for FOTN. In other words, it should be an entertaining contest to keep with the theme of the main card.

Roberson showed he isn’t a one-trick pony in his UFC debut when he executed a slick lateral drop and back take to secure a submission win. However, he also showed his limitations as a wrestler and grappler in his next contest against Cezar Ferreira, getting choked out early in that contest. The former professional kickboxer is far from a finished product, but he’s shown a willingness to work on his weaknesses. His strengths thus far: the clinch and his boxing in the pocket.

Marshman’s pocket boxing is his biggest strength too. In fact, there isn’t much else that Marshman can do at a high level. His takedown defense is miserable and though his submission defense is passable, there aren’t many contests on the ground where he’d be favored. Nonetheless, his direct approach in the pocket works for him due to his overall durability coupled with his plus power and good timing on the counter. However, opponents know exactly how he’s going to attack, making it easy to thwart the Welshman.

While there is a very good chance Marshman can find Roberson’s chin and put him away, it’s more likely Roberson finds a way to put away Marshman one way or another or simply outpoints him as Marshman is more of a finished product. On the other hand, Roberson’s trajectory is still moving upwards. It’s unlikely he’s the same fighter from when we last saw him… and that’s a good thing for the Contender Series alum. Roberson via decision

Derek Brunson (18-6) vs. Israel Adesanya (14-0), Middleweight

There may not be a prospect who has received a bigger push from the UFC this year than Adesanya. He went from debuting this past February to a high-profile contest with Brunson as the year nears its closing. There is plenty of evidence the UFC is onto something in pushing the former kickboxer, though there is also reason to believe the UFC may be rushing him a bit too fast.

At 6’4” with an 80” reach, Adesanya’s frame itself makes him a unique prospect. That he knows how to use it to his maximum benefit makes him all that more special. His kickboxing experience has given him a great feel for distance and timing, allowing him to dodge opponent’s strikes Matrix-style, thus the alias of The Last Stylebender. Aside from Adesanya’s boxing, he can throw up a head kick at lightning speed, making him capable of a highlight reel at any moment. What gives some pause about expediating his progress is his lack of wrestling and his tendency to toy with his opponents, leading to a lack of activity at times. However, when Adesanya has his opponent on the ropes, the strikes come fast and furious and his takedown defense has steadily improved over every contest. Then again, he hasn’t exactly faced anyone noted for their wrestling ability.

Enter Brunson. A powerful athlete who was once considered to be one of the more boring fighters in the sport for his tendency to execute a lay-and-prey strategy. Eventually, the Division II wrestling All-American developed enough confidence in his striking that he registered four straight first round KO’s against some notable competitors such as Uriah Hall and Sam Alvey. While he did become a better striker leading up to that point, it had more to do with Brunson realizing his superior athleticism over his opposition than anything else. Once he faced opponents of similar physical talent, his reckless style of striking proving to be completely bereft defensively against competent competition. However, Brunson has proven he’s willing to return to his wrestling roots since that time if he believes he’s at a disadvantage on the feet.

This contest comes down to whether you believe Brunson is willing to return to his base against the likes of Adesanya. If he is, Brunson is perfectly capable of securing a decision victory. However, being capable of doing so and actually doing so are two completely different things. Even though Adesanya hasn’t been too difficult to take down, he has been able to get back to his feet in a speedy manner. Given Brunson’s questionable fight IQ, there isn’t even a guarantee he’ll take the course of action that best assures him victory. Though I believe the reservations of some regarding Adesanya are justified, he should still get the job done. Adesanya via TKO of RD2