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Diggin’ Deep on UFC on FOX 31: Lee vs. Iaquinta - Fight Pass prelims preview

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Get the scoop on the early contests from UFC Milwaukee, featuring a pair of middleweight veterans Trevor Smith and Zak Cummings squaring off, plus an up-and-coming heavyweight talent.

Can’t-miss prospects appear to be harder to predict in MMA than in other sports. For example, we haven’t heard much about Tom Duquesnoy since his loss to Cody Stamann. He has fought since that time, but where did the hype go? In many ways, MMA stars usually begin as a shot in the dark. For instance, who had an inkling of who Francis Ngannou was when he signed to the UFC? When I first glanced him, I saw a raw physical specimen who could just as easily wash out as rush to the top of the rankings. His first stumble didn’t come until he was battling Stipe Miocic to be the top dog of the heavyweight division. He hasn’t become champion – yet, perhaps – though it would be foolhardy to call him a miss.

Juan Adams has a similar upside to Ngannou. His large frame and impressive strength could take him far. I’m not saying he’s can’t miss though, as he still has a lot of holes in his game. But if he finds a way to fill those in – or compensate for them – Adams could find himself hovering near the top of the heavyweight division for a long time. After an impressive performance on the Contender Series, Adams is making his official UFC debut. By tuning in to the Fight Pass prelims of UFC on FOX 31, it’s possible you could be there for the beginning of what could be an impressive career. Then again, he could prove to be another Konstantin Erokhin.

The Fight Pass prelims begin at 3:30 PM ET/12:30 PM PT on Saturday.

Adam Milstead (8-2, 1 NC) vs. Mike Rodriguez (9-3), Light Heavyweight

It has been well over two years since Milstead secured his lone UFC victory, making it easy to forget the former heavyweight not only offers some promise, but is still on the roster. Nonetheless, he looked good in his first contest at 205, nearly upsetting a still undefeated Jordan Johnson. Milstead is largely thought of as a heavy hitter who just throws bombs, but he does have a functional jab and can wrestle a bit… even if he hasn’t shown that ability on the UFC level.

Rodriguez has loads of potential, sporting a frame similar to that of Jon Jones, clocking in at 6’4” with an 82” reach. His flying knee he landed on the Contender Series was a brilliant demonstration of his abilities. However, Rodriguez is missing the fundamentals needed to put together a complete, workmanlike performance. In other words, if he doesn’t secure an early finish, he’s in trouble as he doesn’t put together consistent offense. The lanky southpaw does have a lot of power and is a slick submission artist, so it isn’t like he’s incapable of avoiding a full 15 minutes of work.

Milstead’s fundamentals should provide a clear path to victory. Rodriguez also provides the perfect opponent to show off his wrestling skills as Rodriguez not only lacks takedown defense, he also is too comfortable operating off his back for his own good. It’s plausible Rodriguez has made major improvements given he’s only been fighting for five years. However, I worry about his training camp, Lauzon MMA. I love Joe Lauzon as much as anyone, but is he the best guy to be teaching someone how to put together a complete performance? Not really. Milstead via decision

Zak Cummings (21-6) vs. Trevor Smith (15-8), Middleweight

It’s no surprise that Cummings is moving up to middleweight. He was massive at welterweight and the older a fighter gets, the harder it is for them to shed the pounds. Given he has moved away from being the grinder that he was earlier in his UFC run and into a counter striker, his transition to fighting larger opponents is likely to be smoother than it would have been earlier. Besides, it isn’t like Cummings hasn’t fought at middleweight before. He has enough power to secure the occasional KO, but his power submissions are more likely to secure him a finish at this level than strikes.

A former light heavyweight, Smith is a big middleweight. A wrestler at the collegiate levl, it took him a while to adapt his amateur wrestling skills to MMA, but he’s finally become a legit takedown threat where he can threaten with his submissions. Unfortunately for Smith, he hasn’t been able to secure a finish at the UFC yet. Despite that, he’s successfully navigated almost 6 years in Strikeforce and the UFC by grinding away with the willingness to brawl… sometimes to his detriment.

Cummings’ loss to Michel Prazeres worries me greatly. I understand Prazeres was a funky matchup for him, but the former lightweight was able to take Cummings down on several occasions and grind away on a larger opponent. Smith’s wrestling isn’t as nuanced as Prazeres, but he is bigger. I’m not going to pretend I know how this contest will play out, but I’m favoring the grinder to grind out the one who just got grinded out. Smith via decision

Chris de la Rocha (5-2) vs. Juan Adams (4-0), Heavyweight

There’s a strong likelihood you have no clue who in the hell de la Rocha is despite him being in a couple of entertaining knock-down, drag-out brawls in his two contests. At 39, the Washington native doesn’t really have any significant upside to be more than an action fighter, though that isn’t a bad fate either. A solid grappler who cuts weight to make the heavyweight limit, de la Rocha hasn’t been able to show off his submission abilities due to his poor wrestling. Sure, he got Rashad Coulter to the ground, but nobody has been complimentary of Coulter’s ground abilities either.

Adams is another one who requires cutting weight to make 265. However, he’s also got youth on his side, reporting in at the tender age of 26. He’s a much better athlete than his 6’5” frame looks and hits just as hard as you would think too. Adams is still as raw as you’d think given his inexperience, but his raw physicality and talents should be more than enough for him to get through his first few UFC tests successfully.

Even though de la Rocha’s ceiling is limited, he has been making subtle improvements over his last few contests. His head movement has been better, but his lack of athleticism also limits what he can do to avoid punishment coming his way. Adams hits like a truck and is one of the few heavyweights who is bigger than de la Rocha. It isn’t out of the question for de la Rocha to put Adams to sleep, but the opposite is most likely to occur. Adams via KO of RD1