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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 232: Jones vs. Gustafsson 2 - FS1 prelims preview

Get the scoop on the final televised offering of UFC fights on FS1 for UFC 232, featuring former heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski looking to thwart the rise of athletic big man Walt Harris.

If I were to say there were two former champions and a former title challenger in this on the televised prelims of UFC 232, you might think the televised prelims were looking like a whirlwind. Not quite. One champion last held a belt in 2010 while the other last grasped gold in 2006. Yeah, these former champions are well past their primes. As for the former title challenger, Cat Zingano, she has a single victory in her last four appearances. Despite that, Zingano appears to have her career headed in the right direction while the lone contest without any big names – or should I say former big names? – looks to be a bantamweight barnburner. Even if the flyweight division is being contracted, fight fans know the little guys know how to bring it. There may be some depressing moments for the final viewing of fights on FS1, but there should also be some bright spots.

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

Andrei Arlovski (27-17, 1 NC) vs. Walt Harris (11-7), Heavyweight

To put in perspective how long Arlovski has been around, his UFC debut predated the arrival of the Fertitta brothers and Dana White. Perhaps even more amazing is the former champion is still one of the better athletes in the heavyweight division as he approaches his 40th birthday. While that is more of an indictment of the sad state of the heavyweight division, it is partially a credit to the condition Arlovski keeps himself in. Now if he can just find a way for him to mentally show every time he steps in the cage….

Perhaps I’m being too harsh on the big man, but there is no denying Arlovski wasn’t there at several of his recent losses, his most recent appearance against Shamil Abdurakhimov being a prime example. When Arlovski’s head is straight, it isn’t a stretch to say he’s the most technical boxer he’s ever been. Granted, Arlovski’s historically limited use of his left hand doesn’t make that too difficult of a proposition to imagine. Why Arlovski isn’t securing KO’s as he did in the past is his speed and quickness has slipped just enough to take away the element of surprise often needed to turn out the lights. However, his technical improvements has made him a better defensive fighter – helping protect his fragile chin – as well as a better point fighter.

Harris, a former collegiate basketball player, is one of the few heavyweights on the roster who is clearly athletically superior to Arlovski. He is also his own worst enemy quite frequently. He’s been prone to mental errors which cost him contests, an issue that appears unlikely to be resolved this deep into his career. Though many see Harris as a prospect due to his untapped potential, he is already 35. Nonetheless, few big men cover distance as quickly as Harris and his ability to end a contest suddenly is up there with the best in the division.

The biggest constant that appears in Arlovski’s losses is decent athleticism in his opponents. Not great athleticism, but enough that they’re at least average in that department. Harris has that in spades. If this goes the distance, Arlovski is likely to outpoint Harris, whose single-strike style struggles to put forth the requisite volume to consistently win decisions. If there is a KO, it’s likely to come from Harris. Though Arlovski has done well to protect his chin in recent years, I still favor the latter. Harris via KO of RD1

Cat Zingano (10-3) vs. Megan Anderson (8-3), Women’s Featherweight

Marking the first women’s featherweight contest to not feature either Cyborg Justino or Holly Holm, that’s either a sign of progress for the division or further proof it should be eliminated instead of the men’s flyweight division. Regardless of how you look at it, this should be a fun scrap.

The only other true featherweight in the division outside of Cyborg, Anderson proved herself to be not quite ready to face the dominant champion when she fell short to Holm in July. Despite the loss, the 28-year old Australian has made steady improvements over the course of her career. A dangerous Muay Thai practitioner, Anderson’s biggest weapon is her 6’0” frame, allowing her to tower over most opponents and stay at a relatively safe range on the outside. Well… if she chose to fight on the outside. Anderson’s willingness to engage in a brawling affair has negated that advantage, allowing opponents – including Holm – to successfully bully her against the fence. To be sure, Anderson has progressed in that area, but Holm was a BIG step up in competition from what Anderson has been used to.

Much of that is music to the ears of Zingano. Though she hasn’t always been the most disciplined fighter in the cage – in fact, there are times she has been downright reckless – Zingano’s physicality may be unparalleled in the women’s division. Zingano wastes zero time closing the distance, either working for takedowns or grinding away against the fence in the clinch. Zingano does have a deep gas tank that most can’t hope to match, but a savvy opponent can find ways to conserve their energy while Zingano exhausts herself in the process of fishing for takedowns or desperately hoping to maintain an advantageous position.

It’s well-established a crafty fighter can outwit Zingano’s straightforward approach. Though tough, durable – at least inside the cage -- and dangerous, it isn’t difficult to figure out how to beat Zingano. Actually accomplishing it is a different story. Anderson probably learned a lot in her loss Holm, but she has also historically been fighting subpar competition, a victim of the lack of depth at featherweight. Zingano may be smaller, but that doesn’t mean she is weaker. Zingano via decision

Douglas Andrade (25-2) vs. Petr Yan (10-1), Bantamweight

When people talk about the exciting crop of talent at bantamweight, Andrade is rarely mentioned. Aside from age, part of that can be attributed to his lack of activity – this will be just his sixth appearance in almost five years on the roster – but his one opportunity to have a step up in competition saw him get handled easily by Rob Font. There is nothing wrong with a loss to Font, but given it also seemed to put a cap on Andrade’s ceiling. However, if he can pull off the upset here, that story could change….

Unlike Andrade, Yan has been prominent amongst the names of up-and-coming bantamweights. A fearless pressure fighter, Yan unleashes a flurry of punches in a hurry with little worry of what comes back his way. It isn’t just his pocket fighting either. In the clinch, Yan is just as quick to let his knees and elbows fly as he is his fists and feet in space. It has made him susceptible to takedowns in the past, but he’s been fortunate to face a pair of strikers thus far in the UFC. Regardless, Yan’s takedown defense has shown growth and he’s no amateur on the ground either.

Despite being 33, Andrade has retained most, if not all, of his athleticism. Not quite as technical as Yan, Andrade does have a slight advantage in the natural power department and has an unusual rhythm that can put his opponents off-guard. While Andrade rarely looks to go to the ground, the Brazilian has found some success when he looks to secure takedowns. Given the perceived weakness of Yan’s takedowns, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Andrade pursue a ground fight more than usual.

I see this contest being similar to Andrade’s contest with Font. Font swarmed Andrade from the start and never let up. Andrade did land some hard shots, but he could also be seen slowly wilting under the pressure when he was unable to thwart the attack long enough to get some breathing room. Yan may not have the length of Font, but he is more aggressive. Regardless of how it plays out, this should be a fun contest. Yan via TKO of RD2

BJ Penn (16-12-2) vs. Ryan Hall (6-1), Lightweight

There are mixed emotions with this contest. Penn is shot, unable to do more than put on a semi-competitive contest with a similarly shot Dennis Siver… and that was 18 months ago. Now 40, Penn isn’t going to get any better with age. However, if there is someone most analysts believe Penn would be competitive with, it would be a grappler with minimal striking. Enter Hall.

Hall, a winner of countless BJJ and grapplers tournaments – including ADCC – hasn’t been a major piece of the featherweight puzzle since winning TUF back in 2015. In fact, this is only his third UFC appearance, including his TUF victory. A lot of that has to do with Hall being the definition of a grappling specialist. He has next to nothing to offer on the feet, weak low kicks being the most consistent strike. However, once the fight gets to the ground, few are as smooth in their transitions and guard passes than Hall, even turning typically low percentage subs like heel hooks into something opponents are wary of.

While Penn became one of the most feared strikers on the roster during his fighting prime, Penn’s fighting base was always his BJJ, earning a World Jiu-Jitsu championship back in 2000. Penn’s flexibility, once upon a time one of the greatest catalysts for his success on the ground, hasn’t been seen in recent years as Penn has been unable – or unwilling – to take opponents to the ground. Is it still top level? It’s impossible to say. What we can say is Penn still has power as he did catch Siver with a punch to put him on his ass, but Penn also has no defense and no rhythm.

Hall might utilize a strategy similar to that which he used to dispatch of Gray Maynard: lots of low kicks when they’re on their feet with selective takedowns and control on the ground. Penn’s athleticism isn’t what it once was and doesn’t cut angles to make up for it. Penn has never been submitted, though it isn’t difficult to see that happening at this stage of his career by Hall. Nonetheless, I’ll show the living legend a modicum of respect and say he makes it to the final bell against Hall. Hall via decision