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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 231: Holloway vs. Ortega - Fight Pass prelims preview

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Get the scoop on the early prelims of UFC 231 on Fight Pass, including a pair of young light heavyweights looking to make a statement squaring off in Devin Clark and Aleksandar Rakic.

There hasn’t been a whole lot worth tuning into with the Fight Pass prelims as of late. For example, last week saw Damir Ismagulov dispose of Alex Gorgees over 15 uneventful minutes. If you’re wondering who exactly Ismagulov or Gorgees are, that’s exactly my point. People don’t know, people don’t care. There is a bit more familiarity with UFC 231’s prelims on Fight Pass, several fighters from TUF – including a couple of winners – and a few more from Lookin’ for a Fight. Well… that is if you still watch those shows. I don’t, but good on you if you do. The point I’m trying to get at is there are some fighters that look like they could be players with a bit more seasoning. Then again, they could just as easily wash out too….

It’s worth noting the contest between Diego Ferreira and Jesse Ronson was scraped after it was ruled Ronson was too heavy to safely cut to the lightweight limit before weigh-ins on Friday. Rumor has it the UFC is scrambling to find a replacement to face Ferreira, but odds are strong it will be a middling featherweight who won’t stand much of a chance against the physically imposing Ferreira. Unless I make a note in the next two previews, I’m picking Ferreira without knowing who it is he’s facing, most likely securing a finish.

The Fight Pass prelims begin on Saturday at 6:00 PM ET/3:00 PM PT if a replacement for Ronson is found, a half hour later otherwise.

Devin Clark (9-2) vs. Aleksandar Rakic (10-1), Light Heavyweight

Clark’s UFC career has been an up-and-down road. An undersized 205er with good athleticism, he’s still very unrefined with his striking, lunging for power shots and leaving himself open to counters. Regardless, his power is prominent enough that opponents still need to be wary of his punches. The biggest constant for Clark in finding success in the UFC has been getting his wrestling game going. When he does, it opens up his striking and allows his athleticism and quick burst to shine through.

Rakic has displayed solid takedown defense thus far, though Francimar Barroso is a completely different wrestler than Clark. Whereas Barroso was big and strong, looking to wear down the lanky Austrian, Clark is far quicker with a nasty burst. If Rakic keeps the fight on the feet, he’s proven to be a disciplined kickboxer with a good knowledge of how to use his length to his advantage. He kicked out the feet of Justin Ledet – another solid kickboxer – and secured a few takedowns of his own to show an improving all-around game.

Rakic has proven to have a lot more upside than anyone thought prior to his signing. He didn’t just beat Ledet. He brutalized him, took his soul. I’m not saying he’ll do the same to Clark as the American offers a far superior ground threat than Ledet. Rakic has shown improvement on the ground – and some brutal GnP – so my belief is he’ll be able to remain standing long enough to secure a victory. Rakic via decision

Brad Katona (7-0) vs. Matthew Lopez (10-3), Bantamweight

While it isn’t much of a compliment to say Katona is the best prospect to come out of TUF 27 when you look at that collection of talent, it shouldn’t be taken as a slap in the face either. Katona was going to find his way into the UFC one way or another. It just happened to be through the most maligned fashion.

A well-rounded product of SBG Ireland, Katona doesn’t set the world on fire the way a more famous teammate of his does. Katona instead looks to mitigate risk as opposed to searching out a highlight finish. His boxing lacks flash, but it’s technically sound and effective. Katona worked his way into the TUF championship on the back of his wrestling game. He didn’t overpower any of his opposition in the tournament, but it should be noted the native Canadian was also fighting at a weight class above where he naturally competes. It’s plausible his wrestling could improve fighting at a lower weight class despite facing superior competition.

Lopez has had a rough go as of late. A super aggressive wrestler with some power in his fists, that aggression has gotten the better of him lately. Too willing to stand and trade despite some sizeable holes in his defense, Lopez suffered some brutal losses at the hands of Raphael Assuncao and Alejandro Perez. Regardless, Lopez is a proven finisher – only two of his fights have gone the distance – and hasn’t been given an easy road thus far. However, that experience against tough competition should now be an asset.

Despite Lopez being on a two-fight, the UFC isn’t giving Katona an easy opponent coming off his TUF victory. Lopez is a good athlete and good sized for 135. In other words, far better than anything Katona has faced yet. However, Katona’s tight and technical approach is similar to the styles of Assuncao and Perez. I won’t be shocked to see Lopez upset the wagon, but I think Katona can outpoint the American in this one. Katona via decision

Chad Laprise (13-3) vs. Dhiego Lima (12-7), Welterweight

Laprise is in an awkward position. Too big to comfortably make lightweight, but too small to effectively compete with the best at welterweight, Laprise is a tweener. In other words, another who would benefit from a 165 lb. division. The Tristar product pushes a hard pace with an offense centered around the jab – he is a Tristar product after all – and punching combinations mixed effectively to the head and body when he sits down in the pocket. Despite his lack of size, Laprise’s takedown defense has been surprisingly stout.

On the other hand, Lima’s Achilles heel has been his complete lack of wrestling. The lanky brother of former Bellator champion Douglas Lima has struggled to institute his range boxing as he lacks enough power for opponents to respect him, allowing them to get inside without paying a heavy price. If he’s able to stay on the outside, Lima is an accurate puncher with an emphasis on leg kicks. It’s getting opponents to stay at the proper range that’s the issue.

The recipe to defeat Lima is well established: pressure him and test his chin. Granted, Laprise’s lack of size makes this a stylistically more favorable matchup for the younger Lima than his previous UFC opponents. Despite that, Laprise’s ability to follow a game plan should allow the Canadian to please the home crowd with a victory. Laprise via TKO of RD2