In a change from the usual format for big FOX cards, the televised prelims are only two hours as opposed to the usual three. Given the amount of fights on the card hasn’t changed, that means Fight Pass is picking up the slack. With one less hour of the usual UFC television pacing, I’m as happy as can be with that pronouncement. I can only listen to Reba McEntire sing about KFC BBQ so many times. On that note, can we bring back Norm MacDonald as the Colonel?
As for the actual Fight Pass card, the biggest highlight on paper is the lightweight contest between Gilbert Burns and Olivier Aubin-Mercier. It’s unfair to label them prospects at this stage of their careers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t continue to improve. However, I’d also be remiss if I didn’t say something about uber-prospect Manny Bermudez making his UFC debut. He has his flaws like any other prospect, but he has the look of something special.
The Fight Pass prelims begin at 4:00 PM ET/1:00 PM PT.
Gilbert Burns (12-2) vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier (10-2), Lightweight
It seems like forever ago Burns was considered one of the top prospects at 155. A pair of losses to Rashid Magomedov and Michel Prazeres coupled with an absence of a year contributed to the BJJ world champion disappearing from the minds of fans. However, when Burns did return last September against Jason Saggo, he showed his tutelage under renowned striking coach Henri Hooft is finally starting to pay off. Burns has looked stiff in his standup, but began to look fluid and comfortable before securing a brutal one-punch KO. His timing, head movement, accuracy…it’s all coming together.
Aubin-Mercier is another one whose striking has slowly been coming on. Not quite as varied or advanced in his progression as Burns, Aubin-Mercier has developed a stiff jab to work behind – as all Tristar fighters do – with some nice power counters. Though he has started to tap into his power, he still has a way to go before he has fully realized his potential. In the meanwhile, Aubin-Mercier still relies heavily on his judo to score trips from the clinch, but don’t underestimate his traditional wrestling skills either. Plus, there are few who are as adept at securing the back as the young Canadian.
Perhaps the most underrated contest on the card, the ground game poses as a major mystery. Burns’ takedown defense has been less than stellar, but it’s largely because he couldn’t care less if opponents take him to the ground. He was a BJJ world champion after all. Aubin-Mercier could steal the contest with his takedowns and control, but judges have been giving less credence to those criteria and more to volume and damage. Burns has more variety in his standup and is on the same level athletically as Aubin-Mercier. Either way, this should be a very fun contest. Burns via decision
Sam Alvey (31-10, 1 NC) vs. Marcin Prachnio (13-2), Light Heavyweight
Having learned his lesson from the last time he accepted a late-notice contest, Alvey isn’t trying to cut down to his usual home of middleweight this time. At one point, Alvey was one of the middleweight division’s most exciting fighters, securing three straight first-round KO’s. Then opponents got a bead on his one-note style and victories have been far more difficult to come by. Now fans have had to suffer through a number of tedious decisions, as Alvey’s heavy reliance on the counter often leads to a contest where nobody does anything. He’s made small strides to increase his output, mainly with low kicks. Still, the issue is opponent’s respect his power and timing too much to engage where Alvey pleases.
Prachnio may be an exception. A karateka, Prachnio possesses similarly powerful one-punch KO power too. Though a karateka, Prachnio spends more time in the pocket than others with similar backgrounds such as Lyoto Machida as Prachnio doesn’t mind biting down and throwing fisticuffs. In other words, he doesn’t operate with the same grace Machida did in his prime. In fact, Prachnio can look downright wild at times. Nonetheless, his track record of 10 KO’s among his 13 wins – all in the first round – is damn good proof the stance switcher knows what he is doing. Beware of Prachnio’s head kicks too, no surprise given his background.
Despite a nice string of success in the UFC, Alvey hasn’t faced very many strikers. Those he has faced with some decent power have been able to dispose of him. As much as I like me some Smile’n Sam, I can’t help but feel this contest won’t go favorably for him. Sure, he’s a better wrestler and grappler than Prachino, but Alvey has landed exactly zero takedowns in his 13-fight run in the UFC. It would be foolish to expect him to outstrike a busier striker with far more variety in his arsenal. Prachnio via decision
Rani Yahya (24-9, 1 NC) vs. Russell Doane (15-7), Bantamweight
Has it really been over a decade since Yahya challenged for the precursor to the UFC bantamweight title when he fought Chase Beebe for the WEC title? Far from the grappling phenom he was upon his WEC debut, Yahya is much better than he was from those days as he has developed a semblance of a striking game. Sure, he’s not going to put anyone to sleep with his fists, but he knows how to score points with wild punches and low kicks. Still, his aggressive wrestling and constrictive BJJ chops are what continue to lead him to victory.
While Doane is a far superior striker with KO power, he also has a bad habit of taking the fight to the ground when he’s been doing great work on the feet. It isn’t that he has no skill on the ground; he probably even has an advantage in the scrambling department over Yahya as Rani isn’t a great athlete. The problem is that Doane is prone to bonehead mistakes on the mat. Against Yahya, Doane is best sticking to remaining on the feet where he’s capable of stringing together effective kick-punch combinations with great efficiency.
If you’re aware of Doane’s recent skid – he lost four in a row prior to a victory in his last appearance – you’re probably wise enough to not let it fool you. He’s very dangerous with far more ways of ending the fight than Yahya. However, Yahya has also proven to be far more durable than most would believe and his ability to chain together takedown attempts is underrated. The third round will be pivotal as Yahya tends to gas himself before that point and will merely be fighting for survival. If he does survive, expect him to take a decision based on his work early in the fight…provided he can’t find a sub. Yahya via decision
Eric Shelton (11-4) vs. Alex Perez (19-4), Flyweight
Given the lack of tune-up contests at 125, Shelton had a rough start to his UFC career, dropping contests to Alexandre Pantoja and a controversial loss to Jarred Brooks before righting his ship against Jenel Lausa. While Shelton is one of the most athletic flyweights on the roster, he’s also one of the least experienced. Nonetheless, his speed and quickness shine through in his scrambling ability – he’s cat-quick in getting the back – and his boxing has shown steady progress. Shelton can put together punching combinations at this point, but he hasn’t tapped into his natural power quite yet.
Perez is the opposite of Shelton. He isn’t a bad athlete – you can’t be and find success in the UFC at flyweight – but he’s on the lower end of the totem pole in the UFC. He compensates for that with excellent technique and a well-rounded skill set. Perez stalks forward with slick punch-kick combinations with well-timed takedowns available should he see an opening. He’s left himself open to being roughed up in his last couple of contests, but his opponents have been unable to take advantage of the holes he’s been leaving open. Can Shelton do that?
Even though both Shelton and Perez are on the lower end of the totem pole of the division, both offer a lot of promise. Perez is far more polished and experienced and has found a way to tap into his power. Even though Shelton hasn’t done that yet, I still expect his athletic gifts to overwhelm Perez in the grappling aspect similar to how he did to Lausa. Shelton via decision
Albert Morales (7-3-1) vs. Manny Bermudez (10-0), Bantamweight
Despite a less than impressive 1-3-1 UFC record, Morales gets another chance to prove himself when others would be cut loose at this point. The reasoning is twofold: Morales is young in his MMA career – he’s only been a pro for three years – and he regularly turns in exciting performances. Well…I suppose you could throw in that most believe his UFC record should be 3-2 as his loss to Benito Lopez was highly controversial, as was his draw with Alejandro Perez. Morales is as scrappy as they come with low kicks being his most consistent form of offense. He’s still prone to the occasional ill-advised takedown attempt and his defense is porous, but his grit and natural athleticism often makes up for his shortcomings.
Bermudez is emerging as one of the top prospects in the sport, not just the division. His perfect record is accentuated by nine stoppages among his eleven victories, with all nine stoppages coming in the first round. Bermudez is exceptionally smooth on the ground, passing guard with ease and capitalizing on submission opportunities as soon as they present themselves. His triangle chokes in particular may be the slickest in the sport. However, Bermudez is still shaky on the feet, not throwing a lot of volume. There has been progress in that regard, but it’s still not enough for anyone to feel threatened by him.
Morales isn’t an easy fight for the debuting Bermudez. He’s aggressive on the feet which could prove to be a major problem for Bermudez. He isn’t a walk in the park on the ground either, making up for a lack of technique with excellent scrambling and sheer grit. Nonetheless, I get the feeling Bermudez only needs a single opening and Morales’ tendency to be aggressive should open that up. Bermudez via submission, RD1