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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 222: Cyborg vs. Kunitskaya - Fight Pass prelims preview

Get the scoop on the Fight Pass prelims of UFC 222, including a bantamweight contest between Bryan Caraway and Cody Stamann, as well as Mike Pyle’s retirement fight.

MMA: UFC 207-Pyle vs Garcia Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It has been a long career Mike Pyle, dating to before the turn of the millennium when he went to a decision with Rampage Jackson in his MMA debut. Come Saturday, Pyle’s long career will be over. Pyle was never a champion in a major organization – unless you count the WEC in its early days -- but he long had a reputation as one of the ultimate gym warriors for years before getting his chance in the UFC. Once Pyle got into the UFC, it took a little while for him to get rolling. Once he did, he had a stretch of seven wins in eight fights, including a string of three straight first round KO’s. He has hit a rough stretch as he neared and entered his 40’s, he has lost five of his last seven. Nonetheless, Pyle has had a career that many will remember. Headlining the Fight Pass prelims of UFC 222, here’s hoping Pyle’s career endeavors are successful following his contest with Zak Ottow.

The Fight Pass prelims begin at 6:30 PM ET/3:30 PM PT on Saturday.

Mike Pyle (27-13-1) vs. Zak Ottow (15-5), Welterweight

It has been over a year since Pyle last stepped into the Octagon. It wasn’t much of a surprise there was a long delay to many as the 42-year old suffered a brutal KO loss in his last appearance. In fact, six of Pyle’s last seven losses have come by KO/TKO. Basically, it was wise to pick against the longtime veteran anytime he faced someone with a modicum of power in their fists. Fortunately for Pyle, that doesn’t describe Ottow.

Ottow is one of the least athletic members of the UFC roster. He makes up for that by fighting intelligently, throwing a high volume of low kicks while frequently switching stances. Ottow wins by point fighting as he has good timing on his counters, but he hasn’t proven to be a KO threat in the least. He does provide a threat to end a contest provided he can get the fight to the ground as he owns a wide array of chokes.

Pyle’s own grappling skills have long been his bread-and-butter, though he hasn’t secured a submission victory since 2010. It isn’t necessarily that his submissions have been in decline; it’s that he has been facing stiffer competition than he did earlier in his career and opponents chose to take their chances with Pyle on the feet. Given Pyle’s questionable chin, that makes sense, but Pyle has also scored five KO/TKO wins since his last submission win. He has developed an effective short-range striking game, making him particularly dangerous in the clinch.

Though Pyle was never a special athlete, he has been able to maintain enough of his athleticism into his 40’s. What he hasn’t been able to maintain is a sturdy chin. However, he proved he can still win when his opponent lacks power as his most recent wins over Sean Spencer and TJ Waldburger have proven. I’m picking Pyle against Ottow and that isn’t merely in hopes of Pyle ending his career on a happy note…. Pyle via TKO of RD3

Bryan Caraway (21-7) vs. Cody Stamann (16-1), Bantamweight

Is it just me, or does it feel like Caraway has let his career slip away? 21 months ago, he defeated Aljamain Sterling to set himself up for fight against a top contender. He hasn’t fought since, pulling out of a pair of scheduled contests for undisclosed injuries. Things haven’t been going so well for Miesha Tate’s former beau since they split….

It appears the long layoff has cost Caraway an opportunity to move up as he is now plays gatekeeper to the red hot up-and-comer Stamann. Expected to be fodder for red hot prospect Tom Duquesnoy in his last appearance, Stamann proceeded to expose Duquesnoy’s lack of defensive wrestling and overall defensive issues. Stamann displayed a far more diverse striking arsenal than anyone anticipated, mixing jabs, boxing combinations, and kicks to the legs and body. There isn’t a single skill set that Stamann is elite at, but he’s very smart at picking his spots and he doesn’t have a definitive weakness either.

Given Caraway’s reputation as frequently being overlooked, this could be a major role reversal for Stamann. Caraway often gets by on his guile, smarts, and determination. Sterling underestimated Caraway’s wrestling and grappling – something many opponents have done – and Caraway made him pay by taking him down on several occasions. He’ll never be a KO threat, but he’s proven savvy enough to hang with established strikers. After all, he did win a striking battle with Eddie Wineland when he couldn’t get Wineland to the ground. However, given Caraway hasn’t fought since his split with Tate, it’s worth questioning if she played a large part in his mental stability.

The biggest issue with this contest is Caraway’s state of mind. He’s been gone for quite a while and there are whispers he could have fought if he really wanted to. At 33, he’s likely past his physical prime. Given he was never overly reliant on his physical gifts, it shouldn’t affect him as much as it would others, but it’s still going to be a negative effect on him. I fear I’m going to regret it, but I’m going with the younger Stamann to continue to climb the bantamweight rankings. Stamann via decision

Jordan Johnson (8-0) vs. Adam Milstead (8-1, 1 NC), Light Heavyweight

Milstead’s last contest may not officially been a loss, but it was a bad enough performance against Curtis Blaydes that Milstead decided to drop down to 205. Not a huge surprise given he was usually undersized at heavyweight, clocking in at 230-235 pounds. Milstead blew out his knee as Blaydes took him down, forcing him to miss the last year. He didn’t exactly have a lot of excess flesh to shed when he was fighting at heavyweight, so it will be interesting to see how he responds to the weight cut. Even more curious if the cut in weight will help out his stamina issues….

On the other side of the cage, there have been some whispers that Johnson might be better off dropping to middleweight as his 6’2” frame is lithe for the division. It has come across in his wrestling as he has struggled to enforce his will to take his opponents to the ground the way that he was expected once he entered the UFC. Then again, his 79” reach is above average even for light heavyweight, which might make it that much more difficult for him to potentially cut further weight. Johnson’s reach has served him well as his striking has made steady progress, though the power he shows in the clinch and on the ground has yet to be seen from a distance.

Milstead has been an aggressive slugger with none of his contests going past the second round, most of them ending in the first. Given his tendency to push a fast pace, I have a hard time believing he’ll take his foot off the gas simply because he is dropping to 205. Johnson has proven to be extremely durable and possesses a great gas tank. I’m predicting Johnson’s underrated choke game catches Milstead as he slows down. Johnson via submission of RD2

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