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Diggin’ Deep on UFC on FOX 29: Poirier vs. Gaethje - Fight Pass prelims preview

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Get the scoop on all six — six! — Fight Pass fights, including former Olympic wrestler Arjan Singh Bhullar in his sophomore UFC effort and world BJJ champion Gilbert Burns.

After last week, a part of me wonders if I want to keep doing previews. Last week, so much of my research and prognosis was all for naught thanks to the rash of canceled fights. How many of these contests are actually happening!? Thankfully, I don’t see anyone attacking a bus anytime soon, so it would be wise to expect these contests to go forward at UFC on FOX 29.

There isn’t a single contest on the Fight Pass prelims that I’m particularly excited about. I was interested in seeing Gilbert Burns, then his opponent was forced out due to injury and his opposition is… questionable. Matthew Lopez and Alejandro Perez should offer a solid scrap, but neither has the look of a future contender. If anything, I’d say Arjan Singh Bhullar is the name to keep a close eye on, but he’s hardly a sure thing himself. Bottom line: you won’t be missing much if you pass on these fights.

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

Gilbert Burns (12-2) vs. Dan Moret (13-3), Lightweight

Is it just me, or does the MMA Lab seem to be producing more and more viable talent all the time? Moret gets his opportunity to show off the skills he has acquired from the Arizona based camp on the big stage, stepping in to replace the flashy Lando Vannata on short notice. A former featherweight, Moret has found finishes in each of his subsequent contests at his new home of lightweight. Given his 6’0” frame is quite lanky for 145, it’s no surprise the move up appears to have supplied him with more energy.

He’ll need that energy to fight off Burns’ takedowns as the BJJ expert will want to take him down for sure. Burns wasn’t known for his wrestling chops when he first entered the UFC, but he has developed a respectable takedown game. However, it has been his standup that has made the more noticeable strides, displaying the results of his hard work with Henri Hooft by securing a one-punch KO of Jason Saggo this past fall. There are still holes defensively an experienced striker could expose, but Burns has also displayed a tough chin.

Moret is worth taking a look at, but he is far from a blue-collar prospect. He has been able to make up for a shortage of physical gifts with an aggressive attack wherever the fight goes, particularly on the ground. However, he isn’t a great wrestler and tends to lead with his chin when he isn’t trying to establish his jab or high kicks. Those factors appear to play right into Burns’ strengths. I’ll be shocked if Moret lasts all three rounds. Burns via submission of RD2

Shana Dobson (3-1) vs. Lauren Mueller (4-0), Women’s Flyweight

There is so much we don’t know about these two ladies that it’s difficult to predict. One look at their records provides an awful big clue to that sentiment. In particular, Mueller is a mystery as her appearance on the Contender’s Series is the only footage of her… at least that I know of. She took that fight on short notice and put on a solid, all-around performance against Kelly McGill-Velasco. She dominated in the clinch with knees and landed some brutal kicks when given more space. Most promising was the comfort she showed for someone as inexperienced as her. The 26-year old has yet to fight at flyweight, so it will be curious to see how well the cut goes for her.

Dobson has been labeled as a project from the moment she got accepted into the last season of TUF. A plus athlete with rare power for the division, Dobson showed her time with the coaches was well spent when she was matched up with Ariel Beck. She showed great strike selection, mixing in well-placed kicks to the head and body with her array of punches. Her right hand in particular looks as though it could be devastating, but there are still many questions to be answered despite that strong showing. Beck never attempted to go to the ground and Dobson struggled to keep Roxanne Modafferi from taking her to the ground in her lone fight on TUF. How will she respond against Mueller?

Mueller isn’t a hulking bantamweight, so the cut to flyweight should go smoothly… with should be the operative word. Weight cutting can be tricky. Dobson appears to make the weight comfortably and maintains a strong physique in the process. I know it’s a paper thin argument to make for picking Dobson, but it’s the best one I can come up with for picking either side as both have shown promise. Well… that, plus Dobson having faced a higher level of competition…. Dobson via decision

Dhiego Lima (12-6) vs. Yushin Okami (34-11), Welterweight

It’s hard to believe Okami was once upon a time a worthy title challenger in the UFC. Then again, Okami is now 36 with almost 16 years of MMA experience under his belt. Father Time losses to no one. While Okami is clearly losing that battle, the question is just how much he has left in his tank. His recent losses aren’t the best evidence to make a deduction from. He was smothered by Ovince Saint Preux at light heavyweight in a contest he had no business being in. His previous loss came to Jon Fitch who appears to have more left in the tank than what we all thought at the time. And Dave Branch has proven to be far better than what we all thought.

Regardless of how legit his losses are, Okami is still the smothering wet blanket he has always been known as. He’s simply plying his trade a division lower than he did in his first UFC stint. It isn’t pretty, but it’s a sound strategy. When Okami does look to trade face punches, he keeps his defenses up, judiciously taking his opportunities to counter while searching more actively for an opening to take the fight to the ground. Though wrestling is the more traditional background for grinders like Okami, it’s his judo throws and trips that allow him to control where the fight goes, not to mention his control in the clinch.

Lima’s Achilles heel has long been his wrestling, allowing Jesse Taylor to completely dominate him in the Finals of TUF 25 with his ground control. Lima has enough offensive chops to secure his own takedowns, but it’s hard to see him doing that to Okami. That doesn’t mean Lima is screwed. He has a nice outside striking game where he effectively utilizes his lanky frame with occasional power. Opponents have paid the price for sleeping on his grappling and submissions, his ability to scramble perhaps being the most underrated part of his game.

I’ve been a Lima supporter in the past… enough so that I can’t pick him in good faith out of fear of being burned again. He has never been able to get over the hump and I struggle to see him doing so here, even against a faded Okami. I’m not saying Lima can’t win, I just don’t think he will in what is a bad stylistic matchup for him. Okami via decision

Arjan Bhullar (7-0) vs. Adam Wieczorek (9-1), Heavyweight

Much was made of Bhullar’s UFC debut this past fall. As the first UFC fighter of Indian decent, it was originally reported he would be accompanied to the cage by then-WWE champion Jinder Mahal. Translation: The UFC is hoping to open up some doors to India on the back of Bhullar. An Olympic wrestler who represented Canada in 2012, it isn’t like the UFC is crazy to hitch a wagon to Bhullar. He is an Olympic wrestler who represented Canada in 2012 after all.

Olympic success doesn’t necessarily guarantee a fruitful career, but it does provide a solid base for Bhullar. What does provide cause for concern is Bhullar’s inability to implement control over Luis Henrique in his UFC debut. Henrique is a respectable wrestler, but you’d think Bhullar would be able to secure more than one takedown given his background. Nonetheless, Bhullar did win what was largely a striking contest, indicating he is making strides in what has been his biggest weakness. Then again, perhaps it is the threat of the takedown that opens up his offense….

Wieczorek offers Bhullar a different challenge than Henrique. A lanky 6’5” with an 81” reach, Wieczorek showed the ability to pick apart his opponent in his own UFC debut against Anthony Hamilton. However, he was also taken down with ease by Hamilton early before the Jackson-Wink vet began to slow down, something that is a major cause for concern against Bhullar. Nonetheless, Wieczorek does have a much better striking arsenal than anyone else Bhullar has faced, owning a particularly dangerous clinch.

Though Bhullar can test himself on the feet if he so chooses to do so against Wieczorek, I don’t see him wanting to do that. An intelligent fighter, expect Bhullar to take Wieczorek to the ground as often as possible. There is a slight possibility of Wieczorek throwing up a Hail Mary submission ala Paul Craig a few weeks ago, but I wouldn’t expect it to take hold. Bhullar pounds on the Pole for the duration of the contest. Bhullar via decision

Matthew Lopez (10-2) vs. Alejandro Perez (19-6-1), Bantamweight

On paper, Perez’s five-fight unbeaten streak is impressive. Upon closer inspection, it isn’t quite up to snuff of your typical unbeaten streaks of that length. One contest was a draw and two others were controversial, especially his decision over Andre Soukhamthath where Soukhamthath was credited with three knockdowns to none for Perez. Nonetheless, Perez’s record is what it is and it indicates a fighter who has made continued progress, which is true enough. The question is how much the counterpuncher has progressed.

Lopez provides a bit of a different look from Perez’s last three opponents in that he’ll look to take the fight to the ground. A high school state champion wrestler, Lopez’s aggression is something opponents have struggled to deal with, even when he comes out on the losing end of things. He’s willing to give up position in hopes of securing a sub, but he’s also able to regain his position better than most thanks to his plus scrambling ability. Lopez’s standup still needs a lot of polish – particularly his defense – but he is making steady progress and shows promising power.

Perez may be the better technical striker than Lopez, but the reason his recent contests have been close is due to his lack of volume. Unless Perez is able to land a point perfect shot to put Lopez down and out, he’s going to struggle to pull out a win. Perez isn’t a bad wrestler himself, but his accolades aren’t quite on par with Lopez’s. Given Lopez was able to take Raphael Assuncao to the ground, he shouldn’t have too many issues against Perez. Lopez via decision

Luke Sanders (11-2) vs. Patrick Williams (8-5), Bantamweight

Despite having been on the UFC roster for over four years, this is only Williams’ fourth appearance inside the Octagon. Given he’s 36-years old – ancient by most accounts for a bantamweight – it’s a bit of a curious decision to fight sporadically. Injuries have played a part in that, but they don’t appear to account for all of his lengthy absences. Regardless of how active he is, Williams has shown exceptional athletic gifts and potentially overwhelming power. He comes out of the gate exceptionally aggressive, requiring his opposition to weather a hell of a storm. The issue is he doesn’t have deep reserves to keep that pace up for long, going into a purely defensive mode even before the first round is up when he doesn’t get the early finish.

The biggest question of the contest is obvious: Can Sanders weather that early storm? If he can, it’s an easy win for him. The issue is that Sanders has shown a tendency to suffer from severe brain cramps, resulting in him losing his last two contests despite being firmly in control right up until his opponent put together a finishing sequence thanks to defensive lapses. A pressuring kickboxer with a plus wrestling game, Sanders’ aggression is best on display when he gets the football to the ground and delivers his violent brand of ground-and-pound.

Williams hasn’t won a fight that left the first round since 2011. He has the ability to finish off anyone and Sanders’ defensive concerns as of late give reason to believe Williams to emerge as the victor. However, Sanders lets his guard down when he feels safe. Anyone who has watched an inkling of film on Williams knows you need to be alert early. Williams will probably secure a takedown or two early as his collegiate wrestling background tends to show up in every contest, but Sanders should survive early and finish off Williams sometime in the second. Sanders via TKO of RD2