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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 224: Nunes vs. Pennington - Fight Pass prelims preview

Get the scoop on the early internet action of UFC 224, featuring TUF Brazil 3 winner Warlley Alves in action and former title challenger Thales Leites looking to get back on track.

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Barring a hand truck being thrown at a bus in Brazil – or perhaps a horse-drawn carriage as Chael Sonnen would have us believe – there are 13 fights on board for UFC 224, four of them on Fight Pass. There are some recognizable names on that portion of the card with Thales Leites and Warlley Alves being most notable, but there isn’t a contest that feels like it can’t be missed. Alves still has the youth and physical skills to become a standout and Ramazan Emeev has promise, but the odds are against both turning themselves into contenders. Nonetheless, Bloody Elbow always has you covered with all the UFC action!

The Fight Pass prelims begin at 6:15 PM ET/3;15 PM PT on Saturday.

Warlley Alves (11-2) vs. Sultan Aliev (14-2), Welterweight

Remember when Alves was a prospect people were excited about? After all, he is the lone loss on the ledger of Colby Covington, the same man challenging for the interim welterweight title — for whatever that is worth — next month. That was also all the way back in 2015, before Alves realized he can’t just get by on his superior athletic skills. Alves did put together an intelligent performance against Salim Touahri, but that was against Salim Touahri. Be honest, most of you have never heard of Touahri. Hard to take too much away from a sound performance against subpar competition.

Make no mistake, Alves is still a hell of an athlete with the potential to become a serious player. He owns a lighting fast guillotine choke to punctuate his front headlock game with fight-ending power in his fists. What has held him back has been his inability to fight at a pace in which he maintains a decent energy level before fading, leading to a severe lack of activity. His performance against Touahri showed him pacing himself while mixing in takedowns, certainly promising. However, he’s had performances like that before only to be unable to fight in that manner against tougher competition.

Aliev does have a style that could prove problematic for the Brazilian. The question is whether he has the physical skills to pull it out against an uber-athlete like Alves. A grinding wrestler who does his best work in the clinch, Aliev likes to pound out his opposition on the mat. Alves has proven difficult to drag down early, but is far easier to manipulate later in the contest. Should Aliev survive what will likely be an early storm from Alves, he could use his controlling wrestling to score a late finish or decision. However, that’s asking a lot as Aliev tends to be even more inactive than Alves on the feet and is incredibly stiff, even if he has some nice pop. Alves via TKO of RD1

Thales Leites (27-8) vs. Jack Hermansson (16-4), Middleweight

Many will point out the four losses in Leites’ last six contests and say that he’s on the decline – and that may be true – but the level of competition Leites has been losing to might say more about his losing stretch than anything else. At some point in the last year, every one of the opponents Leites lost to populated the top ten of the UFC’s official rankings. Even if those rankings aren’t the most accurate ranking system, it carries enough weight that fans should understand he han’t been facing chumps.

Before I continue to kiss the ass of Leites, it needs to be acknowledged that his losses against Krzysztof Jotko and Brad Tavares were very one-sided. Leites was outstruck by both and resorted to falling to his back in hopes of them pursuing him in a grappling contest. Given this isn’t the turn of the century, that strategy doesn’t work anymore. Leites isn’t the most savvy Muay Thai practitioner, but he does have some sneaky power and the ability to chip away in a point contest with low kicks. Still, it is his grappling that opponents fear the most, with good reason.

Hermansson was showing great improvements in a pair of wins over Alex Nicholson and Brad Scott, getting them to the ground quickly and pounding them out with a vicious brand of GnP. However, his inability to get Thiago Santos to the mat indicates the strides he made in his wrestling may not be as great as originally thought. Regardless, he may be reluctant to utilize his wrestling – only one opponent has scored a takedown on Leites since 2008 and it isn’t because of Leites’ takedown defense – which means he’ll need to win this contest on the feet.

More worrisome than Hermansson’s inability to take Santos to the mat was his inability to be remotely competitive on the feet with the Brazilian striker. Leites isn’t on Santos’ level by any means, but he should be skilled enough to remain competitive against Hermansson’s janky style of boxing. Having the additional dimension of the ground should open up things for Leites just enough… provided he doesn’t exhaust himself going for the takedown. Plus, this event is taking place in Brazil. Home field advantage pushes me in favor of the Brazilian. Leites via submission of RD2

Alberto Mina (13-0) vs. Ramazan Emeev (16-3), Welterweight

Anyone else forget Mina was even on the roster anymore? I know I did. With a mere three fights over the course of four years while occupying a place on the UFC roster – and his last appearance coming just short of two years ago – we can all be excused for being unaware of his employment status. Mina is a decorated BJJ grappler who has struggled to put his chops on display thanks to a lack of functional wrestling. He’s lucked out thus far by facing opponents who are either reckless on the feet – Mina is deceptively accurate with his punches – or lacking just as much as he is in the wrestling department, allowing him to run up a 3-0 record in his UFC run.

Emeev will assuredly test Mina’s wrestling skills. Sure, Emeev only got Sam Alvey to the mat just once in Emeev’s UFC debut, but Alvey has long been one of the most difficult middleweights to take down. Plus, even though he struggled to take Alvey down, Emeev did control him against the fence for a large portion of the contest. Now that Emeev is plying his craft against smaller opponents at welterweight, where he’ll have a greater strength advantage, he should find more success in his roots… provided his energy levels remain acceptable.

Mina has proven to be very resourceful thus far in his UFC career, taking what his opponent gives him to work with. He may have to work off his back – a low probability for picking up a decision or a submission – or catch Emeev on the chin with one of his wild punches. Emeev’s chin has proven very durable in the Russian circuit and I’d be shocked if it doesn’t continue to hold up. I like the Russian’s chances. Emeev via decision

Markus Perez (9-1) vs. James Bochnovic (8-2), Middleweight

There wasn’t a lot of positives to be taken out of the performances of either Perez or Bochnovic in their UFC debuts. Perez may have gone the distance with Eryk Anders, but Anders was in complete control bell to bell while Bochnovic was finished in a violent manner by Trevin Giles. Needless to say, there isn’t much excitement for this contest.

Bochnovic is a bit of a curiosity as his background is that of a striker -- highlighted by an impressive 81” reach – but the vast majority of his victories have been achieved via submission thanks to his aggression on the ground. However, Bochnovic is a poor athlete by UFC standards, something that was highlighted against Giles, nor is he the most technical striker.

Perez is a scrapper too, but he does have a bit of a leg up in terms physical gifts… outside of Bochnovic’s length of course. Even though he suffers from many of the same tendencies as Bochnovic – poor striking defense most notably – Perez has shown more in the wrestling department and a sneaky ability to sink in a sub from the front headlock position.

Neither fighter has me excited about their long-term futures in the UFC, but the connective tissues to Perez’s game go together much better than Bochnovic’s. He knows how to close the distance – even if he takes some damage in the process – and take the fight where he wants it, usually the clinch or on the ground. Bochnovic does have some finishing skills Perez needs to be wary of, though it’s worth noting the uber-talented Anders couldn’t put away the savvy Brazilian. Why would Bochnovic be able to so when a specimen like Anders couldn’t? Perez via decision