Normally, this is where I state how the Fight Pass prelims feature a rising prospect, a longtime veteran making a last stand, or both. While there are a few prospects and some vets on their last legs, there is a high-level contest on the Fight Pass prelims. In fact, the official UFC rankings list these fighters as the #1 and #5 fighters in their division. With that information, you can probably guess the division I’m talking about it flyweight with Joseph Benavidez and Sergio Pettis clashing. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise as the UFC continues to show no love towards the smallest men’s division. I suppose if nothing else, it ensures the price to pay for Fight Pass should be worth it this time around.
The Fight Pass prelims begin at 6:15 PM ET/3:15 PM PT on Saturday.
Rashad Evans (19-7-1) vs. Anthony Smith (28-13), Light Heavyweight
Rashad Evans is returning to light heavyweight. That once would have been major news, but the former champion of his old stomping grounds is on a four-fight losing streak, including losses to Sam Alvey and Dan Kelly. Now 38-years old, many believe Evans would be better off calling it a career. Instead, he seems determined to pick up at least one more win, regardless of whether that pursuit is a wise endeavor or not.
Evans didn’t look bad at 185. Some may claim he fought at an incredibly slow pace, indicative of him being dehydrated. However, Evans has always fought very deliberately, looking to use his fast hands to counter the opposition or nail a well-timed takedown. As he inches closer to collecting a social security check, Evans has lost a lot of the speed and quickness that made him so lethal, affecting his timing too.
Smith is also moving up to 205 from middleweight, but many believed he should have been fighting at that class for a long time. A bit of a brawler with a tendency to fade, Smith’s 6’4” frame was huge for the weight class. Hell, it’s still big for light heavyweight. The hope is that he won’t gas now that he isn’t shedding an extra 20 pounds. Then again, he recently pulled off a couple of third round finishes, bunking the typical narrative he had developed over the years.
Smith is hardly indestructible, having been KO’d 7 times in his career and submitted five others. However, Evans doesn’t appear to possess a single ounce of killer instinct since he returned from his torn ACL back in 2015. Evans may have gone the distance in three of his four losses since that time, but he no one was really taking the fight to him when he made it the full 15. When Glover Teixeira went at him, he lasted less than two minutes. Smith will take the fight to Evans, testing the distance with his jab and before launching some powerful straight punches and an array of kicks. The cries for Evans to retire will only intensify after the contest. Smith via TKO of RD1
Joseph Benavidez (25-4) vs. Sergio Pettis (16-3), Flyweight
Benavidez has declared what he perceives to be a lack of respect for his placement on the card. I can’t blame him. Last summer, Pettis headlined a card against a far less proven opponent in Brandon Moreno. The only losses in Benavidez’s career have come to Dominick Cruz and Demetrious Johnson, the consensus greatest fighters at the bantamweight and flyweight divisions respectively. And yet, the two of them find themselves on Fight Pass. Yeah, I can understand him feeling disrespected.
While Benavidez is one of the greatest fighters in UFC history to never hold a belt, there is no doubt the UFC doesn’t give him the respect he deserves. Unfortunately for Benavidez, smaller fighters tend to age at a quicker rate than the larger fighters and the 33-year old is coming off a torn ACL. Benavidez looked like he was slowing down in his last contest against Henry Cejudo. That was not only 18 months ago, that was also pre-injury.
If Benavidez is the same guy who beat Cejudo – even if it appeared to be a far cry from his prime – he should be able to dispose of Pettis. Though Benavidez hasn’t secured a KO/TKO in quite some time, his combination boxing is about as tight and technical as it gets in the flyweight division. However, it’s his wrestling that would expose Pettis’ Achilles heel. Pettis couldn’t stop Cejudo from taking him to the ground in their contest this past December. Benavidez isn’t quite on the same level as Cejudo, but he’s probably still one of the best wrestlers in the division.
Pettis still stands an excellent chance of winning, even if Benavidez hasn’t faded. Pettis isn’t the boxer Benavidez is, but he’s got a deep and technical kicking arsenal. He hasn’t put anyone away yet in the UFC, but no one will be surprised if he lands a well-placed roundhouse kick to the face and puts his opponent to sleep. Pettis’ ground game hasn’t developed into anything special, but he’s proven he can survive with talented grapplers at the very least.
Given no one has a clue where Benavidez is at, this is an impossible contest to predict. Much was made about his performance against Cejudo, but Cejudo may be the best flyweight this side of Mighty Mouse. I’ve gone back and forth on this one, but I’m going with youth in this one as an ACL is a tough injury for someone in their prime to come back from, much less past their prime. Pettis via decision
Clay Guida (34-17) vs. Charles Oliveira (22-8, 1 NC), Lightweight
Given a common criticism of Guida throughout his career was that he was an undersized lightweight, who would have guessed the best thing for extending his career would be to move back up to 155? It’s not like Guida has ever lacked for energy. Nonetheless, the longtime UFC vet has looked like a brand new fighter since his low-key return from featherweight. He secured his first TKO finish in nearly a decade in one fight while dominating a game Erik Koch in the other. What gives?
Guida has returned to his roots, emphasizing wrestling and ground control… well, that’s what he did against Koch. He took Joe Lauzon out so damn quick that he didn’t get to implement his strategy, Nonetheless, his work with Team Alpha Male has improved his GnP exponentially while maintaining control. Having experienced the first two KO losses of his career at featherweight, he realizes he no longer has the durability to engage in the brawls he was once notorious for. He probably should have figured that out earlier given the lack of power in his punches, but better late than never.
Oliveira’s return to lightweight was forced after he missed weight multiple times, including by 10 pounds in his final appearance at 145. Even though he dropped his last contest to Paul Felder, Oliveira looked good early, showing an innate ability to find his opponent’s back and drag them to the ground. However, Chucky Olives burned himself out so badly in his attempt to control and submit Felder that he had nothing left to offer. Oliveira striking is an underrated aspect – particularly his knees in the clinch – but it’s severely overshadowed by his world-class BJJ skills and his reputation as a quitter.
I don’t like picking this contest. Guida is the type of fighter that keeps coming… the type that gives Oliveira all sorts of trouble. However, Oliveira is the type of submission expert that has always given Guida issues. I’m maintaining Guida’s finish of Lauzon was flukish until I see him do it again, so he may not be able to thwart Oliveira enough with the threat of his power. Oliveira stepping in on late notice pays off. Oliveira via submission of RD1
Mike Santiago (21-11) vs. Dan Ige (8-2), Featherweight
Though Santiago and Ige both found success on the Contender’s Series, neither has been able to find success in the official Octagon quite yet. Santiago’s hand has been a bit rougher as he was dealt the red hot Zabit Magomedsharipov in his UFC debut, followed by a contest with Mads Burnell in which Burnell missed weight. Santiago isn’t anything special physically, but he’s tough as nails, a single KO loss on his record coming very early in his career. That toughness has allowed him operate in the pocket despite some defensive struggles as he has sharpened his boxing skills over the years.
Ige tends to get in his opponent’s face and stay there, constantly pressuring with the occasional takedown attempt to mix things up. His first excursion into the UFC exposed his lack of defense as Julio Arce seemed to counter everything the Hawaiian threw at him, though it could be said that Ige never went away. Despite his reputation as a slugger, half of Ige’s career wins have come by way of submission with the RNC being his preferred method of victory.
If you want a fight that should be fun to watch, this contest should suffice. If you’re looking for a pair of bright prospects, temper your expectations as neither appears to be more than a lower level action fighter. Santiago has a tendency to put himself in bad positions while grappling as he tends to go for submission over position, but I don’t know if Ige can take advantage of that. Otherwise, I expect Santiago’s experience and know-how to carry him through to victory. Santiago via submission of RD2