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Diggin’ Deep on TUF 27 Finale: Tavares vs. Adesanya: Prelims preview

Get the scoop on the early action for the TUF 27 Finale this Friday, including a middleweight scrap between a savvy Gerald Meerschaert and rising prospect Oskar Piechota.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

As a disclaimer, I’m not sure if these are the contests that will be shown on the prelims. The UFC hasn’t released the full spat of fights that will be shown this Friday, much less what time those contests will be taking place. So rather than try and guess which fights will be on the internet streaming service and which ones will be on the FS1 prelims, I just decided to package them together. Granted, some of these contests could end up on the main card, but the bottom line is these fights are happening and I’m covering these contests.

The Fight Pass prelims begin at 6:30 PM ET/3:30 PM PT and the FS1 prelims at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Friday.

Alessio Di Chirico (11-1) vs. Julian Marquez (7-1), Middleweight

Marquez delivered one of the most exciting contests of the year to close out 2017 in his UFC debut when he engaged in a brutal brawl with Darren Stewart. It displayed his power and toughness, but also his complete lack of attention to defense. That he swings his power punches wide doesn’t help him in that manner, but the UFC will always have a home for fighters like him so long as Dana White is still associated with the world’s premier MMA organization. To be fair, Marquez’s durability means his balls-out style isn’t a poor strategy for him, though he could minimize the damage he takes if he really wanted to.

Di Chirico is often forgotten about when people talk about some of the young talent at middleweight and it’s hard to say whether that’s justified at this point. A chiseled athlete with good timing on his takedowns and pop in his hands, he appears to be lacking a jab amongst other things to fill out his counter striking style. He can also push a hard pace and has shown great durability… two things he’ll be greatly in need of against Marquez.

I haven’t seen enough out of Di Chirico to sell me on him becoming a mainstay quite yet. Sure, he has a couple of UFC wins, but there aren’t many who would declare wins over Garreth McClellan and Oluwale Bamgbose as great wins. Marquez on the other hand showed he’s willing to walk through hell to get the finish. I’m favoring the American in this one. Marquez via KO of RD2

Montana De La Rosa (8-4) vs. Rachael Ostovich (4-3), Women’s Flyweight

Castmates from the season of TUF to crown a women’s flyweight champion, de la Rosa and Ostovich present a potentially fun grappling matchup between two of the better submission specialists in the division.

There are a lot of similarities between the two. For instance, both won their UFC debuts by securing armbars in the first round. De la Rosa owns the more credible background, having wrestled in high school and facing several UFC veterans prior to getting her own shot on the big stage. She also formerly competed at strawweight before deciding the weight cut wasn’t worth the potential size advantage it provided. She did well in her official UFC debut against Christina Marks, showing determination to lock in an armbar Marks nearly escaped from.

Ostovich has been looking far more composed in her recent contests, showing a direction of where she wants to take her fights after looking a bit aimless earlier in her career. Now she knows when she wants to strike, knows when she wants to set up her takedowns, and knows when she wants to look for a submission. There is still plenty of room for Ostovich to improve – she relies too heavily on risky head-and-arm throws to get the fight to the ground -- but the Hawaiian product is moving in the right direction.

This contest is very much a coin flip. De la Rosa has more experience in addition to youth and length, but Ostovich has been showing growth at a rapid pace in the last year. I do like the upside of de la Rosa a bit more, so I’ll pick the product of Texas to outpoint Ostovich. De la Rosa via decision

Luis Pena (4-0) vs. Richie Smullen (3-0-1), Lightweight

A pair of castmates from TUF 27, Pena and Smullen were eliminated from the tournament due to injury as opposed to a loss. Whereas Smullen didn’t eve get to fight, Pena received a fair amount of attention due to his moniker of Violent Bob Ross and his impressive performance. Clocking in at 6’3”, Pena knows how to use his lanky frame to his advantage by using rangy attacks such as a jab and front kicks to great use. There isn’t a lot of power in any single strike, but he piles on the damage at a frantic pace, often wearing down the opposition before the time limit is up.

Given Smullen is out of SBG, his lack of comfort on the feet is a bit of a surprise. Granted, he’s very inexperienced and that is guaranteed to change over time, but the feeling here is he’s in over his head. He has shown the ability to do a little bit of everything, but doesn’t do anything spectacular with a huge preference for the left hook.

Pena and Smullen may have the same amount of fights on their professional records, but Pena’s amateur experience carries over to how he carries himself in the cage. I don’t want to say he’s ready for primetime yet, but I don’t see him wilting under the bright lights. I struggle to see Smullen making it to the final bell. Pena via TKO of RD2

John Gunther (6-0) vs. Allan Zuniga (13-0), Lightweight

There is only one direction Gunther knows how to travel and that is forward. It isn’t always a good thing as he’s gotten himself into significant trouble more than once with his constant aggression, but he’s fortunate enough to have a granite chin to absorb much of the damage that comes his way. The constant pressure usually leads to the fight being contested against the fence with him looking for a takedown. His predictability will make it harder for him to execute as he faces tougher competition. It’s worth noting he didn’t win a fight in two appearances of the TUF tournament.

Zuniga didn’t win a fight in the tournament either, though he only had a single opportunity. At 5’6”, he may be better off dropping to featherweight rather than dealing with an extreme reach disadvantage just about every contest. Despite that, he has found ways to work it to his advantage, using his boxing chops to work over his opponent’s body just as much as their head and proving difficult to get to the ground.

This contest is difficult to predict as both fighters have major flaws that make a long UFC career appear unlikely. However, someone has to walk away with the W… unless of course there is a draw. I’m not going to be pretentious enough to predict that, so I’ll go with Gunther’s aggression to overwhelm Zuniga… though a guillotine choke on a takedown attempt doesn’t seem out of place. Gunther via decision

Matt Bessette (22-8, 1 NC) vs. Steven Peterson (16-7), Featherweight

Bessette has had a rough go of things lately. Headlining the first Contender Series last year, he was quickly disposed of by Kurt Holobaugh only for Holobaugh to test positive for a banned substance. The UFC saw fit to offer him a contract on short notice this past winter only for Enrique Barzola to dominate him.

Bessette is hardly a push over. In fact, he’s an extremely fun fighter, going all out on the offensive end, trusting in his power and durability to ultimately get the job done. It’s worked well for him on the regional scene as his power is a plus and he’s quite accurate. However, his defensive deficiencies in all areas have cost him severely against the higher levels of competition.

Peterson has a lot of similarities to Bessette in style, though Peterson falls a bit more on the reckless side. In fact, much of Peterson’s success comes from him being able to suck his opponents into a wild brawl where Peterson’s freakish toughness allow him to thrive. He has made some strides in his punching technique, but his defense is still about as wide open as you will find. Peterson doesn’t mind going to the ground either, but he struggled to take down Brandon Davis after spending a majority of his fighting career fighting smaller men at bantamweight.

The UFC appears to be giving Bessette the best chance for success they can as Peterson is the type of fighter who can bring out the best in him. These two are guaranteed to swing hard and go for any possible submission that opens up on the ground. Bessette relies heavily on finding the finish while Peterson is one of the hardest dudes to put away. I don’t have a lot of confidence in the pick, but I’ll go with Peterson to find favor with the judges in a wild showing from the longtime regional vets. Peterson via decision

Gerald Meerschaert (27-9) vs. Oskar Piechota (11-0-1), Middleweight

Meerschaert has proven to be one of the trickiest vets on the UFC roster after a mere four contests. A below average athlete by UFC standards, Meerschaert uses a funky rhythm and movement to throw off his opponents on the feet and close the distance for his variety of trips and takedowns. His deep arsenal of submissions is his biggest strength, securing 19 submission victories over the course of his career. The trick for Meerschaert is getting the fight to the ground as his lack of physical skills at this level have hurt his takedown abilities.

Piechota may not fight too hard to prevent the takedowns as he may not only be able to hang with Meerschaert in the grappling department, he is also the better wrestler. However, Piechota has made his name in the UFC with his KO power, finishing off Tim Williams within a couple of minutes and hurting Jonathan Wilson on multiple occasions. His sudden burst has caught his opponents by surprise as his athleticism is severely underrated.

While Meerschaert has shown some improvements on the feet himself – the body shot he put Eric Spicely down with was brutal – I struggle to see him finding that type of success against a far superior athlete in Piechota. Piechota won’t dispose of Meerschaert as easy as he did Williams, but he’ll eventually put away the durable veteran. Piechota via submission of RD2