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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Brooklyn: Cejudo vs. Dillashaw - Main card preview

Get the scoop on the main card action from UFC Brooklyn, including a potential #1 contender’s bout at flyweight between perennial contender Joseph Benavidez and Dustin Ortiz; plus the debut of former NFL All-Pro, Greg Hardy.

The UFC’s debut under the ESPN umbrella was supposed to be focused on the main event between Henry Cejudo and TJ Dillashaw for the flyweight title. Instead, due to some bonehead planning that could have easily been avoided, much of the thunder from that title fight has been stolen by former NFL defensive end Greg Hardy making his UFC debut. It isn’t just that Hardy is making his debut.

It’s that Hardy, a formerly convicted woman abuser – overturned when the plaintiff refused to testify upon Hardy’s appeal – is making his debut on the same card as Rachael Ostovich, a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of her husband just months ago. The UFC has been fortunate enough for Ostovich to show real maturity in how she has handled the situation – she even went out of her way to meet Hardy and let him know there are no hard feelings on her end – but they’ve faced a lot of heat for their lack of consideration on a potentially volatile situation.

To be clear, Hardy is talented, even if he’s proving difficult to like. Even if he wasn’t on the same card as Ostovich, there would be a lot of attention on his debut. However, that isn’t the only contest of note on the main card of UFC Brooklyn. Gregor Gillespie is facing his first real test in Yancy Medeiros. And even though the UFC is looking to kill the flyweight division, Joseph Benavidez and Dustin Ortiz are squaring off in what could prove to be a pivotal contest should the flyweight division survive. Hell, Benavidez could even step into the main event should either Cejudo or Dillashaw miss weight. The card isn’t perfect, but the UFC’s effort for their ESPN debut can’t be faulted.

The main card begins on ESPN+ at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Greg Hardy (3-0) vs. Allen Crowder (9-3), Heavyweight

Hardy may very well be blessed with the best physical attributes of any other heavyweight on the roster. That appeared to be a distinct possibility based on his NFL accolades alone. The guy was an NFL All-Pro and we all know organizations like the NFL and NBA attract the highest level of athletes because they pay so much better than the UFC. That’s not a rip on fighter pay. It’s simply a fact.

Once one views the film of Hardy’s limited MMA experience so far, all the ideas of him being a physical specimen are confirmed. Hardy moves with incredible quickness and throws his fists with incredible power. While his technique isn’t bad, he doesn’t need to be a technician by any means, as his physical attributes allow him to cover ground in a hurry. He has yet to face anyone with the physical tools or experience to test him, particularly on the ground. As of this point, no one has any clue how well Hardy has taken to the ground.

Unfortunately for Hardy’s detractors, Crowder doesn’t seem like the guy to test him in that department. It isn’t that Crowder can’t wrestle at all; it’s that he prefers to stand and bang. The big man isn’t a terrible athlete for UFC heavyweight standards in addition to a legit frame for the division. However, he can’t come close to matching Hardy in terms of physicality, a scary proposition given he tends to rely on those advantages. If Crowder can survive the opening two minutes – something no one has been able to do with Hardy as of yet – he stands a chance as he has a good gas tank and pushes a fast pace. Perhaps Hardy won’t be able to make it in deep waters….

The UFC knew damn well what they were doing when they matched Crowder with Hardy. Like him or not, Hardy’s reputation is drawing eyeballs. The longer he continues to find success, the longer the eyeballs remain on him. The UFC set him up against Crowder with the hopes Hardy gets another quick finish. With all due respect to Crowder, Hardy probably gets what he’s looking for. Hardy via KO of RD1

Gregor Gillespie (12-0) vs. Yancy Medeiros (15-5, 1 NC), Lightweight

I can understand if people believe I don’t care for Gillespie. While that isn’t true, I have lamented the lack of quality competition Gillespie has faced since coming into the UFC. Five fights into his UFC career and his best win has been over Vinc Pichel. That doesn’t scream future contender. However, it’s because I believe Gillespie has that type of ability I’ve been upset with what I perceive to be a slow track to the top, something he can ill afford given he turns 32 in March.

Medeiros, returning to lightweight after a four-fight run at 170, appears to be the first real test of Gillespie’s career. No one will ever question the Hawaiian’s toughness as he has participated in several hard-hitting brawls, but that he has been unable to avoid those brawls calls into question his ability to advance beyond more than being a mid-level gatekeeper. It has also whittled away at his durability as he’s been finished several times in recent contests in addition to several other near-finishes. Medeiros isn’t a terrible grappler, showing some solid scrambling skills and good takedown defense. However, he also hasn’t been facing many wrestlers.

Enter Gillespie. A NCAA national wrestling champion, Gillespie is as technically sound of a wrestler as there is in the lightweight division. His bag of tricks runs deep and he uses his quickness to his advantage in scrambles. His lack of size could prove to be a disadvantage against Medeiros on the feet – much as it did in Gillespie’s UFC debut against Glaico Franca – though Gillespie has shown growth since that last time we saw him extensively exchanging fisticuffs. If nothing else, his raw power should make Medeiros wary… though Medeiros is rarely wary of anything.

Even if I’m not crazy about Medeiros returning to lightweight – he doesn’t use his size effectively enough to justify the massive weight cut – I’m still a big fan of this contest. Medeiros has a tendency to pull out the best out of his opposition – largely because of his massive defensive deficiencies – so I expect this to be Gillespie’s breakout performance. Yes, Gillespie has looked awesome in several of his fights, but he hasn’t beat anyone with any name value. Medeiros isn’t a star, but his name does have some value. Gillespie via submission of RD2

Joseph Benavidez (26-5) vs. Dustin Ortiz (19-7), Flyweight

It’s very difficult to know what to make of this contest. Though the UFC has not made an official announcement that they are scraping the flyweight division, all the evidence points to that being the case. The majority of the flyweight roster has been released and the main event of this card has the distinct possibility to absorb the title into the bantamweight division… likely eliminating it. However, Benavidez has reported a new four-fight contract… at flyweight. The mainstay of the division has called for a title fight against the winner of the flyweight title – and there is some support for that – so it’s possible there is more to the destruction of the division than meets the eye.

Regardless of how all that plays out, Benavidez has his hands full with Ortiz. Yes, Benavidez beat Ortiz just over three years ago, but Ortiz appears to be improved since that time while Benavidez has largely been in decline. Granted, Benavidez looked better than he has in years in his most recent contest, disposing of the up-and-coming Alex Perez in impressive fashion. Going into that contest, the belief was that Benavidez was on the decline as he looked rusty as he returned from a torn ACL against Sergio Pettis. It appears it was just ring rust as Benavidez was exceptionally sharp, mixing up his volume expertly while showing some of the wrestling that many believed had disappeared from his arsenal. Perhaps the potential closure of Benavidez’s longtime home has awoken something in Benavidez… or is it that his foil, Demetrious Johnson, no longer sits upon the throne?

Regardless of the reasons Benavidez again appears to be an elite fighter, this is probably Ortiz’s last opportunity to prove he belongs with the elite of the flyweight. Long a reliable gatekeeper with losses to many of the best in the division, Ortiz appears to be coming into his own, securing three straight wins with two coming by way of stoppage in a division notorious for the lack of finishes. Ortiz has always been solid in all areas, but never elite in a single one. Perhaps now that he’s tapping into his power potential, his striking can be the element that puts him over the top.

There is no definitive answer what will become of the flyweight division in the UFC immediately after the conclusion of the event. It does appear the division will cease to exist within the confines of the Octagon soon enough, but there are indications it could carry on. If it does, there is a strong possibility the winner of this contest will contend for the gold. Then again, it could also prove to mean nothing. I hope there is life after this event for the division. Regardless, this is a hard contest to pick as Benavidez’s revitalization could be a one time thing. Regardless, he’ll be my pick. Benavidez via decision

Paige VanZant (7-4) vs. Rachael Ostovich (4-4), Women’s Flyweight

All the controversy of Ostovich being on the same card as Hardy aside, this should be a fun contest, even if it is unlikely to create any major waves. Sorry to the fans of both fighters, but neither appears to be major players.

Fans are aware of VanZant’s limited ceiling at this point as the former pet project of Dana White has dropped three of her last four contests. However, even though she hasn’t been finding much success, she did earn the respect of many detractors when she finished her contest with Jessica-Rose Clark despite breaking her arm midway through. Despite that, VanZant is at an awkward stage of her career as she has been trying to find her identity. She was an aggressive pressure fighter who relentlessly grinded away at her opposition when she first came into the UFC. In her last few contests, she’s been trying to be an out-fighter. The results thus far have been poor.

Ostovich doesn’t have the same identity crisis as VanZant, showing a nice well-rounded game that sees her taking the fight where she feels her opponent is weak. Thus, she chose to stand and bang with noted grappler Montana de la Rosa while taking Karine Gevorgyan to the ground as soon as possible. Ostovich has good power in her fists, but she also has a lot of technical deficiencies, something that seems unlikely to be fixed as she works at a smaller camp and has for quite a while.

I don’t feel comfortable picking either fighter to emerge from this contest with a W. VanZant has been lost as to her identity while Ostovich has plenty of distractions in her personal life that make it hard to believe she’s completely focused on this contest. The X-factor that has me leaning towards VanZant is her noticeable advantage in the stamina department. No matter how hard of a pace VanZant pushes, she still seems to have something left in the tank when the contest is over. Ostovich has struggled with that, never having gone the distance in a fight she has lost. That leads me to believe VanZant can pick up a late stoppage. VanZant via TKO of RD3

Glover Teixeira (27-7) vs. Karl Roberson (7-1), Light Heavyweight

It seems like a lifetime ago when everyone looked at Teixeira as the dominant world beater he was when he made his UFC debut. Remember that all-time beatdown he put on Fabio Maldonado? As impressive as that was, that guy no longer exists as Teixeira is now 39 with an extraordinary amount of miles on his body. In fact, he’s more prone to being the guy on the receiving end of a beatdown at this stage. Never a quick athlete in the first place, Teixeira has lost some of his speed and acknowledges he can’t participate in brawls in the same way he once did. Nonetheless, the Brazilian still has something to offer, even if he isn’t going to be a title contender ever again.

Where Teixeira is still effective is his punching power and his offensive wrestling is still a viable option… when he’s facing an opponent who isn’t much of a wrestler. Fortunately for him, Roberson is not only short on wrestling and grappling accolades, he’s also a natural middleweight. To his credit, Roberson is a talented striker – he’s a former professional kickboxer – with great hand speed who has been adding takedowns to his arsenal as well. However, Roberson has struggled to remain effective late in contests, even when fighting at a measured pace. More disconcerting was the poor performance he exhibited in his lone contest against a ground based fighter in Cezar Ferreira.

I’m not going to completely discount Roberson. He hits hard and Teixeira’s formerly iron chin isn’t what it once was. Despite that, Teixeira can still take a beating -- Anthony Johnson has been the only one to put him down with a single shot – so the smart money still says to expect Teixeira to take Roberson to the ground and either pound him out or find a choke. Teixeira via TKO of RD1