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UFC 244: Masvidal vs. Diaz - Early prelims preview

Peer behind the curtain of the early action from UFC 244, including a women’s flyweight contest between Katlyn Chookagian and Jennifer Maia that could determine the next title challenger.

For all the names that highlight UFC 244, the fight that appears to have the most immediate implications on a title picture is actually on the early prelims. That’s not meant to be a slight on the main card; the main card is fine. It’s better than fine. It’s great. It’s meant to be an indication of how deep this entire card is. Then again, there’s a reason why that contest is buried this deep into the card. As respectable as Katlyn Chookagian and Jennifer Maia are as fighters, they don’t scream must-see-TV, nor do they seem to be a credible threat to Valentina Shevchenko. Nonetheless, someone has to challenge for the belt and there’s a very good chance the winner gets a chance to be the next victim of the dominant champion.

The early prelims begin on ESPN+ or Fight Pass at 6:30 PM ET/3:30 PM PT on Saturday.

Katlyn Chookagian (12-2) vs. Jennifer Maia (17-5-1), Women’s Flyweight

Many believe Chookagian has done enough to have already earned her opportunity to step in with Shevchenko. However, despite her high striking volume, it seems like the UFC is reluctant to pit her against the champ. The biggest problem with Chookagian is most her contests come across as sparring sessions. Most of her strikes just touch up the opposition or come up just short of finding their target. It’s rare when she lands a strike that draws a reaction out of her opponent, much less secures a finish.

Though it has been a longer time for Maia since she secured a finish than it has been for Chookagian, no one is going to say Maia doesn’t make her strikes count. The stout Muay Thai practitioner hits hard and is particularly devastating in the clinch. She isn’t quite as defensively conscious as Chookagian – a big reason why Chookagian’s punches often come up short – meaning it’s more than plausible she ends up being outpointed by her American counterpart. It’s worth noting though that Maia’s power does come through in her attacks as she was outlanded by Alexis Davis and still found a way to sway the judges in her direction.

The wild card in this contest is the clinch, an area both would consider to be a strength. Chookagian’s height helps her to leverage her knees into her opponent’s body whereas Maia’s clinch offense is centered on the upper half of her body with short punches and elbows. However, what may be the real difference maker is Maia’s takedowns from the clinch where she can utilize her powerful grappling, an element she hasn’t been able to utilize in the UFC thus far. Chookagian knows how to defend submissions on the mat, but has been controlled by strong wrestlers like Liz Carmouche. That could be Maia’s clearest path to victory.

MMA has trended more and more towards striking battles, part of the reason Chookagian has been able to climb to this level. Her fake volume has been able to fool several judges and could very well do so again unless Maia can hurt her. I like the chances of Maia landing a few heavy shots and exercising enough ground control to move in for the opportunity against Shevchenko. Maia via decision

  • It’s been a decade since Lyman Good captured the Bellator welterweight title when the promotion was in its infancy. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t able to use it as a springboard into bigger things the way the man who took the belt from him – Ben Askren – but the often overlooked veteran has still been able to carve out a solid career anyway. He has good power in his punches, a solid chin, and underrated – and underused – wrestling. However, it’s a guarantee he’ll get an opportunity to show off those wrestling chops against massive Chance Rencountre, a southpaw whose recent success has surprised many. Rencountre has been able to smother his last couple of opponents, minimizing the damage they can do against his limited striking. Good should be able to avoid the mat and utilize his boxing enough to secure the judges’ favor. Good via decision
  • The UFC learned the hard way they were rushing Hakeem Dawodu upon his UFC debut, seeing the Muay Thai practitioner finished in just 39 seconds… by Danny Henry of all people. They’ve given him a slow play since, allowing him to win three in a row against lesser competition. He gets his first serious challenge since his debut loss in Julio Arce. Dawodu has become an exceptionally technical Muay Thai practitioner, but he’s also become averse to taking risks, largely eliminating the highlight reel that had so many excited by his entry into the organization. Nonetheless, he’s been able to easily outpoint his recent competition with use of distance and angles. Arce is unlikely to win a strict standup battle, but it’s plausible that just the threat of a takedown can open things up enough for him to outpoint Dawodu. Or, provided he gets the takedown, he subs the Canadian. It’s a close call and an excellent matchup on paper, but I’ll favor Arce to expose Dawodu’s questionable ground game early. Arce via submission of RD1