It’s difficult to get a read on the preliminary contests of UFC Nashville. There aren’t any contests that jump out immediately as either an exciting, action-packed affair or a painful, slow slog. If I were to lean one way or the other, I’d lean closer to the contests being entertaining…though I’m not going to make any guarantees.
If you’re not going to make guarantees, which contests are most likely to deliver on their promise?
I suppose Randa Markos and Angela Hill stands out most. About the only fight that Hill has been in that didn’t thoroughly entertain was her contest with Tecia Torres. That was also very early in Hill’s career when she couldn’t stop a takedown, resulting in Torres grinding her out. Hill’s takedown defense has improved enough since then that her contests have largely been standup battles. However, most of her opponents have also favored trading on their feet. While it’s possible Markos could decide to trade fisticuffs, the Canadian’s base is her wrestling. Then again, even if Markos does ground the Muay Thai striker, her propensity for scrambles and attempted submissions could create a hell of a spectacle.
Aside from that, I favor the curtain jerker between flyweights Eric Shelton and Jordan Espinosa to provide the most entertainment value. Given it’s a flyweight contest, is it really that much of a surprise? Espinosa is making his debut, displaying a penchant for submissions on the regional circuit. Shelton has flashed signs of becoming a contender with his strong wrestling base and plus athleticism, though that doesn’t seem to matter with the UFC looking to eliminate flyweights. Regardless of whether there is any relevance to this contest – besides who hangs around the roster a bit longer – it should be fun.
Speaking of relevance, is there any contest that could have relevance at the top of a division?
The rankings of Alexis Davis and Jennifer Maia in the women’s flyweight division might indicate their contest is relevant, though that is up for debate. Make no mistake that the UFC is looking to see Maia emerge victorious as Davis had a title shot at bantamweight in 2014, but has had several less-than-scintillating performances from an aesthetic point of view since that time. Nonetheless, her veteran savvy is second to none, allowing her to snatch victory from physically superior opponents like Liz Carmouche. Maia was the reigning Invicta flyweight champion when she made her UFC debut, only to put together a disappointing performance against the aforementioned Carmouche, struggling with her physicality. That shouldn’t be an issue with Davis. So long as Maia can get her combination striking going, the UFC should have their wish granted.
So is the rest of the preliminary contests just riff raff?
Yes and no…depending on your expectations of course. Marlon Vera has been a hot and cold prospect with his toughness being the only consistent factor in his performances. Sometimes he establishes a jab and early and puts together consistent offense. Other times, he finds himself backed into the cage the whole time with little coming out of him offensively. He faces a 38-year old Frankie Saenz who has shown signs of slowing down, his durability not being what it once was. Nonetheless, he’s riding a two-fight win streak and his wrestling, if he chooses to utilize it, should be the difference…provided Vera’s opportunistic finishing abilities don’t end the contest before the 15-minute time limit.
Bobby Moffett and Bryce Mitchell don’t appear to have a massive upside as featherweight prospects, but they are both tough as nails. Moffett’s experience against a higher level of competition and his extensive submission skills should prove to be the difference as Mitchell returns to action from a scrotal injury…no joke.
The only other competition on the prelims is bantamweight prospects Chris Gutierrez and the debuting Ryan MacDonald. Gutierrez is primarily a wrestler with some dangerous kicks - he owns a TKO stoppage via leg kicks - though he was overwhelmed by Raoni Barcelos on the mat last November. MacDonald doesn’t have a particular skill set that stands out, nor has he faced any notable competition.
So you’re saying I won’t want to tune in if I’m the type of fan who picks and chooses what events to watch?
Yeah, I’d say that sums it up pretty well. When you see my predictions, you’ll probably feel even stronger about that sentiment as I don’t see a lot of finishes…
The prelims of UFC Nashville begin at 5:00 PM ET/2:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Moffett via Submission, RD1
Marlon Vera via TKO, RD3
Maia via Decision
Hill via Decision
Gutierrez via Decision
Shelton via decision