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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Philadelphia: Barboza vs. Gaethje - Prelims preview

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Get the scoop on the early contests from UFC Philadelphia, including former title challenger Ray Borg’s long-awaited return to the cage after 18 months away from action.

Congratulations! We’re at the final showing of nine straight weekends of UFC action. For those of you who have been along the for the ride the entire time, I especially congratulate as it isn’t always easy to strap in for MMA action every weekend, even for those who love MMA.

The sentiment is much appreciated. Now let’s skip to the chase. What names would I recognize from the preliminary contests of UFC Philadelphia?

Well then, no time to waste I suppose. Ray Borg was the final victim of Demetrious Johnson’s record streak of title defenses, falling prey to Johnson’s magnificent armbar finish. Though he was dominated by Mighty Mouse – as many were during Johnson’s reign – Borg is a top-flight flyweight. However, he is moving up to bantamweight as the UFC has made no secret of their desire to eliminate the smallest of the men’s divisions. He’s on his third opponent at this point as Casey Kenney was announced just this week as a replacement for Kyler Phillips. Kenney is a two-division champion for LFA at bantamweight and flyweight – having won the interim bantamweight belt just last Friday -- in addition to two appearances on the Contender Series.

The other name most will recognize is Ross Pearson, winner of TUF a decade ago. He’s fallen on hard times, winning just one of his last six contests as age and the many years of punishment have caught up to him. Despite the lost step physically, he’s still a savvy counter puncher who can take a decision if given the right matchup. Whether his opponent, Desmond Green, is that opponent is questionable. Green can fall into long stretches of inactivity if his opponent doesn’t push the pace. However, Green is also a solid wrestler. That doesn’t bode well for the veteran striker, especially if Pearson is on the attack.

Alongside the most recognizable names, you’ve typically highlighted the most entertaining contests as well…

Very true. Many in the MMA world of journalism have fallen in love with the eccentric Kevin Holland. The lanky middleweight – owner of an 81” reach – is willing to try anything in the cage. Seriously, he was crazy enough to trade fisticuffs with announced title challenger Thiago Santos. The 26-year old will have his grappling chops tested by savvy vet Gerald Meerschaert, one of the more creative submission grapplers in the division. Don’t be surprised if Holland tries to outdo Meerschaert on the mat as he has shown he doesn’t mind playing with fire - though he’s likely to find more success on the feet.

Many are also excited by the debuting Sabina Mazo. A 21-year old out of Colombia and the former flyweight champion for LFA, nobody denies the youngster is talented, particularly on the feet. However, like most as young as she is, she has issues with discipline that need to be shored up. She faces an inconsistent Maryna Moroz. Moroz is a tough out when she fights with aggression, but that hasn’t always been the case. Expect this contest to take place almost exclusively standing.

Which one of those are the featured prelim?

Surprisingly, none of them. The featured prelim is a woman’s strawweight contest between Jessica Aguilar and Marina Rodriguez. Aguilar is well past her prime in addition to dealing with several injuries in recent years. However, she put on a spirited performance against Jodie Esquibel last summer before being bulldozed by rising star Weili Zhang. She’ll play gatekeeper to Rodriguez, whose draw with Randa Markos looks far more impressive given Markos dominant performance last week. Rodriguez struggled with Markos’ wrestling before the latter gassed over the course of the contest. Aguilar’s base is her wrestling, meaning this will likely be a tougher test for the Brazilian than most expect.

Is that everything?

There are two other contests and they’re pretty good given they are the least interesting bouts on the prelims. In fact, it could be argued the featherweight contest between Kevin Aguilar and Enrique Barzola is the highest level contest between two competitors on the prelims. Aguilar is a pressure fighter who throws heavy hooks. His approach works thanks to his top-notch takedown defense and impressive durability. That’s terrible news for Barzola who relies heavily on his relentless takedowns. If he can’t put Aguilar on his back, it’s unlikely Barzola’s leg kicks will be enough to overcome Aguilar’s assault.

Lastly, the opening contest will see former flyweights Alex Perez and Mark de la Rosa clash at bantamweight. Perez opened his UFC career with three impressive wins before freezing when given a chance against Joseph Benavidez on a big stage. Given his size, a move to bantamweight seemed inevitable even without the elimination of the flyweight division. If he can regain the composure he showed in his early UFC contests, he should easily dispose of De la Rosa. De la Rosa has a nice boxing game, but is very undersized at 135 in addition to being limited athletically.

So you’re saying these prelims are about as good as it gets?

Outside of a packed supercard, yes. The UFC is doing a fantastic job with the ESPN cards thus far. However, it should be noted they did the same thing with the FOX cards in the early going. Then again, they never agreed to exclusively show PPVs on a FOX platform. This could be a relationship that benefits the fans more than the UFC.

The early prelims begin on ESPN+ at 3:30 PM ET/12:30 PM PT and the televised prelims on ESPN begin at 5:00 PM ET/2:00 PM PT on Saturday.


Marina Rodriguez over Jessica Aguilar via decision

Des Green over Ross Pearson via decision

Kevin Aguilar over Enrique Barzola via decision

Kevin Holland over Gerald Meerschaert via TKO of RD2

Ray Borg over Casey Kenney via submission of RD1

Sabina Mazo over Maryna Moroz via decision

Alex Perez over Mark De la Rosa via TKO of RD3