I praised the Fight Pass prelims for their quality. I wish I could do the same for the prelims on ESPN.
Two sentences in and you’re already throwing these fights under the bus. What is it about them you hate?
I didn’t say hate. I just expected the quality of the nationally televised contest to be as good, if not better, than the Fight Pass contests. These feel subpar. The one contest I feel would definitively exceed the quality of the Fight Pass contests is hindered by it being an absolutely meaningless contest in a dying division.
You’re talking about flyweight, aren’t you?
Yep. Before the UFC began trimming the 125-pound roster, I would have been singing the praises of the pairing of Wilson Reis and Alexandre Pantoja. Reis challenged Demetrious Johnson for the title two years ago, but his confidence has appeared to take a hit after being shellacked by the former champion. He performed well enough to secure a decision over Ben Nguyen this past winter – his most recent contest -- but it wasn’t exactly the type of performance that has people thinking Reis is at the top of his game as his striking has stalled. Pantoja is likely to jump out to an early lead as he tends to explode out of the gate. Unfortunately, he also begins to fade at some point in the second. He’s made strides to pace himself, though it’s still a long way from being fully shored up.
So who wins… and in the process, remains in the UFC?
Ah, you have been paying attention if you can guess this is win or go home. Pantoja’s striking is the more consistent of the two, filling in his holes with patented low kicks. Reis has been able to squeak out wins on the strength of his wrestling and grappling. It’s plausible he could secure a decision with takedowns, but I like Pantoja’s grappling prowess – it’s up there with Reis’ – to negate enough of the ground work from his fellow Brazilian to give the younger fighter a win.
What makes you so down on the rest of these contests?
There are more questions than answers in each of those bouts. For starters, Max Griffin is better than his 2-4 UFC record would suggest, though it isn’t like he’s suffered a robbery in any of those losses either. The lanky striker is being paired up with a young Russian prospect in Zelim Imadaev. Imadaev has power and is a relentless wrestler – when he opts to take that route – but is still green. He began his professional career just three years ago and only two of his opponents had more than two fights at the time of their contest with Imadaev. It’ll be a tall task for Imadaev to navigate the jump in competition, so I’d expect Griffin to execute a solid game plan to walk away with a victory.
You said there were questions. Where are they?
The type of question you’re referring to is just how good Imadaev is. He can show a high ceiling even in a loss. I’m also wondering just how good Griffin is. If he can’t turn away a raw prospect, he’s not as good as I think he is. There are more specific questions as well. Has Griffin shored up his wrestling enough to stop the debutant from getting him to the mat? Will Imadaev even go that route? The Russian has been relying more on striking as of late. If he continues that trend, can he catch Griffin?
Got it. But there are still two other contests you mentioned.
Boston Salmon hasn’t been in action in 21 months, injuries striking prior to a multitude of scheduled contests. The heavy-handed Hawaiian possesses one-punch KO power in addition to some excellent takedown defense. However, he’s also had subpar defense and struggles to fill volume. He’ll be facing a stylistically similar opponent in Khalid Taha, a youthful prospect out of Germany. Taha isn’t a bad athlete, but I’d give Salmon the edge in that department. Couple Taha’s questionable wrestling technique with Salmon’s stout takedown defense and I favor the American to come out on top despite his long layoff.
I get it. Youthful fighters still figuring it out in addition to how much Salmon has improved… if at all.
Hey, you’re learning!
Yeah, yeah, yeah. What’s left?
The featured prelim is a contest between a pair of Contender Series alumnus in Jalin Turner and Matt Frevola. Though they were able to avoid a loss in their last contests, their ceiling is still very much up in the air. Turner 6’3” frame and 77” reach are a massive advantage at lightweight… so long as he can continue to make the weight. Only 23, it’s hard to believe he’ll continue to make weight as his metabolism slows, something my fat ass knows all about. Nonetheless, for now, he presents a unique challenge the aggressive Frevola. Frevola is a good enough athlete and wrestler that his straightforward style allowed him to bowl over lesser competition on the regional scene, but has had less success on the big stage. Nonetheless, if he can continue to become more nuanced – he looked much better in his draw with Lando Vannata than his debut loss to Polo Reyes – he could become the type of action fighter the UFC loves to keep around.
So how does it play out?
It’s a tough call. Turner’s lengthy attack could pick apart the stouter Frevola or Frevola could find his way within Turner’s range, grounding and pounding him for a win. I’ll go with Frevola, but I’m picking him without much confidence.