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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Sacramento: De Randamie vs. Ladd - Main card preview

Get the dirt on the main card action of UFC Sacramento, featuring the return of UFC Hall of Famer, Urijah Faber, looking to turn away upstart Ricky Simon in the co-main event.

Perhaps the most publicized factor of UFC Sacramento is the return of UFC Hall of Famer, Urijah Faber, out of retirement. While Faber is certainly a legend and a pioneer of the smaller weight classes, his return is being met with mixed emotions. Some are always anxious to see figures from their past return to the cage in hopes of recapturing the magic that made them great. Others think back to how the returning fighter last looked when we saw them in action, not their glory days. To be fair to Faber, he isn’t talking about making a run at the title. He seems to understand those days have passed him by. Does he have enough in the tank to turn away a rising prospect like Ricky Simon? We’re about to find out….

The main card begins on ESPN+ at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Urijah Faber (34-10) vs. Ricky Simon (15-1), Bantamweight

This isn’t a BJ Penn situation. Faber was still capable of winning fights when he called it a career in 2016. In fact, Faber did win his last fight, though it could be argued Brad Pickett was even more washed than the former WEC champion. We’re now 31 months removed from that. Faber would probably argue the time away has allowed his body to heal up from the wear and tear that accumulated over the years without a significant break – eight months was the longest break he had between fights for his entire career – and that is a fair point. However, Faber is also 40-years old now and part of his decline at the end of his career should have also been attributed to him not adapting with the evolution of the sport. Has being on the sidelines allowed Faber to evaluate his own progress?

In retrospect, it’s amazing Faber was among the elite as long as he was. Faber’s striking always consisted of heavy hooks, but it was most effective when used to cover the distance for Faber to secure his double-leg takedowns. He achieved his peak effectiveness when he integrated more lateral movement under Duane Ludwig. As Father Time revealed himself to Faber more and more, the movement wasn’t nearly as effective, leading to a decline after peaking around 2013. Aside from his wrestling, Faber was an elite scrambler with a knack for finding chokes. If that didn’t work, Faber’s GnP was almost as effective too.

It’s humorous to see Faber matched up against Simon as the youngster’s game is about as reflective of a younger Faber. Simon isn’t quite the scrambler Faber is – or should I say was? – but the rest of his ground game recalls echoes of a younger Faber. The big difference between Simon and a younger Faber: Simon’s constant forward motion. The youngster’s striking numbers don’t reflect just how aggressive he is, in part because he is as dogged as they come in finishing his takedowns. His defense on the feet is lacking, but surviving and coming out victorious over Rani Yahya is proof he knows what he’s doing on the ground.

There is no doubt Faber remained in good physical condition during his retirement. He’s not the type to let himself go. Staying in shape is only a part of fending off Father Time. Despite that, everyone knows the eternal one is undefeated. Faber was showing signs of slipping when he was still active. I’m sure he’s slowed since that time. I’m reluctant to bet against a legend like Faber without having him completely fall off a cliff – ala Penn – but it’s harder for me to pick against youth. Simon via decision

Josh Emmett (14-2) vs. Mirsad Bektic (13-1), Featherweight

In terms of divisional meaning, this contest should have been the rightful co-main event. Alas, Emmett would never dream of upstaging his coach, friend, and mentor Faber as the legend makes his return, thus we don’t get any fuss from his end. However, this may be his last chance to prove his KO victory over Ricardo Lamas wasn’t a fluke. That he belongs near the top of the division. That he hasn’t passed his prime.

Emmett was always facing an uphill battle in that regard as he was already 31 by the time he entered the UFC. Nonetheless, Emmett developed a reputation for stepping in on short notice and made a name for himself in the process. Like his mentor, Emmett fancies heavy hooks on the feet, though Emmett seems to have a better sense of timing and more power than Faber, though opponents do tend to get a feel for his rhythm quickly. Though he came into the UFC with a reputation as a wrestler, Emmett has chosen to stand and bang in most of his UFC contests. Given Bektic’s prowess on the ground and Emmett’s power continuing to make itself readily apparent, there’s no reason to expect anything different this time.

Bektic was once considered by a large swath of the MMA community to be the top prospect in the sport. Prodigious athletic gifts and a stout wrestling game can largely be accredited for that lofty status, though many would say the Tristar product hasn’t lived up to expectations. That is largely because Bektic’s striking hasn’t progressed as hoped, despite his apparent power. However, Bektic has shown a much more measured approach since his move to Tristar, perhaps finding the right coach in Firas Zahabi to tap into his tantalizing talents. That should help him to avoid gassing late as he has in the past, though it will mean nothing if he doesn’t tighten up his defense.

This is a razor thin contest to call. Emmett is a better athlete than many give him credit for and for all the hype around Bektic, his win over a declining Ricardo Lamas is the best on his ledger. Most would say the same for Emmett, but few looked at Emmett as a future champion when he joined the UFC. If it weren’t for Bektic’s questionable chin, I’d be picking him instantaneously. As it is, I fear Emmett could crack him. Despite that fear, I’m still going with Bektic as I’ve liked his progression and find it ridiculous to abandon Bektic when he has just one loss on his ledger. Bektic via decision

As for the rest….

  • Let’s all scrape Karl Roberson’s last appearance from our memory as the former kickboxer took a short notice contest with Glover Teixeira… at light heavyweight. Roberson may have been competitive at 205 on the regionals, but his lack of wrestling is blatant at that weight against the elite mat specialists. Against middleweights? Not so much. Aside from that, it isn’t like his opponent, Wellington Turman, is an elite wrestler anyway. If Turman can get Roberson to the mat, he’s very likely to acquire a submission victory in his UFC debut. However, he’s at an athletic disadvantage, his wrestling isn’t as accomplished as his grappling, and is terrible on the feet. Roberson gets a chance to display his striking talents. Roberson via KO of RD2

It wasn’t that long ago that it looked like Cezar Ferreira had turned the corner. Aware that he can’t depend on his chin anymore, Ferreira picked up wins over the likes of Anthony Smith and Jack Hermansson on the back of his wrestling and grappling. However, since those victories, opponents recognize how one-dimensional the former Vitor Belfort protégé has become and victories have been tougher to come by. Force him to work for the takedowns and positioning and Ferreira tends to slow down. Marvin Vettori isn’t a cardio machine himself, but he knows how to pace himself well enough to be fresh at the end of a contest and throws enough volume to be the busier fighter. Can he avoid Ferreira’s takedowns? I think he can. Vettori via TKO of RD3