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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Newark: Covington vs. Lawler - Prelims preview

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Peer beneath the surface of UFC Newark’s early contests, featuring former kickboxer Antonina Shevchenko looking to thwart the energetic efforts of the youthful Lucie Pudilova.

As I went through the listed preliminary contests on the UFC Newark card, one bout in particular catches my eye. If you’ve never seen Lucie Pudilova do her thing, there is no better time to tune in than now. Her opponent, Antonina Shevchenko, is going to pull out the best of her… at least from an entertainment perspective. Pudilova doesn’t know how to be in a boring fight and Shevchenko is also a striker who isn’t afraid to eat a shot. There are other early contests that have potential to be fun scraps, but that’s about the only one that I would tell you not to miss.

The prelims begin on ESPN at 12:00 PM ET/9:00 AM PT on Saturday.

Antonina Shevchenko (7-1) vs. Lucie Pudilova (8-4), Women’s Flyweight

While this is an undeniable striking contest, there are quite a few differences in the way these two approach a fight. Shevchenko is a longtime veteran of the combat sports circuit despite the lack of contests on her MMA record. Beginning her kickboxing and Muay Thai career all the way back in 2003, Shevchenko racked up 40 contests in that sphere. As a result of all that experience, she was automatically one of the most technical strikers in women’s MMA once she made the transition to MMA full-time, expertly using her above average height and length. Work still needs to be done with her takedown defense and grappling, but the hope is that will come along in time.

Pudilova isn’t the technical marvel Shevchenko is, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who fights with more fire than the scrappy Czech. She doesn’t mind eating a punch in order to get her some, but the issue is that she tends to eat two or three in order to do so. Nevertheless, Pudilova throws enough volume that she tends to outland her opponent despite her defensive deficiencies as she owns an endless gas tank and is always pressing forward. Like Shevchenko, Pudilova has plenty of shortcomings on the mat, though it’s conceivable she has been able to quell some of those issues by facing opposition closer to her size now that she’s no longer fighting at 135.

The older sister of the reigning flyweight champion Valentina, Shevchenko is the clear favorite. Pudilova’s victories in the organization have come against opposition on the lower end of the experience and discipline scale. That doesn’t describe Shevchenko in the least. Given the insane durability of Pudilova, it’s likely this one goes the distance. Despite another spirited effort from Pudilova, expect Shevchenko to rebound from her first career loss in MMA. Shevchenko via decision

Lauren Murphy (10-4) vs. Mara Romero Borella (12-5, 2 NC), Women’s Flyweight

Murphy was hoping a drop to flyweight would revitalize her UFC career after a rough start at bantamweight. There appeared to be some validity to that theory when she beat Barb Honchak in her first official contest at her new home, but a loss to Sijara Eubanks and an injury have put the brakes on those hopes. Now the owner of a 2-4 UFC record – with those two wins coming against opponents with a combined zero wins in the Octagon – it wouldn’t be out of the question for Murphy to end up out of the organization with a loss.

Perhaps I’m being too negative about Murphy as there was some serious progress in her grappling since making the drop, though much of that progress was seemingly nullified by the stronger Eubanks in Murphy’s last appearance. Being the physically weaker fighter has been a common theme in each of Murphy’s losses. That shouldn’t be an issue against Borella, allowing Murphy’s aggressive brawling style to find some success. Perhaps the earlier progress in her grappling will reappear too….

Borella is a bit of a wild card in the division. She fought up to Katlyn Chookagian’s level, nearly upsetting the American, while coming dangerously close to losing to Talia Santo’s in the Brazilian’s UFC debut. Borella tends to hang around on the outside with low kicks being her primary offense for long stretches before bull rushing with a swarm of punches. If she can find the takedown, she’s the heavy favorite as her top control is the most developed part of her game.

I still can’t figure out either one of these ladies. Neither has had a lot of consistency in their performances, both regressing after impressive promotional debuts at flyweight. What has me leaning in Murphy’s favor is Borella doesn’t have the imposing strength to bully Murphy the way most of Murphy’s past opponents have, nor is she a great athlete. It’ll probably be a razor thin decision, but I’m going with the American. Murphy via decision

  • Mickey Gall is still best known for being the guy to beat CM Punk. In other words, his career hasn’t taken off the way the young grappler hoped it would. It shouldn’t be a surprise as Gall had a grand total of one fight before coming to the UFC. His grappling is a plus, but he’s still figuring out how to hang on the feet with other fighters who are similarly athletic. Usually, fighters develop their skills against a few tomato cans before entering the fire. Rather than give the youngster a clear step down, he gets hard hitting Salim Touahri. Touahri has shown solid takedown defense and the ability to survive on the mat at the very least. While I’d expect Gall to show better energy management than he showed against Diego Sanchez, I still expect it to be an issue. Touahri via TKO of RD2
  • It was a rough start to his UFC career, but Matt Schnell has rebounded well enough from two KO losses to open his UFC career to currently be riding a three-fight win streak. Noted for his grappling prowess when he entered the organization, Schnell developed into a far more cautious fighter as a counter striker with a heavy emphasis on a jab. Given his opponent, Jordan Espinosa, tends to dictate the pace of his contests, it’ll be a surprise if Schnell can utilize the safe style he’s adapted. Nonetheless, Schnell is a dangerous submission artist and could catch Espinosa if the DWCS vet gets sloppy. However, Espinosa has shown a unique opportunistic intangible that’s rare to find. He’ll continue to climb the thin flyweight ranks. Espinosa via TKO of RD2
  • Following an entertaining win over Danny Roberts earlier this year, most were expecting Claudio Silva to get a nice step up in competition. Thus, it caught many by surprise when they found out he was facing… Cole Williams? To be fair, Williams is an injury replacement for Ramazan Emeev, but it’s still a bit of a letdown. The 35-year old Williams is a finished product, already in the fighting game for over a decade. Despite being fairly well-rounded, he was never a great athlete in the first place, making it hard to see him being able to resist Silva’s smothering grappling. The Brazilian should remain undefeated in the UFC, disposing of Williams with ease. Silva via submission of RD1
  • Most fight fans were introduced to Hannah Goldy in her appearance on DWCS this summer. Though she didn’t get a contract on the show, she’ll be the first competitor from this season to appear in the Octagon. A volume striker with a kickboxing background, Goldy is already one of the more technical strikers in the women’s division. Her ground game is still very much a question mark, but that’s because she has successfully been able to avoid her opponent taking the fight there. She’ll be in serious trouble if Miranda Granger is successful in that endeavor. Granger, also making her UFC debut, has made short work of several opponents thanks to her submission prowess. If her wrestling was better, I’d be favoring Granger. As it is, Goldy’s athleticism and strong build should keep the fight standing, allowing Goldy to piece her up. Regardless, both women represent excellent additions to the flyweight division. Goldy via decision