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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Vancouver: Cerrone vs. Gaethje - Prelims Preview

Get all the necessary information for UFC Vancouver’s preliminary bouts, headlined by a heavyweight contest between rising Brazilian Augusto Sakai and mainstay Marcin Tybura.

While I’m not crazy about the offering on the prelims of UFC Vancouver, there isn’t any real reason to be too upset. The UFC needs to dump these contests somewhere, and what better place than on the prelims of an ESPN+ only card? Seriously though, some of the contests have fighters who have either proven they deserve – or recently deserved if they don’t anymore – their roster spots and are simply trying to separate themselves from the crowd. Others feature prospects trying to establish themselves as not just being worthy of their roster spot, but that they possess bright futures. Perhaps I’m giving too much leeway to the quality of these contests, but it’s not like this is UFC Shenzhen when they were signing lesser resident fighters simply to appeal to the local crowd.

One contest could answer whether we have a new heavyweight contender on our hands. Well… maybe contender is too strong of a word, if Augusto Sakai should get past former top ten ranked Marcin Tybura. But in a division that was long dominated by dinosaurs, it’s always nice to see fresh blood climb into a potential position of meaning.

The prelims begin on ESPN+ at 5:00 PM ET/2:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Note: A middleweight contest between Andrew Sanchez and Marvin Vettori was scrapped on Wednesday before Sanchez was pulled due to illness.

Marcin Tybura (17-5) vs. Augusto Sakai (13-1-1), Heavyweight

While Tybura has dropped three of his last four contests – and thus proved he isn’t worthy of his former top ten ranking – he has been losing to quality opposition in Fabricio Werdum, Derrick Lewis, and Shamil Abdurakhimov. Tybura’s scalp still has some value and Sakai is hoping to capitalize on that.

Sakai impressed in DWCS to make his way into the UFC. Since then, he has secured two wins to put himself in this position. Sakai’s frame is more than a little bit doughy, making it easy to disbelieve in his ability to remain effective over the course of 15 minutes. Surprisingly though, his cardio has proven to be one of his better weapons. Even if he isn’t the best athlete, Sakai’s durability, strength, and ability to go deep has allowed him to continually find success. The question is how far he’ll be able to go despite his lack of speed.

Tybura has a lot of the same qualities as Sakai. He isn’t a special athlete. He possesses a deep – and more proven – gas tank. And though he isn’t known for his power, he can surprise. Have you seen his head kick KO of Viktor Pesta? What separates Tybura is the fluidity of his combination striking and his abilities on the mat. He’s no wiz, but he generally can avoid the mat when he wants in addition to avoiding submissions. However, he has also been tentative on the feet as of late, lacking the assurance he exhibited earlier in his UFC run. Has his stoppage losses sapped his confidence?

Sakai may be coming off a win, but most believe he didn’t deserve the win the judges awarded him over Andrei Arlovski, being outstruck 75-42 in significant strikes. That doesn’t tell the whole story, but it does paint the picture I’m trying to show in the fewest words. Nonetheless, a less-than-optimal performance doesn’t mean Sakai has plateaued or that he’s incapable of getting past Tybura. However, Tybura’s footwork should allow him to avoid a lumbering Sakai’s attack and Tybura should be more confident now that he isn’t dealing with Abdurakhimov’s fast hands. It’ll probably be sloppy at times -- especially if Sakai gets what he wants in a clinch-heavy affair – but Tybura’s know-how should prove to be just enough. Tybura via decision

  • There was little hype around Cole Smith when he made his UFC debut on short notice, but there are some who now believe there may be something more to the Canadian striker. Exceptionally tall for bantamweight at 5’11”, Smith’s knowledge of range – and how to use it – allowed him to outpoint a burly Mitch Gagnon. Doing the same thing to wrestling specialist Miles John will be a completely different task. Though Smith is the cleaner striker, he isn’t as explosive as John nor can he hope to compete with the American on the mat. Some may point out Gagnon was also a mat-centric fighter, but he also has a faulty gas tank. John doesn’t. Smith appears to be tailor-made for John to blow through, though a gutty performance from the Canadian should be expected. John via decision
  • Winner of a weak class of TUF featherweights, Brad Katona suffered his first professional defeat at the hands of bantamweight Merab Dvalishvili when the Canadian was unable to stay off his back from Dvalishvili’s nonstop pressure. Katona has some decent takedowns and is a technically sound striker with good boxing combinations, but he doesn’t have the power to thwart anyone from getting in his face. That’s not good for him as Hunter Azure is another solid wrestler who is likely to test Katona’s takedown defense with little fear of the repercussions. However, Azure is also smart with a tendency to zero in on a chink in his opponent’s armor. Azure isn’t as slick as Katona, but he is more powerful with the stronger wrestling game. Even though Katona acknowledged his wrestling deficiency and has worked hard to improve in that area, I find it hard to believe he’ll make up the needed ground to top Azure. Azure via decision
  • Once one of the featherweight division’s most reliable proponents for consistent action, injury and age appears to have taken a toll on the body of Chas Skelly. He has fought only once in the last 28 months and it’s been even longer since he won a contest, his last two contests being the first two stoppage losses of his career. Nonetheless, there’s reason to believe Skelly’s uber-aggressive wrestling and submission game should prove to be enough to overcome Jordan Griffin. Griffin tends to get caught up in his opponent’s fight, engaging Dan Ige in a grappling battle when Ige had the edge on the mat. However, Griffin is the cleaner striker and may be able to expose Skelly’s tendency to gas down the stretch… provided he can avoid tapping out to one of Skelly’s chokes. The aging vet should have at least one more victory in him as he has a knack for finding his opponent’s neck. Skelly via submission of RD2
  • Though Louis Smolka has been sober since January 2018, there’s reason to believe alcohol may have already derailed his career as he still hasn’t regained the form he showed during a four-fight win streak a few years ago. Formerly an energetic striker with dangerous knees in the clinch, he’s been lethargic compared to his old self. Perhaps he hasn’t adjusted to fighting at bantamweight yet. Regardless, Smolka will get every opportunity to show his volume boxing is still effective as Ryan MacDonald’s gangly frame offers an inviting target. MacDonald is durable and willing to walk through a fire storm, but is sorely lacking in physical attributes to find success at this level. MacDonald is easy to root for, but he’s also easy to bet against. Smolka via decision
  • It’s safe to say we’ll get a more honest assessment of Kyle Prepolec this time around as he is fighting at his natural weight class of lightweight in addition to having a full camp. Regardless of the reasoning, the Canadian counter striker proved to be too patient against a larger opponent in Nordine Taleb. It’s doubtful he’ll be as tentative against Austin Hubbard, a diverse striker with a tendency for staying in his opponent’s face, who also happens to be a 155er. Hubbard tends to wear down his opponents with his nonstop pace, though Prepolec doesn’t seem to be prone to gassing. Nonetheless, I still favor the American as his volume should be enough to allow him to outwork Prepolec and take a decision. Hubbard via decision

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