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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 246: McGregor vs. Cerrone - ESPN prelims preview

Get the essentials of UFC 246’s televised prelims, featuring Maycee Barber looking to continue her quest to become the youngest UFC champion by upending crafty veteran Roxanne Modafferi.

I critique the UFC quite a bit. I do this knowing that the primary reason they make many of the decisions they do is to influence people in a certain direction for fiduciary reasons. It’s what a business does. If they think a particular fighter is going to make them more money than the other options presented to them at a given time, they will push that fighter ahead of the others whether they have the better credentials or not. It’s because not all MMA fans pay attention the way me and you do. They have us. It’s those that only occasionally poke their head in they are trying to grab. Thus, it’s those of us who invest in the company the most whom they leave unhappy the most by ignoring the sporting side of things.

Prior to Grant Dawson being removed from his contest with Chas Skelly, I couldn’t find a reason to complain with the televised prelims. All the contests that remain are compelling. All are competitive on paper. And even though the most inexperienced fighter on the card is in the featured preliminary, it’s a contest that makes sense and looks like she could be a star. These prelims are constructed exactly the way televised prelims should be. Well… they were. I’ll say they still are if it’s Tim Elliott and Askar Askarov that gets moved to the ESPN prelims.

The ESPN prelims begin at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Roxanne Modafferi (23-16) vs. Maycee Barber, (8-0), Women’s Flyweight

At just 21 years old, Barber is on track to accomplish her lofty goal of becoming the youngest champion in UFC history. The UFC has supported her in that quest by upping the level of her competition slowly to the point where they are pitting her against former title challenger Modafferi… and it feels appropriate.

Barber looked good when she was cutting down to the strawweight limit of 115, but she has looked even better since it was put into her ear that she would get better results not cutting those extra 10 pounds. A special athlete with a unique combination of aggression and strength, those physical gifts are complimented by an ability to make tactical and strategic adjustments. It’s the ability to make those changes that separate her more than anything else from other promising prospects with similar promise. Barber can still be exposed on the feet at a distance, but she’s showing progress on that front and is such a beast in the clinch and on the mat, it may not matter so long as she continues to close the gap as efficiently as she does.

That’s where Modafferi comes in. A significantly inferior athlete to Barber, Modafferi gets by on her experience and veteran savvy, owning as deep of a bag of tricks as can be found on any fighter in women’s MMA. She looks anything but natural in the cage, but it’s nonetheless effective, regardless of whether she’s attempting to stand and trade or take the fight to the ground. She doesn’t have a lot of power in her punches, but Modafferi is still effective with her use of angles and knowledge of distance in the standup. However, it’s on the mat where the longtime veteran is most effective, utilizing trips and throws to supplement a wrestling game that appeared stalled just a few years ago.

It’s no secret; the UFC wants Barber to win. Modafferi knows this, but is happy to play spoiler, a role she’s accustomed to. Modafferi is about as durable as they come, last being finished in the TUF house in 2013 despite regularly facing some of the best competition the division has to offer. Barber has only gone the distance in her career once, so there are still some questions regarding how effective she can be going deep. Regardless, I find it hard to pick against the whirling dervish that is Barber. She’ll find a way to get the job done. Barber via TKO of RD2

Andre Fili (20-6) vs. Sodiq Yusuff (10-1), Featherweight

Because Fili has been on the UFC roster for so long, it’s easy to forget he’s still just 29. In other words, he has potential to continue to grow despite a decade in the game. Given that he continues to improve even with all that experience under his belt riding the best stretch of his UFC career with four wins in his last five appearances. Most of the improvement can be attributed to his improved strategic decisions, keeping the fight on the feet when he’s winning on the feet rather than shooting for an unnecessary takedown. Fili’s defense is still a concern, winning the battle of significant strikes only twice in those last five fights. His durability and improved ability to hit takedowns when appropriate have helped to make up for that as he’s never been easy to put away.

Putting people away is something Yusuff excels at. A raw athlete originally out of Nigeria, many consider Yusuff to be one of the top prospects in the sport. Though he’s come along beautifully for someone with his experience, he still could clean up his technique which is where Fili is going to have to outdo the powerhouse as trading shot for shot with Yusuff is a losing strategy. Opponents tend to back down after Yusuff lets them feel his power, securing at least one knockdown in each of his UFC appearances, two of them resulting in finishes. His takedown defense has held up extremely well too, but he hasn’t faced anyone who would be considered a regular wrestling threat. Fili isn’t a powerhouse wrestler, but his time with Team Alpha Male has made him an above average takedown artist and by far the biggest threat in that department Yusuff has faced.

Given the many stops and starts earlier in his UFC career, Fili has fallen into a role as a gatekeeper. This is his chance to become more than that. Yusuff isn’t going to be relegated to that status with a loss here, but it certainly would take some of the sheen off his star, a distinct possibility. What sells me on picking Yusuff is who is handling his development. Fortis MMA has been one of the best camps in recent years, bringing along several promising talents with great care. No one doubts whether Yusuff has the talent to beat someone of Fili’s abilities. It’s whether he’ll have the right strategy. It’s hard to believe he won’t. Yusuff via TKO of RD2

  • Quietly, Drew Dober has become one of the better action fighting gatekeepers in the lightweight division. A winner of six of his last eight contests, Dober has improved his power in his arsenal in the last few years to make him a legitimate threat to finish fights without affecting his gas tank, always one of his better qualities. He gets a chance to break through by upending one of the more promising lightweights on the roster in Nasrat Haqparast. A student of Firas Zahabi, Haqparast has shown experience beyond his years, looking poised and confident despite whatever his opponent throws at him. He’s got a solid jab, excellent submission defense, and showed impressive power with his one-punch KO of Joaquim Silva in his last contest. Dober might be able to outslick Haqparast as he’s the craftiest striker Haqparast has faced, but Haqparast appears to be up for the challenge. Expect him to use his length to great use to outpoint Dober. Haqparast via decision