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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 254: Khabib vs. Gaethje - Early prelims preview

Gorge yourself with the bare essentials for the early morning prelims of UFC 254 on Fight Pass, featuring an exciting catchweight between Casey Kenney and Nathaniel Wood.

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Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Well this feels a bit weird.... I realize the format of three differing blocks for a UFC fight card was the norm for several years, but the convenience of staying on ESPN+ for the entirety of a card has been nice. Now, the early prelims on Fight Pass are returning for one of the most anticipated events of the year. I suppose it makes sense as there has never been less of a reason to have Fight Pass at this point. Nonetheless, they are smart to put one of the favorites for FOTN as the featured early prelim as I’d probably say you can stay in bed otherwise.

  • It will have been just three weeks since Casey Kenney last competed when he returns to action. One can’t blame him for wanting to maintain his momentum as he delivered a shellacking to Heili Alateng, bruising his body with kicks to highlight the blistering pace he’s known to perform at. However, that isn’t the main thing Kenney is known for. While he isn’t considered to be a top notch wrestler or grappler, Kenney seems to thrive on the mat due to his slipperiness and expert scrambling. Right when someone thinks they have them where they want Kenney, he finds a way to gain the advantage. He gets a clear step up in Nathaniel Wood, one of the more entertaining prospects at bantamweight… if he can be called a prospect after five UFC contests. Though Wood has had a tendency of starting slow, he got off to a solid start in his latest showing, eventually pushing a pace that would make Kenney proud. Of course, Wood picked up each of his first three UFC victories via submission on the mat, picking up a reputation as a grappler first, which isn’t necessarily the case as Wood possesses plenty of KO’s on his resume. In fact, Wood’s resume is littered with finishes of all types... something Kenney is short on. Regardless of who one picks to win this, confidence should be in short supply. I’ve wavered between picking both. However, I’m settling on Kenney due to his durability and innate ability to find a way to win. That’s an intangible that can’t be taught. Kenney via decision
  • It’s still hard to know what to make of Liana Jojua. No one denies the native of Georgia is a skilled grappler, her armbar submission of Diana Belbita from off her back a brilliant demonstration of what she is capable of. However, she’s also on the smaller side for flyweight and may be too comfortable working off her back for her own good, regularly giving up position for the opportunity at a submission. Plus, her striking is still very much a work in progress. Many of those concerns could be voiced about Miranda Maverick with subtle differences. Maverick is more physical and more focused on maintaining control than looking for the finish. Not that Maverick never secures any submissions, but she makes sure she has her opponent wrapped up first. While Maverick isn’t a savant on the feet either, she’s more consistent and technical than Jojua. That should be enough to make the difference. Maverick via decision
  • There are a lot of people putting heavy stock in Joel Alvarez’s win over Joe Duffy. After all, Duffy once beat Conor McGregor, meaning through some weird MMA math, Alvarez has a win over McGregor! Of course, everyone knows MMA math is a load of crap and Duffy appeared to be a diminished version of himself. That hardly means Alvarez sucks, but let’s not put the cart before the horse. The point is. Alvarez is a gifted grappler with a lanky frame for lightweight. His striking is still in development, leg kicks being his most consistent form of attack. However, for all his grappling, Alvarez doesn’t have the takedown abilities to consistently find success. That’s not a major problem for Alexcander Yakovlev, a longtime if oft forgotten member of the UFC roster. One of the few lightweights on the roster with a frame as tall as Alvarez’s, Yakovlev is tough as nails, competent on the feet, and a capable wrestler. Yakovlev hasn’t been outmuscled at 155 and that’s been the only way his opponents have submitted him on the mat. Alvarez isn’t likely to win a contest of mat control and that’s what Yakovlev will look to turn it into. Yakovlev via decision

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