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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 255: Figueiredo vs. Perez - Main card preview

Get the lowdown on the first half of the main card of UFC 255, featuring former Pride and UFC champion Shogun Rua looking to eliminate Scottish submission specialist Paul Craig.

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

UFC 255 is a weirdly built card. It features two title fights, but neither of the title fights draw much attention from casual audiences. That doesn’t mean they are bad fights – Valentina Shevchenko is looking to solidify her status as one of the most dominant champions in the sport and Deiveson Figueiredo is looking to kick off his first defense in as explosive of a manner as it began – but both lack the cache to draw in eyes outside of the regular base. Outside of those contests, the best fight is found on the prelims. Of course, the UFC values the men’s flyweight division so little that it can’t even bother to put that contest on the main card. As for the what is on the main card outside of the title fights… yeah. There’s not much by way of a PPV main card. Not that they are bad fights, but there’s an asterisk attached to each fight. Nonetheless, I’m here to break down the basics of the fights, not sell you on them.

Mike Perry vs. Tim Means, Welterweight

Perry is at a crossroads in his career. There have been several indications he might not be worth the headache despite being a perennially entertaining fighter. Those indications grew into incidents and allegatiosn since his last appearance in the Octagon. First, there was the incident in the restaurant where he punched an elderly man and then accusations of domestic abuse from his former significant other. The UFC said they wouldn’t put him back in action until he had taken significant steps to address his anger issues. I’m not privy to the backdoor dealings between Perry and the UFC, but it wasn’t that long ago these issues occurred/came to light. For the sake of all involved, I hope Perry has taken the proper steps to ensure these things don’t happen again.

Even if Perry has matured, his development as a fighter has stalled. He is very much aware of what he’s good at, but as other fighters have been able to figure those things out, they’ve been able to mitigate Perry’s strengths. A heavy hitter who loves to counter punch in the pocket, opponents have taken to attacking from the outside rather than given Perry a chance to land some leather. Perry doesn’t have a long frame, which has limited his ability effectively counter that strategy. While his improved wrestling has been a nice addition to his arsenal, it hasn’t addressed his inability to fight from the outside.

That’s good news for Means. Though his reputation has been that of a devastating clinch fighter – which is true – Means has improved his ability to fight from the outside over the years. It could be argued he addressed that issue out of necessity as the tolls of age have begun to creep up. Now 36, Means never gave much attention to defense over his career and it has begun to catch up to him. Not only is he not quite as strong or quick as he was a few years ago, he can’t endure the same amount of punishment he once could. Granted, Means went 13 years before his first stoppage due to strikes, indicating he was one of the most durable SOB’s out there. Still, he’s been finished in three of his last five losses and the two submissions in that span were set up by him getting hurt. Means can’t stand in the pocket the way he used to.

At 6’2” with a 75” reach, Means has about 4-inches on Perry in both areas, which should be enough for him to stay out of Perry’s range for most of the contest. However, most of the contest isn’t all the contest and it’s difficult for a fighter to completely retrain themselves to avoid fighting in a certain style. Perhaps Means could find some success on the mat – he’s not a bad wrestler and his grappling is underrated – but Perry is incredibly difficult to hold down, much less get down. I just don’t trust Means to completely avoid a firefight, nor do I trust his ability to hold up in one. For all of the faux paus committed by Perry outside the cage, he knows what he’s good at in there. Perry via KO of RD2

Katlyn Chookagian vs. Cynthia Calvillo, Women’s Flyweight

Whether you’re a fan of Chookagian, it’s impossible not to admire her willingness to climb back in the cage so quickly after being bulldozed by Jessica Andrade just last month. The path back into contention appears to be extremely muddled, but she is determined to get another crack at the title.

What will be lost by many in Chookagian’s losses to Andrade and Valentina Shevchenko is her definite improvements. She is far more willing to sit down on her punches than she was in the earlier days of her UFC career. That not only means she’s landing her punches with more power, she’s landing more punches period. She also has rounded out her attack more, showing some wrestling against Antonina Shevchenko. Of course, it was Antonina Shevchenko, so it should be taken with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, her top control as opposed to her actual takedowns is what was impressive.

Of course, there’s a good chance she won’t get to show off that part of her game against Calvillo as the former strawweight’s base is wrestling. Owner of one of the best shots in the division, Calvillo’s grappling may be underrated. In her UFC career, she has picked up three RNC victories. Of course, that all came against lesser competition, her finishes drying up over the last two years. Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe she won’t have the advantage over Chookagian, even with the latter’s improvements on the ground.

The issue with Calvillo – and it is the same problem she has had for several years – is she has too much trust in her standup. It isn’t that she’s terrible. In fact, she has made good strides, developing a solid jab. The problem is it isn’t as reliable as her wrestling and even when she’s losing in the standup, she continues to insist on remaining vertical. Granted, she was beating Jessica Eye in the standup – and she did hit four takedowns in the contest – but Calvillo seems to want to get back at her opponent if she eats a hard strike. Chookagian is at her best when she can get an opponent to follow her as she circles around the cage and picks her spots. If she can get Calvillo to chase after her, Chookagian should cruise to an easy win. If Calvillo focuses on her ground game, she should take it. I don’t trust Calvillo to do the right thing, but I still believe she’s the best pick. Calvillo via decision

Shogun Rua vs. Paul Craig, Light Heavyweight

The only reason this fight is being made again is Rua badly wants to erase the memory of the draw they fought to a year ago. It wasn’t a barnburner everyone wanted to see again, neither was the decision egregious. The legend of Pride – one of the few who are still active – has enough pull that he can request a fight with someone at Craig’s level and get his wish. Given he’s motivated enough to ask for this fight, he should approach this contest like he has something to prove… right?

It’s so hard to know what to expect out of Rua. It used to be his violent style put far more wear on his body than his age would have indicated, but he’s now 38. It isn’t just that his violent style aged him beyond his years anymore; he’s a legit old man in a young man’s sport. He still has flurries of violence that remind fans of yesteryear why he became such a beloved figure, but most of his recent wins have been picked up on the back of his wrestling and grappling control. It’s hard to fault him given all the battles he was in earlier in his career – his chin isn’t what it once was – and he’s genuinely more disciplined on the mat than he was earlier in his career.

Rua was solid enough on the mat that Craig was never able to seriously threaten with a submission off his back. Typically, having a fighter spend a significant amount of time fighting out of their guard is a terrible strategy. Craig is an atypical fighter. At 6’4”, Craig knows how to use his long limbs expertly off his back, having secured three triangle chokes from his back in the UFC, including two with less than a minute to go on the clock. The strategy does make it difficult for him to take decisions if he can’t find the finish, Craig has been pretty damned effective at making sure fights don’t go the distance.

However, what was weird was not just Rua winning the fight on the mat, but Craig was getting the better of the former UFC champion on the feet. Craig has clearly been putting in time on his feet, showing more than just knees in the clinch, backing Rua against the fence behind a barrage of punches. Craig isn’t a great athlete, but Rua’s athleticism has long departed. Perhaps Rua’s motivation will be the difference, but Craig continues to show improvements and easily did more damage in their first contest. I love me some Shogun, but he barely eeked by a 44-year old Lil’ Nog this summer. I’m going with Craig. Craig via submission of RD2