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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 256: Figueiredo vs. Moreno - Prelims preview

Get the lowdown on the televised action from UFC 256, featuring grappling phenom Mackenzie Dern clashing with one of the few competitors capable of challenging her on the mat in Virna Jandiroba.

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Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

It may not be the featured prelim at UFC 256, but make no mistake the most intriguing contest of the prelims is the clash between grappling savants Mackenzie Dern and Virna Jandiroba. Perhaps it’s because neither is known for their striking the UFC decided it isn’t worth putting in the spotlight, but if they were ever going to highlight a high-quality contest on the mat, this would be it. Beyond that, the rest of the prelims are well worthwhile, though I will admit the UFC’s PPV’s have had a major difference in the quality of the prelims from what they offer on their Fight Night offerings. In other words, these fights are well worth soaking in before the main course.

Mackenzie Dern vs. Virna Jandiroba, Women’s Strawweight

There are many who believe Dern is turning the corner. While there has never been any doubt about her physical abilities, Dern’s discipline and striking technique have left much to be desired. The biggest sign of Dern lacking discipline was her missing weight in three of her first seven career contests. However, ever since she gave birth to her daughter, Dern has comfortably made weight in her last three contests. As for the striking… well, yeah. That’s a different story.

Dern has every physical tool she could need to be a striking threat. She showed that when she knocked Amanda Bobby Cooper silly, but there’s also a reason ABC is no longer in the UFC. Dern struggles to effectively sell her feints and is sloppy with her technique, offensively and defensively. Her defense in particular is a major problem. The only reason she avoids more damage is opponents are wary of getting too close to her where she might be able to grab a hold of her opponent and either trip them to the mat or pull guard.

Of course, it’s unlikely Jandiroba will be able to exploit Dern’s shortcomings on the feet the way most others would attempt to. That’s because Jandiroba may be the worst athlete in the entire division and is awkward as hell on the feet. Even with her awkwardness, she tends to accomplish what she’s looking to do as her goal is always to get the fight to the mat. Jandiroba is a good judge of distance and knows when she’s too far out to shoot for a takedown, though it is her trips where she’s most effective at getting the fight where she wants.

On the mat, while it would be accurate to label both as suffocating, Jandiroba tends to be more positionally conscious, though she has effectively forced her last couple of opponents into giving up a submission to her. Dern tends to be more active in looking for the finish and has had a greater degree of success in that endeavor, though her competition level on the whole has been inferior to that of Jandiroba by a wide margin.

There will be zero surprise if Dern is able to pick up what would effectively be a breakout win. She’s physically superior in every way and does appear more focused than she was in the early stages of her career. I still favor Jandiroba. Dern is still extremely sloppy on the feet, enough so that Jandiroba could capitalize on that to edge out a point contest should they neutralize each other on the mat. Throw in the fact that if anyone is capable of capitalizing on the slightest of Dern’s mistakes on the mat, it would be Jandiroba. I’m going with the veteran to edge this one out. Jandiroba via decision

  • It’s been over a year since we last saw Cub Swanson due to a torn ACL. Even before that point, the former perennial contender was on a steep decline, having snapped a four-fight losing streak against an opponent fighting his sixth professional fight by a fairly narrow margin. Even if Kron Gracie appears to be a promising prospect, that’s a long fall for a man who was thought to be one win away from a title fight just three years ago. With all the miles on his body – 37 professional fights against mostly top competition – and his age – he’s now 37 – it’s likely the end is near. However, Swanson has been at his best with his back against the wall. He’s become more savvy over the years, and is still difficult to put away. Of course, putting people away is what Daniel Pineda does best, with every single one of his 27 career wins coming before the final bell. Pineda is a high risk, high reward fighter. There isn’t a submission or technique he isn’t willing to try with very little attention ever paid to defense. However, Pineda has been on the best run of his career as he’s found a way to maximize his efficiency in his risks. For instance, he had no problem taking the fight to the mat with Herbert Burns, raining down a healthy amount of GnP on the BJJ ace with just enough awareness of Burns’ guard to avoid trouble. Swanson might be durable enough to withstand Pineda’s onslaught, but it’s hard to say he has the killer instinct he once possessed, having last secured a finish over seven years ago. Plus, his tendency to leave his hands low is the type of thing Pineda specializes in capitalizing on. Like I said, doubting Swanson is never wise, but Pineda has momentum on his side and Swanson doesn’t. Pineda via submission of RD2
  • It didn’t look like Tecia Torres would be fortunate to fight this weekend when Angela Hill tested positive for COVID-19, but Sam Hughes stepped in on very short notice to save the day. Don’t let Torres’ recent skid fool anyone: Hughes has a BIG task ahead of her. Perhaps the smallest member of the entire UFC roster, Torres is one hell of a physical force. With a strong base and a powerful burst, Torres has developed into a plus wrestler in recent years to help combat her lack of reach. Her bread and butter is still her standup with a wide arsenal of kicks, but she needs to be moving forward and her size disparity makes that difficult to achieve at times. Hughes is a thoughtful striker, sometimes too thoughtful, struggling to put together more than two strikes at a time. Despite that, she does have a chance to pull off the upset as she is physically stout and consistent with her pressure… the types of things that gives Torres issues. However, she’s also incredibly inexperienced, with only six fights on her ledger and never having faced an opponent with more than five contests of their own when she fought them. Torres is a HUGE step up in competition, especially on short notice. This is Torres’ fight to lose. Torres via decision
  • He may not have too many miles on his body, but Gavin Tucker has no room for error if he wants to become a contender. After all, many thought he was a top prospect a few years ago. Unfortunately, injuries prevented him from appearing in the Octagon with any frequency and he’s now 34. To his credit, he does look like he has rounded into a threat in all areas, but he lacks a major intangible to put him over the top. He doesn’t have KO power. He isn’t a bulldozing wrestler. He isn’t a submission artist either. What Tucker tends to do is wear down his opponent with a nonstop and varied attack. Will that be enough to overwhelm Billy Quarantillo? Neither Spike Carlyle nor Kyle Nelson could do so, but neither of them have the gas tank Tucker does. Then again, both of them offered far more power in their punches. Much like Tucker, Quarantillo continues to show growth in his performances, displaying improved striking technique and power in his most recent contest. Of course, his bread and butter is still his grappling and scrambling. Quarantillo has faced the better competition, has more experience, and is younger. Regardless of who gets their hand raised, it should be a fun fight. Quarantillo via decision
  • Credit to Jared Vanderaa, the big man recognizes the value of a good callout. Even before he was a member of the UFC roster – after his win on DWCS — he called out Sergey Spivak and got his wish when Uncle Dana granted him a contract. Spivak has been a target for many heavyweights following his upset win over Tai Tuivasa last year as it boosted his profile beyond what most believed his abilities warranted. What many of those heavyweights don’t realize is Spivak has improved since that time. Always a strong submission specialist – for heavyweight — with a solid clinch, the native of Moldova has been developing a jab, as it was his primary weapon in his most recent contest against Carlos Felipe. Of course, Felipe is on the short side for heavyweight and Vanderaa already appears to be one of the biggest members of the roster. Vanderaa has a hell of a chin – he’s never been stopped by strikes — and throws a lot of low kicks, but he is also slow with terrible defense. Vanderaa could very well march Spivak down and finish him off with whis heavy hands, but given Vanderaa’s questionable grappling skills, a submission win from Spivak appears to be more likely. Spivak via submission of RD2
  • Most believed the UFC made the right move when Uncle Dana told Chase Hooper that he needed more seasoning after his win on DWCS. After all, he was only 18. Well, Uncle Dana only waited about a year and while Hooper may be old enough to legally drink now, he’s still too green to find success against quality competition. The organization found that out in Hooper’s loss to Alex Caceres. Not everything in the loss was negative as the lanky Hooper showed toughness, resiliency, and durability, showing there’s more to him than just athleticism and an aggressive submission game. Then again, there’s a possibility he wouldn’t need those traits against Peter Barrett, another DWCS alum. There’s no quit in Barrett, but it’s hard to find many positive physical characteristics in him. He is a fairly old school fighter who does a lot of fighting against the cage… at least when he’s pressing the action. The problem is Barrett has faced largely mediocre competition, even his win on DWCS coming against a foe who was even more green than Hooper. If Barrett can muscle around Hooper – along a little bit of luck – he might be able to pull off the upset. However, it’s hard to believe the UFC is going to waste the promotional push they’ve given to Hooper by setting him up to fail. Hooper via decision