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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Vegas 17: Thompson vs. Neal - Prelims preview

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Get the scoop on the early action of UFC Vegas 17, featuring a scrap between Sijara Eubanks and Pannie Kianzad and an appearance from former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

I’m know I’m asking too much, but it would be heaven if the UFC could put together this much quality for every Fight Night card. Unfortunately, this event is the exception to the rule due to the UFC taking off roughly a month after this event — the first time the organization has taken a weekend off since May. Bellator is taking quite a bit of time off too, so this could be the last time for quite a while MMA fans get a chance to take in high level MMA… and the prelims look like they have their own promising performances to offer. Hell, former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis is on the prelims! Pettis has been talking about bringing out some moves he’s been toying with in the gym. Given he’s the creator of the Showtime Kick, we could be in for a hell of a treat.

  • There’s a part of me that’s wondering what in the hell Anthony Pettis is doing fighting the likes of Alex Morono. Pettis, perhaps not at the level he was when he was champion over a half-decade ago, is still a prominent name with pull and Morono is still largely unknown to the common fan. Why take the fight? Then again, it’s admirable to see someone with Pettis’ star power be so willing to give Morono a chance for a breakout moment. Morono does have some advantages he might be able to exploit. He’s certainly bigger – this is a welterweight contest after all – and Pettis’ durability is always a question mark. Plus, for all his creativity and power, Pettis has never been a technical savant, nor has he been much for stopping takedowns. However, Pettis is a far superior athlete with a sixth sense for finding holes in his opponent’s defenses. Plus, when I say Pettis is creative, he’s amongst the most creative entities in the history of the sport; he’s done things most people haven’t even thought of doing until he’s performed them. It gives him a margin of error not afforded most other fighters. Pettis is at his creative best when there’s no pressure. Given he doesn’t seem to care about titles at this point – he’s been fighting at welterweight for hell’s sake – Pettis doesn’t seem to feel any pressure right now. If there’s any time to predict something awesome happening, this would be it. Pettis via TKO of RD2
  • Few careers have been defined by stops and starts more than Sijara Eubanks. From highs of qualifying to being one of the inaugural competitors of the UFC women’s flyweight title and briefly headlining an MSG PPV. Of course, the lows are that she didn’t actually fight for the title, nor did she ultimately end up being the PPVheadliner. The peaks and valleys continue, even if they aren’t quite at those extremes as she now plies her trade at bantamweight. Very much a momentum fighter, Eubanks is heavily reliant on coming strong out of the gate as she tends to get into her own head. For example, she struggled to deal with the jab of Ketlen Vieira in her last contest, dropping the first two rounds in the process. She turned it up in the third round when it was obvious she needed a finish and won the round, but it was too late by then. The other issue for Eubanks has been if an opponent can match her physicality. That’s going to be an issue for Pannie Kianzad. Kianzad looked like a shooting star five years ago, but has stumbled several times to the point where many see her as an also ran. In a division short on plus athletes, she has the physical tools to be a difference maker, so long as she can avoid the mental lapses that have defined most of her losses. Given Eubanks tendency to start slow, Kianzad might be able to jump to an early lead and use her impressive stamina to stay ahead as Eubanks has had gas tank issues in the past. I anticipate it will be closer than most expect, but I like Eubanks’ mental toughness to push her through. Eubanks via decision
  • There have been a couple of combatants out of South Africa who’ve made it to the UFC, but none have been able to make a significant impact as of yet. In fact, several have washed out. Dalcha Lungiambula is the latest in danger of doing that. No one has denied that he’s a plus athlete with impressive power. The problem has been navigating larger opponents at light heavyweight on a 5’9” frame. He’ll still be on the smaller side now that he’s dropping to 185, but at least the disparity shouldn’t be as egregious moving forward. Perhaps it will help with another of his issues as he tends to look solely for the KO blow rather than delivering a steady supply of volume. That won’t be easy to do against Karl Roberson, a former kickboxer who offers a technical and steady approach on the feet. His toughness and durability make winning a standup battle with him a difficult proposition for anyone. Roberson has worked hard to expand his attack – he has picked up a couple of RNC wins – but has been overwhelmed every time he faces someone with a decent ground game. Lungiambula does have a grappling background – specifically in judo – but he hasn’t used it in the way you’d anticipate someone of his accolades to do so. Perhaps he’ll be willing to do so now that he won’t be grossly undersized. Lungiambula via submission of RD2
  • There have been many high on Antonio Arroyo. A product of DWCS, Arroyo has all the tools to be a champion. Impressive Muay Thai, good takedowns, size, powerful kicks, underrated submissions… it’s not hard to see where many expected Arroyo to be a mover and a shaker in a hurry. However, in his UFC debut, the holes became glaringly obvious. He was too willing to let his opponent dictate where the fight takes place and low energy levels late in the contest, perhaps attributable to him cutting too much weight from his 6’3” frame, thus why he’s been looking at moving to 205. Of course, this contest against Deron Winn takes place at 195, Winn having his own issues making middleweight… despite clocking in at just 5’6”. Winn is a heavily decorated collegiate wrestler with a powerful base and dynamite in his fists. However, his short stature requires him to travel far more distance than other competitors in the weight class, resulting in his exhausted state late in fights. Maybe not having to cut the extra 10 pounds will help, but Arroyo is also longer than any opponent he has faced thus far. Arroyo’s takedown defense has been questionable, meaning a path to victory is there for Winn… provided he can navigate Arroyo’s reach. I’m not sure he can without taking too much damage. Arroryo via TKO of RD3

No doubt this is the last chance for Aiemann Zahabi to prove he belongs in the UFC. Not that many care at this point, but it’s hard to believe the younger brother of famed trainer Firas Zahabi made it to the organization on his merits as opposed to his last name. it’s no surprise Zahabi is technically sound with a sturdy jab – trademarks of all the fighters Firas trains – but he’s lacking on the power and athleticism to be more than a low-level gatekeeper. He stands a strong chance of overcoming newcomer Drako Rodriguez, another DWCS alumni who is getting his opportunity on the roster sooner than is ideal. Rodriguez shows some very impressive grappling chops without any major weaknesses of note. That doesn’t mean someone with the discipline of Zahabi isn’t capable of exposing his lack of polish in his wrestling or striking defense, but he’ll have a clear advantage in speed and power, which should make up for the mistakes he’s likely to make… provided they aren’t egregious. Rodriguez via decision

  • It’s hard to make a bigger impact in four professional fights than Tafon Nchukwi has, especially given this will be his UFC debut. He first made waves when he wrecked William Knight – winner of a developmental contract through DWCS – in just half a round, then blasted through his opponent in his own DWCS appearance. Granted Nchukwi was given about as much of a pass as you can get on the vaunted series and will be cutting down to 185 for the first time in his career. No doubt, he has shown scary power and killer instinct, but a serious weight cut and a step up in competition could very well be enough to derail what some believe is a path to superstardom before it even gets started. That’s the task ahead of Jamie Pickett, a wrestler who needed three attempts on DWCS to finally get the nod for a contract. Like Nchukwi, Pickett is a good athlete, but he doesn’t appear to have the insane base power of Nchukwi. If the weight cut is too much for Nchukwi, Pickett should be able to tackle him to the mat and keep him down for large chunks of the contest and take a decision. However, Nchukwi is with an experienced team who should allow him to make the cut with minimal impact to his effectiveness. Nchukwi via TKO of RD2
  • Usually when you think of a typical flyweight, you think of a plus athlete with incredible quickness and speed. That doesn’t describe Jimmy Flick. The definition of gritty, Flick has become one of the best submission artists in the division without having yet made his UFC debut. When 13 of his 15 victories come from submission, I’d think it’s safe to say that, especially when flyweight is the division with the least finishes percentage wise in the men’s divisions. Flick is a bit awkward on the feet, but he’s savvy enough to score points on the feet, kicks to the midsection being the best weapon in his standup. His lack of athleticism hurts him most in the standup as he has been finished with strikes several times. If Cody Durden is going to win, that’s the route he’s most likely to go. A hard hitter and a former state champion wrestler, Durden is a pressure fighter is as gritty as Flick with an edge in athleticism. However, Durden doesn’t have the fight IQ of Flick and his first instinct is to take the fight to the mat… where Flick is most effective. Flick is just as comfortable off his back and chains submissions together with the best of them. Chances are he’ll eventually catch Durden in one. Flick via submission RD2