Outside of the main and co-main event, the main card of UFC 248 isn’t going to induce any additional fans to throw down $65 for the evening. Though most will acknowledge the official UFC rankings mean very little, it doesn’t mean they don’t give some modicum of how good a fighter is. None of the undercard fighters are in the official rankings, giving a solid indication of the level of the contests. However, before anyone goes off screaming the UFC is shoveling us nothing but crap outside the top of the card, they should take a closer look at each one of these fights. Each contest is well-matched. Each contest features fighters who were in the rankings at one time, some were even mainstays for a long period. Perhaps most important, there’s a good chance each contest will entertain thoroughly.
The main card begins on ESPN+ at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Beneil Dariush (17-4-1) vs. Drakkar Klose (11-1-1), Lightweight
For a couple of years, Dariush was a mainstay in the top ten of the lightweight division. Given the treacherous depth of the division, that’s a hell of an accomplishment. Unfortunately for Dariush, he fell on hard times and tumbled out of the rankings all together, remaining on the outside looking in despite currently owning a three-fight winning streak.
There’s several reasons Dariush has been able to get back on track. A renowned grappler upon his entry to the UFC, Dariush had a stretch of seven fights where he secured one takedown combined. It isn’t that Dariush is a poor striker. In fact, he’s a talented combination puncher who maintains excellent pressure. However, he was becoming predictable in his attack and not bothering with his bread and butter. During his current win streak, he’s averaged 4.5 takedowns over 15 minutes with two submissions.
Another issue was Dariush’s chin. After Edson Barboza produced another all-time great KO with a flying knee on Dariush, the latter seemed to be dropping with the slightest touch. Dariush acknowledged the problem himself, but has also claimed it was partially due to an unhealed neck injury that has now been properly attended to. If Dariush’s chin is no longer the problem it has been, he’s primed to storm back into the top ten mix.
While Klose has some similarities to Dariush – pressure fighting, average athleticism – there’s far more that separates them. When Klose closes the distance, he’s going to continue pushing the action until it ends up against the cage. It isn’t pretty and is the biggest reason he’s been unable to get a featured role despite an impressive 5-1 mark. Well, that and that every one of his UFC contests has gone to decision.
Regardless, there’s reason to believe Klose can pull off the upset. Despite Dariush claiming his chin has been fixed, it’s unlikely he’ll be anxious to test it. On the other hand, Klose hasn’t shown any issues with his durability. Plus, he may not secure many takedowns, but Klose’s wrestling has been a strength too. However, his struggles on the outside look like they’ll keep him from climbing too high. Dariush isn’t exactly known for his outside striking, but he’s far more versatile on the feet than Klose. Dariush will mix things up enough to take the win. The question is whether he can catch Klose in a submission or if it’s up to the judges to award him the victory. Dariush via decision
Neil Magny (21-7) vs. Jingliang Li (17-5), Welterweight
Magny can’t seem to get any love. At one point, the longtime member of the UFC owned a seven-fight win streak and owns wins over the likes of Carlos Condit, Johny Hendricks, Hector Lombard, and Kelvin Gastelum. Granted, none of those opponents were at their peaks when Magny toppled them, but he was consistently a favorite of callouts as those calling him out saw him as the easiest target out of those in then official UFC rankings. After 16 months away following a loss to Santiago Ponzinibbio thanks to USADA, those callouts have dwindled as Magny no longer owns a spot in the aforementioned rankings.
It’s hard to say where Magny is at this point. Over the span of just under six years, he fought 20 times, a pace that Donald Cerrone and few others can came make a claim to over as long of a period of time. Will he be improved with the time off or will he be thrown off his rhythm? No one knows for sure. Magny has never been a technical marvel, but he knows how to use his 6’3” and 80” reach well enough to headline two Fight Night cards. He lacks power, but he has a deep gas tank and plus survival instincts on the ground. Did I mention he’s a badass in the clinch? There’s plenty reason to believe he’s about to right his ship.
Jingliang Li gets the opportunity many called for, entering the contest with seven wins in his last eight appearances, five via KO/TKO stoppages. Li has completely reinvented himself from a boring grinder into one of the top action fighters in the division… and welterweight is full of them. He has improved his variety, incorporating a lot more kicks into his arsenal, from side kicks like the one that debilitated David Zawada to the low kicks that slowed Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos. However, Li’s boxing is still the most reliable weapon, something that wouldn’t be nearly as effective without his granite chin.
Despite Magny having the better names on his ledger, Li is entering this contest as a sizeable favorite. I get it, Magny has had struggles with power punchers… like Ponzinibbio. However, while I’ve heard many dissecting the effect on Weili Zhang’s camp from the coronavirus, nobody seems to be mentioning the potential issues Li may be experiencing. I’m not nearly as confident he’s going to topple Magny the way most seem to be. Regardless, I’m still picking Li as he isn’t experiencing nearly the scrutiny of Zhang. Li via TKO of RD2
Alex Oliveira (20-8-1, 2 NC) vs. Max Griffin (15-7), Welterweight
It’s a must-win situation for both combatants. Oliveira has lost his last three contests while Griffin has dropped three of his last four since a career defining win over Mike Perry. If MMA math means anything, Griffin should win given Oliveira fell short against the heavy hitting Floridian. However, we’ve all seen MMA math mean exactly nothing time and again….
Oliveira’s stretch in particular has been disappointing. A seemingly disjointed strategist who floats through his fights until he finds an opening he can exploit, his confidence appears to have slowly eroded as his success has faded. At one point, his aloofness was a strength. Not so much anymore as the opposition has discovered what he’s about, successfully avoiding his explosive attacks. Plus, he’s not nearly as effective in the clinch now that he’s no longer plying his trade at lightweight. That isn’t to say Oliveira is doomed. He’s still a standout athlete, still a powerful striker, and an improved wrestler. Given Griffin’s past struggles with wrestlers, that’s something Oliveira could exploit.
To be fair to Griffin, his recent performances indicate he has shored up his takedown defense. However, he hasn’t exactly run against anyone who emphasizes takedowns as an essential part of their strategy. Griffin is at his best in a striking affair. He proved he can be disciplined as he countered Perry successfully over the course of 15 minutes only to be dragged into brawls in just about every contest since then. Griffin’s durability has allowed him to make it to decision, but he’s been unable to put a stamp on any of those contests.
This fight represents a coin flip. However, there are a few factors to point out that should be considered. First, Oliveira hasn’t won a decision since July 2016. However, Griffin hasn’t been finished since August 2016. If the contest goes to decision, Griffin’s volume is far more consistent, making it a strong likelihood he wins. It isn’t like Griffin has been facing pillow fisted opposition either. Oliveira could find a way to finish off his American counterpart, but I’m guessing Griffin survives to secure a judges’ decision. Griffin via decision