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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Fight Night: Woodley vs. Burns - Prelims preview

Get the scoop on the early UFC action out of Las Vegas, featuring recent title challenger Katlyn Chookagian looking to get a measure of vengeance on the champ’s sister, Antonina Shevchenko.

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Credit to the UFC for being able to put together a match that has more than just intelligent matchmaking to it on short notice for UFC on ESPN 9. Katlyn Chookagian, fresh off a one-sided loss to the reigning women’s flyweight champion, Valentina Shevchenko, gets an opportunity for revenge – of sorts – by facing Valentina’s sister, Antonina Shevchenko. Chookagian isn’t likely to work her way back to a title shot so long as Valentina is champion, but she’ll have her best chance to do so by adding a loss to her sister’s ledger. There are a few other contests to pay attention to – including fan favorite Tim Elliott – but it’s best to keep expectations tempered.

The prelims begin on ESPN and ESPN+ at 6:00 PM ET/3:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Katlyn Chookagian (13-3) vs. Antonina Shevchenko (8-1), Women’s Flyweight

While many would say Chookagian wasn’t a worthy opponent for Valentina – and the way the contest played out proves that out – she was also the most deserving at the time. Chookagian has been a cardio machine, constantly circling around the ring while throwing out a plethora of jabs to the head and body with kicks to the legs. However, Chookagian has yet to secure a finish amidst her six UFC victories thanks to her refusal to sit down on her punches. It never became more obvious than her contest with Valentina as she didn’t land a single punch to the face of the champ. Chookagian has had more success when she goes to the body, but so many of her punches to the face come up short, it’s hard not to be frustrated.

Antonina is taller and longer than Valentina with plenty of professional kickboxing experience. What Antonina lacks is the ground skills of her sister. That isn’t to say Antonina is a slouch. She has solid takedown and submission defense, but isn’t going to be looking to take the fight to the mat on her own accord. Antonina’s wheelhouse is in the clinch, wracking her opponent with knees to the body and head. Antonina hasn’t secured many finishes, largely due to her focus on remaining on her feet. Against Chookagian, there’s a good chance Antonina could unleash her full power.

Antonina’s struggles have come against opponents looking to take her to the mat. Chookagian has scored a total of zero takedowns over the course of her nine fight UFC career. Chookagian is a skilled striker in her own right; it’s hardly a guarantee she’s going to lose if this fight remains a striking contest against the former professional kickboxer. Regardless, this contest stylistically favors Antonina. It’ll probably be nip and tuck, but I expect this to be Antonina’s breakthrough performance. Shevchenko via decision

  • I’m sure Daniel Rodriguez is annoyed to be losing his spot on the main card against a higher profile opponent in Kevin Holland, but he should be thanking Gabriel Green for stepping up days just days before the event when Holland pulled up lame. Rodriguez already made a hell of a statement when he bullied an established veteran in Tim Means in February. A solid athlete with a lot of pop, Rodriguez may already be past his prime at 33. You can look at that as it’s a longshot he’ll ever be a contender or you can see it as Rodriguez being primed to be at his best immediately. Green isn’t afraid to stand in the pocket and trade, but that wouldn’t be a wise decision against a heavy hitter like Rodriguez, especially when Green is fighting a weight class up from his natural home of lightweight. Green is a solid addition to the roster, but welterweight isn’t where he’ll find success. Rodriguez via TKO of RD2
  • The initial impression of Jamahal Hill following his appearance was the light heavyweight prospect was very promising, but perhaps too green to be pushed into the UFC. It’s hard to maintain that narrative when Hill picked apart Darko Stosic upon his UFC debut, utilizing a wide variety of strikes to all levels of the body. However, he also was taken down at will by Stosic, indicating he still has a ways to go to shore up his takedown defense. That could be bad news against a grappling guru like Klidson Abreu. The problem for Abreu is while he’s great on the mat, he’s struggled to get the fight to the mat. Abreu has made slight improvements in his striking, but it’s still highly reliant on low kicks. He needs to get the fight to the ground and I’m not confident he will. Hill via decision
  • Despite washing out of the UFC at one point and having an extended absence due to injuries, Tim Elliott has consistently been one of the fan favorites of the flyweight. A tough, durable SOB who isn’t afraid to take a fit, Elliott always fights for the finish, whether he’s throwing heavy haymakers or searching for a submission after taking the fight to the mat. His aggression often leaves him wide open, whether it’s a counter or a guillotine choke – he’s been caught in several of those – but it’s also what makes him such a favorite. Newcomer Brandon Royval has a lot of similar characteristics, only one of his ten career victories going to decision. Royval does pay a bit more attention to defense than Elliott, but also isn’t a great wrestler. It may seem like it’s counterintuitive for me to pick Elliott, but it’s usually the vets he falls to. Elliott via decision
  • Despite falling short in his most recent contest, Casey Kenney has proven himself to be one of the scrappiest members of the roster. He isn’t a powerhouse wrestler, nor is he considered to be a top-flight grappler. Despite that, Kenney has proven to be a handful on the mat against those with superior accolades. However, that hasn’t stopped his opposition from taking him down time after time. Fortunately for Kenney, Louis Smolka isn’t known for his ground game. The Hawaiian has had an incredibly inconsistent career, though things have been looking better since he got a hold on his alcoholism. Tough in the clinch and a solid scrambler himself, Smolka has the skills to win the contest if they keep things standing. However, it’s unlikely this contest doesn’t spend long moments on the mat. Kenney via submission of RD2
  • Chris Gutierrez tends to be overlooked when analysts talk about the deep pool of bantamweight prospects on the UFC roster. Then again, his UFC victories have come against some of the least heralded competition on the UFC roster. Regardless, Gutierrez has proven himself to be a capable striker with a tendency to work over the body. Vince Morales has a lot of similarities, though he tends to work at a faster pace than Gutierrez. It stands to reason that would be the biggest difference maker in a contest between two very evenly matched competitors. Morales via decision