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UFC 250: Nunes vs. Spencer complete preliminary card preview

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Believe me when I tell you, UFC 250 is one very well-assembled card

UFC 250 is finally here, and there’s so much meat on this bone. Structurally, this has shaped up to be the most well-matched card in a long time. While there’s a group of exciting prospects here, there’s solid veterans in the mix, a few that still have a chance at moving up the ladder in their respective divisions. Ranked or unranked, every fighter on the prelims this week, without exception, has the potential to alter their career with a win.

The some of these could easily be on the main card of this or any other PPV. It’s a testament to the UFC putting their more notable talent on one of these events while still using their better Contender Series talent (whom they pay considerably less) to round it out. This could mean we may be seeing more PPV prelims in the near future looking like this. Not that we should expect this to hold for very long, but it’s a very welcome change.

The prelims begin on ESPN/ESPN+ at 6:15 PM ET/3:15 PM PT, and continue on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT.

Alex Caceres vs Chase Hooper - Featherweights

Caceres (15-12) has been in for the long run with the UFC, uprooting himself from Florida and landing in the desert to work with the wizard himself, John Crouch at MMA Lab. At only 31 years of age (no, really), he’s been fighting professionally since 2008 (yes, really) and at 5-2 made his way to the Ultimate Fighter. He practically grew up before our eyes as a fighter. Despite some slides and rough stretches, he’s managed to have some exciting fights and disappointing losses. Yet he remains on the roster and continues to be a tricky fighter to prepare for. Since losing to Jason Knight in 2017, he’s been alternating wins and losses, and has been out of action for almost a year since his decision win against Steven Peterson. His funky boxing, offensive positional grappling can be a problem, but his takedown game isn’t what it could be while his takedown defense is hit or miss (but mostly misses).

Hooper (9-0, 1 draw) is a hot prospect that seems primed for big things. That makes things a big bittersweet, because this is clearly a matter of testing where Hooper is at Caceres’ expense, but that’s the fight game. Hooper is absolutely game, still undefeated as a professional as well as in his amateur career (6-0), where he racked up nothing but finishes. After winning a fight on Contender Series in 2018, he wasn’t signed to the UFC but continued to do damage with wins over Florida’s Luis Gomez and finally got picked up by the UFC. Despite being under the legal drinking age (he’s only 20), he’s got some slick striking, really good sprawls, good reactions off the clinch break and truly sick ground strikes. Hooper should absolutely be the favorite here, but don’t be surprised if Caceres does something truly wily and gets the better of him in some of the grappling exchanges.

Gerald Meerschaert vs Ian Heinisch - Middleweights

What happens when you put two guys that can withstand ungodly amounts of punishment against each other? I guess we’ll find out. Heinisch (13-3) is now 2-2 in the UFC after having a respectable 3-1 run in LFA and clearing the field on the Colorado scene. One of the sturdiest products from the Factory X gym, he hasn’t looked as dominant as he had prior to his UFC arrival, but he does a lot of things very well and has shown himself to be quite dangerous once he takes over. With a crisp 1-2, thudding leg kicks, and smart choices when it comes to ground strikes, Heinisch backs it all up with his stamina and durability.

Meerschaert (31-12) probably should have been in the UFC earlier in his career. His submission prowess alone has carried him quite far, although he does sacrifice a lot to make it work in some fights. When it doesn’t, though? A rough, long night. Losses to Kevin Holland and Eryk Anders were sluggish and stilted encounters, and losses to Jack Hermansson and Thiago Santos look a lot better in retrospect. Recent submission wins over Trevin Giles and Deron Winn indicate he’s still got a deep repertoire in the grappling department, which could serve him well here. Heinisch doesn’t have the kind of technical wrestling to take Gerald down, but he’d be wise to keep it standing here. In the case that this eventually does hit the ground, Gerald could easily capitalize on minor mistakes to snatch a limb or sink a choke in.

Cody Stamann vs Brian Kelleher - Featherweights

Brian Kelleher (21-10) came in off the hellacious NY/NJ circuit AND the New England circuit, taking fights in Ring of Combat, CFFC and CES. The bar is quite high for anyone attempting to make a name for themselves in either region, but Brian went for it in both. So when he came in to face wizened grappler Iuri Alcantara for his UFC debut, he shocked a lot of people by pulling off the submission win.

Kelleher has had ups and downs since, but he’s obviously a tough test for most of the division right now. With back to back wins over Ode Osbourne and Hunter Azure, he’s warming up to the idea of being something of a prospect killer. It’s not a bad rep to have, and this time he’ll be up against someone that’s not only more seasoned than his past two opponents, but a surging threat that could easily be facing a top 5 guy with a win here. Stamann’s striking is sharp, his striking defense along with his takedown defense. He runs a strong pace, is patient while hunting for the finish, and his cardio has held up well. But Kelleher also cracks pretty damn hard and is an excellent opportunist with his submission. Expect this to be a possible fight of the night.

Maki Pitolo vs Charles Byrd - Middleweights

Pitolo (12-5) is what the middleweight division has lacked for some time — a durable middleweight that hits hard and still has a tremendous amount of upside. While a guy with a nickname like Coconut Bombz sounds cheesy, Maki is absolutely for real. His lone Bellator outing was nice, but making his opponent’s body quit in his Contender Series bout showed not only that he’s not a one-dimensional headhunter, he’s calculating with his striking and reads range very well. Hard to take down and tough to submit (with only one submission loss), he’s an action fighter that’s capable of moving up rather rapidly in a chaotic division.

Byrd (10-6) is a little harder to parse. On skill and talent alone, he’s very deserving of being in the UFC. An arm triangle win in his first Contender Series bout and a rear naked in his second one was followed up by another rear naked choke victory against John Phillips in 2018. With consecutive losses against Darren Stewart and Edmen Shahbazyan, he might not stick around in the UFC with a loss here, and that’s a shame. Byrd can strike, work submissions and do a lot of things right, but can be lured into a firefight and has had a habit of starting slow. It could cost him dearly should he have the same thing happen here.

Jussier Formiga vs Alex Perez - Flyweights

Flyweight is the most complete and high-level division in the sport, bar none. Alex Perez (23-5) has the hard-nosed wrestling, submission hunting pedigree and very good instincts when it comes to positions on the ground. The Team Oyama product has all the tools to succeed on this level, but might be biting a bit more than he can chew against an established veteran like Formiga (23-7). Jussier has cleaner boxing, closes the distance better, still has great cardio and great submission defense. When your only UFC loss is to Joseph Benavidez, you’re doing a lot of things right. Perez is going to have to outhustle him in every aspect and mix things up at every turn.

Devin Clark vs Alonzo Menifield - Light Heavyweights

Menifield (9-0) hasn’t gone to a judges decision in the entirety of his career, and is part of a handful of fighters that have been a shot in the arm for a languishing light heavyweight division. An 8 second win on second Contender Series appearance got him in the door, where he managed to brutalize Vinicius Moreira and Paul Craig in the first round. While he does largely rely on his athleticism for his takedown defense, he’s a problem. A crafty striker that doesn’t let up once he has you hurt, Menifield can truly go far in this division.

Clark is another good talent that’s sort of languished a bit in the division. Coming in with a six-fight win streak (most of it in the then-RFA), he was ended in a fight against Cam Soda vet Alex Nicholson. Mostly alternating wins and losses, he’s a stiff test for a hard striker like Menifield and can slow the fight to suit his pace and play the long game. It all depends on how Clark decides to play it.

Evan Dunham vs Herbert Burns - 150 lbs catchweight

A wily veteran like Dunham (18-1, 1 draw) has seen and done so much in this sport. After a crushing loss to Francisco Trinaldo, he’s back in action after almost two years away. Burns brings the same kind of intensity as his brother Gilbert, with a stellar grappling pedigree, to boot. Starting his career in Brazil, he made it to ONE Championship at 1-0 and managed to win against much more experienced opposition against some of their mainstays such as Honorio Banario, Ed Kelly, Harris Sarmiento and Timofey Nastyukin, who handed Eddie Alvarez a loss in his ONE debut. After two losses he shipped off to Titan FC for two more wins (including the aforementioned Luis Gomez). From there, he had a very unnecessary fight in Contender Series, but made the most of it by submitting Darrick Minner via triangle. That led to his latest bout this past January where he slumped Nate Landwehr with a knee in the first round. Can Dunham handle this kind of pressure and all-around threat? Maybe, but it’s going to be very tough.