Before I begin to bitch too much about the quality of these preliminary fights, I need to remind myself – and all you readers – that we are in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic that is limiting the quality of the fights. Hell, we lost a fight on the main card to COVID-19, which is hurting the quality of depth on the prelims too. So while I’m not impressed with the quality of most of these preliminary contests, I’ll take what I can get.
As it is, the best fights on the card are easily the women’s contests as they both feature former Invicta strawweight champions. All the other contests feature men who weren’t on the UFC roster less than a month ago or last fought in the UFC over six years ago. None of the debutants are universally lauded prospects either. Missing these prelims may not be a terrible idea.
For the record, following the cancellation of Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba, the Jim Miller-Vinc Pichel contest was the contest that appeared to be getting promoted to the main card to the best of my knowledge. Thus, it will be showing up in that portion of the previews.
The prelims start on ESPN and ESPN+ at 7:00 PM ET/4:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Ashley Yoder vs. Livinha Souza, Women’s Strawweight
While most would agree Souza has been disappointing in her UFC run thus far, a closer look at her history reveals that perhaps expectations were too high for the former Invicta FC strawweight champion. While Ayaka Hamasaki victory has aged well, none of her other notable wins have. Katja Kankaanpaa retired shortly after. DeAnna Bennett has become the definition of inconsistent. Janaisa Morandin has dropped three of four since taking her loss to Souza. While not old by any means at the age of 29, that’s not exactly the age of a youthful prospect either. Did we miss the mark on her, or is she simply not living up to her abilities?
There’s no doubt Souza is a very talented grappler. She’s silky smooth in her guard passes and transitions and is as well-versed in all aspects of submissions as anyone else in the division. She’s got a lot of pop in her fists too. However, her technical improvements on the feet have been minimal, often leaving her wildly swinging at nothing. Even worse, she progressively looked more disheartened in her most recent contest, a loss to Brianna Van Buren where Souza succumbed to her pressure and physicality.
Fortunately for Souza, Yoder isn’t the bulldozer Van Buren is. That hardly means this fight is a sure thing for Souza. Yoder has made notable strides in several areas of her game and has never lacked for gumption and toughness. The most notable area where Yoder looks stronger: her wrestling. She’ll want to be careful in her pursuit of takedowns given Souza’s reputation, but Yoder’s survival instincts on the mat are second to none. She isn’t a power threat either, though Yoder’s progress on the feet has made her a credible volume striker.
This contest is very much a reflection on Souza. Comparing the physical abilities and talents, there’s no reason she should drop this fight to Yoder, even taking Yoder’s improvements into account. However, Yoder has been competitive in several contests that she had no business hanging around in. It hasn’t translated into a win yet, but this could very well be that moment. Regardless, I’m not ready to give up on Souza. Yoder will push her, but the Brazilian should emerge victorious. Souza via decision
Felice Herrig vs. Virna Jandiroba, Women’s Strawweight
Whereas Souza is looking to prove she isn’t a disappointment, Jandiroba is on the opposite end of the spectrum. A former Invicta strawweight champion herself, it seems many forget she is even on the roster, much less a force to reckoned with. While I’m sure much of that has to do with Jandiroba’s lack of flash in how she handles her business, there is more than enough substance to go along with it. When it comes to pure BJJ, Jandiroba may be the most technically sound practitioner in women’s MMA. However, her lack of physical gifts has made it difficult to stand out despite her continued efficiency.
Speaking of substance and style, remember when everyone was saying Herrig had no substance to go with her plentiful style? That feels like a long time ago at this point as Herrig went on the most successful run of her career when those allegations were at their most fierce. It’s been almost two years since Herrig last stepped into the cage thanks to a torn ACL. Will she be the same? It’s hard to say.
Herrig entered the sport following a successful kickboxing career, leading to her reputation as a dangerous striker. However, that’s a bit misleading as she has a single, solitary victory via KO/TKO in her now lengthy MMA career. Not that Herrig isn’t a solid striker, but she isn’t a dangerous one. Most of her wins have come on the back of her strong grappling. Given Jandiroba’s credentials, that could prove to be a risky proposition as Herrig has been outworked on the mat by other fighters noted for their ground skills.
Herrig’s best chance to win this is to keep the fight standing. Jandiroba is incredibly sloppy in space, but only uses that as a distraction for her well-timed takedowns. She can do some damage in the clinch, but everything leads back her finding her way to the ground. Herrig’s takedown defense is solid, but will stop all of Jandiroba’s shots? I have my doubts. Jandiroba either finds a sub – her signature is the arm-triangle choke – or controls Herrig on the ground long enough to take a decision. Jandiroba via submission of RD2
- It’s impossible to know what to make of Daniel Pineda. Being released from the UFC all the way back in 2014, the longtime MMA veteran had a successful 8-2 run before being signed up by the PFL. Pineda ran through his two opponents like they were nothing to earn his way into the finals… and a chance at $1 million. Then he popped for PED’s and was pulled from the finals and suspended. Were PED’s responsible for his run, or was it really him? He’s being welcomed back to the promotion by Herbert Burns, the younger brother of Gilbert and one of the most promising prospects at featherweight. Like his brother, Herbert is best known for his grappling and submission chops while displaying flashes of power. The issue with Burns is his ability to go deep. Then again, the same could be said of Pineda as the proud Texan has never won a fight via decision. Pineda is certainly dangerous, but Burns is younger, faster, and more explosive. Add Pineda’s defensive deficiencies and it’s hard to pick against Burns. Burns via submission of RD2
- There’s no denying the doggedness of TJ Brown. Takedowns have been the name of the game for the Arkansas native thus far, not to mention his toughness. However, he struggled to do much more than hold down Jordan Griffin, not even doing that very effectively. Nevertheless, Brown is as tough as they come and will engage in a slugfest if that’s how a fight develops. The question is how effective he can be in that environment. Then again, he’ll likely prefer that environment if the fight stays standing against newcomer Danny Chavez. Chavez, a technically sound fighter, can do a little bit of everything and has shown increased power, securing three KO’s in a row. It’s worth noting those are the only three stoppage victories of his career. Thus, there’s reason to be hesitant about Chavez’s future prospects. However, there’s just as much reason to be hesitant about Brown’s future… and more reason to be concerned about his present. Chavez via decision
- Y’all remember Mike Russow? He was a flabby heavyweight with major athletic limitations and a full-time cop. All of those characteristics fit Christopher Daukaus to a tee. Daukaus should be encouraged as Russow had a sneakily successful run in the UFC, co-main eventing UFC 147. Then again, Russow had a heavy top game and was larger than Daukaus. Nevertheless, there’s hope Daukaus could surprise as he tends to impress with his cardio while unloading a large volume of punches. Then again, who was the last successful volume striking heavyweight? Well, it could work here as fellow newcomer, Parker Porter, looks even less promising. More doughy, shorter, and less athletic than Daukaus, Porter relies on pressure and a decent top game for his success. He’s more likely to end the fight with a single punch, but regardless of who wins, this is likely to be butt ugly. This is two heavyweights who don’t impress physically taking the contest on short notice after all…. Daukaus via decision
- Since the regional shows have been able to open back up and put on shows, the UFC has commonly been pilfering some of the young talent that looks promising every week despite the short turnaround period for the fighters. This week, it’s Kai Kamaka III that receives the honor of getting back into a cage just two weeks after he last did so. Though only 25, the Hawaiian has been fighting professionally since he was 17. It’s a shock he doesn’t have more finishes on his resume as he puts together slick punch-kick combinations with rapid reaction time. He’s being welcomed by another newcomer in Tony Kelley. Kelley was a hot prospect himself a number of years ago, but took a long break and didn’t look so hot in putting away a regional can in his lone fight since 2016. If Kelley is able to maintain his distance and let his Muay Thai credentials show, Kamaka is in for a long night. Personally, I don’t feel I can trust someone who has been off that long. Kamaka via decision