I generally try to put a positive spin on the contests that aren’t likely to be satisfying. These prelims are making it hard, largely exemplifying the difficulties of putting together cards in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s just not a lot of quality. Sure, there are some prospects that have shown promise such as Mariya Agapova, but it doesn’t look like she’s getting a step up in competition. A good way to sum it up: six fighters are making their UFC debuts on these prelims and only about half of them look like they have a good chance of carving out a decent UFC future. Yeah... I don’t blame you if you decide to wait for the main card. I’m tempted to. Regardless, I did some homework for all of you insane types who have to watch everything and I’ll give ya what I’ve got.
- In one of the most confusing call outs of all time, Mariya Agapova tore through Hannah Cifers in her UFC debut and then says she wants to fight… Shana Dobson. Huh? Dobson has shown flashes as she clearly has the physical talent to be a difference maker, but has never been able to put it all together. In fact, she’s riding a three-fight losing streak and on the verge of being cut. Nonetheless, if Dobson can regain her confidence and keep the fight standing – she has yet to stop a legit takedown attempt from her opposition – she could play spoiler in a major way. Agapova certainly has the advantage on the ground, but her strength is also on the feet, particularly the way she utilizes her lanky limbs to keep her opponent from closing the distance. Plus, her confidence is sky high and Dobson’s, by all appearances, is down in the dumps. Dobson’s toughness might keep her hanging around for a while, but I don’t expect her to make it to the final bell. Agapova via TKO of RD2
- When she was a teenager, Mizuki Inoue was the it girl of the WMMA scene. She was being thrown into the deep end and was swimming. She didn’t develop into an elite fighter as she moved into her 20’s and has largely been forgotten about by the masses of MMA. The scrappy grappler may not be elite, but she’s more than respectable, just one loss in the last five years despite facing respectable competition. Despite her reputation as a skilled grappler, it was an outside striking attack that led to a victory in her UFC debut at 125 against Yanan Wu. She should find it a bit easier against Amanda Lemos as the Brazilian isn’t nearly as big as Wu. Not to say Lemos won’t be the larger fighter – her UFC debut came at 135 – but the size disparity isn’t as great, nor will Lemos’ aggression make Inoue work very hard to close the distance. Despite being just 26, Inoue is a youthful veteran who has seen just about everything, including what Lemos has to offer. Lemos is a solid athlete with some power, but she has spent most of her career crushing cans. Unless she puts away Inoue early, she’ll start drowning the deeper the fight goes. Inoue via decision
- It’s hard to know what to make of Joe Solecki. Sure, he has a quick stoppage on DWCS and a dominant unanimous decision win in his official UFC debut. But DWCS doesn’t always promise quality competition and his UFC win came against an overmatched and past-his-prime Matt Wiman. Based on what we do have on Solecki, he appears to be fundamentally sound with a bit of an old school game. There’s some argument that could describe Austin Hubbard too, but Hubbard has also been in the cage with some legit talent and has proven he can at least hang with them, even if he can’t beat those that are superior athletes. Hubbard’s pressure and conditioning have proven to be top notch. Solecki could be better than I’m giving him credit for, but being unable to put away Wiman has me leery about his ability to find long-term success. At least I’ll be able to give a more honest assessment of him after this fight…. Hubbard via decision
- There are certainly better known fighters on the UFC roster who consistently frustrate the fan base, but few who are more consistently frustrating than Dwight Grant. A patient counter striker who tends to be too patient, Grant’s fights either end in a sudden flurry of violence or drag on with minimal action. Grant’s inability to create offense or entice his opponents to throw has created a lot of irritation as his power and length indicate he could be a major player. Then again, Grant turns 36 next month. We may not get an accurate representation of whether he’s lost a step as his opponent, Calen Born, is taking the fight on short notice and comes across as someone who isn’t going to have an extended stay on the roster. He’s willing to throwdown, but that may not be the best idea against someone with the power of Grant. I’d be shocked if Grant doesn’t end this one early. Grant via TKO of RD1
- Jordan Wright suffered the ignominy of being finished in less than a minute on DWCS two years ago. Given he beat up on a bunch of cans early in his career – his first seven opponents had a combined 0-31 record – he was immediately written off by many in the MMA community. Credit to him as he bounced back with a win over a credible opponent in Gabriel Checco. However, one thing Wright is used to is being the bigger guy. That won’t be the case against Ike Villanueva, as Wright is taking this on short notice outside of his typical home at 185. Villanueva has been fighting for a long time and has seen just about everything. A savvy striker with underrated hand speed, Villanueva can absorb a lot of damage. Given Wright is taking this contest on short notice at a weight class up, I favor Villanueva to eat some of Wright’s kicks before finding a finish. Villanueva via TKO of RD2
- While the UFC has been signing up a lot of questionable prospects, Carlton Minus looks like he might be a keeper long-term. A wiry striker with a potent jab, Minus is more than capable of racking up the volume. Of course, he hasn’t faced the toughest competition fighting out of Alaska. The one time he faced a credible opponent, Rick Story, he didn’t fare so well. Nonetheless, his opponent, Matthew Semelsberger, is more of a poor man’s Bryan Barberena than he is akin to Story. Semelsberger is fearless, willing to throw reckless attacks such as jumping knees in the clinch with surprising power. Then again, given his lack of athleticism, it’s unlikely those types of risks will pay off as he faces tougher competition. And while I ripped on Minus’ competition, it is better than Semelsberger’s. Minus via TKO of RD1
- I’m not sure why Timur Valiev pulled out of his contest against Jamall Emmers a couple of weeks ago, but it is worth noting that contest was at 145 whereas his fight here with Mark Striegl is a bantamweight contest. Hmm…. A veteran of the WSOF/PFL, Valiev is a plus athlete who pushes a hard pace, but doesn’t seem to excel in a single area… unless you count cardio. His wrestling ability will be tested by Striegl as the native of the Philippines is most comfortable operating off the mat, aggressively hunting for submissions. About the only person who prefers the scarf hold more than Striegl is Aleksei Oleinik, but it also puts Striegl at great risk of losing his positioning. Against the likes of Valiev, he won’t want to risk position as Valiev, while not the most powerful striker, can pile it on. I’m favoring his ability to rack up points for the judges. Valiev via decision