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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Vegas 8: Smith vs. Rakic - Prelims preview

Get all the bare essentials of the early action of this weekends UFC card, featuring Uncle Dana’s shiny new toy, Impa Kasanganay making his UFC debut against Maki Pitolo.

Photo by Chris Unger/DWCS LLC/Zuffa LLC

While I’m not titillated by any of the preliminary contests for this weekend’s UFC event, I also have to admit there isn’t a bad fight in the mix. Most of the fighters on the card tend to turn in performances that lean far more towards entertaining than boring and a few of them offer long-term promise. Is it enough for me to say you’d be missing out on a lot if you skipped these? No. Then again, if so many bars and restaurants – and any other recreational facilities – are still closed, why not take in a bunch of people you don’t know play face-punchy. If you don’t know them, here’s a bit to help prepare you….

The prelims are scheduled to start on ESPN+ at 6:00 PM ET/3:00 PM PT on Saturday.

  • Even though he fell prey to a guillotine by Darren Stewart – of all people – Maki Pitolo has made some solid strides since his disappointing UFC debut. No longer plying his craft at welterweight, the native of Hawaii looks healthier and more energetic at middleweight. Perhaps most encouraging is his patience in picking his spots, not rushing headlong into danger to throw his coconut bombs. He’ll welcome Impa Kasanganay, a recent graduate of DWCS who told Uncle Dana he’d fight only 11 days after his showing on the series. Dana gave him an extra week, but it’s nonetheless a quick and potentially impressive turnaround. Kasanganay’s physical talents aren’t in doubt. He’s a quick-twitch athlete with obvious power and speed. He just hasn’t put everything together quite yet as he turned professional less than two years ago. Pitolo represents a tough challenge for Kasanganay, but Pitolo may be more prone to mental errors than the inexperienced Kasanganay. It’ll be hard-earned, but Kasanganay begins his UFC road on a step in the right direction. Kasanganay via TKO of RD2
  • She may not be known to the masses, but the MMA community sighed a huge breath of relief when we saw Hannah Cifers remained on the UFC roster despite dropping three straight fights. The combination of her hard-nosed nature and disdain for the spotlight make her easy to root for. Though she’s almost always the smaller fighter in the cage – especially when she took her last fight on short notice at flyweight – Cifers has never been afraid to muscle up with her opponent in the clinch, where the bulldog of a competitor does her best work. Once again, she’ll be the smaller fighter against Mallory Martin, a tough wrestler and capable grappler. Martin will almost certainly meet Cifers in the clinch, but she’ll be looking to take the Muay Thai practitioner to the mat and pound her out. Perhaps all the experience Cifers is picking up will pay off down the road – this is her fourth fight of 2020 – but I can’t help but feel she isn’t appropriately preparing for her opposition with all these quick turnarounds. A product of the Elevation Fight Team, I have a hard time believing Martin won’t be ready. Martin via decision
  • Zak Cummings has been around the block more than once. The longtime UFC vet has been able to hang around as long as he has thanks to his being well aware of his limitations. A plodding counter-striker, he’s not going to outquick anyone. Since moving up to middleweight, it’s also been highly unlikely he’ll physically overwhelm anyone either. What Cummings can do is time his punches about as well as anyone else, occasionally providing enough pop to put someone away. What has been his Achilles heel has been slick or overpowering wrestlers. Alessio Di Chirico has shown some wrestling, but not enough to convince me he can consistently utilize it to deliver himself a victory. If Di Chirico can exploit his speed and quickness advantage, he could take the win without going to the ground as he may possess the best combination of speed and size Cummings has yet to face. If Di Chirico tightened up his striking technique a bit more – he tends to telegraph his hooks — I’d feel much more confident in picking him. As it is, it feels like a toss up. Cummings via decision
  • Many were surprised to see the UFC keep Polyana Viana around following her third consecutive loss – she hasn’t built up the cache Cifers has – but at least she’s getting an appropriate opponent in Emily Whitmire. Whitmire, a scrappy grappler with an improving boxing game, entered the UFC far too green for her own good. To her credit, there has been signs of growth – I did say her boxing was improving – and she could very well end up being a mainstay in a shapeless division. Unfortunately, her ceiling is athletically limited whereas someone like Viana has all the potential in the world. The problem with Viana has been her IQ and her discomfort on the feet. She has a bad habit of pulling guard, trusting too much in her vaunted BJJ and tentatively throwing rote combinations… when she is throwing something. Viana is a plus athlete who would easily take this contest if it were judged strictly on physical gifts. As we know, that’s not how this works. Whitmire’s comfort on the feet should be the biggest difference. Whitmire via decision
  • It’s easy to overlook Sean Brady. He’s on the smaller side at welterweight, isn’t a plus athlete, and doesn’t pack a wallop in his punches. However, Brady proves those qualities, while generally some of the traits most often required in the minds of scouts, aren’t fully essential to having a successful UFC career. Utilizing superior cardio, durability, high levels of volume, and strong grappling, Brady has been the clear-cut winner in his first two UFC appearances. This time around, he gets a similarly undersized opponent in Christian Aguilera. That’s about where the similarities end. Aguilera has picked up more than three-quarters of his wins via KO/TKO. His headhunting strategy does have its drawbacks as he’s been KO’d on several occasions as well. Not that he isn’t a technical striker – he’s an impressive boxer – but his aggression can work against him when he’s in there with an intelligent fighter. Brady’s not lacking for intelligence. Brady should utilize his wrestling and grappling to ensure a victory. Brady via decision