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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Vegas 11: Covington vs. Woodley - Prelims preview

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Get the low down on the plethora of preliminary contests for this weekend’s UFC VEGAS 11 card, featuring rising up-and-comer Miguel Baeza looking to turn away newcomer Jeremiah Wells.

Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

After a fight card that recently had only 7 fights due to a malady of injuries and illnesses, the UFC was done taking chances with smaller cards. At one point the UFC was working on having 15 fights scheduled for this weekend’s UFC Fight Night: Covington vs. Woodley card in Las Vegas. As of now, there are 14 scheduled with one of Eduardo Garagorri’s cornermen test positive for COVID-19, cancelling his contest with Mirsad Bektic. More contests doesn’t mean a better card either. Just ask wrestling fans who tried to slog through WrestleMania 36 this year. That’s not me saying all these contests are bad. Most of them are perfectly acceptable UFC preliminary contests, if this wasn’t the COVID era. But a fight card can turn into a slog if decision after decision is turned in and several of these contests have far more potential to go the distance than not. Here’s hoping that doesn’t become the case.

  • Following an explosive KO of longtime veteran Matt Brown, I fully expected Miguel Baeza to become one of the new darlings of MMA fandom. Either fans have too much of a soft spot for Brown or they weren’t as impressed by the victory as I was. Sure, Brown isn’t the durable machine he was in his prime, but Brown was putting it on him and Baeza was able to pull off the comeback. A confident boxer who has also shown a predilection for powerful low kicks, Baeza’s ground game still has yet to be tested at this level despite reports that he can do the damn thing on the mat. The idea was to find out his capabilities by having him face Mickey Gall, but the grappler ended up pulling out. Stepping into the void is newcomer Jeremiah Wells, a vet of the northeast region. A compact and explosive athlete with a surprisingly long reach for his frame, Wells could prove to be more dangerous than Gall given the threat he provides on the feet. Wells can grapple a bit too, but he’ll have a hell of a chore getting Baeza to the mat. That’s something that has proven to be very difficult. Baeza via TKO of RD3
  • After a promising start to her UFC career, Mara Romero Borella’s career has been going off the rails, having dropped four of her last five contests. Part of her issue was playing things too safe, avoiding engagement and dropping tepid decisions. Recognizing that problem, she aggressively took Cortney Casey to the mat… and was submitted in Casey’s guard. It’s possible her confidence is completely shaken at this point, but when her head is on straight, Borella is a well-rounded combatant who isn’t easy to put away. Despite that, Mayra Bueno Silva is going to do everything in her power to put away the Italian. A pressure fighting Muay Thai striker, Silva never stops moving forward or throwing power. Funny thing is, despite her reputation as a power striker, most of Silva’s wins have come via submission, Including an armbar from her guard in her UFC debut. Hmm… that sounds familiar. Though I wouldn’t expect history to repeat itself, there are two main factors that have me leaning towards the Brazilian: Silva’s penchant for racking up volume against Borella’s tentativeness and the mental aspect of Borella’s skid. Silva via decision
  • Jordan Espinosa has had an up-and-down UFC run. Given his 2-2 UFC record, that would be expected, but those highs and lows appear particularly notable for Espinosa. A gifted athlete, Espinosa has gotten himself into trouble when he’s been willing to walk into his opponent’s wheelhouse, his two UFC losses coming minutes into his contest. When Espinosa fights with discipline, he’s an efficient boxer with power and a decent wrestling game. The problem this time is it’s going to be difficult to know where to attack David Dvorak. A long-time veteran of the European scene, Dvorak has racked up finishes in all sorts of manners. The issue for him has been the level of competition he has faced. Despite that, in his UFC debut, he outclassed Bruno Silva on the feet pretty handily and stuffed most of the Brazilian’s takedown attempts. Even when Dvorak didn’t stay vertical, he wasn’t on the mat for long. Dvorak’s most proven area of attack is the clinch… an area Espinosa has no problem taking a fight. My best guess is it proves to be to the American’s detriment. Dvorak via TKO of RD2
  • In early 2018, Jessica-Rose Clark looked like she might be the new it girl at flyweight, securing two wins in the division in just under two months. An inability to continue to make the weight forced her up to bantamweight and she has struggled deal with larger opposition. A limited athlete, Clark largely has to rely on outpointing her opposition as her power is minimal and her grappling, while fundamentally sound, has never been coined as threatening. On the flip side, Sarah Alpar is fairly sloppy, though her aggression and power make her a threat to finish her fights. Unfortunately for her, though her frame would appear better suited at flyweight – she’s only 5’4” with about a 63” reach – it won’t allow her to cut to 125 without being overly compromised. Then again, there are positives to a stout frame as well and she’s a solid wrestler and some sound submissions. Clark no doubt has the technical advantage in just about every area, but she has enough holes – a love of throwing naked kicks that are easy to counter – that Alpar could capitalize on them through her sheer aggression. Alpar via decision
  • There isn’t a lot of footage of Randy Costa, even for somebody six fights into their MMA career. Given he has a grand total of just over 11 minutes of his career – leaving the first round just once in his career – it’s also understandable. A hell of an athlete whose singular focus is to secure a finish, there’s a lot to like about the inexperienced Costa. Of course, as with most athletic young talents early in their careers, defense goes by the wayside when there’s only a singular focus. He’s been able to overwhelm most of his opposition thus far, though it’s unknown if he can do that to Journey Newson. Though Newson has a reputation as a BJJ practitioner, he proved he has power to be reckoned with in his fists. Unfortunately, he’s almost as hittable as Costa and appears to be a small step below Costa in the athletic department. If Newson can survive Costa’s early onslaught, it’s likely Costa will slow considerably by the time the second rolls around. However, that’s a tall order given Costa’s explosiveness. Costa via TKO of RD1
  • Stepping into the Octagon for the third time since May, Irwin Rivera has managed to stay busy since joining the organization. He’s also proven himself to be a solid action fighter. However, while he has garnered attention for his willingness to throw flying knees and leaping over his opponent’s low kicks, his fundamental boxing in the pocket has largely been overlooked. Of course, being able to get into the pocket without being touched up by Andre Ewell is going to be the challenge. Ewell’s 75” reach is monstrous for bantamweight and he does a damn good job of using it to great effect. While Ewell lacks exceptional power, he throws enough volume to make up for it in the tradition of death by a thousand paper cuts. Ewell’s Achilles heel is stopping the fight from going to the ground and what to do when it does. Rivera is a better wrestler and grappler, but not by a significant enough margin that I’d expect it to make up the difference. Ewell manages to overcome Rivera largely by keeping him at the end of his jab. Ewell via decision
  • At the tender age of 22, TJ Laramie has some believing he is the best chance of becoming the first Canadian champion since GSP. While I would say those thoughts are generally premature, I can’t say they are completely unfounded. The youngster has yet to reveal a major weakness thus far in his young career, including an impressive performance on DWCS to earn his way into the promotion. He’ll get a chance to prove how good his submission defense is as Darrick Minner is the definition of a submission specialist. Out of Minner’s 24 career wins, 21 have come via submission, the guillotine being his particular favorite as he pursues the finish with extreme aggression out of the box. However, Minner isn’t anything special athletically and he fades fast, sometimes even before the first round is complete. Given Laramie’s wrestling prowess, the odds are that he’ll be able to keep himself out of any seriously compromising positions early on. It’ll be surprising if the fight goes into the third round as Laramie should find a way to finish a gassed Minner before it goes that far. Laramie via submission of RD2
  • I warned everyone this might happen. In the first week of DWCS for 2020, Jerome Rivera was the only victor not to receive a contract. However, it seemed like a distinct possibility he could make his UFC debut before any of those who did earn contracts via stepping in as a short notice replacement. TA-DA!!! A talented grappler with one of the longer frames at flyweight – even though this contest is at 135 – Rivera has yet to figure out how to use his length to his advantage on the feet. Sure, he’ll land a few kicks from a distance, but his most effective striking offense comes in the clinch. It’ll be risky for him to get in the range of Tyson Nam, a sniper with major power. Of course, when you’re a sniper, you’re not firing off too many shots, making Nam vulnerable to decision losses. However, Nam also has an extremely high number of finishes for someone of a lower weight class. He’s also incredibly difficult to take down. Rivera’s got a bright future, but it’s gonna be a difficult task picking up a win in his official debut against the battle tested Nam. Nam via TKO of RD2