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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Fight Island 7: Holloway vs. Kattar - Prelims preview

Get the lowdown on the early action from the UFC’s return to action after a three week layoff, featuring former JC wrestling champion Phil Hawes clashing with sniping Nassourdine Imavov.

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The UFC takes a break for three weeks and the world ends up going to hell. Hopefully, everything will find a semblance of normalcy — asking for complete normalcy would be asking too much — and the UFC getting back into the swing of things is a good way for that to happen. Going back to Abu Dhabi — or Fight Island as they prefer calling it — it also marks the return of the UFC to network television, making their debut on ABC. Of course, that won’t happen until the main card and the prelims have been decimated by injuries and illness. Nonetheless, there is still some contests that are worth checking out. If nothing else, we can all agree that we’d much rather see consensual violence in a cage as opposed to in the streets.

UFC FIGHT ISLAND 7 prelims air on ESPN+ at 12 PM ET/9 AM PT.

  • Thanks to his impressive collegiate wrestling accolades, Phil Hawes was seen as a mega-prospect about five years ago. Including his appearance on TUF, he had a stretch of three losses in four contests and the bloom appeared to be off the rose. Hawes hit the gym, earned his way into the UFC through DWCS, and has impressed enough that many are once again on the Hawes-train. The improvement in his striking has been the most noticeable improvement, eliminating his last two opponents in a combined 96 seconds thanks to the power in his fists. He’ll try to replicate his success against Nassourdine Imavov, a lanky youngster whose bests days are ahead. Known as the Russian Sniper, his 6’3” frame makes it easy for him to live up to that nickname with his outside attack. It isn’t like he’s incapable of putting together a strong attack in close quarters either as his knees in the clinch have proven to be devastating in several contests. However, while he isn’t a bad grappler, his wrestling leaves much to be desired. No matter how impressive Hawes’ striking has been of late, wrestling is still his bread and butter. I don’t anticipate a quick finish this time around, but Hawes should find a way to end this before the final bell. Hawes via TKO of RD2
  • The UFC has exported a fair amount of WMMA products, most notably Weili Zhang and Yan Xiaonan. Wu Yanan has the talent to be just as impactful as either of strawweights; she just hasn’t been able to put it together. Her glaring wrestling deficiency was exposed in her first UFC contest, prompting her to move to flyweight. In addition to being unable to consistently make the weight, her lack of defense was exposed by opponents significantly smaller than her. While Yanan is an absolute spitfire who refuses to take a step backward, she will need to make strides in both of those areas if she hopes to match the success of Zhang and Xiaonan. At least bantamweight is a shallow division, shallow enough short notice newcomer Joselyne Edwards could prove to be a major player in a short span of time. A Muay Thai practitioner who fights very tall, Edwards has some nice pop in her punches and devastating clinch. Like Yanan, she can be muscled around and dragged to the mat with ease, but has been able to help combat that with a surprisingly active guard. Of course, Yanan has proven to have an underrated guard too. Neither combatant appears anywhere near fulfilling their potential, meaning both could be significantly improved from the last extended look we’ve had at either one. I like Yanan’s durability and activity to be the difference. Yanan via decision
  • Either this contest ends in a hurry or it’s going to get exceedingly ugly in a short matter of time. My guess is that it’s the latter, but it is merely a guess. Justin Tafa has secured a finish before the second round was out in every single one of his career wins. Of course, the amount of wins on his ledger is four. No one doubts the stout Australian has heavy hands, but he’s no defensive savant and his ground game is unproven in every which way. Tafa’s power appears to be more consistent than Felipe’s, but there are two things in favor of Carlos Felipe: the Brazilian is durable as hell and has proven he’s willing to keep pushing the action even when he’s exhausted. While Felipe’s offense isn’t exactly effective in a fatigued state, something is better than nothing and heavyweights typically do a lot of leaning against the fence and little else when they’re tired. Tafa may prove to be the exception, but he’s carrying a few more pounds than is necessary, leading me to lean towards him having little in the tank. I’m hoping for an early finish – either competitor is capable of it – but I’m not counting on it. Felipe via decision
  • I don’t know what David Zawada did to elicit the wrath of the UFC brass, but it seems like he pissed off someone. It isn’t that Ramazan Emeev is an impossible contest for him to win, though it does appear to be a very difficult task. No, it’s that Emeev has a tendency to make his fights butt ugly, to the point where his opponent’s stock goes up little even after they’re able to secure a win over him. That’s due to Emeev’s tendency to clinch up and either look for takedowns or control against the fence for long periods of time, making viewers groan when they see his name pop up on a fight card. Zawada is of a different ilk, pulling out two Performance Bonus’ in his three UFC contests. He’s not the most technical fighter, nor is he the best athlete, but he’s not on the bottom of those scales either. He has a knack for catching his opponents off-guard with his selective aggressiveness and proved he can’t be slept on when an opponent is in his guard, nabbing a triangle choke off his back in his last appearance. Unfortunately, I don’t think he has the physical skills or takedown defense to keep Emeev from controlling him on the course to a boring decision. Don’t say you weren’t warned…. Emeev via decision
  • No one would be blamed for questioning what Sarah Moras and Vanessa Melo are still doing on the roster. Moras has lost four of her last five and Melo has zero wins in her three UFC appearances, so there’s little reason to believe either is going to emerge as a player in women’s bantamweight. Moras has been given plenty of opportunity, having been on the roster since 2013 with just three wins to show in that time. A strong grappler who has struggled to get the fight to the mat, she hasn’t made the strides on the feet needed to overcome her weaknesses in the takedown department. Melo is a stocky striker who requires a bazooka to put her away, but her lack of athleticism is obvious enough that it stands out, even in a division that lacks much in terms of great athletes. Nonetheless, she throws solid combinations off the counter and never stops moving forward. This contest pivots almost entirely on how well Melo can stuff the takedowns of Moras. Melo isn’t a great wrestler herself, but has had some success stopping takedowns from more physically gifted opponents in Tracy Cortez and Karol Rosa. She should be able to stop enough of Moras’ attempts to get the job done. Melo via decision
  • It’s easy to forget both Austin Lingo and Jacob Kilburn are members of the UFC roster. It’s been roughly a year since both made their UFC debuts, both losing efforts that weren’t particularly competitive and neither have been seen since. Then again, both also took their fights on short notice, so it’s safe to assume they’re better than what they showed in their debuts. Lingo is a head hunter, but it has paid off as five of his seven wins came in the first round. However, he faded quickly in his debut and has only showed survival skills on the mat. That’s too bad for him as Kilburn may be even more woeful on the mat than Lingo. What Kilburn does have is a diverse striking attack, a solid chin, and a gas tank that is more proven than Lingo’s. Bottom line: this is the under-the-radar contest of the card as these two rarely take a step backwards and are likely to have an exciting standup battle. It’s a coin flip figuring out who to go with. If there’s a finish, Lingo is the favorite, Kilburn if it goes the distance. Kilburn via decision