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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 257: Poirier vs. McGregor - ESPN Prelims preview

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Get the scoop on the televised prelims of UFC 257, featuring a pivotal women’s bantamweight contest between former title challenger Sara McMann and uber-aggressive Julianna Pena.

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

While the quality of the Fight Nights have been hit and miss, the UFC PPV’s have consistently produced solid quality up and down the card. UFC 257 is no exception. The televised portion of the prelims has a little bit of everything. A standup battle that seems impossible to go the distance opens things, followed by a women’s bantamweight contest that could have major implications on Amanda Nunes’ next title defense. Next, a pair of middleweights who have fluctuated in and out of the rankings clash, topped by two of the most promising lightweights look to prove who has a brighter future. It should be pretty damned good.

Julianna Pena vs. Sara McMann, Women’s Bantamweight

It feels appropriate Pena and McMann are finally colliding as both have been two of the most frustrating talents in the history of the division’s existence. While both have flashed moments of brilliance, looking like they could be legit threats to the title, they’ve also had moments where they make the type of mistakes you’d expect out of amateurs.

McMann did receive a title shot back in 2014 in the midst of Ronda Rousey’s historic run, but hasn’t come close to earning her way back into the picture. That can be partially attributed to her taking a two-year break on maternity leave, a more than valid reason to put a pause on her career. Now 40, it looks like this is her last chance to make a run to the top. McMann still appeared to have her athletic gifts intact when she fought a year ago, but many a fighter has fallen off a cliff without warning after completing their fourth decade of life.

McMann still has her vaunted wrestling game to fall back upon, averaging more than a takedown a round over the course of her career. She’s also dangerous from the top, laying down heavy GnP. However, she has also struggled on the feet and gets flustered when things aren’t going her way, leading to her being submitted several times. Those that have given McMann issues have rivaled or surpassed her physical talents.

That’s where Pena should feel confident. One of the most physically gifted members of the division from the time she joined the organization, Pena returned from a maternity leave of her own about six months before McMann did and picked up where she left off in attacking her opponents with pathological aggression. Like McMann, Pena’s best weapon is her wrestling, though there’s no denying she isn’t nearly on the technical level of the former Olympian. Regardless, she’s been able to make up for that more often than not with her enthusiasm… which has also gotten her submitted in two of her last three contests.

Pena is also insanely tough, but she would have to be given her lack of attention to defense. However, I don’t see that being as big of an issue in this contest as McMann isn’t a skilled enough striker to make Pena pay for that and Pena is extremely difficult to hold down. Not that she can’t be held down, but her opposition struggle to land any offense as all their attention goes to keeping her down. McMann will probably get some takedowns, but I don’t see her stopping Pena and I don’t see her landing more volume than the hyperactive Pena. Pena via decision

  • A lot of people have been incredibly high on Nasrat Haqparast. It isn’t hard to see why. He has a solid frame. He doesn’t have a major weakness. His takedown defense has been fantastic. Despite being only 25, he fights with incredible discipline. And like I said in that last sentence, he’s still only 25. Given that his best weapon is his jab, it’s no surprise he’s a Tristar product. However, like most Tristar products, he tends to play it a little too safe, rarely looking for the kill or taking risks. Given the physical gifts of Haqparast, he’d be well served to up his aggression. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to note Haqparast is the older fighter in this contest. In fact, it could be argued the 24-year old Arman Tsarukyan has the better wins on his record. In his UFC debut, the Armenian gave Islam Makhachev a hell of a run for his money, proving to be a gritty wrestler who is difficult to hold down. Tsarukyan’s striking is still a work in progress, working over Davi Ramos with his jab and a lot of low kicks, but Ramos isn’t a great measuring stick to test one’s striking. Regardless, I’ve seen more dynamism out of Tsarukyan and expect that to be the biggest difference in this contest between rising prospects. Tsarukyan via decision
  • For those who have been following the UFC for a while, it’s been an interesting journey to see Brad Tavares originally being treated with kid gloves in the early stages of his UFC run, now transformed into the hardened veteran they throw at up-and-coming prospects. Of course, a lot can change in a decade. Tavares was never a top-flight athlete, but he’s adequate in that arena and has always been one of the most technically sound strikers in the division, offensively and defensively. However, the biggest question is how well his takedown defense will hold up as Antonio Carlos Junior is one of the best pure grapplers in the division. Of his seven UFC wins, five have not only come from submission, but every one of them has been via RNC. Of course, Carlos better get that finish early as he has struggled to secure takedowns late as he tends to flag badly down the stretch. Tavares has never been submitted in his career, in large part because his takedown defense has been one of the stronger aspects of his game. Throw in Tavares never having issues with his conditioning and I think he can withstand the early onslaught of his Brazilian opponent. Tavares via decision
  • In three UFC appearances, Marcin Prachnio has successfully been KO’d in the first round every time out. It’s a surprise he’s still around as it’s not like he’s been able to find much success before he gets the lights turned out on him. A karateka, Prachnio prefers operating on the outside, looking to time when he should induce a violent collision to secure his own KO. That’s not good news as Khalil Rountree thrives when his opponent sits on the outside. Just ask Eryk Anders about that. A Muay Thai practitioner with incredible power, Rountree has struggled when his opponents either pressure him or take him to the mat. When given space, he launches his kicks to all levels with extreme velocity and his punching power has caught up with his kicks. Bottom line: he’s one of the most dangerous KO artists in the division, three of his four UFC wins coming via KO of the first round. The fourth win – the contest against Anders — saw him deliver four knockdowns while going the distance. Rountree’s chin isn’t rock solid, meaning Prachnio still has a chance to pull out an upset. However, Rountree’s chin is more proven than Prachnio’s and so is his power. Rountree via KO of RD1