Outside of the main event, there isn’t any casual appeal to any of the contests for UFC Vegas 41. Thus, for the third week in a row, the UFC is presenting a subpar card by their standards. I suppose I should be fine with it given there will be back-to-back numbered events following this card... but I don’t want to wait that long. However, I did say last week that I’d rather be watching subpar fight cards than damn near anything else on TV, so it’s not like I’m cursing my fate.
If I’m to be completely fair to these prelims, there are several prospects that look like they could be serious players down the line. Even if they don’t get that far, I could see them becoming notable action fighters. There are a few who are fighting to just remain on the roster, but the youth is far more plentiful in this case. So if the potential of watching tomorrow’s stars is motivation to turn into this early dose of face-punching, these prelims may very well be for you.
- Given the lack of flash in his UFC run, Jun Yong Park’s 3-1 record is one of the most overlooked in the middleweight division. The South Korean native has utilized a wash, rinse, repeat strategy of taking his opponents down at every opportunity and executing lengthy periods of control. Of course, each one of those opponents were notable for having highly questionable ground games, making the focus of taking the fight to the mat obvious. That won’t be the case against Gregory Rodrigues. The Brazilian has a strong grappling background, serious KO power, and is absolutely massive for 185. The issue for Rodrigues has been his lack of defense and a questionable chin, but he appears to be making a greater effort to avoid leaving his chin out there to be touched up. Regardless, that’s probably the best route for the stout Park to find success. Park isn’t know for his one punch power, finding more success wearing down his opponent with volume, his jab being an understated part of his attack. However, the most troubling issue for Park is his poor takedown defense, being taken down at will by Anthony Hernandez, someone not exactly known to be a takedown artist. That’s music to the ears of Rodrigues. Park is tough as hell, so a submission is most likely to be the method of finish... if there is a finish. Rodrigues via decision
- I’m going to show my cards a bit. David Onama is a prospect that I’m very excited about. He’s got plenty of power, shows an excellent ability to read his opponents, and doesn’t have any obvious deficiencies on the mat. There isn’t a major weakness in the 27-year old. However, Onama is being handed a very difficult task. Mason Jones would be a difficult matchup for him if he was facing him with a full camp. Onama is taking the fight with just a few days notice. It’s damn near impossible to impress as much as Jones has without picking up a win in his first two UFC contests. The Welshman pushes an insane pace, expertly mixing in takedowns with his striking to keep his opponent guessing. When he does throw his hands, Jones leads with his jab into longer punching combinations. While Jones isn’t a tall lightweight, he’s thick for the division and more than capable of manhandling his opponents in the clinch. Given Onama’s future appears to be at featherweight, there’s a real possibility he gets outmuscled by Jones. Onama has a bright future, I just don’t see it getting off to a great start against a motivated Jones who is starved for his first UFC victory. Jones via TKO of RD2
- If all you know about Tabatha Ricci is on the basis of her UFC debut against Manon Fiorot, you’ve got the wrong picture of her. Taking the fight up a weight class on short notice, the 26-year old Ricci was overwhelmed, never getting a chance to show the grappling chops that were the foundation of her call up to the big leagues. Her striking isn’t terrible either, but isn’t where it needs to be, though there is still plenty of time for her to polish up in that area. At the very least, she has a good striking base. Despite that, there’s no doubt Maria Oliveira is going to be the more technical striker – and will be helped out by a height and reach advantage of about a half-a-foot – but there’s all sorts of warning flags with Oliveira. She’s been crushing cans in Brazil – the most wins any of her opponents had in her 12 victories was 3 – and there is a perception of her as a quitter after waving off the fight on her DWCS Brazil appearance. At 24, Oliveira has plenty of time to rewrite her story, but given she has come up short in spectacular fashion every time she’s had a notable step up in competition, I’m sticking with Ricci. Ricci via submission of RD3
- I’m not sure what it is the UFC sees in Jamie Pickett, but they gave him every opportunity to make it to the roster via DWCS. Once he finally got to the roster, he turned in a pair of disheartening performances against Tafon Nchukwe and Jordan Wright. Now, when it seems the UFC has been giving most fighters a shorter leash, he’s getting a third opportunity against Laureano Staropoli. To be fair to Pickett, Staropoli represents his most forgiving opponent in terms of a stylistic matchup. Both are former welterweights and Pickett is at his best when he’s been able to unleash his wrestling and grappling. Even when he was at welterweight, Staropoli struggled to stop his opponents from dragging him to the mat. On the flip side, Pickett has never figured out how to use his long reach to keep opponents from getting within range to piece him up. Staropoli is both the more technical and powerful hitter and he’s been losing close matchups to a higher caliber of opponent than Pickett. If Pickett’s wrestling was more consistent, I’d consider picking him for the upset despite his issues with volume. The problem is, I’ve seen zero consistency from him in any area. Staropoli via decision
- The UFC hasn’t been doing Jai Herbert any favors. The lanky striker has been across the cage from Francisco Trinaldo and Renato Moicano in his first two UFC contests, explaining why most would agree he’s better than his 0-2 UFC record. A lanky striker who can lay the punishment on in a hurry with his simplistic boxing combinations, Herbert’s inability to stop takedowns has been a major culprit for his lack of success thus far in the UFC. Perhaps in an effort to make up for putting him in unfavorable contests, he’s getting Khama Worthy, who has yet to secure a takedown in his four UFC contests. Worthy is an experienced veteran who can make fast tactical reads in the midst of his fights and exploit them for a KO or sub. However, Worthy also has a very questionable chin and his striking defense is chuck full of holes. Herbert isn’t a defensive savant himself, but he does a solid job of utilizing his freakish length for the most part and his chin hasn’t been cracked nearly as often as Worthy’s. I trust Herbert’s chin a bit more given it has less mileage on it. Herbert via TKO of RD2
- Jeff Molina isn’t the freakish type of athlete that tends to excite fans in terms of hyping young prospects, but he is most certainly exciting the fans every time he steps into the cage. Molina’s use of feints and fakes is more advanced than many who’ve been in the UFC for years and he uses them to great extent. That doesn’t mean there aren’t moments where Molina is perfectly content to get into a brawl, but his takedown defense looks like it could be his undoing if it doesn’t show some significant improvement. Given Daniel Lacerda has some of the most aggressive GnP I’ve ever seen in the flyweight division, I wouldn’t be surprised if Molina emphasized keeping the fight standing in his camp. If that ends up being the case – and it most likely will as Lacerda loves a good standup battle – we’re all in for a treat as Lacerda is an absolute wild man. The Brazilian newcomer throws any and every strike in the book with reckless abandon. Of course, it leaves him open defensively and Molina has the timing to take advantage of that. However, Lacerda appears to be the superior athlete. I feel more comfortable picking this as FOTN than I do a winner, but will throw out I’m almost certain Molina will win if it goes the distance. Lacerda via TKO of RD2
- One of the longest tenured members of the strawweight division – and at one point, the busiest member of the division – Randa Markos is definitively in a do-or-die situation as she enters the contest with Livinha Souza on a four-fight losing streak. To be fair, the UFC isn’t giving her an impossible task as Souza’s recent UFC run has been a disappointment as well. Whereas Markos appears to be suffering from an identity crisis with the occasional brain lapse, Souza has struggled with larger and more physical opponents that can match her athleticism. Markos isn’t a better athlete than Souza, but she does produce a physical brand of wrestling that could give Souza problems much like what Briana Van Buren did. On the flip side, Souza’s skill on the ground is more than capable of catching Markos in submission if she takes that approach. Markos’ own takedown defense is also problematic, but Souza’s standup has been a far cry from what she showed in her time in Invicta. Basically, the path to victory is there for both. The question is who is able to exploit the other? Given Markos is guaranteed to be on her last legs, I expect her to come out aggressively, her volume overriding Souza’s more selective approach. Markos via decision
- Technically, this is the second UFC go-around for Zviad Lazishvili, even if he’s making his UFC debut. The native of Georgia took a short notice fight last month against Jack Shore only to get hurt and be forced to pull out. The UFC released him, but there doesn’t seem to be any hard feelings given he’s taking this contest against Jonathan Martinez on even shorter notice. Like another Georgian who calls the bantamweight division home, Lazishvili is a beast on the mat. He appears to be a bit more technical in his grappling, but not as relentless in his takedowns as Merab Dvalishvili. Then again, who is? That’s terrible news for Martinez. Even though he’s got a significant edge in UFC experience and possesses one-shot KO power, Lazishvili is a terrible stylistic matchup for him. Given the short amount of time Lazishvili had to prepare for contest (i.e., weight cutting), there’s a good chance he hits E on his gas tank far quicker than usual, allowing Martinez to snipe away at him. I get the feeling Lazishvili is one of those who is in fantastic shape no matter what. Lazishvili via decision