clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

UFC 268: Usman vs. Covington 2 preview - Can a New York realtor find success in the UFC?

Get the dirt on the prelims of UFC 268, featuring former title challenger Al Iaquinta looking to find success after a long hiatus against a revitalized Bobby Green.

Al Iaquinta fighting Dan Hooker at UFC 243
Al Iaquinta fighting Dan Hooker at UFC 243
Jasmin Frank-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since the state of New York made MMA legal, the UFC has gone balls to the wall with their Madison Square Garden cards. Not only have they made the featured prelim a realistic Fight Night headliner, there’s typically been multiple potential Fight Night headliners on the prelims! Well, that run comes to an end with UFC 268. Not that there aren’t some fun contests on the prelims, but most of the fights feel like they aren’t even guaranteed to be main card fights on a Fight Night card, much less a headliner. I suppose that’s to be expected when the organization runs back-to-back numbered events, but there wasn’t more quality to be had after all the fodder that had been run in the previous weeks? Nevertheless, I’ll be hunkering down as always to enjoy this offering of fights as even low level UFC is typically better than regional MMA... typically.

  • There has been a LOT of hype around Alex Pereira since his signing was announced. The fact that he beat Israel Adesanya not once, but twice, in a kickboxing contest has thrust him into the featured prelim on a PPV card. However, there’s reason to be concerned. With only four professional MMA contests under his belt – and just one of those contests coming in the last five years – Pereira is extremely short on MMA experience. There’s no doubt Pereira is a fantastic kickboxer with loads of power, but there’s a massive difference in being a fantastic kickboxer and a fantastic MMA striker. In MMA, one needs to be aware of the potential of being taken to the mat. That’s going to be the clear route to victory for Andreas Michailidis. The Greek representative is well-rounded and can do a little bit of everything. The question will be whether he can avoid a killshot from Pereira before he can close the distance and get the fight to the mat. If I had more confidence in Michailidis’ ability to do that, I’d be jumping all over him without hesitation to do just that. As it is, I’m vacillating on this contest. Pereira might just need one good look, but Michailidis might just need one good angle for a takedown. Given this is an MMA contest and Michailidis should be more competitive standing than Pereira will be on the mat, I’ll go with the MMA fighter. Michailidis via submission of RD1
  • It has been two years since we last saw Al Iaquinta in action. The former title challenger appears to be doing well as a realtor as it seems the only thing that has been able to bring him back to the UFC is fighting in MSG. That right there is a huge red flag regarding the potential success of Iaquinta moving forward as being an MMA fighter doesn’t appear to be anything more than a side-gig at this point. That isn’t to say he can’t find motivation. In fact, he might be able to ask Bobby Green how he rediscovered his passion for fighting... if he wasn’t fighting him. Green had a tough stretch of personal tragedy that coincided with a lack of success in the cage, leaving him contemplating whether he wanted to continue fighting. Last summer, Green rediscovered his swagger, mixing his wrestling with his fast hands in a manner he hadn’t done in years and scored three quick wins. Even on his current two-fight losing streak, there’s a strong case to be made he won both of those fights. If the Green we’ve seen over the last year-and-a-half shows up, Iaquinta is in for a long night. Not that Iaquinta doesn’t stand a chance. He has surprising power and strong fundamentals in all areas, but he’s not the athlete Green is and if he views fighting as a hobby at this point, I don’t trust picking him. Green via decision
  • I have nothing against Phil Hawes. I’ve never heard anything out of his mouth that makes me think he’s a bad dude. But it’s hard not to be rooting for Chris Curtis. A veteran with over a decade’s worth of experience, Curtis has been around the sport for a long time, plying his trade across three different weight classes. In the UFC, he’d probably be best served competing at 170, giving him the best chance to chuck off his opponent’s takedown attempts and being able to best utilize his reach from the outside. Curtis might find some success with his striking against Hawes, but he’s going to have a hard time stopping Hawes from taking him down. While Hawes has improved his striking – he is the greater KO threat between the two – he should know his edge in the wrestling department will be too great to ignore. Of course, like anyone else with a shiny new toy, fighters love testing out their new skills they have developed and Hawes has been willing to trade in recent fights. Curtis is the more technical striker, which gives him a window, but I still like Hawes to take a comfortable decision on the back of his wrestling. Hawes via decision
  • There’s a lot of people who have already jumped off the Edmen Shahbazyan bandwagon after the Glendale Fight Club product dropped two consecutive fights. That would be foolish given he doesn’t even turn 24 until later in this month and has plenty of talent to work with. He was just a classic case of the UFC rushing him up sooner than they should have after scoring some impressive wins in a hurry, including this one over a durable Brad Tavares. To the youngster’s credit, he appears to have learned some lessons from his first loss, showing more patience and maintaining his energy levels late after burning through his reserves early in his other fights. Even then, Shahbazyan was tired against Jack Hermansson and came thisclose to being finished. Shahbazyan will want to be careful not to be reckless as they don’t call Nassourdine Imavov the Russian Sniper for no reason. With one of the longer frames in the division, Imavov likes to circle on the outside and land his jab with the occasional high kick for good measure. Plus, Imavov has proven to be better in close quarters than expected. has proven to Shahbazyan’s burst has caught several of his opponents off-guard, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see him catch Imavov with a takedown or a power punch, but Imavov isn’t just a smart fighter, he’s a durable one too. Look for Shahbazyan to have a strong opening round, but as Imavov gets a feel for him – and as Shahbazyan potentially fades – expect Imavov to take more and more control the deeper the fight goes. Imavov via decision
  • By a wide margin, Ian Garry represents the most hyped to come out of Ireland since Conor McGregor. The 23-year-old isn’t quite as demeaning towards his opposition as McGregor, but he does have the gift of gab and backs it up in the cage. Possessing a huge frame for welterweight, the youngster has shown plenty of power and stamina in his short career, plus a maturity that belies his youth. While Garry is usually defensively sound, he has had momentary lapses where he lets his opponents touch him up. That’s the window of opportunity Jordan Williams is going to need. The type A diabetic possesses plenty of punching power, six of his nine wins coming via KO/TKO of the opening round. However, due to his diabetes and his tendency to come firing out of the gates, Williams tends to fade quickly. Even more worrisome is he fades even harder when he makes the cut to 170... and this fight is taking place at 170. It’s hard to believe this fight will go the distance as Williams isn’t winning by decision and it’s hard to believe Garry won’t be able to put away Williams as his stamina issues flare up. I like the prospect to make a splashy debut. Garry via KO of RD2
  • Given there’s a prototype for every division for what a fighter should look like, it’s fun to see when someone breaks the mold and finds success. Chris Barnett is a major example of that. A 5’9” heavyweight who tips the scales at the 265-pound limit, you’d expect him to be a bowling ball of a wrestler, using his low center of gravity to leverage takedowns. Nope. The man known as Huggy Bear is a striker... and a damned good one. Barnett throws spinning and flying attacks in addition to an underrated combination puncher. It’s hard to believe he won’t get an opportunity to show his skills against Gian Villante as the longtime UFC veteran isn’t interested in wrestling anymore despite that being his base. That’s largely because Villante’s formerly ripped physique is now flabby. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t hit hard anymore (he does), but transforming into a one-dimensional fighter has made it easy to prepare for him. Barnett is shorter, but he’s far more technical than Villante and doesn’t appear to have the same wear on his body Villante does. I like Barnett’s chances of picking up his first UFC win. Barnett via KO of RD1
  • I’ve been of the belief that Dustin Jacoby deserves a step up in competition, but it’s hard for that to happen when the former professional kickboxer ends up taking fights on short notice without the step up. I guess I can’t fault him for seeing an opportunity to get two paychecks – show and win – as his technical striking is going to be very problematic for John Allan. The Brazilian is stupid tough and has plenty of power, but his constant pressure that’s lacking in defensive awareness makes it about as close to a guarantee as you can get that Jacoby outworks him. That doesn’t mean Allan couldn’t catch Jacoby’s chin, but Jacoby isn’t easy to put away. Maybe the short notice weight cut makes Jacoby’s chin more vulnerable than usual, but I wouldn’t be willing to bet on that. Provided Jacoby avoids a brawl in the pocket, his outside striking and clinch work should allow him to take a comfortable decision. Jacoby via decision
  • I’m sure there’s a degree of surprise Bruno Souza is making it to the UFC without having to go through DWCS, but the youthful Brazilian was signed on short notice. It isn’t that his resume is lacking, but the striker doesn’t produce a lot of highlights, leaning more towards the side of being a point fighter. No surprise given he’s a karateka and doesn’t possess a high level of power in his fists. More concerning is his tendency to start slow given Melsik Baghdasaryan has four first round finishes in his six MMA wins. A former kickboxer, Baghdasaryan has elite power for featherweight, but he’s also very inexperienced on the mat. Fortunately for him, while I’d say Souza possesses the edge in that department, I wouldn’t say it’s such a sizeable edge that Souza is likely to expose him. What we should get is a fun striking contest. Badhdasaryan’s definitive edge in power and killer instinct has me firmly leaning in his direction, though a competitive decision wouldn’t surprise either. Baghdasarayan via TKO of RD2
  • It’s hard to argue anyone had a more explosive DWCS appearance this year than C.J. Vergara. The native of Texas blew through a favored Bruno Korea in just 41 seconds, tying him up in a clinch and brutalizing his body with knees. Not the typical way for a flyweight to win.... Regardless, Vegara is a pressure fighter who throws heavy shots and doesn’t let up. His aggression does leave him wide open to eating all sorts of return fire. Of course, a lack of defense has been an even bigger problem for Ode Osbourne. The lanky striker has no clue how to use his range to keep his opponent from attacking within his range, but he’s a plus athlete, has fast hands, and good timing on his counters. Did I forget to say power? However, rather than engage in a firefight with Vergara, Osbourne may look to take the fight to the mat as Vegara’s ability to stop takedowns has been targeted for good reason. Osbourne isn’t exactly a great wrestler, but his clearest advantage appears to be his submissions and scrambling. Regardless, I think his quick twitch reactions will be the difference. Osbourne via TKO of RD1