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Diggin’ Deep on Usman vs. Burns - Curious matchmaking dominates UFC 258’s televised prelims

Get the down low on UFC 258’s televised prelims, headlined by undefeated grappling ace Rodolfo Vieira looking to turn away DWCS alum Anthony Hernandez.

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Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Confusion rules day with the matchmaking on the televised prelims. Not that the UFC adheres to the Joe Silva style of matchmaking the way they did when the matchmaker of the Zuffa era was doing his thing, but there’s usually somewhat of a continued upward trajectory in the opposition a fighter gets if they find themselves on a win streak. And yet, Rodolfo Vieira and Belal Muhammad are either moving sideways or getting a step backwards. The undefeated Vieira is undefeated in seven fights whereas his opponent, Anthony Hernandez, has one win in his last four contests. Muhammad’s opponent, Dhiego Lima may have a three fight win streak like Muhammad, but a further look has Muhammad winning seven of his last eight and Lima having lost four UFC contests in a row prior to his win streak. If there was an injury and their current replacements were late notice, that’s one thing. But that isn’t the case. At least the other two contests make sense....

The UFC 258 televised prelims begin at 8 PM ET on ESPN.

  • Someone is going to have to let me know what it is the UFC sees in Anthony Hernandez that has them continually trying to match him up with Rodolfo Vieira. Vieira is an unbeaten BJJ whiz who has proven to be a plus athlete. Hernandez is a solid athlete himself and he has a similar amount of MMA experience… but he’s stumbled badly against the first opponent who was considered a solid grappler. And now the UFC wants to match him up with Vieira? Hernandez does have a more developed skill set on the whole, showing functional power on the feet whereas Vieira has yet to display any sort of consistency on the feet. Throw in Hernandez’s sturdy takedown defense and maybe the UFC is onto something. Of course, Vieira is even newer to the sport than Hernandez and has shown surprisingly good wrestling for someone without an official wrestling background with his experience. There’s no reason to think Vieira’s ability to get the fight where he wants it is going to stall or regress at this point. Given Hernandez hasn’t exactly faced anyone noted for their wrestling either, it’s very plausible his takedown defense is overblown. I’m sticking with my initial instinct. Vieira via submission of RD1
  • Dhiego Lima never lived up to the expectations that came with being the brother of three-time Bellator welterweight champion, Douglas Lima. To be fair, it looked like he was on his way to doing that, exercising excellent control of the distance that his length affords him and showing signs of wrestling game that had largely been nonexistent in his previous contests. Then, just as he was gaining momentum behind a three-fight win streak… and he suffered a neck injury. All signs point to him being recovered at this point, but the neck is an area that always raises concerns. He makes his return against Belal Muhammad, one of the most technically proficient tacticians on the roster. Muhammad isn’t a great athlete, nor does he have a lot of pop in his punches. However, he is a student of the game, well aware of what his opponent has to offer and supremely conditioned. Whether it’s consistently flashing a jab in his opponent’s face or forcing them to fend off takedowns, Muhammad rarely gives his opponent room to breathe. He’s durable as well, but his lack of athletic ability has seen him eat some heavy punches in several contests. That might be Lima’s best chance of winning as Muhammad is a massive step up from what Lima has been facing. It isn’t an impossibility, but Muhammad outslicking him to a decision seems far more likely. Muhammad via decision
  • Polyana Viana has been nothing but a tease. Her physical gifts have been blatantly obvious from the beginning of her UFC run. Unfortunately, her run has also been defined by bonehead decisions that are inspired by her traditionally being able to overwhelm her past opposition on the basis of her athleticism and aggression. Viana has made a greater effort of late to get the fight to the ground where she can engage in her submission grappling, her true wheelhouse. Of course, the aggression has remained and it has bit her in the ass too when she hasn’t been alert. If she’s not careful again, Mallory Martin has proven to have enough of a ground game to make Viana pay a heavy price. Not a traditional grappler, Martin’s wrestling is where her bread is buttered, pounding on her opposition once they’re on the mat until they either quit or expose themselves to a submission. On the feet, Martin is the more technical of the two, but doesn’t have the speed or power of Viana. Regardless, both are a work in progress in their standup. I trust Martin’s fight IQ more than Viana, so I’m swaying in her direction. Martin via decision
  • Announced less than a week before UFC 258 takes place, Andre Ewell and Chris Gutierrez are looking to move up the bantamweight ladder. Ewell is the more recognizable name given his fun-loving personality and propensity for engaging in high volume fire fights. He doesn’t have a lot of KO power, but he puts together a LOT of short boxing combinations with the accumulation wearing down the opposition. Of course, his 75” reach is the primary factor that allows him to accomplish those objectives. Gutierrez will possess a major disadvantage in that sense – his reach is only 67” – and he’s not the athlete Ewell is. Regardless, he has a good chance of pulling off the upset. A technical striker with a deep gas tank, Gutierrez is one of the most efficient strikers in the division. He’s acquired a reputation as one hell of kicker too given he picked up a stoppage via leg kicks last spring. Given Ewell’s legs are usually there to have the hell beat out of them, that could be his most direct path to victory. It’ll be a close contest, but I see Ewell’s length giving Gutierrez too many problems. Ewell via decision