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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Vegas 21: Edwards vs. Muhammad - Action fighters dot the preliminary landscape

Get the low down on the early contests of UFC Vegas 21, featuring several reputed action fighters with a propensity for picking up bonus money, including former soccer player Cortney Casey.

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Cortney Casey who fights Mara Romero Borella at UFC on ESPN 8
Cortney Casey who fights Mara Romero Borella at UFC on ESPN 8
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

It always feels like a bit of a letdown the week following a loaded PPV card whether the following card is actually below the typical standard of a Fight Night card. Perhaps it’s good the quality of UFC Vegas 21 is fairly low as fans would judge the card harshly anyway. Not that there aren’t some fights worth paying attention to. Angela Hill was headlining a card in her last appearance. Nasrat Haqparast was labeled a rising star not that long ago. Plus, there are several fights that look like they’d be favorites to be FOTN on just about any card. Unfortunately, fans tend to care more about name value and it’s lacking these prelims are lacking beyond Hill.

  • If you’re wondering whether somewhere in the recesses of your mind that you’ve seen Angela Hill and Ashley Yoder throw down, you’d be absolutely right. In fact, it’s a major credit to Hill that she took this fight as she has nothing to gain by beating Yoder for a second time. Of course, Hill and Yoder have both evolved since their first contest in 2017, Hill becoming far more economic with her output and energy usage and Yoder improving as a wrestler and scrambler. However, while Yoder has become a better operator on the mat, she can still be overaggressive and catch herself in bad and/or awkward positions. She has made strides in her striking too, but she can’t hope to compete with Hill, a Muay Thai practitioner who is presently at the peak or her powers. With less wasted motion, Hill has been able to maintain her effectiveness late into her fights, piling up the punch-kick combos by the bunches. Hill has never been a great mat operator, but she has enough defensive know-how at this stage of her career that catching her in a submission is an accomplishment. No doubt Hill wants to make a statement as a competitive decision over Yoder won’t do anything for her, but Yoder is one tough cookie. Hill is most likely to have to settle for the competitive decision, but at least it will snap her losing streak. Hill via decision
  • At the current moment, Charles Jourdain is one of the most frustrating members of the UFC roster. How can the same dude that put away Doo Ho Choi fight to a draw against Josh Culibao? Much of it has to do with Jourdain’s love of creating a highlight reel. Flying knees, spinning attacks, all the power moves that tend to put the opposition to sleep. In the process, he can spend too much time looking for the openings to deliver those high impact moves and forgets to supplement it with fundamental attacks such as low kicks and jabs. Jourdain isn’t scared of a dogfight, but he’s not going to be the one to push the fight to that tempo unless he’s behind on the scorecards. That shouldn’t be a problem as Marcelo Rojo might be willing to do it for him. Not quite as flashy as Jourdain, Rojo track record for finishing off his opposition is just as impressive. Where his aggression hurts him is in his wrestling and grappling. He’s not a terrible grappler, but he tends to put himself in bad positions. Jourdain isn’t known for his grappling, but he’s a proven survivor on the mat and has enough know-how to catch Rojo in something if the opportunity presents itself. Regardless, I think Rojo’s aggression helps Jourdain find that killshot he’ll be looking for. Jourdain via KO of RD2
  • You’d be excused for believing Ray Rodriguez is making his UFC debut. After all, he was submitted in 39 seconds in his official debut, so there’s little to go off based on that. Nonetheless, Rodriguez was a longtime regional vet with a penchant for pursuing submissions. It’s unlikely he’ll take that route as the list of people willing to voluntarily go to the mat with Rani Yahya is a very exclusive list. A former ADCC grappling champion, you’d be hard pressed to find someone this side of Demian Maia who rivals Yahya positional BJJ. Of course, what has held Yahya back from ever being a legit title contender is his lack of physical gifts. It wouldn’t be a stretch to label him the worst bantamweight athlete on the roster. Of course, Yahya has worked through that his entire career and knows his limitations, even developing a functional standup game, though no one would label him a KO threat. His striking is still a clear step below Rodriguez on the feet – maybe even more than a step – but the Texas native also lacks in the power department. Even worse, his takedown defense has been very suspect. Yahya is always aggressive in his pursuit of takedowns, though he tends to gas hard about halfway through the contest. Regardless, Rodriguez’s track record against plus grapplers is more than a little spotty. If Rodriguez survives Yahya’s early onslaught, he’s like to get a decision or late stoppage. That’s a lot to ask. Yahya via submission of RD1
  • MMA fans can be so fickle. Just over a year ago, many were of the belief that Nasrat Haqparast was on his way to being a big deal in the lightweight division. A southpaw with an ideal frame and athleticism, fans began jumping off the bandwagon when Haqparast was KO’d by Drew Dober. Despite Dober being smothered by Islam Makhachev last week, there’s no shame in dropping a contest to him. Plus, Haqparast is only 25 with plenty of room for improvement. He could smooth out his striking technique, tighten up his defense, and utilize better timing on his takedowns. Then again, those type of issues could describe a large chunk of the roster. In the positive, Haqparast does put together smooth punching combinations and is very difficult to takedown. He’s welcoming a newcomer in Rafa Garcia, a slick grappler out of Mexico with plenty of submissions on his record. However, Garcia is not great wrestler as he struggles to close the distance with his short stature and doesn’t have the best technical wrestling base to begin with. He appears to throw heavy leather, leaping with one punch at a time, but doesn’t have the KO’s on his record to justify his striking style, at least at a high level. Garcia is undefeated, but there is also a clear line of delineation between the opposition he has faced and that which Haqparast has faced. The German representative should pull this out. Haqparast via decision
  • Cortney Casey has almost everything needed to be a contender. She’s a plus athlete. She’s extremely strong. She hits like a truck. She’s got a sneaky good submission game too. However, I said she had almost everything. That thing that’s missing: takedown defense. I suppose it could be said Casey’s fight IQ hurts her at times too as her over-aggression on the feet can lead to the takedowns, in addition to her comfort level working off her back. Her opponents better get her to the mat though as it is rare when they can beat her in a firefight. That should be a big red flag against JJ Aldrich as she’s a kickboxer by trade since her youth. There’s no doubt Aldrich is the more technical striker and her hand speed tends to get overlooked. However, she isn’t a heavy hitter and very rarely takes the fight to the mat voluntarily, in part because she isn’t the most efficient takedown artist. Aldrich’s bread and butter approach has proven to be effective against undisciplined or inexperienced strikers. While Casey’s reputation is that of a brawler, that’s unfair to her; she’s technical enough to hang in there with the likes of Aldrich. Unless Aldrich has been hiding her wrestling, she’s going to have a hard time outpointing the more aggressive Casey. Look for this contest to be one of those strong FOTN candidates I referred to earlier. Casey via decision
  • While there’s plenty to like about Jinh Yu Frey, it’s also easy to get frustrated with her. A fine athlete with a strong base, a powerful left hook, and strong grappling, it feels like she has never been able to put everything together with the consistency one would expect. While her inactivity as of late has been a big part of the blame – while the left hook is good, she’s probably over-reliant on it in waiting for just the right opportunity to land it – being on the small side for her preferred bullying style doesn’t help. Being unable to execute it against Loma Lookboonmee, possibly the smallest fighter on the roster, is a troubling sign. However, Gloria de Paula may be just the medicine Frey needs. The 25-year old Brazilian shows a well-rounded skill set for a younger fighter, picking up a contract from DWCS. Showing poise beyond her years, the clinch appears to be her most effective area of operation. The problem is, she was fighting someone with less experience than she has and de Paula only has seven fights on her record with none of the victories coming over opponents that would suggest she’s ready for the big show. De Paula has potential, but Frey has fought plenty of tough competition and will present a level de Paula has yet to experience. I’m hardly confident in the pick, but I’m going with Frey’s experience. Frey via decision
  • Neither Jason Witt nor Matthew Semelsberger came into the UFC with much fanfare. Witt hit a massive speed bump in his debut, but both have pulled out dominant wins in that time, upping their profile in the process. However, there’s little they have in common. Whereas Witt shows a strong wrestling and grappling game with some striking ability, Semelsberger is an aggressive striker with the occasional takedown mixed in for good measure. If Semelsberger can keep the fight standing, he throws with power, accuracy, and aggression. The problem is he has been bullied in the clinch on the regional scene and that’s an area where Witt excels. So long as Semelsberger can keep Witt from closing the distance, he has a great chance of winning. He’ll probably win most of the standup, but I’d anticipate he’ll either be controlled in the clinch and/or smothered on the mat, perhaps even proving prone to being submitted. Witt via submission of RD2