When I first glanced at UFC 261’s televised prelims, I was initially disappointed. Names like Tristan Connelly and Stefan Sekulic have long been absent and wouldn’t do much to get me excited for their fights if they were more active anyway based on their tape. Plus, six of the seven participants with UFC experience are coming off losses. However, the more I looked into it, the more I liked some of the fights. For example, Alex Oliveira and Randy Brown – a contest that UFC matchmakers have tried to put together multiple times – is a very interesting contest, even if Oliveira appears to be on the downside. Also, the middleweight contest between Brendan Allen and Karl Roberson features two middleweights that don’t appear to have hit their primes quite yet. Typically, either of those contests would make for find PPV openers. So even all of the prelim contests don’t exactly tickle my fancy, their solid enough to satiate my appetite.
- Alex Oliveira is at an interesting crossroads of his career. Though the former rodeo cowboy has become more technically sound than he has ever been in all categories, he also appears to be losing a step. Fortunately, he was a magnificent enough athlete in his prime that he’s still the physically superior fighter most of time when he steps into the cage, allowing him to somewhat maintain his status. Unfortunately for him, his improved technique may not make up for his declining athleticism against Randy Brown. Brown will not only have an advantage in reach and height, he appears to be the smoother athlete of the two, flicking his jabs and kicks out there effortlessly. Of course, that doesn’t mean Oliveira doesn’t have the advantage in terms of explosiveness and power, collecting several KO’s as he lures his opponents into a sense of security as he throws deceptively lazy jabs and kicks at them. Oliveira’s strikes from the outside have had more sting to them as of late, in part because he’s been far more choosy about bursting in for the kill. Given Brown’s own improved ability to counter – and Oliveira’s apparent increasing fragility – that might be a wise course of action in this contest. In fact, look for Oliveira to clinch up with Brown quite a bit, even though Brown is solid in the clinch himself as Oliveira tends to close the distance after just a few effective attacks from his opposition at a distance. The mat battle between the two will be an X-factor as both have secured finishes and been finished with equal aplomb on the mat. Perhaps the difference will be who will be knocked silly first. Given Oliveira’s killer instinct isn’t as apparent as it once was, I’ll favor the more youthful Brown. Brown via TKO of RD2
- There may not be a fighter more dependent on his opponent to dictate whether their fight is entertaining than Dwight Grant. His last contest with Daniel Rodriguez was a LOT of fun for the entirety of the two-and-a-half minutes it lasted as Rodriguez took the fight at him. Grant came up short in the end, but he also came thisclose to securing the finish himself, an indication of the power he possesses in his fists as Rodriguez is one tough customer. However, Grant has also turned in some exceptionally boring contests as he can be too patient waiting to counter his opponent as Grant is very dependent on the KO to get the win. Whether Stefan Sekulic can get a fun fight out of him is debatable. The native of Serbia prefers to use his length, attacking with jabs and a lot of low kicks. He shows some solid grappling chops, but there are more questions than answers about how his wrestling translates to this level. However, it’s also been almost 3 years since Sekulic stepped into the cage, in part due to PED suspension. Has he regressed? Has he improved? Not only has Sekulic not been the most active striker, but he’s going to have a reach disadvantage against Grant. While Grant rarely pursues takedowns himself, but he has proven difficult to take down. Those last factors have me leaning towards Grant. Hopefully he gets the KO, otherwise I fear this will be a terribly boring fight. Grant via KO of RD1
- It’s easy to forget Brendan Allen is still just 25 given he’s been on the UFC radar for a few years before he even joined the organization in 2019. So even though he fell to Sean Strickland in his last contest in emphatic fashion, it’s hardly an indication of his ceiling. A very skilled grappler and dangerous if somewhat reckless striker, Allen’s issues arise from his inability to get the fight where he’s at his best and his lack of attention to defense. Out of the two, the wrestling is more troubling as younger fighters almost always have defensive issues. Then again, Karl Roberson is hardly a wrestling savant himself. In fact, Roberson is by far the more technical striker of the two, no surprise given his professional kickboxing experience. Hmm… maybe the lack of defense is the bigger concern…. Regardless, Roberson’s reputation as a striker hasn’t translated into any finishes due to his striking prowess. Given Allen’s aggression, it wouldn’t be much of a shock to see Roberson catch the younger fighter with a killshot, but Roberson’s grappling deficiencies make the probability of Allen catching Roberson in a submission just as likely. Roberson isn’t terrible in scrambles, but he’s terrible at defending himself if an opponent is on the offensive, particularly if they have his back. Should it go to decision, I like Roberson’s calmer approach to gain the judges’ favor. However, I think a finish is more likely to come from Allen… which is why I favor him. Allen via submission of RD2
- It has been 19 months since Tristan Connelly made waves by upsetting the far more athletic Michel Pereira on short notice, largely due to Pereira’s miserable energy management while Connelly’s no-nonsense approach wore down the flashy performer. He’s not only moving down in weight, he’s skipping a weight class all the way down to featherweight. It looks like a smart move – provided he can make the weight cut successfully – as having a size advantage will help make up for his lack of athletic talent and help him implement his grinding style. Given Pat Sabatini is a sound wrestler himself, that’s going to be a tough job for the Canadian to succeed at. In fact, Sabatini appears to have advantages in just about every area: athleticism, striking, grappling, dynamism, youth… everything but size. Sabatini is used to being the bigger man, but he’s technical enough in his groundwork it would be a surprise if he can’t outwork Connelly on the mat. On the feet, Connelly straightforward approach could allow him to catch Sabatini, but the greater likelihood is Sabatini outslicking him. I’d be very surprised if Connelly secures his second upset. Sabatini via decision