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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Vegas 26: Prelims offer promising prospects... and Big Ben

Get the dirt on the prelims of UFC Vegas 26, topped by longtime heavyweight vet Ben Rothwell looking to turn away another young buck in former PFL champion Philipe Lins.

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Ben Rothwell fighting Marcin Tybura at UFC Fight Island 5
Ben Rothwell fighting Marcin Tybura at UFC Fight Island 5
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

For all the movement at the top of the UFC Vegas 26 card, there wasn’t a whole lot of movement on the preliminary portion of the card. In fact, none of the contests remaining on the prelims saw any changes, only a couple of cancellations with fighters most fans aren’t aware of. That’s a relatively good thing as there are several fights that should catch the attention of fight fans. Phil Hawes and Kyle Daukaus don’t appear to be too far from competing for a spot in the rankings. L’udovit Klein has serious potential to be a consistent highlight reel. And I’m not saying this because of the DWCS rub, but Tafon Nchukwe looks like a scary man with the proper seasoning and coaching.

  • It’s now or never for Philipe Lins. After an arm injury prevented him from defending his PFL heavyweight championship, he jumped to the UFC and hasn’t been able to capitalize on that momentum. Part of that is there’s a clear step up in competition from the 2018 PFL heavyweights and the UFC’s current heavyweight crop. A counter striker who’s biggest strength is his ground game, the struggle for Lins is getting the fight to the mat as he’s never been a great wrestler and is on the smaller side at heavyweight. That’s a scary thought given Ben Rothwell is one of the biggest heavyweights on the roster, not to mention one of the most durable. Rothwell tends to make great use of those traits, exerting crazy pressure on his opponent in hopes of entrapping them against the fence and unloading a barrage of strikes onto his opponent. Where Rothwell suffers is in a lack of athleticism and he tends to gas himself with his extreme pressure. If Lins can survive Rothwell’s early onslaught and stick and move throughout the contest, he could bounce back and secure his first UFC win. Unfortunately for him, it seems most likely that Rothwell will be able to deliver some clubbing blows with his ham hocks and get back on the winning track. Rothwell via TKO of RD1
  • It took longer than most expected, but it looks like Phil Hawes has finally put it all together. Not that the former JUCO wrestling champion can’t further polish his skills and continue to improve, but he looks like he’s becoming a complete fighter. Hawes has always had an impressive burst – usually used to snag double-leg takedowns – but didn’t have the striking discipline to make it work. After some time with Henri Hooft, he’s scored a couple of impressive KO’s. However, in his last contest, Hawes was also exposed in the sense that he lost steam in a hurry and was forced to resort to his wrestling to keep from being picked apart. The question is whether Kyle Daukaus has the striking discipline to make that effort pay off. A massive middleweight, Daukaus has preferred to dwarf his opposition in the clinch before dragging them to the mat and hunting for submissions. To be fair, Daukaus isn’t hopeless in the standup and has put together some nice punching combinations on several occasions. The issue has been he can’t resist closing the distance, even when he’s finding success in the pocket. What could be truly damaging is he could be giving Hawes exactly what he wants: an easy path to a takedown. Daukaus isn’t nearly the wrestler Hawes is, but he’s got a deeper gas tank, a more advanced and diverse ground game, and one of the few 185ers who appears to be bigger than Hawes. I’m not completely sold on it, but I think that’ll be enough for Daukaus to get the job done. Daukaus via submission of RD3
  • Y’all remember Mike Trizano? He was the winner of the TUF season that featured only undefeated fighters? Yeah, he’s pretty much been forgotten about at this point. Of course, it’s been two years since he last competed, so it’s not exactly a surprise that he’s a forgotten man. Trizano is young enough that the time away could prove to be a positive development for him. He doesn’t have a lot of power, but he’s a skilled kickboxer with a scrappy attitude that never leaves him out of a fight. In the case of L’udovit Klein, power isn’t a problem in the least. A head kick specialist, Klein expertly sets up his opponents so the kicks to the head catch them by surprise even though they know its coming. It’s not like Klein doesn’t have power in his fists either. There is concern about his wrestling, but his BJJ appears to be solid and even though I’d say Trizano is the better wrestler, it wouldn’t be by a wide margin. Trizano is the more consistent striker, so there is a strong likelihood he could pull off the upset if he can make the fight go 15 minutes. It isn’t out of the question either given Trizano has yet to be finished by strikes yet in his career. Given Klein’s power and savvy, I think this proves to be his first loss via strikes. Klein via KO of RD2
  • It isn’t hard to see Zarrukh Adashev developing into a fun action fighter, but it feels like the UFC picked up the Uzbekistan kickboxer too soon for his own good. Given he’s lost his first two UFC contests – putting his overall record at 3-3 – the results indicate the truth of that statement. On the small side, even for flyweight, Adashev aggressively puts together kick and punch combinations in hopes of piling up volume in a hurry. Given it’s flyweight, that type of strategy tends to work out more often than not. Of course, that partially describes why Ryan Benoit has been unable to find consistent success as the hard hitter tends to spend too much time looking for the right shot to counter with one of his power shots. Benoit does have exceptional power for the division, but he’s also been consistently outworked in the process. Benoit has been working on that, also expanding his striking beyond his basic boxing to include head kicks. There’s a part of me that wants to say Adashev’s potential for improvement should allow him to upend Benoit’s UFC career, but add in Benoit’s wrestling advantage into the mix – if he so chooses to use it – and I think the veteran hangs onto his job a little longer. Benoit via decision
  • There are many who think Tafon Nchukwi is a future champion. It isn’t hard to see why they’d think that. Built like a tank at 185, he proved in his middleweight debut that he can push a hard pace for 15 minutes while still hitting his opposition with the bricks that he calls fists. Much of that can be attributed to his Muay Thai background as his clean technique keeps him from exhausting himself too much. However, there are still questions about his abilities on the mat. Jamie Pickett tried to exploit that, but the former welterweight didn’t have the physicality to ground Nchukwi. Jun Yong Park should have a much easier time in accomplishing that goal as the Korean native presents a far more physical nature than Pickett. Plus, Park has also shown his willing and capable of taking an opponent down time and again if it’s the path to least resistance. Park is a sound striker on the feet, restricting his attack to the basics with simple punching combinations. Against the likes of Nchukwi, it may prove to be too basic if he can’t get the fight on the mat with great frequency. I don’t think he can. Nchukwi via KO of RD2
  • Like every other MMA fan, it caught me off-guard to realize Lookin’ For a Fight is still a thing. With DWCS producing a surplus of UFC contracts and TUF being revived, does the UFC really need Uncle Dana traveling to regional shows to potentially sign even more fresh blood to the organization? In the case of Carlston Harris, he’s in the prime of his career at 33, so he’d better be able to produce wins in a hurry. Though Harris has some good trips in the clinch and a slick submission game, it’s not like the Brazilian circuit is teeming with a plethora of wrestlers. There’s a good chance that aspect of his game will be tested by Christian Aguilera, a decent wrestler in his own right. Of course, Aguilera is primarily known for his punching power, 11 of his 14 wins coming via KO/TKO. A limited athlete, Aguilera knows his strengths and plays to them with a basic boxing game and the occasional takedown. Harris’ game generally isn’t anything too fancy either, but he’s got a decided advantage in speed and quickness. It’s no guarantee he’ll avoid Aguilera’s power, but I’d say it’s more likely than not that he does so and probably even finds a finish of his own. Harris via TKO of RD2