When the UFC began running events damn near every week, there eventually became a point where aside from the tip top of the card, it was near impossible to distinguish a Fight Night card from a PPV card. Sure, there were some exceptions when the UFC would stack particular PPV cards – such as those that took place in MSG – but by and large, the there was little to separate the standard versions of those cards.
To the UFC’s credit, that hasn’t been the case for about a year or so. For example, the early prelims for UFC 263, though light on fighters listed in the official UFC rankings, does feature one of the premier action fighters of this generation and a youthful prospect whom the UFC is put a healthy promotional push behind. I’ve held back on recommending tuning into the preliminary fights before, but I feel comfortable offering a hearty thumbs up for these contests. Even the heavyweight contest looks like it could offer some stupid fun….
- Rare is the contest in which Alexis Davis is the superior athlete in the cage. The longtime veteran accepted that reality a long time ago and has still found ways to, at the very least, remain competitive in most contests. One of the most savvy fighters on the roster, Davis knows what judges look for and does crafty things to occasionally steal rounds that maybe shouldn’t have gone her way, the late takedown to end a round being one of her favorite strategies. Over the last few years, low kicks have been her favorite brand of attack, using it to soften up her opponent’s base before looking for those aforementioned takedowns. About a year ago, it would have felt like a guarantee her shrewdness would have given her a win over Pannie Kianzad, but the former hot prospect has finally been putting things together. Her jab has become a consistent weapon and no longer panics at the first sign of trouble, slowly working her way out of bad spots as opposed to sinking in. There have been times where it takes Kianzad too long work her way out and that’s a real concern if Davis can get top position. Davis doesn’t necessarily do a lot of damage, nor is she major submission threat, but she’s difficult to get out from underneath. It’s easy to underestimate Davis, but it’s hard not to be impressed with Kianzad’s improving maturity. I think she has the poise and experience to maximize her physical advantages on the feet enough to take the W. Kianzad via decision
- There have been several youngsters who entered the UFC full of themselves, making it difficult to get behind them. That’s not the case with Chase Hooper. While many still believe he got his call to the UFC sooner than he should have – myself included – but his humility and sense of humor has made the 21-year old easy to root for. Hooper still has a long way to go on the feet, but he’s not ignorant to his abilities and has shown signs of progress, developing an active kicking game. However, it’s on the mat where the youngster shines, though he needs to be creative if he hopes to get the fight to the ground as his wrestling is nonexistent. Steven Peterson is unlikely to give Hooper what he wants. Most tend to think of the former bantamweight as a brawling scrapper, but he’s more cerebral in his approach than he is given credit for. Difficult to take down and a stickler with his jab, Peterson will likely be able to keep the fight where he wants it. Throw in the fact Peterson will still be around with the cockroaches when the Apocalypse hits – he’s exceptionally durable – and I feel confident in picking the vet to turn the prospect away. Peterson via decision
- After falling short in their UFC debuts, both Luigi Vendramini and Fares Ziam had extended absences leading up to their sophomore efforts, showing they worked hard on the very things that doomed their debuts. In the case of Vendramini, a drop down to lightweight helped too as he lacked the range to compete with the best at 170. With fast hands and a reasonable grappling game, the 25-year old has proven to have enough athleticism to implement whatever strategy he chooses to employ. Against Elizeu dos Santos, it was a ground attack. Against Jessin Ayari, he opted to let his fists fly. Against Ziam, he’ll probably try to ground the Frenchman, but that’ll be more difficult than it was when ZIam first entered the organization. After being controlled for most of his debut, Ziam improved both his footwork to maintain his distance and his Greco wrestling so he can potentially surprise his opponent with a takedown or simply disengage from the clinch. However, it’s Ziam’s outside striking that’s the heart of his attack, his jab being his best weapon. This is a difficult contest to pick as both are young with plenty of room for growth. It’s a matter of who is able to employ their strategy. I think Ziam can get his distance striking going and avoid Vendramini’s power and/or takedowns. Ziam via decision
- Though he’s still just 26 – an infant in heavyweight years – there appears to be a firm ceiling for Carlos Felipe. However, some of those shortcomings that appear likely to keep him from developing into a contender also appear to be the same characteristics that could keep him on the roster for a long time too. With a compact heavyweight frame, he’s most comfortable standing and trading with his opponent in the pocket with little regard for defense. Felipe does pack a solid punch, but his power is nothing special for the heavyweight division, so this strategy – while a lot of fun to watch – is going to limit how high he climbs, even if his chin has held up thus far in his career. It’s hard to believe Jake Collier will be the one to crack his chin, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him outwork his Brazilian counterpart given his penchant for stringing together lengthy punch-kick combinations. However, Collier is also hampered by the extra pounds he carries on his doughy frame. The former middleweight has been bumping up against the heavyweight limit in his last two contests and it isn’t because he’s added a surplus of muscle. Collier could pull this off if he stays on the outside, but I think he’ll be sucked into the pocket with Felipe and the Brazilian cracks Collier’s chin through attrition. Felipe via TKO of RD2