Given that I complimented the UFC on the early prelims of UFC 264 – indicating they had the most consequential fights of the prelims – that would indicate I’m not impressed with the televised prelims. I don’t have a problem with them in the least. Given his recent run of success, I no longer cringe when I see Carlos Condit’s name on a card as I did about a year ago. Ryan Hall is still an intriguing mystery given the lack of opponents willing to step into the cage with him. Many think Dricus Du Plessis is going to be a serious player at middleweight in short order. And who doesn’t love the violent possibilities between Niko Price and Michel Pereira? There’s a lot to like. I just don’t see fights that are going to have a potential impact near the top of their divisions. Just thought I’d clear that up, and give my recommendation to tune in.
While not as consequential as a couple of the early prelims, I’ll admit these appear to have a much higher ceiling on the aesthetic factor.
- With consecutive victories for the first time since 2012, is it safe to declare Carlos Condit back? That would be a firm no, perhaps the most telling statistic being that Condit hasn’t picked up a Performance Bonus in his past six fights when the previous longest stretch of his career had been two fights. The reason for the lack of bonuses – in addition to his wins — is Condit finally coming to grips with his physical decline, not possessing the physical skills he owned in his prime that allowed him to engage in the blood and guts battles that solidified his reputation as one of the premier action fighters in the history of MMA. With his more measured pace, Condit also eschews high risk maneuvers for a slew of jabs and kicks from the outside, taking advantage of his length more than he has at any point in his career. Plus, the more measure pace has allowed him to put more focus on his takedown defense, long an Achilles heel of the former UFC interim champion. However, it’s possible we could see somewhat of a return to the aggressive Condit, dependent on what version of Max Griffin we see. There’s been the brawling version of Griffin, the wrestling version, the counter striker, and the outside striker. Griffin has struggled to blend them all together in one complete package, but there are signs that he can make all the aspects of his game congeal with efficiency, riding a winning streak for the first time in his UFC career. The version of Griffin that shows up most often is the outside striker, but he won’t have the reach advantage he’s used to against Condit. For all that Condit has lost, he still has his durability and I doubt his conditioning has suffered. This smells like a possibility for a brawl and Griffin has historically come out on the short end of the stick in those. Condit via decision
- The development of Michel Pereira in the UFC has morphed into a bit of an unexpected situation. Not that it’s been a bad thing for his career, but the backflips onto a grounded opponent appear to have largely dissipated as the Brazilian focuses more on winning as opposed to being a showman. That isn’t to say Pereira is no longer a top entertainer; he’s simply become more efficient mixing his risky brand of offense with fundamentals that are key to building an offense that isn’t completely reliant on overwhelming the opposition with athleticism. Fortunately for Pereira, his athletic abilities border on elite, but discipline is needed to accentuate his success, especially against someone the likes of Niko Price. Price isn’t quite on Pereira’s level in terms of his physical gifts, but he’s been underrated throughout his UFC run by opponents – and analysts like myself — and has an innate ability to capitalize on the slightest of openings. After all, he is the only fighter to my knowledge who has secured a KO victory utilizing hammerfists from off his back. Few are willing to push a pace as relentless as that of Price, something he can maintain better than most thanks to his supreme conditioning. If Price can force Pereira to engage in a firefight, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Brazilian fade after the opening round passes as Pereira has done so several times in the past. Of course, Price’s aggressive nature has resulted in him eating either a monstrous power shot or a crapload of damage several times too. A well-matched contest with serious FOTN possibilities, I favor Pereira’s durability over Price’s, though it should be one hell of a ride for as long as it lasts. Pereira via TKO of RD1
- The UFC has tried several products from South Africa to become promotional mainstays. Ruan Potts and Garreth McLellan barely made a dent – they went a combined 1-7 in the UFC – but there’s hope Dricus Du Plessis could become someone the people of South Africa can latch onto. The 27-year old middleweight is an aggressive kickboxer with functional submissions thanks to his slick back-taking ability. However, his aggressive nature could get him into trouble as his impressive pace and love of kicks tends to drain his gas tank in a hurry. To be fair, Du Plessis is well-conditioned, but even those with deep gas tanks can be emptied if fighters don’t take care to monitor them. An exhausted Du Plessis is the most likely road to victory for Trevin Giles since Giles can be too patient for his own good. Giles does have fast hands, often scoring with sudden attacks by drawing the opposition into a false sense of security before catching them with a power jab. However, he can dig himself a hole in the process, allowing his opponent to outwork him. His grappling has been an issue in the past too, but he’s clearly shored it up in recent contests, not to mention making it more difficult to take him to the mat. Throw in the fact that Giles has proven to be durable as hell and Du Plessis is going to have to rely on outworking Giles. There is a good chance of that happening – this is a well-matched contest – but I like Giles finding a late finish on a fading Du Plessis. Giles via TKO of RD3
- Within the crowd that follows MMA religiously, Ryan Hall is a major favorite. At first glance, it doesn’t make a lot of sense given Hall is one of the least physically opposing specimens on the UFC roster. His demeaner – he typically looks uninterested in whatever it is he’s doing – makes him seem that much more harmless. And yet, it’s been a massive chore to get opponents to sign the dotted line with him, this being his first fight in two years. That’s what happens when you’re one of the best BJJ practitioners in the world. Against a striker, a fighter at least has a good chance of picking up a FOTN bonus in a losing effort. Against a grappler of Hall’s level, they’re only getting their show purse should they fall short. There’s a good chance Ilia Topuria will be the first person in the UFC confident enough in their own ground game to be willing to engage with Hall. Topuria is a stout bulldozer who is damn near impossible to get to the mat with more traditional measures. Hall doesn’t engage in traditional measures, pulling guard and going for Iminari rolls. Even with that said, I still favor the muscular Topuria. He’s the more reliable striker – even with Hall developing a nice kicking game – and while he isn’t on Hall’s level on the mat, he can hold his own. He’ll just have to avoid Hall’s heel hooks, something I think he’ll have the savvy to do. I also remember the likes of Saul Rogers doing plenty of damage to Hall from the top position on TUF and I think Topuria is more dangerous from that spot than Rogers…. Topuria via decision