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UFC Vegas 48 preview: Unpolished gems populate the prelims

Get the dirt on UFC Vegas 48’s prelims, featuring exciting featherweight prospect David Onama look to upend veteran action fighter, Gabriel Benitez.

David Onama punching Mason Jones at UFC Vegas 41
David Onama punching Mason Jones at UFC Vegas 41
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

In broad terms, there isn’t anything to highlight with UFC Vegas 48. The UFC has a huge roster and is contractually obligated to offer those fighters so many fights over the year. That’s the best way to describe the preliminary fights on the card, at least to the casual fan. However, to the fan who wants to know if there are unpolished gems that need a bit more time, there is something worth looking into. David Onama looks like he could be something special in a couple of years. There’s a large part of the MMA community that is high on Christian Rodriguez, but he is debuting on short notice at a weight class above what most believe is his best weight class. There isn’t a lot beyond that, but preliminary UFC fights are frequently better than most other fights from lesser organizations.

  • Credit to Jonathan Pearce for rebuilding his reputation as a lot of people thought he was a bit of a joke after getting blasted by a past-his-prime Joe Lauzon. Pearce dropped down to featherweight and has effectively been able to return to the bullying nature that he flashed on the regional scene. Despite his massive frame for 145, he’s dogged in securing takedowns and wearing out his opposition with his constant grinding. Pearce is getting a fresh challenge in short-notice signing Christian Rodriguez. Some believe Rodriguez may have been the best prospect not signed who appeared on DWCS this past season, but it was his missing weight in his bantamweight contest that kept him from getting the contract. Shockingly well-rounded for a 24-year-old, Rodriguez has developed into a skilled pressure fighter after entering the sport with an accomplished wrestling base. However, it’s going to be a tough ask for him to turn away the more experienced Pearce on short notice. Rodriguez will put up a hell of a fight, but it’ll be too much of an ask for him in the end. Pearce via decision
  • The depth at bantamweight is ridiculous. Mario Bautista is coming off a single loss and people have already forgotten about him after it looked like he might be one of the better prospects prior to his loss to Trevin Jones. Bautista has a sick ground game, serious punching power, and a flare for flash. He could use a lot more work on his takedowns as he hasn’t been able to put his ground game to use do to his inability to get the fight where he’s at his strongest. Of course, Bautista hasn’t made much of an effort to do so. Whether he can stop a takedown will be tested by Jay Perrin. Perrin is a hard-nosed wrestler who pushes a hard pace, hoping to break his opponents. His striking fundamentals are sound, but he doesn’t have much power and lacks dynamism. Perhaps he could put Bautista in some compromising positions on the mat – he’s very unlikely to outwork him on the feet – but Bautista’s ability to stop takedowns has held up well. This would be a tough matchup for Perrin with a full camp. Given he’s coming in on short notice, a win for the newcomer appears to be extremely unlikely. Bautista via submission of RD2
  • There’s a lot of questions around Gabriel Benitez at this stage of his career. It isn’t just that he’s lost three of his last four contests. He has struggled to make the featherweight limit and appears to be losing some of his durability. That shouldn’t come as a surprise given he’s 31 professional fights into a career that will extend 15 years this summer. Benitez has a LOT of miles on his body. He’s still a talented striker – expect the broadcast to mention his kicking prowess as they always do – and an underrated grappler, but he appears to be missing at least a half step at this point. Even though David Onama doesn’t ring a bell for many fans, Benitez will have his hands full with the youthful Glory MMA product. While Onama struggled to stop the takedowns of Mason Jones when Onama made his UFC debut, he was fighting a weight class up from his favored weight, taking the fight on short notice. It’s not like Jones is a small lightweight either. Plus, Onama made the most of the time he was on the feet, outlanding Jones despite the Welshman having a nearly nine-minute advantage in control time. Onama is still raw and could use further polish in his striking technique, but the talent is undeniable. Given Benitez rarely wrestles, I like the chances of the younger fighter to come out on top. Onama via TKO of RD2
  • I rarely see Jessica-Rose Clark mentioned in conversations about the fighters with the best fight IQ, but she should be. She isn’t a top-flight athlete, nor is she a hulking figure at women’s bantamweight. And yet, she has managed to pull off a 4-2 record in the UFC thus far. Clark does an excellent job of maximizing her physical skills, not to mention using fantastic positioning and leverage in the clinch to drag her opponents into deep waters. Of course, that will be much easier said than done against Stephanie Egger as the Swiss representative favors a grueling affair herself. Egger doesn’t have nearly the experience of Clark, but she does have an extensive judo and grappling background that she put to good use in her sophomore UFC effort against Shana Young. Egger’s striking in particular looked improved, but it still has a long way to go. If Clark can turn this into a kickboxing contest, she should run away with this. I like the improvements I saw out of Egger, but I’m more impressed by her confidence. She knew what she wanted to do and how to do it. I admit it’s a large leap to go from beating Young to beating Clark, but if Egger has figured out how to put it all together, she has the skills to beat Clark. Clark is the rightful favorite, but I’m going with the underdog. Egger via decision
  • 29 months. That’s how long it’s been since Chas Skelly last fought in the Octagon. Now 36-years-old, it’s hard to see if the time off was good or bad. While the time away probably allowed him to heal up some injuries, it very well have aged him out of the last of his competitive prime. A big, strong 145er, Skelly has been the type to live and die by the sword. A former collegiate wrestler, Skelly uses his wrestling know-how to drag his opponents to the mat and is relentless in chaining together submissions. For this fight, he might want to try his luck on the feet as Mark Striegl is one of the more one-dimensional fighters in the division. That said, that dimension is pretty damned strong as Striegl appears to be one of the better top position submission artists in the division. However, Striegl is also new to the featherweight division, having fought at bantamweight previously. Skelly is likely to have an easy time wresting him to the mat, at least early on. If Skelly tires himself out – something he’s done regularly – Striegl can probably find a late finish. I think Skelly uses his strength advantage to finish Striegl before it gets to that point. Skelly via TKO of RD2
  • I’m not going to say Gloria de Paula doesn’t have potential. She absolutely does. She has a good frame for strawweight, a fundamentally sound Muay Thai game, and some real power potential. Unfortunately, the UFC signed the DWCS alumni before she was ready for the big show and it has been very apparent in her two UFC losses. It’s impossible to say the UFC is definitively giving her a step down in competition either. No one is ready to declare Diana Belbita a world-beater, but she has a notable edge in several categories. Despite being younger than de Paula, Belbita has a significant advantage in experience. She also has a taller and longer frame and demonstrated she knows how to use it in her last appearance, a win over Hannah Goldy. There’s plenty of reason to worry about Belbita’s ground game, but I have serious reservations whether de Paula can get the fight to the mat. Expect Belbita to cruise to her second consecutive win. Belbita via decision
  • One of the most surprising signings off DWCS, Chad Anheliger is already 35 years old. It’s unusual for the UFC to give a look to a first timer at that age. Then again, the UFC has been loading up on DWCS products given they can get them on the cheap. Regardless, Anheliger does have the skillset to take a win or two before the UFC cuts him loose. Leading his attack with a stiff jab, Anheliger has developed into a savvy boxer with occasional power. What he is lacking in is takedown defense, but he’s unlikely to have that tested very much by Jesse Strader. Strader loves to throw fisticuffs himself and may have an advantage in the power department. The issue with Strader is he’s still very inexperienced and has been blown out of the water any time he’s faced an experienced opponent. Strader’s gas tank hasn’t been tested much either and Anheliger loves dragging his opponents into deep water. If he does that, it should be an easy win for him. Anheliger via decision