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UFC London preview: Prelims stuffed with UK’s future in MMA

Get the dirt on the early action out of UFC London, featuring some of the UK’s brightest young stars perform in front of their countrymen, including wild man Mason Jones.

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

Given the majestic product the UFC put on the last time they stopped in London, there’s a good chance the upcoming UFC London event isn’t going to live up to expectations. That said, if we can all keep our heads about ourselves and recognize it’s a near impossibility for the event to match the success of the event in March, we can enjoy an event that should be perfectly enjoyable. Most of the notable names from the UK are on the card, including the likes of Muhammad Mokaev and Mason Jones. Both have potential to be stars in their own right despite being overshadowed by the likes of Tom Aspinall and Paddy Pimblett. So while the main card is arguably hogging all the star power, thanks to the emerging depth from the UK, the prelims are well worth tuning into.

  • I’m happy to see L’udovit Klein has decided to give up on making things work at featherweight. The native of the Slovak Republic has lost both of his fights at 145, but won the two contests he fought above that weight limit. A talented striker with a penchant for landing kicks upside the head of his opponent, he has struggled to maintain his effectiveness beyond the first round when making the featherweight cut. Despite the results, it isn’t hard to see why he was so desperate to make things work at featherweight; he’s on the small side at lightweight. That will become obvious when he steps in the cage with Mason Jones, one of the more bricked up lightweights on the roster. Jones utilizes a simplistic, in-your-face style of pressure, unloading with punching combinations and the occasional takedown. It’s unknown if Klein’s takedown defense will hold up. It has shown well thus far in his UFC run, but he hasn’t faced opponents who pressed the issue as much as Jones is expected to. Perhaps more problematic, should the fight go to decision, it’s hard to see Klein’s sniping style being able to outpoint Jones. Though it needs to be acknowledged Klein’s kicks can put away anyone, Jones is double tough. The Welshman should secure his second consecutive win. Jones via decision
  • The UFC can’t make up their mind about Marc Diakiese. One year, they’re ready to push him to the moon, the next year they are ready to use him as fodder to set up their next big thing. Diakiese’s streakiness doesn’t help, he has yet to have anything shorter than a two-fight winning or losing streak. Relying almost solely on his physical gifts when he first made it to the UFC, Diakiese has successfully sharpened his technique in all areas, notably his boxing and his wrestling. Much like his last performance against former K-1 kickboxer Viacheslav Borshchev, look for him to rely on his wrestling skills against Damir Hadzovic. In a straight up kickboxing match, Hadzovic would probably have his way with Diakiese. He’s got some serious dynamite in his hands and good timing on his counters. Unfortunately for Hadzovic, this is MMA and he’s never been good at stopping takedowns. Even with years of knowing that has been his downfall, no serious improvement has ever been seen. Diakiese scored 11 takedowns against Hadzovic. The only reason I don’t expect him to exceed that is he should have an easier time keeping Hadzovic grounded. Diakiese via decision
  • We were supposed to see Nathaniel Wood make his return after 17 months away in March, but circumstances dictated otherwise. Add another 4 months to that time and Wood moving up a weight class to featherweight and it looks like we’re finally going to see the return of The Prospect. Well, perhaps Wood should consider a new moniker as it’s hard to consider him a prospect with 22 fights under his belt. Regardless, Wood should find more success now that he’s not spending most of his camp watching his diet. Given he’s already known for pushing a hard pace, it’s scary to think what he’ll be able to do now. Regardless of that, he’ll want to be wary of going to the mat with Charles Rosa as the cagey veteran specializes in catching his opponents in compromising positions when they feel their safest. On the feet, Rosa doesn’t get the credit due for his boxing given he tends to throw a lot of kicks. Wood throws a lot of kicks too, but his boxing is far more established, with good reason. Rosa’s body has endured a lot over the years. He’s slowed down considerably and was never a great athlete to begin with. Wood should overwhelm him easily, but his toughness should allow Rosa to go the distance. Wood via decision
  • The UFC career of Makwan Amirkhani has been one hell of a roller coaster ride. Despite the ups and downs, the book on Amirkhani is pretty clear. He’s a talented wrestler and grappler with limited standup and a shallow gas tank. All of that adds up to Amirkhani traditionally coming out aggressive from the opening bell in pursuit of takedowns. Once the fight hits the mat, it’s an effort to secure a submission, the anaconda choke being his specialty. However, it turns into a matter of survival beyond the first round. Despite being massive for 145, Jonathan Pearce hasn’t shown any issues remaining effective for all 15 minutes of the fight. Like Amirkhani, Pearce favors taking the fight to the ground, but the American prefers a more patient, grinding approach, wearing out his opponent. Once he has sufficiently worn them out, Pearce goes for the kill. Despite the odds of his winning being excellent should the fight go beyond the first round, Pearce has been blitzed before, suffering a loss in his UFC debut to a shopworn Joe Lauzon. Given the development we’ve seen out of Pearce, especially developing a stiff jab, I think he can weather Amirkhani’s early storm. Pearce via TKO of RD3
  • There’s a wide swath of MMA fans who were surprised to see it took Charles Johnson this long to make it to the UFC roster. The LFA flyweight champion is a gifted Muay Thai practitioner with the length of frame to effectively make his stylings work for him, even as he steps into the UFC Octagon for the first time. Even though there are plenty who are excited for his debut, is appears the UFC views him as a B-side as they are matching him against the youthful Muhammad Mokaev. Still just 21, Mokaev entered the organization this spring with as much hype as any flyweight prospect has had in recent memory. He exceeded the hype by blasting through Cody Durden with a flying knee followed by a guillotine to finish him. While more footage of him against Durden would have been helpful in further evaluating Mokaev, it does prove he won’t wilt under the spotlight. If Mokaev opts to strike with Johnson, he could be setting himself up for an upset. Given Johnson’s weak wrestling, that appears to be a more direct route to victory for Mokaev. The question is whether youthful pride will get in the way for Mokaev and he opts to trade fisticuffs with Johnson. Even if it does, I think he has the tools to take a win over Johnson, but I expect it to be a competitive contest. Mokaev via decision
  • Given it’s been almost two years since we last saw Kyle Nelson in action, it’s easy to forget he was still on the UFC roster. His 1-3 record doesn’t help, most probably believing he had been released. Nelson has a lot of pop in his punches and he can wrestle a bit, but he also tends to gas out some time in the second round due to his hard charging ways. Perhaps moving up to lightweight will help with his stamina issues, but there’s also a concern he could compromise his physical strength fighting against larger opponents. Well, I suppose his physical strength won’t be too much of a concern against the lanky Jai Herbert. Herbert’s Achilles heel has long been his wrestling, which could make him vulnerable to Nelson’s attack. The problem is, Nelson usually looks to throwdown early, the takedown attempts coming as his energy reserves begin to fail him. Herbert has been prone against crafty strikers, but I don’t think anyone would refer to Nelson’s straight-ahead style as crafty. Herbert packs a lot more power in his punches than his lanky frame would suggest as well. I see him securing a finish. Herbert via TKO of RD2
  • The first word that tends to come to mind when looking for a way to describe Victoria Leonardo is gritty. The problem is, if you’re searching for other positives to say, it gets a bit more difficult after that. She’s not a great athlete, doesn’t pack a hell of a lot of power in her strikes, and is nothing more than competent on the mat. Even though it doesn’t paint a rosy picture for Leonardo’s long-term prospects, it may be enough for her against the inexperienced Mandy Bohm. Bohm appears to have the physical tools to be a difference-maker, but her level of competition prior to being signed up by the UFC didn’t do her any favors in getting her ready for the big show as her debut against Ariane Lipski proved. Bohm’s biggest strength is her clinch work, but that plays into the one other positive trait of Leonardo’s that I purposely waited to expose until this moment: her physical strength. If Bohm were further along in her development, I feel strongly I’d be leaning in her direction. As it is, Leonardo’s edge in terms of high-level competition and her toughness make her the more likely victor. Leonardo via decision
  • One of the more overlooked stories in recent years has been the resurgence of Nicolas Dalby. The Danish fighter had a disappointing initial run in the organization before being let go. After battling some personal demons, he made his way back and has largely fulfilled the expectations that were on him for his first run. With a kick-heavy offense that’s accentuated by a large frame and competency in every aspect of MMA, Dalby is a tough out. That alone might be enough for him to overcome Claudio Silva. The 39-year-old Brazilian is a smothering grappler who has been fortunate enough to feast upon strikers with severely flawed ground games for a good chunk of his UFC run. However, in his last couple of contests, he’s run into veterans with deep gas tanks and solid ground defense... which is very much an accurate description of Dalby. Unless Silva can secure an early submission, I don’t see him having the endurance or striking to secure a victory. Given Dalby has never been submitted in his career, I think he has this in the bag. Dalby via decision