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Storylines to watch during the UFC 277 early prelims

What to watch for during the UFC 277 early prelims

The UFC is back in Dallas this weekend for the first time since May 2017. Like that event, this weekend’s pay-per-view fight card features two title fights. In the main event, Julianna Pea defends her bantamweight crown against the woman she defeated in December for that belt, Amanda Nunes. In the evening’s co-main event, former UFC flyweight champion Brandon Moreno matches up against Kai Kara-France in a bout that will determine the interim 125-pound champion.

UFC 277 takes place at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. The main card streams on ESPN+ pay-per-view following prelims on ABC and early prelims on ESPN+.

Ahead of the July 30 event, I look at the storylines to follow on the early prelim portion of the UFC 277 fight card.

Michael Morales vs. Adam Fugitt

Michael Morales is 13-0 with 10 knockout wins to his name. The 22-year-old impressed in getting a knockout win over Trevin Giles when Morales made his UFC debut at UFC 270. The young fighter showed off his submission defense and also displayed excellent finishing instincts after he hurt Giles on the feet.

The issue with Morales is that he overextended himself at points in his matchup with Giles and put himself out of position when striking. Morales has a four-inch reach advantage in this matchup and that could serve him well.

Adam Fugitt takes this fight on short notice. The 33-year-old is coming off a huge upset win on the LFA 125 card in February. Fugitt was a +400 in that matchup. His opening odds against Morales were in that same range. Fugitt was incredibly confident and aggressive in the LFA matchup opposite Solomon Renfro, using a lot of head kicks right from the opening of the fight. If Morales gets lured into thinking all Fugitt has are those kicks, he could find himself in the same situation as Renfro did, staring up at the lights.

On the downside, Fugitt carried his hands very low while throwing his kicks and that’s something Morales can exploit. Like Morales, Fugitt is a finisher, as he has only gone the distance twice in his career, once in victory and once in defeat.

Ji Yeon Kim vs. Joselyne Edwards

Ji Yeon Kim has displayed decent technical striking skills during her UFC tenure. Her problem is that she doesn’t employ those skills — or her reach effectively. Instead, Kim allows herself to get drawn into brawls. While that has earned her two consecutive post-fight bonuses, it has not earned her wins in her past three outings. Kim was 6-0-2 when she joined the UFC. She is 9-5-2 heading into UFC 277 and is on a three-fight losing skid. This could very well be final opportunity to show the UFC matchmakers that she is making progress with her skills.

26-year-old Joselyne Edwards serves as a late replacement for the injured Mariya Agapova in this flyweight bout. Edwards ended a two-fight losing skid on June 11 with a decision win over Ramona Pascual. Edwards uses a lot of kicks in her striking. However, those kicks are not very quick. What makes that style dangerous for Edwards is that her takedown defense is below average. While this is a late replacement fight for Edwards, it is an important bout for he as well. She is 2-2 in the UFC after beginning her MMA career on an 8-2 run. A win at UFC 277 will give Edwards her first two-fight winning streak under the UFC banner.

Nicolae Negumereanu vs. Ihor Potieria

Nicolae Negumereanu was at a big height and reach disadvantage in his most recent outing opposite Kennedy Nzechukwu. However, Nzechukwu did nothing with his physical advantages and the 27-year-old Romanian made him pay for that mistake by turning the fight into a brawl. Negumereanu is not a technical striker and his defense is not great, but if his opponent engages him in a slugfest, he’ll oblige and he’ll usually win, as his 12-1 record — with seven knockouts — can attest.

Ihor Potieria heads into his UFC debut following a knockout win on a 2021 Dana White Contender Series card. Potieria’s 19-2 record looks impressive on paper, but if one spends some time researching his previous opponents, that record loses a lot of its luster. With that, this fight represents a big test, as well as a big opportunity for the 26-year-old Ukranian fighter.

Orion Cosce vs Blood Diamond

The UFC seems intent on making the fight between Orion Cosce and Mike “Blood Diamond” Mathetha happen. First scheduled for February, the fight fell through twice before the welterweight matchup landed on UFC 277.

Both fighters are coming off their first professional defeats. Cosce was favored over Phil Rowe in his UFC debut. The Team Alpa Male fighter looked to use his strength in the clinch and on the mat against Rowe, but other than getting positional advantage, he generated very little scoring offense. When it came to striking in the open, Cosce did little other than show he can take a lot of abuse.

Blood Diamond, who trains out of the vaunted City Kickboxing in New Zealand, made his UFC debut with just three MMA bouts to his name. His lack of wrestling skills and submission defense were glaring in his first-round submission loss to Jeremiah Wells.

As I mentioned above, I find the UFC’s insistence on making this particular fight happen odd, but there must be a reason for that and I think the reason might be twofold. The first is to see if either of these fighters has made progress in the skills they lacked in their first fights with the promotion. For Cosce, that is striking offense and defense and for Blood Diamond, wrestling. The second reason might be to see if it might better serve the loser of this contest to get more MMA seasoning outside the UFC.