Wednesday night’s UFC on Fuel TV event will kick off with a bantamweight tilt that aligns TUF 14 runner-up T.J. Dillashaw vs. Walel Watson.
Dillashaw (4-1), a Team Alpha Male rep, was a strong candidate to win season fourteen of TUF but was the victim of a questionable stoppage against the lightning quick John Dodson in the finals. Early in the first, Dillashaw digested a stiff left hand and immediately dropped to his knees. His initial recovery was unconvincing, as he wobbled and lost his footing again while trying to stand, and Dodson pounced with punches to elicit the TKO stoppage. However, it did seem that Dillashaw was cogent and intelligently defending when Herb Dean pulled Dodson off of him.
Having carried an undefeated, four-fight sequence into the reality show with two submissions, one TKO and one decision, the bitter loss was Dillashaw’s first. Pre-MMA, he was a D1 wrestler at Cal State Fullerton University and notched a fourth-place Pac-10 finish in his last two years. Dillashaw scored an impressive TKO in the elimination match over former King of the Cage bantamweight champ Matt Jaggers, then advanced to the finals with a rear-naked choke on Roland Delorme and a decision over Dustin Pague.
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Walel “The Gazelle” Watson (9-3) clocks in as the tallest bantamweight on the roster (5’11”) and has a perilous reach length (75″). After dropping his first professional contest, Watson won eight of his next nine and finished each victory (five in the first frame) to get the call from the UFC. In his Octagon debut on the UFC Live 6 card, he held true to form with a first-round knockout of Joseph Sandoval, sparked by a precisely accurate and perfectly timed head kick.
Watson took quite a leap in competition in his follow-up bout at UFC 140, facing Yves Jabouin, the vicious Haitian striker, who has roughly three-times the experience. Though Watson was a little tentative at first and struggled with Jabouin’s quickness, he eventually found his range and his confidence seemed to grow as the fight progressed. Despite losing a razor-thin split decision, Watson unveiled a slithering and surprisingly competent ground game to match his adept striking.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Dillashaw embodies what we’ve come to expect from a Team Alpha Male rep, which is a high-paced offense that’s split evenly between crisp boxing and explosive wrestling.
In these gifs Dillashaw is going at it with Pague, who is a long and lanky kickboxing specialist just like Watson. Dillashaw showed a level of composure and tact that belies a fighter with only five professional fights. He was methodical in flashing off a set of meaningful strikes to put Pague back on his heels before smoothly hovering low to secure takedowns.
Dillashaw swarmed Pague incessantly and gave him no breathing room in both the standing and grounded positions. Pague was active with submission attempts from his back, all of which were coolly evaded by Dillashaw’s calculating and frenetic top game. I’d say the rapid clip at which Dillashaw reverts from striking to wrestling is his cardinal attribute, with his veteran-evel composure coming in a close second. It’s worth noting that his standing defense has been a little porous considering the Dodson match and the early knee Pague clocked him with.
Watson’s unparalleled length is evident against Sandoval in the animation to the right, who stands the same height as Dillashaw (5’6″). He looks to be a full weight class higher and absolutely dwarfs all the standard-sized bantamweights.
He’s displayed uncanny accuracy and timing with his striking, made all the more cumbersome by his dramatically stretched proportions. Watson’s other salient edge is that he doesn’t have the same clumsiness or the loafing gait that plagues other unusually tall fighters and seems quite agile for someone of his stature.
Watson has an obvious knack for punishing opponents who lower their heads straight down in the pocket during exchanges, as depicted in both of these sequences.This is not only the same striking zone that a wrestler must traverse when dropping levels for a takedown, but the same area in which Dillashaw absorbed the big knee from Pague.
Though he normally unleashes a wide variety of roundhouse kicks, front kicks and spinning back-fists, Watson will have to temper his arsenal to account for the threat of takedowns.
His defense has a few holes and is far from impervious, mostly because he’s fixated on offense and can get away with being lax because of his commanding range. Jabouin, not known as a wrestler, was able to secure a few takedowns, but was two-of-six overall and his successful attempts only led to getting swept or fighting his way out of near submissions.
I’ve had an incipient suspicion that Watson could blossom into a high-level fighter and somewhat of a blasé outlook on Dillashaw thus far. Dillashaw blends his striking and wrestling together well, but I need to see him with a more dynamic approach before I’m sold. He employs back and forth movement but still attacks in straight lines and, though it’s far from a shoddy ploy, the way he charges forward with guns blazing to disguise his takedown attempts is fairly predictable.
I would not pick Watson, who comes in as a substantial underdog on the betting lines, based solely on his striking and mediocre takedown defense. However, I was extremely impressed with how diverse and slippery his submission attempts and sweeps were against Jabouin, which inspires me to take a chance on him pulling off the upset.
My Prediction: Walel Watson by TKO.
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com
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