For all of the crap that has been talked about UFC 206, the opening contests on the main card really aren’t that bad. In fact, the only one that I feel fans have a legit gripe about is the opener between Jordan Mein and Emil Weber Meek. Cub Swanson and Doo Ho Choi has been loudly proclaimed as a highly anticipated contest by hardcore fans ever since the match was made, and Tim Kennedy and Kelvin Gastelum have headlined Fight Night cards in addition to owning wins over current or former champions.
If you want to complain about the card quality, look at the top where the co-main event features a fighter who has lost four of his last five contests and the main event where the competitors are going after a title that isn’t an actual title. Sounds dumb, right? That’s because it is. However, we all know the UFC is going to pull whatever stupid maneuver it can to sell a few extra PPV’s and putting a belt on the line supposedly makes the fight intriguing enough that a few extra causal fans might buy it. We should all thank the UFC for insulting our intelligence.
Now that I’ve ranted and raved, here’s what you all clicked on this article to read: the fight previews.
The main card begins at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT.
Cub Swanson (23-7) vs. Doo Ho Choi (14-1), Featherweight
Swanson has not been feeling the love. Despite a long UFC career featuring wins over the likes of Dustin Poirier, Charles Oliveira, and Jeremy Stephens, he enters the contest against Choi as a two-to-one underdog. Choi’s best UFC win: Thiago Tavares. You gotta believe that Swanson is feeling more than just a little irked.
There is sound logic to why Choi is the significant favorite. Even if his competition hasn’t been top notch, it’s impressive as hell that his three fights in the UFC have combined for less than a whole round of action time, finishing each of them off with punches in short order. The 25-year old has unreal power at 145, though he does play with fire as he pressures his opponents in hopes of luring them into a brawl. The right opponent could probably finish him before he can properly counter, though whether or not Swanson is the man to do it is what makes this such an intriguing contest.
Swanson doesn’t have the same power that Choi does, but Swanson has been known to put opponents down with a good clean shot. Generally, he takes a more voluminous approach to striking, moving in and out of the pocket with quick boxing combinations. He has fallen in love with his boxing in the past, forgetting to incorporate kicks and wrestling into his arsenal, though he has avoided that pitfall in recent contests.
While the path for Choi is clear – land a clean shot – the way for Swanson to win is just as clear. No, he isn’t a great wrestler and never has been. But he is competent and Choi’s takedown defense hasn’t looked great thus far in the UFC. While Choi has gotten back to his feet quickly when he was taken down, his gas tank is terribly suspect due to the short nature of his contests. If Swanson can take him down time and again – or at least force him to expend energy defending them – the chances of Choi landing one of his bombs decreases dramatically.
Though I see Swanson’s path to victory, there are a lot of pratfalls in that route. While Swanson has only been finished one time in his career by strikes, he has been rocked quite a bit, even during his six-fight win streak. Should he be clipped by Choi, I don’t think he can survive the onslaught that follows. Plus, Swanson hasn’t landed more than two takedowns in a fight since the WEC days. Choi will end up catching him sooner or later. Choi via KO of RD2
Tim Kennedy (18-5) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (13-2), Middleweight
Few contests have come together in more unusual circumstances. Following a two year layoff, Kennedy was originally scheduled to face Rashad Evans at UFC 205. Instead, the NYSAC found an irregularity in Evans’ medicals and refused to license him. Thinking New York was overly stringent, the UFC moved the fight to UFC 206 only for the Canadian commission to come to the same conclusion. Gastelum, who too was supposed to fight at UFC 205 only to badly botch his weight cut to 170, volunteered to step in after being banished from fighting at welterweight… and he only got the go-ahead after dealing with the NYSAC’s attempted suspension for him missing the weigh-ins at UFC 205. What a whirlwind!
Now that we have a fight, it’s hard not to see Kennedy as the favorite. Gastelum has attempted to make things work at welterweight as he obviously doesn’t have a very favorable frame to be fighting at 185. Clocking in at 5’9″ with a 71″ reach, Gastelum is going to be significantly smaller than the majority of his opponents, giving up two inches in height to Kennedy and another three in reach… and Kennedy is considered to be short for the division.
That doesn’t mean all is lost for Gastelum. He has proven to be very durable and determined to make his opponents feel his pressure. He throws a lot of volume with his jab leading the way. How effective it will be in his new home is what worries pundits, though he was eventually able to find his way past Neil Magny who had 10 inches on him. Another important part of Gastelum’s game is the clinch war as he pushes his opponent against the cage and grinds away with dirty boxing and knees as a way of negating his opponent’s reach.
Kennedy isn’t anything special on the feet himself, owning a calculating approach. Throwing out a lot of leg and front kicks to maintain distance, Kennedy is always looking for openings to either shoot for a takedown or land a power cross or straight right. If he sees an opening for a takedown, Kennedy usually gets it, even if it isn’t on the first attempt that he gets the fight to the ground. He isn’t a great submission threat, but few are more smothering from the top than the Iraqi War veteran.
I’m favoring Kennedy for one very big reason: Gastelum’s takedown defense. Yes, he was able to stuff most of Johny Hendricks’ attempts in his last contest, but that Hendricks was drawn out and is a shell of the fighter who was once the welterweight kingpin. Magny was able to get Gastelum down at will early in their contest before getting tired. Kennedy doesn’t get tired and I don’t see his conditioning being something he let slip while he has been away from the sport. Kennedy picks up a fairly ugly win. Kennedy via decision
Jordan Mein (29-10) vs. Emil Weber Meek (8-2), Welterweight
For most fans, the only thing known about Meek is that he KO’d public enemy Rousimar Palhares in less than a minute when the former WSOF champion decided he didn’t want to honor the suspension placed on him for holding submissions for too long by fleeing to France to fight for a commission that wouldn’t honor that suspension. It turned out karma was a bitch in the form of Meek and the MMA world rejoiced in his success. Earning a UFC contract in the process, Meek makes his debut against a fighter making his return from a brief retirement in Mein.
When you hear that a fighter is making a comeback after declaring it a career, you’d expect them to be in their mid-to-late 30’s. Mein is only 27-years old. Then again, he started his professional MMA career at the tender age of 16, which is how he accumulated so many fights at such a young age. There were thoughts that he could develop into a contender a few years ago, though those whispers were silenced before Mein called it a career. Now the book on him is that he can be a fun action fighter and a gatekeeper to the rankings.
Though they don’t have the greatest name value, this isn’t a bad choice to open the PPV. Meek is very similar to Mein in that he throws heavy leather with a knack for finishing the fight early. Meek may even have more natural power, but he is a very raw striker. He paws with a jab, though he isn’t very effective when forced to lead the dance. The last thing his opponent wants to do is allow the fight to degenerate into a brawl as that is an environment in which the Norwegian thrives, throwing heavy hooks and overhands. It isn’t very technical, but it works when you have power like his.
Mein typically thrives in a brawl as well, though he is a bit more technical than Meek. There is at least some rhyme and reason to his punching combinations and he’ll throw out the occasional jab or leg kick for good measure to mix things up.
What may be the biggest difference between the two is Mein’s ability to disguise his intentions. He uses his striking to set up his occasional takedown attempts, not to mention the fakes and feints. Meek has fantastic takedown defense, often using a stuffed shot as a method to initiate his brawling ways. Neither offers much in terms of grappling ability, though they have both shown to possess fight-ending ground and pound.
Mein is the favorite going into the contest and rightfully so. There is more craft in his game and that can make all of the difference. Meek’s power means he is never out of a contest and Mein hasn’t shown to be the most durable fighter in the world, so it isn’t like Mein is a sure thing. Plus, we have no idea if the hiatus will benefit or hinder him. The one thing I can feel confident in: this fight isn’t going to decision. Mein via TKO of RD1
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