Due to the fiasco with finding Jimmie Rivera an opponent on very short notice for UFC 219, there ended up being only one preliminary contest on Fight Pass. Rather than use an entire article on one contest that few people care about, it made more sense to combine the two sets of preliminary contests. There aren’t any contests that would be labeled can’t miss, but there are a few competitors that tend to deliver excitement more often than not. Khalil Rountree is developing into one of the better action fighters on the roster. Rick Glenn is already there. Many would say the same about Louis Smolka and Tim Elliott. Regardless of the fact there aren’t any high stakes contests on the prelims, there should be some action worth viewing.
The Fight Pass prelims begin at 7:30 PM ET/4:30 PM PT on Saturday with the FS1 prelims beginning a half-hour later.
Khalil Rountree (7-2) vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk (12-2), Light Heavyweight
It was a real shame when Gokhan Saki pulled out of his scheduled contest with Rountree. No disrespect intended towards Oleksiejczuk, but that would have been an absolute barnburner. Even if Oleksiejczuk doesn’t have the same striking pedigree as Saki, at least Oleksiejczuk is willing to throwdown too….
Oleksiejczuk was set to debut next month before Ion Cutelaba was removed due to a potential blood doping violation. Though he is fearless and has secured two-thirds of his victories via KO/TKO, there isn’t a lot of excitement about him debuting. Yes, Oleksiejczuk has great timing and accuracy on his punches, but he also doesn’t have earth-shattering power. Even worse, the young Pole’s attention to defense is severely lacking. One thing that is typically seen as a weakness that is unlikely to hurt him here is his lack of size as Rountree has fought in the past at middleweight.
Given that Rountree doesn’t even bother to try taking the fight to the ground, his own lack of size has affected him less than some might be inclined to believe. His quick-twitch athleticism usually does more than makes up for that, delivering bone-crushing kicks and stunning punches with extreme violence. Don’t underestimate his ability to generate an inordinate amount of power from short distances either as Rountree has delivered some devastating blows from the clinch. His wrestling and grappling still leave a lot to be desired, though his improved use of spacing has made this less of a problem.
Don’t get me wrong, Rountree still has a long way to go before he is a finished product. But he has also shown growth in his last two contests. He paces himself now, avoiding emptying his tank going for the kill and trusting in his one-shot power to put his opponent down. Against the likes of Oleksiejczuk, that should be more than enough to secure a win. Rountree via KO of RD1
Myles Jury (16-2) vs. Rick Glenn (20-4-1), Featherweight
Is featherweight the optimal division for Jury to be fighting at? Even though he looked far better in his second appearance in the division, that is a question that can still be asked fairly. Against Mike De La Torre, Jury secured an early takedown, got the back, and seamlessly transitioned to the mount to pound out an overwhelmed De La Torre. That was the Jury fans were hyping as a lightweight contender in the early stages of 2015. However, no one has seen what Jury looks like at 145 beyond the first round. Will the weight cut sap his energy to the point he’s sucking fumes? No one knows.
Stamina has never been a question for Glenn. In fact, he tends to gain momentum the deeper a fight goes as he is traditionally a slow starter. Once he gets rolling, Glenn’s combination boxing is overwhelming despite his lack of one-punch power. He does struggle to cut proper angles and use his footwork to avoid return fire as he attempts to pressure, but Glenn has also proven to be one of the most durable fighters on the roster, allowing him to continue moving forward throwing fisticuffs as the damage on him mounts up.
There are still a lot of questions about Jury’s drop to featherweight. No one knows if his power will translate. His wrestling is still a bit of a question as no one would label De La Torre a plus wrestler. The aforementioned questions about stamina are also abundant. Despite that, there is a clear path to victory as Glenn’s takedown defense has been abysmal. Despite that, I’m favoring Glenn to weather an early storm from Jury and wear down the former lightweight contender with his pressure and clinch game. I know it’s a bit of a risk, but any pick for Jury is just as much of a risk in my mind. Glenn via decision
Marvin Vettori (12-3) vs. Omari Akhmedov (17-4), Middleweight
Akhmedov has been plying his trade as a large welterweight for several years, but has decided he’s done dehydrating himself to make him the bigger fighter. Given the only times he has been KO’d in his career came at 170 indicates he may have sucked out more water than was good for him in the process. It did force the sambo practitioner to rely more on his wrestling in recent contests as the last thing Akhmedov wanted tested was his chin despite possessing a lot of power in his own fists. He’d do well to develop more craft as powerful hooks are the only punch he throws with consistency.
Vettori is still very young in his career and far from a finished product. Though two-thirds of his win have come by submission, it was his striking improvements that picked him up a win over respected veteran Vitor Miranda. However, his aggressive boxing combinations left him tired before the contest was even halfway over, requiring him to resort to his roots by securing takedowns and riding out the contest from the top position. Where the athletic youngster has picked up most of his finishes in the midst of scrambles and he tends to catch an opponent’s neck if they leave it out to be taken.
Vettori’s youthful exuberance is likely to cost him sooner rather than later as he has no problem rushing headlong into danger. Akhmedov has enough power and accuracy to make him pay for that, but Vettori has also proven to be very difficult to put away. The longer the contest goes, the more in favors Vettori. Given Vettori has shown major signs of growth in each of his UFC contests, I’ll trust he continues to do so. Vettori via decision
Louis Smolka (11-4) vs. Matheus Nicolau (12-2-1), Flyweight
Nicolau hasn’t been allowed to step into a UFC cage since his breakthrough win over John Moraga thanks to a USADA testing failure. Prior to that, some were predicting the young Brazilian could develop into a contender for Demetrious Johnson’s belt. Now… you don’t hear those talks. Owner of a versatile striking game where he can alternate between leading the dance and countering, Nicolau’s power is often overlooked by fans and opponents alike. Even if he can’t put his opponent away, his short boxing combinations and low kicks come with enough frequency to take a decision.
Smolka was viewed as a dark horse contender to the aforementioned Johnson in the summer of 2016, only to currently find himself on a three-fight skid. A large part of that has to do with his facing a higher level of competition as Brandon Moreno, Ray Borg, and Tim Elliott are among the top four opponents he has faced throughout his career, Ben Nguyen being the other. A lanky flyweight at 5’9″, Smolka rarely uses the reach in his arms to take advantage of his length, preferring to throw kicks in bunches, though his knees in the clinch can’t be slept on either.
The most interesting part of this contest will be the ground game. Smolka’s defensive wrestling is terrible, largely because he has so much confidence in his guard and scrambling ability. Given Nicolau’s ability to hit a well-timed takedown and solid top control – for a flyweight – Smolka may want to rethink his willingness to go to the ground. If Smolka can show just a hint of improvement in his takedown defense – given he was taken down 12 times by Elliott in his last contest, he’s likely to – it should be enough to take a decision. Perhaps he’ll even catch Nicolau in a sub. Smolka via decision
Tim Elliott (15-8-1) vs. Mark De La Rosa (9-0), Bantamweight
Elliott was not a happy camper when his contest with Pietro Menga was short-circuited by Menga badly missing weight. Elliott let the UFC know how he felt and the UFC obliged him by giving him a short-notice contest with De La Rosa.
De La Rosa has been a top-flight prospect whom the UFC has been eying for some time. Perhaps he’s better known as the husband of the former Montana Stewart. Now in the big leagues, De La Rosa is very patient, methodical, and well-rounded. His boxing is very advanced for someone of his age and experience – he’s only 23 with just over 3 years of professional experience — regularly doubling up on his jab and showing great timing on the counter. He gets most of his takedowns reactively, waiting for his opponent to come in recklessly before nailing them with a blast double.
Elliott pushes a nonstop pace at all times, fighting with an unorthodox style that often leaves his chin out in the open waiting to be touched up. He has made strides to clean up his striking a bit, throwing cleaner punches even if he isn’t the most technical striker. His real strength is his relentless wrestling. He does tend to tire himself out, but rarely before his opponent has already depleted their own gas tank. His headlock submissions are tricky as hell to deal with and he isn’t afraid to put himself in a precarious position to continue chaining subs together.
Though De La Rosa has regularly fought at bantamweight, he appears to be even smaller than Elliott, a traditional flyweight. Given that De La Rosa doesn’t appear to be anything special athletically – though he is superior to Elliott — nor does he impose his own pace upon opponents, I struggle to see him outpointing or finishing Elliott. Elliott has shown he can be too reckless and put himself in position to be submitted, but I don’t know if De La Rosa is the type to expose that weakness. Elliott via decision
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