The early fights for UFC 226 offer a couple of contests that would be main card fodder for a Fight Night card. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago Lando Vannata was serving as the co-main event for UFC 209. Granted, he wasn’t deserving of his placement on that card – in addition to injuries boosting him into that role – but it does show how much the UFC thought of him at the time. He faces a tough challenge another young prospect, Drakkar Klose. However, it could be the matchup between Dan Hooker and Gilbert Burns that offers more intrigue as both have been riding impressive stretches where they’ve won all their contests before the judges could make a decision. I usually don’t mind telling readers to skip the Fight Pass prelims, but I’d recommend catching them this time around.
The Fight Pass prelims begin at 6:30 PM ET/3:30 PM PT on Saturday.
Daniel Hooker (16-7) vs. Gilbert Burns (14-2), Lightweight
Undefeated since making his way up to the lightweight division from 145, Hooker has made himself a name to watch out for with finishes in each of those contests, his knee to put Jim Miller to sleep the most impressive. The former kickboxer surprised many by looking for takedowns and grinding away on his opponents early in his UFC career. However, when he moved up to lightweight – no longer able to utilize a size advantage – he returned to his kickboxing roots. Despite no longer being the larger opponent every time, his takedown defense has remained steadfast… thus far.
Burns will test Hooker’s ability to remain upright… at least that’s the assumption given his world class grappling skills. Then again, Burns has secured brutal KO’s in his last two appearances, finally developing the confidence on the feet to take advantage of his natural athleticism and power. There are still plenty of holes in his defense, though adding punching combinations to his typical single power shots has helped cut back on his predictability. Regardless, the key to the fight will most likely hinge on his ability to get Hooker to the ground, something Burns hasn’t been able to do on a consistent level.
This is one of the more difficult contests on the card to predict… and that’s saying something. Hooker has found his home at lightweight and isn’t being overwhelmed in the slightest. However, outside of an undisciplined Marc Diakiese, he has struggled against superior athletes. Two years ago, I would have said Burns is incredibly similar to Diakiese. However, in those two years, Burns has made some big strides. Burns finds a way to ground Hooker and nab a submission before the night is out. Burns via submission of RD1
Lando Vannata (9-2-1) vs. Drakkar Klose (8-1-1), Lightweight
Klose was upset with David Teymur in his last contest when he refused to march into the pocket and engage where Klose wanted him to do so. He may experience similar frustration against Vannata, a bit of a dancer on the outside who relies on his sudden burst and unorthodox arsenal catch his opponents off-guard. Then again, Vannata attacks with enough frequency that Klose probably won’t get frustrated.
If Klose can keep his cool, he’s a solid grinder who can struggle to close the distance without taking too much damage. Though he does have some solid wrestling chops, he uses them more to push his opposition against the fence where he does his best work as opposed to finishing the takedowns. One of the reasons Klose is so effective there is his deep gas tank as he doesn’t let up for a second… provided he can get his hands on his opponent.
Vannata’s talent became highly apparent in his first two UFC contests. Then his complete lack of defense and reliance on the KO had him coming up empty in his next two appearances. Vannata doesn’t bother much with distance finding strikes such as jabs, preferring to swing for the home run with just about every strike. The one defensive positive he has is his slick takedown defense, popping right back up to his feet even on the rare occasions when he is taken to the ground.
Klose is a difficult style matchup for Vannata if he can close the distance effectively. The problem is I don’t see him avoiding enough of Vannata’s haymakers as they are often difficult to predict where they are coming from. Perhaps Klose’s durability will allow him to grind his way to a decision, but Vannata’s stamina is just as strong and he’s far more explosive. Regardless, it should be a lot of fun. Vannata via KO of RD2
Jamie Moyle (4-2) vs. Emily Whitmire (2-2), Women’s Strawweight
Dropping down to strawweight after her unsuccessful UFC debut at flyweight, Whitmire is hoping her slick ground game translates better against women closer to her own size. She showed progress on the feet in her time on TUF, but she also showed a willingness to put herself in dangerous positions on the ground, resulting in her being submitted by Gillian Robertson. Fortunately for Whitmire, Moyle hasn’t displayed the same penchant for submissions on the ground as Robertson.
That doesn’t mean Moyle is the underdog. In fact, her gritty and grimy style could prove to be even more troublesome for Whitmire. A brawler who has slowly been improving her technique on the feet, Moyle does her best work in the clinch and from the top position on the ground. Her takedowns could use some spice as she tends to spend more time pushing her opponent against the fence than anything else, but Whitmire’s takedown defense is questionable.
Though both ladies have significant holes in their arsenal, they also offer some promise. Moyle has proven to be durable and resilient while Whitmire’s lack of experience could prove troublesome when Moyle looks to make the fight as dirty as possible. Moyle via decision
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