Another weekend of UFC fights, another weekend of little name value on the UFC VEGAS 16 prelims. Perhaps I should stop commenting on the lack of appeal the prelims at this point as I’m starting to sound like a broken record. Regardless of the lack of recognition, there does appear to be a couple of bangers that might be worth paying attention to. Ilia Topuria is still young in his career, but he looks like he could be something special in the deep featherweight division. Flyweight is wide open, meaning there’s a chance Jimmy Flick and/or Cody Durden could make a rapid ascent. Jordan Leavitt looks like he could be the next Ryan Hall, if that kind of funkiness appeals to you. And even though I almost always walk away from a Gian Villante fight shaking my head, I have to admit that I’m usually entertained.
- Gabriel Benitez returns to featherweight after a one fight excursion at lightweight. A slick kickboxer with wicked reputation for his kicks to the body, Benitez has long been one of the most underrated members of the UFC roster. He’s not a great wrestler, but he understands spacing to keep his opposition from getting in on his hips and his BJJ and ability to scramble tend to prevent him from being held down for long. It’s hard to believe we won’t see those aspects come into play as Justin Jaynes is a bowling ball of a human being who looks for two things: KO’s and takedowns. Jaynes puts full effort into everything he does, which tends to leave him low on energy beyond the first round, explaining why only four of his sixteen career wins have come outside the first round. Benitez’s durability has failed him before, so a first round finish from Jaynes is hardly out of the question. However, Benitez’s technique on the feet is far superior to Jaynes. It would take a major slip up from Benitez’s usual standard for Jaynes to land a haymaker. Benitez survives early and scores a late finish on a fading Jaynes. Benitez via TKO of RD3
- It’s time for the UFC to let Jose Quinonez sink or swim. Despite being on the UFC roster since 2014, his best win in that time is Teruto Ishihara. As charismatic as Ishihara is – who can forget “I love my bitches!” – he didn’t develop into the fighter the UFC hoped he’d be. Quinonez was protected for a long time, though he was offered as the sacrificial lamb to a returning Sean O’Malley earlier this year. It looks like the UFC finally wants to see if he can swim. Quinonez is a big, physical presence with solid boxing fundamental and a solid top game. The lack of dynamism has held him back from being more than a low-level gatekeeper, a role the UFC can easily fill. Louis Smolka is another favorite of the UFC brass who feels like he’s passed his expiration date on the roster. The Hawaiian is in his second stint, his first derailed by alcoholism. He’s overcome that, but his confidence has taken a hit and perhaps even his body. Smolka’s attack is more diverse than Quinonez’s – Smolka is an excellent scrambler, possesses a strong clinch attack, and has a strong arsenal of kicks – but I don’t think he can deal with Quinonez’s physicality. Quinonez via decision
- I have no idea why Uncle Dana thought it was a good idea to bring Matt Wiman back, but the longtime veteran returns despite being blown out of the water in his last two appearances. No one doubts the toughness or durability of Wiman, but his fighting style is a throwback to an earlier era that has been left in the dust. Perhaps he’ll be able to find his footing this time around as Jordan Leavitt is a submission specialist who doesn’t have a standup game that will win him any fights. To Leavitt’s credit, he’s functional enough on the feet to know where he wants to get the fight, but it’s going to be a more difficult proposition moving forward as Leavitt isn’t an explosive athlete, nor is he a great wrestler. If Wiman can keep the fight standing, he might be able to pull off the upset. However, Leavitt is exceptionally crafty and typically finds a way to get the fight to the mat through trips or other means that are more unorthodox. Wiman doesn’t seem to have the instincts of a fighter anymore, not much of a surprise when he didn’t have a fight for over four-and-a-half years. Leavitt will find a way to submit him. Leavitt via submission of RD1
- Usually when you think of a typical flyweight, you think of a plus athlete with incredible quickness and speed. That doesn’t describe Jimmy Flick. The definition of gritty, Flick has become one of the best submission artists in the division without having yet made his UFC debut. When 13 of his 15 victories come from submission, I’d think it’s safe to bestow that title upon him, especially when flyweight is the division with the least finishes on a percentage basis of all the men’s divisions. Flick is a bit awkward on the feet, but he’s savvy enough to score points on the feet, kicks to the midsection being the best weapon in his standup. His lack of athleticism hurts him most in the standup as he has been finished with strikes several times. If Cody Durden is going to win, that’s the route he’s most likely to go. A hard hitter and a former state champion wrestler, Durden is a pressure fighter is as gritty as Flick with an edge in athleticism. However, Durden doesn’t have the fight IQ of Flick and his first instinct is to take the fight to the mat… where Flick is most effective. Flick is just as comfortable off his back and chains submissions together with the best of them. Chances are he’ll eventually catch Durden in something he can’t get out of. Flick via submission RD2
- It could be argued Damon Jackson pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the year when he submitted Mirsad Bektic, though many would point to Bektic’s habit of dropping the ball. Regardless of how a win over Bektic looks anymore, Jackson earned his first UFC win in the process, something that was a long time coming. A negative athlete, Jackson’s goal is to get the fight to the mat as quick as possible where he tends to find his way to his opponent’s back and sink in an RNC, though that’s hardly the only submission in his arsenal. It will take every bit of his veteran savvy to put away Ilia Topuria, a 23-year old native of the burgeoning MMA hotbed of Georgia. In his UFC debut, Topuria upended Youseff Zalal with constant pressure and heavy hooks. Even more impressive was his attention to defense, showing good footwork and head movement that typically eludes youngsters. Jackson could very well lure Topuria into a trap, but given the intelligence shown by Topuria – in addition to his impressive core strength – I think Topuria finds a way to pass this difficult test. Topuria via decision
- The contest between Gian Villante and Jake Collier feels like a cruel joke. Villante used to fight at light heavyweight, Collier as low as middleweight. Now, both look grossly out of shape – at least for UFC athletes – as they now ply their trade at heavyweight. Collier barely showed anything in his new home before being KO’d by Tom Aspinall 45 seconds in. When he was smaller, Collier had a somewhat diverse attack and didn’t push a bad pace. Perhaps it’ll be easier to push a pace now that he isn’t dehydrating himself to cut weight, but he appears to be carrying more than the optimal weight, appearing sluggish. There’s no doubt Villante was sluggish in his UFC heavyweight debut, the jokes about his beer belly running rampant on social media. Villante’s frame appears to be better suited for heavyweight than Collier, but he can’t let himself get too heavy if he hopes to find long-term success. Villante still has his power, but he didn’t have much explosion. Then again, given Collier appears to be in a similar situation, it may not be that big of an issue. There’s a good possibility both show up to this contest in better shape. However, not having any signs of what they look like, I’ll lean towards Villante, his power and durability giving him just enough of an advantage. Villante via TKO of RD1
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