At the time this article was submitted for publishing, there were 15 total fights ready to go down at UFC 259. There are cards that feel like they have 15 fights – last weeks card that saw decision after decision for example, even though it only had 9 – but rarely do they actually have 15. If we’ve learned anything about the UFC in the COVID era, making it to the week of the fights is hardly a safe haven. If there were bets going on for the amount of fights that would be cancelled before fight night, I’d imagine 2.5 would be the line… and I’d probably lean on the over. Last weeks card saw four contests cancelled on the week of, three of those within two days of the event. So even though six contests are presently scheduled for the early prelims, I wouldn’t count on that being the reality of the situation.
As for what is scheduled for the early prelims, I’m actually a fan of what is being presented. There’s some promising prospects, some former prospects who are looking to regain their shine, and an old fan favorite who may be the most overrated member of the roster.
- The potentially overrated fighter that I’m referring to is Tim Elliott. While that’s a statement that would draw the ire of many fans, I don’t say it without evidence. Though a noted fan favorite who fought Demetrious Johnson for the title, Elliott’s UFC record is a paltry 5-9 with his best win coming arguably over Louis Smolka. Part of his poor record can be attributed to him regularly facing top competition – Johnson, Joseph Benavidez, John Dodson, and Deiveison Figueiredo are amongst the names who have defeated him – but he has been his own worst enemy on several occasions, dropping fights he was expected to win. That’ll happen when there is little to no control over his aggression, four of those nine UFC losses coming by submission in the men’s division notorious for a lack of finishes. Perhaps even worse is Elliott’s gas tank appears to have been compromised by age and years of cutting to 125 despite being a big dude for the division. If Jordan Espinosa is going to make a move, now is the perfect time. A plus athlete, Espinosa is similar to Elliott in his tendency to walk head first into submission. Of course, those issues have come against disciplined opposition and few would be willing to describe Elliott in that way. Espinosa prefers fighting on the outside at a slower pace – for flyweight – but doesn’t mind engaging in a firefight that Elliott tends to favor. If it’s a slower paced fight, Espinosa is the pick. If it’s fast paced, I struggle to see Elliott and his unorthodox style remaining effective late. Espinosa via decision
- Physically, there isn’t a single thing Kennedy Nzechukwu is missing to be a great fighter. He’s massive for the light heavyweight division, clocking in at 6’5” with an 83” reach. He’s both tough and durable. He has power. Agility. However, he’s missing one very important element needed to be a viable member of the UFC roster: the temperament of a fighter. Nzechukwu doesn’t look like he enjoys fighting, as though he’s just going through the motions. To be fair, he’s receiving good coaching from Sayif Saud, showing some ability to use his length with jabs and front kicks, but passion appears to be missing. There doesn’t appear to be an issue with Carlos Ulberg enjoying fighting, but he is lacking in MMA experience, this being either his fourth or sixth professional contest, depending on which resource you use. He does make up for that with extended kickboxing experience, showing excellent distance management and use of angles. Ulberg isn’t a small guy either, coming in at 6’4” with a 77” reach, so perhaps he’ll struggle not being the bigger man in the cage. I don’t think that’ll be a problem. Ulberg will test Nzechukwu’s chin and there’s a very good chance he’ll be the first one to finish the product of Nigeria with strikes. Ulberg via TKO of RD2
- The UFC refuses to give up on the idea of Jake Matthews turning into something special. Given he’s been on the UFC roster since 2014, you’d think they’d have their conclusion on what he is, but he was also a teenager when he had his first UFC contest, currently clocking in at the still young age of 26. A gifted athlete, Matthews possesses good fundamental boxing and the basics on the mat, that often being enough due to his physical gifts. He has been flustered when he’s pit against someone who has similar athletic gifts, but it would be fair to say the UFC has protected him to an extent. Not this time around. Sean Brady has proven to be a brickhouse of a competitor, bullying his opposition with pressure and takedowns. Like Matthews, his standup isn’t flashy, but Brady’s fundamentals are sound enough that he can still be dangerous moving backwards, a rare feature in a pressure fighter. However, it is in his physicality and relentlessness that Brady beats down his opposition, pushing a grueling pace with little respite. Matthews doesn’t completely gas, but he does noticeably fade by the time the third round comes by. Given Brady’s fighting style, that doesn’t bode well for the young Aussie. Brady via TKO of RD3
- There was a lot of hype around Livinha Souza when she first entered the UFC. After all, she was a former Invicta strawweight champion. Since her explosive debut – which was designed for her to win with style – her performances have been far more tame, struggling to secure takedowns and do anything with them once she does get them. It shouldn’t have been much of a surprise given her smaller frame, but it has largely mitigated her BJJ, which was supposed to be her biggest strength. Souza does have a lot of pop in her kicks and punches, but she tends to throw just one strike at a time which is problematic should the fight go to the judges. That gives an automatic edge to Amanda Lemos. Like Souza, Lemos is an athletic product out of Brazil who hits pretty damned hard. Unlike Souza, Lemos has no problem letting her hands fly with abandon, putting together punching combinations in rapid fire succession. It can be sloppy, but they certainly get her opponent’s attention. She’s also built like a brickhouse, proving difficult to control in the clinch, let alone securing takedowns. Even if her back hits the mat, Lemos has displayed a sound ground game. Souza’s tough as hell, but I struggle to see her matching Lemos’ volume, nor do I see her submitting or controlling Lemos. Lemos via decision
- It shouldn’t come as any surprise Aalon Cruz is moving up to lightweight. It’s hard to imagine anyone making 145 comfortably for too long when they’re 6’0” with a 78” reach. An unorthodox fighter who throws front kicks at a higher rate than many people who throw jabs with regularity, maintaining distance is what Cruz’s game is all about. His footwork allows him to keep his distance and still threaten with his kicks. He’s even shown decent wrestling, surprising given his lengthy frame. However, his UFC debut went miserably as Spike Carlyle evaded his kicks and found his way into Cruz’s range. Can newcomer Uros Medic do the same thing? The chances look pretty good. Medic is just as tall as Cruz, but he’s much thicker and muscular with a far more explosive striking game. Medic’s competition has been more than a little questionable whereas Cruz has some quality wins, so it’s fair to wonder if he’s getting his UFC call too soon. Though a distinct possibility, I think he’s a dynamic enough striker that he can get Cruz out of there, delaying his inevitable prospect loss a little longer. Medic via KO of RD1
- Given all the exciting young talent at bantamweight, it’s inevitable someone is going to get lost in the mix. It looks like Mario Bautista is one of those getting lost in the mix, despite securing two Performance Bonuses in his three UFC contests. That third fight… a loss to Cory Sandhagen. No shame in that. Though perfectly capable of buckling down and engaging in a slugfest, Bautista is a skilled striker who shows a lot of feints and angles and stance switches, keeping his opponents guessing. Though not known for his physicality, he’s proven tougher in the clinch than reputed. Despite all that, it’s his grappling and BJJ that is considered to be his biggest strength. It would be a surprise to see him drop his fight against Trevin Jones, but Jones has already proven he’s down to upset the apple card in his UFC debut, dropping Timur Valiev with a single punch. However, that was only his third win via KO/TKO, providing evidence the KO was a fluke. There’s no doubt Jones has the explosive athleticism to produce another KO – which appears to be his most likely route to victory against Bautista – but the track record isn’t there to make me feel comfortable enough to predict he can reproduce that result, especially given his porous defense. Bautista via decision
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