After a flat showing from the UFC last weekend, the organization appears to be rebounding with a quality showing in UFC 288. The depth extends all the way down to prelims where there are several contests worth tuning into. Of course, rather than overload y’all, I figure it’s best to narrow things down for everyone to know what best to pay attention to. Here’s the five things to look for in the preliminary action of UFC 288.
UFC 288 featured prelim: Dober vs. Frevola SHOULD be a banger
Drew Dober has established himself as one of the better action fighters in the UFC. I mean that in terms of both his ability to come out on the better end of the result as well as the entertainment value of his fights. That’s why he has picked up five Performance Bonuses over his last seven fights. Unfortunately, he has also struggled to stop takedowns throughout his career. And while Matt Frevola has effectively turned his reputation into that of a wild brawler, he was known as a relentless takedown specialist prior to his back-to-back first round KO’s.
Frevola isn’t a stupid fighter. He went straight at his last two opponents as that was the best route to victory for him in those contests. Taking that approach with Dober at UFC 288 is a terrible idea given Dober’s insane chin and punching power. Thing is, even when Dober’s opponents have focused on taking him down, it hasn’t ensured victory. Just ask Terrance McKinney. If I were to bet, I’d guess this will be another banger. However, I also can see this contest turning into a real grind. Not that I want it to, but I figure it’s best to give fair warning for all those who anticipate if being the FOTN of UFC 288.
Kennedy Nzechukwu is putting it all together
All it takes is one look at Kennedy Nzechukwu to realize he’s got the physical talent to be something special in this sport. However, he also entered the UFC incredibly raw, just six MMA fights under his belt without anything like a wrestling or BJJ background. Now eight fights deep into the UFC and he’s starting to display the confidence needed for him to continue his progress up the light heavyweight ladder. It helps that he’s approached his last couple of fights with an ideal game plan to walk out with his hands raised.
Devin Clark isn’t nearly as big as Nzechukwu, but he is a fantastic athlete with a strong wrestling base. On the few occasions Clark has managed to keep everything together, he’s shown he has the talent to climb into the official UFC rankings. Unfortunately, Clark also has a long history of giving fights away. He’s deep enough into his career that’s it’s hard to believe he’s about to change that whereas Nzechukwu is still on an upward trajectory. Clark can win this UFC 288 fight, but it feels foolish to count on his doing so against someone as big and talented as Nzechukwu.
Marina Rodriguez is staring down her last chance
In the eyes of many, the ship has already sailed on Marina Rodriguez challenging for the title. She’s 36 and coming off a loss to Amanda Lemos. Given her lack of marketability, the UFC isn’t looking to push her into the spotlight. If she had a bit more flash and name recognition, her wins over Michelle Waterson-Gomez, Mackenzie Dern, and Xiaonan Yan would have already delivered her a title shot before facing Lemos. Rodriguez has proven herself to be a skilled striker with excellent submission defense… which is essentially the perfect skillset to upend Virna Jandiroba.
Those were the traits Rodriguez used to beat Dern after all, but there’s a big difference between Dern and Jandiroba: Jandiroba is at least a decent wrestler. Sure, Jandiroba is one of the worst athletes in the division, but she’s also one of the most technically sound grapplers in the sport and has a high fight IQ. If Jandiroba can’t get the fight to the mat, Rodriguez will cruise to victory. If Jandiroba can get just two timely takedowns, the fight is hers. I think Jandiroba can get two takedowns at UFC 288. I just don’t know if they’ll be timely.
Ikram Aliskerov looks like a future contender
When the only loss on your resume is Khamzat Chimaev, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Of course, Ikram Aliskerov has yet to touch down in the UFC, so there’s a question of the level of competition he has faced. Especially given he was getting pieced up by Mario Sousa before finally getting him to the mat. Thing is, once Aliskerov did get the fight to the mat, it was over in a hurry. Of course, taking down a Brazilian like Sousa is one thing. Taking down former JUCO wrestling champion Phil Hawes is quite another.
Everyone seems to get frustrated with Hawes given he struggles to live up to his physical talents. They also seem to forget that he’s still a very good fighter, even if he isn’t fully living up to his potential. His two UFC losses are to Roman Dolidze and Chris Curtis, two members of the official UFC rankings. Hawes isn’t losing to bums. Regardless, this should be a competitive contest at UFC 288.
Most are picking Aliskerov to emerge victorious. I’m not as bullish as everyone else seems to be about that possibility, but not because I don’t think Aliskerov isn’t worthy of the hype. In fact, should he win, I think he’ll be better than the hype. Hawes is that good.
Will Zhalgas Zhumagulov’s terrible luck continue at UFC 288?
It’s hard to find a more unlucky fighter on the UFC roster than Zhalgas Zhumagulov. The veteran flyweight has been on the wrong end of three fights the vast majority of viewers believed he won. Check out the media scores for his contests with Raulian Paiva, Jeff Molina, and Charles Johnson. Zhumagulov isn’t a great athlete by flyweight standards, but he’s good at recognizing holes in the defense of his opponent and attacking them. Of course, given his limited physical skills, he also tends to take his fair share of damage in the process. Even if he may have deserved the win in the aforementioned fights, they were close.
Rafael Estevam will be the superior athlete by a wide margin with a notable size advantage. He’s also short on quality experience with some traits of recklessness. Zhumagulov has proven opportunistic enough to capitalize on such opportunities, but does he have the physicality to really make Estevam pay at UFC 288? It’s easy to overlook the guy with terrible luck who also happens to be the inferior athlete, but my eyes also tell me Zhumagulov has been winning his fights. His luck has to change at some point… right? Then again, Estevam’s upside is enough he may not need luck.
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