Up until a few days ago, there didn’t appear to be too much at stake on the prelims for UFC Fight Night 76. There were a few prospects in addition to some middling veterans, but few jobs appeared to be in danger… until the news of a roster purge came out. With more releases sure to come, it makes it inevitable that most of these fights will be battles for employment. Up until that point it seemed prospects like Jon delos Reyes and Ericka Almeida would probably be given another shot even with a loss due to their potential, but that doesn’t seem likely now. The UFC has been scaling back the numbers of events just a bit which also means that they have to scale back the size of their roster to accommodate everyone.
Despite that, don’t expect these prelims to knock your socks off as there appear to be a number of grinding affairs that would accommodate an insomniac. Stevie Ray and Mickael Lebout should put on a good show, along with the flyweight and women’s strawweight bouts, but I’m leery on the rest. Here’s what you need to know:
Stevie Ray vs. Mickael Lebout (Lightweight)
What’s at Stake: European prospects clash with Ray being the obvious choice for whom the UFC would rather see emerge victorious.
The Fighters: No confusing him for Booker T’s older brother, Ray has a chance to be a legit standout prospect in the shark tank that is the lightweight division. The Scot has all the physical tools while fast becoming a staple of the European cards. He stays light on his feet, mixing in head kicks with boxing where he places a heavy emphasis on hooks as he looks for the kill shot. Ray is selective with his striking, leading to relatively low output. Luckily for him, he is an excellent wrestler who has proven difficult to take down with a very well rounded ground game just as capable of ending the fight with strikes or with a submission. Though most of his subs come in transition, he has improved his guard passing skills in addition to being slick enough that he can create for himself within his opponent’s guard.
Lebout spent the entirety of his career at welterweight before being overwhelmed by a much bigger Sergio Moraes in his UFC debut causing a drop in weight that led to a victory in his sophomore effort over Teemu Packalen. Even with the drop in weight, Lebout isn’t a powerful lightweight by any means, but now possess functional strength he needs to find success as his speed and athleticism are subpar. What Lebout does have going for him is his scrappiness and savvy as he is a smart fighter who doesn’t go away easily thanks to his toughness and sound submission defense. He is at his best on the feet where he puts together good combinations scoring points for the judges as he possesses very little power in his strikes. He does get sloppy at times leading to easy counters from his opponent.
The Expectation: Lebout is the perfect test for Ray at this point as he doesn’t pose much of a threat to beat Ray, but he’ll likely go the distance and help the brass figure out just where Ray is in his development. Lebout will have his moments, but it should be a clear victory for Ray. Ray via decision
Neil Seery vs. Jon delos Reyes (Flyweight)
What’s at Stake: Delos Reyes walks into a hostile environment as the crowd will be firmly behind hometown hero Seery, potentially with jobs at stake.
The Fighters: If there were a vote for the least athletic flyweight in the UFC, it is likely that Seery would take that by a landslide. Being 36 in a division where age plays a factor faster than any other doesn’t help. Regardless, Seery has found some success in the UFC thanks to some exceptionally sound boxing heavy on combinations in which he never stops coming forward. Throughout most of his career, Seery’s Achilles heel was his submission defense. As shown in his last bout with Louis Smolka, his grappling has improved immensely, as he survived numerous attempts from Smolka while attempting a high amount himself proving himself to be more than capable on the ground at this stage. Thanks to his short 64″ reach, Seery needs to be in the pocket or clinch to find success on the feet.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, delos Reyes would no doubt be among those voted to be the most athletic. Unfortunately for him, there may not be a fighter who is more raw in the division if not the entire roster. Speed and power are in abundance which often make up for the technical mistakes that he makes. The problem is that they are in such abundance that he more often than not gets caught in a compromising position. To his credit, he is very talented on the ground with offense and sweeps off of his back in addition to a knack for getting his opponent’s back. Transitions is often where he gets himself into trouble as well as his striking as he wings his punches moving forward like a zombie with lots of power but little technique as he looks for the kill shot with every strike (jab isn’t in his vocabulary).
The Expectation: Delos Reyes is skilled enough that I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pull off the upset… if the fight were anywhere else than Ireland. Seery has yet to get a finish in the UFC thus far, but I see the crowd empowering him to pick up his first one. Seery via submission in the first round
Aisling Daly vs. Ericka Almeida (Women’s Strawweight)
What’s at Stake: With the UFC trimming the roster more than just a bit, look for the loser to be out of a job.
The Fighters: To be blunt, Daly is a sizeable favorite here, as she is not only more experienced, but she will have a hostile Irish crowd backing her up. As a striker, Daly is extremely unorthodox, constantly switching stances and (similar to teammate Conor McGregor) keeping her hands low, quite often leaving herself open to opposing strikes. If she can find a rhythm and consistently land first, Daly lands combinations while mixing in kicks with regularity, and can overwhelm her opposition as they struggle to adjust. Daly is actually best on the ground where her physical strength can be utilized in her passable wrestling and vastly underrated submission skills. Though she suffers through bouts of inactivity, Daly is as tough as they come and rarely completely out of a fight.
While there is little argument that Almeida is a better pure athlete than Daly, she doesn’t have nearly the experience of her opponent. Nevertheless, all agree that Almeida has a bright future, so the question for this fight is whether the future has already arrived or has yet to come. Like Daly, Almeida’s strength is on the ground, but for different reasons as Almeida excels in scrambles as she looks to snatch a limb or opponent’s back as opposed to Daly’s grinding style. She’ll be in trouble if she can’t find the sub as her wrestling has a long way to go. Though Almeida has been improving on the feet, her striking from the outside is still very basic. She is at her best in the clinch where she can utilize her Muay Thai in addition to executing throws or trips.
The Expectation: I think I’ve already spelled this one out pretty clearly. I like Almeida’s talent a lot, but she has feasted on cans before getting to the UFC, and Daly is anything but. Almeida will likely be out of the UFC, but hopefully latches onto Invicta where she’ll have a better chance of developing her skill. Daly via submission in the second round
Scott Askham vs. Krzysztof Jotko (Middleweight)
What’s at Stake: In a mass of indistinguishable middleweight faces, this is an opportunity for someone to possibly break out of the pack… with a good showing of course.
The Fighters: Like Ray, Askham is becoming a staple of the UFC’s trips to Europe as one of the brighter prospects that the UFC possesses at 185 lbs. About as big as they come in the weight class, Askham is still developing his outside striking where he can utilize his 6’3″ frame. Sure, he has a good kicking arsenal from there, but offers little with his fists… at least effectively. He is at his best in the clinch where he either grinds his opposition out against the cage or offers vicious knees that don’t require much room to end the fight. He is a better wrestler than most that come out of England, particularly offensively, though he rarely looks to take the fight in that direction. On the ground offers little submission threat as he prefers to pound out his opponent than submit them.
Jotko is another one who is becoming a staple of European cards (so it was inevitable they would clash). Though he is a bit younger than Askham with a similar record, he doesn’t have the same type of buzz around him that Askham does thanks to his largely boring grind-it-out style. While Askham is a similar in style, Jotko lacks the explosion in his striking to put an end to a fight that Askham possesses. Aside from being rather porous with his takedowns, Jotko will have the wrestling advantage and his doggedness is going for the takedown usually means he’ll get the fight to the ground eventually. From there, he is again similar to Askham with his preference for pounding out opposition, though he does possess rarely seen submission skills. He is largely undisciplined on his feet and best clinching against the fence.
The Expectation: Similar to both of their fights with Magnus Cedenblad, this will probably be an ugly fight as both are grinders. Askham’s power will give him the advantage here even if it doesn’t result in a finish which I don’t think it will. Askham via decision
Cathal Pendred vs. Tom Breese (Welterweight)
What’s at Stake: Pendred could be on his way out despite a 4-1 UFC record thanks to his controversial and largely boring style while presenting prospect Breese with his largest challenge.
The Fighters: Pendred has become one of the least popular UFC fighters with grinding style that has allowed him to steal a victory or two he didn’t deserve. It’s hard to fault him for the strategy as there probably isn’t a welterweight on the roster with less speed as he is absolutely huge for the weight class. While on his feet, Pendred works nonstop to get the fight to the clinch where he’ll either push the fight to the fence and wear down his opponent or go for a takedown, Pendred takes a lot of punishment in the process thanks to his lack of speed. Fortunately for him, he has one of the sturdiest chins around which allows him to get away with being as hittable as he is. Pendred isn’t a horrible grappler, but rarely possesses an advantage in submission skills.
Breese is actually taller than Pendred, but not quite as thick as the Irishman. That doesn’t mean he is lacking strength and even more significant is that Breese will have a massive advantage in the athleticism department. Though Breese usually spends a lot of time in the clinch delivering a high volume of knees, look for him to stay on the outside delivering kicks everywhere to the body of Pendred along with a stiff jab. Breese should have the advantage if the fight goes to the ground despite not being a particularly good wrestler. What he has going for him is a surprisingly active submission game for someone of his size, including a number of subs he is capable of executing off of his back. Look for him to look to initiate some scrambles from the clinch as well.
The Expectation: I really want to pick Breese here and not just because I don’t enjoy Pendred’s style. He is flat out just more talented than Pendred. But Pendred is one of the Irish crowd’s home sons and he’ll have massive crowd support in addition to easily being Breese’s toughest challenge. I expect a close decision to be eeked out by Pendred… again. Pendred via decision
Darren Elkins vs. Rob Whiteford (Featherweight)
What’s at Stake: Whiteford is being given a chance for a breakout performance while Elkins may need to worry about job security if the recent UFC cuts are a sign of things to come.
The Fighters: Elkins has made a solid career out of being a gatekeeper at featherweight, but his largely boring style doesn’t exactly excite fans or the brass. Regardless, it would be stupid for Elkins to change up his style as it has proven highly effective against all but the elite of the division. Plus, he lacks enough power in his fists to turn himself into an effective striker. Similar to the aforementioned Jotko, Elkins is dogged in his takedown attempts as he doesn’t quit on his double and single-leg attempts easily, and even if he doesn’t complete them he usually ends up pressing his opponent up against the fence where he is just as efficient at grinding on his opposition as he is on the floor. Elkins lacks finishing abilities, so his plus durability is needed to ensure he goes the distance.
Whiteford initially looked as though he wouldn’t be for long in the UFC following a debut loss, but has pulled out two wins that have been a bit surprising to most pundits. Coming from a judo background, Whiteford is like Elkins in that he prefers to push his opponents into the fence and grind away. Whiteford is better at completing his takedowns from the clinch thanks to his better trips and throws and will look to take the fight there as his underrated submission game is more advanced than anything Elkins can offer. However, it should be noted that his wresting is lacking and he just as easily could be dominated by Elkins in that arena. On the feet, Whiteford offers a basic boxing approach that has made strides while offering occasional pop.
The Expectation: This is a very evenly matched fight as Elkins has the tools to attack Whiteford’s weaknesses while Whiteford can do the same thing to Elkins. I’m favoring Elkins’ proven record as Whiteford lacks the athleticism that those who have beaten Elkins before have possessed. Elkins via decision
Bubba Bush vs. Garreth McLellan (Middleweight)
What’s at Stake: While speculation is rampant with the other fights whether or not the loser packs their bags, there is no doubt about this one as both Bush and McLellan lurk near the bottom of the division.
The Fighters: With 61 seconds of fight time in the UFC, it is hard to get a grip for what Bush is capable of at this level… especially when one remembers that his opponent Kevin Casey was suspended for PED use following the bout. Rather than being a prized prospect who could develop into something, Bush is more of the journeyman who performed well enough in the regional circuit to earn a chance in the UFC. Though he is a pretty willing striker, Bush is at his best getting the fight to the ground where he has an above average submission game. The problem for him is that is about the only above average facet of his game as his wrestling is merely average at best, and his striking is fairly wild and without much power in his punch.
McLellan was one of the best fighters in the South African circuit, but when it comes to finding success in the UFC, that has meant very little. The other recent fighter called up from that scene, Ruan Potts, found little success in the UFC, washing out after three fights without offering much competition in any of them. Though McLellan found most of his success being a grinder and using his strength to overpower his opponents, his wrestling technique is sorely lacking and he was largely manhandled by Bartosz Fabinski in his UFC debut despite being the larger athlete. McLellan is still raw when fighting in space as well, but may stand a better chance from there than he would in the clinch as he has the better raw power.
The Expectation: Not excited about this fight as I expect this to be the lone UFC victory for whoever comes out on top. Look for that to be Bush, as McLellan showed little against Fabinski on the mat and Bush is comparable to Fabinski. Bush via submission in the second round