Yes, this is a pay-per-view with two title fights, but the depth drops off substantially after the main card. How bad does it drop? It could be said that all of the preliminary bouts are best suited to be on the Fight Pass portion of the carda. Normally this is where I’d rave about the potential prospects that are on tap, but aside from Jake Matthews, Ryan Benoit, and maybe Ben Nguyen or Steve Montgomery, there isn’t anyone who looks to someday enter into contendership.
To the UFC’s credit, they know that they don’t have to load up a Ronda Rousey card, as she sells herself. They are lucky she is willing to go to Australia on such short notice for a title defense, as there are a number of lesser fighters who wouldn’t want to bother with the trip, but… wait a minute. I’m supposed to be talking about the prelims. Alright…
Jake Matthews vs. Akbarh Arreola (Lightweight)
What’s at Stake: Arreola is a stepping stone for Matthews to get back on track… but he has spoiled the UFC’s plans on that front before.
The Fighters: Coming off of his first professional loss (if you don’t count his loss in the TUF house), Matthews is a big, strong, physical specimen at lightweight, yet also very unrefined. What would you expect from a 21-year old fighting out of Australia? He knows how to use his strength very well as he’ll push his opposition up against the cage and grind away, or he’ll drive ’em to the mat with a bullish takedown attempt. While there isn’t a lot of finesse in his BJJ either as he’ll throw in plenty of strikes, he is fairly skilled there too with a penchant for chokes. Where he is getting into trouble is with his very raw striking; he throws looping, reckless punches that have power, but also leave him wide open for counters. Progress has been made, but he still has a ways to go.
Arreola is a longtime veteran of the Mexican circuit who doesn’t have a single standout skill that truly separates him from the pack. What has allowed him to stick around for so long is his toughness, which he has in spades, and something he needs considering his lack of defensive movement. An unorthodox striker in terms of strategy, Arreola throws more kicks than he does punches, and while they have some nice sting on them, he is no Edson Barboza. He has started to implement more boxing into his striking, making him a bit more diverse. Arreola’s wrestling skills are merely enough for him to survive, but his guard is formidable and he is a dangerous submission threat who is particularly adept at snatching the armbar
The Expectation: Matthews should be able to manhandle Arreola with ease, as Arreola has shown pretty much no takedown defense. It is hard to say whether or not he’ll finish him, but I’ll venture to guess performing in front of such a large home crowd motivates the youngster to do that. Matthews via TKO in the second round
Kyle Noke vs. Peter Sobotta (Welterweight)
What’s at Stake: Umm… not much. Neither are more than a mid-tier gatekeeper at best, and with both coming off of wins a roster spot should be safe even with a loss.
The Fighters: After 13 years in the sport, Noke has shown signs of slowing down as of late. Sure, he got a win in his last bout, but most would agree the W was a gift from the judges. Nonetheless, Noke believes he still has something to offer and given the right matchups, he is probably right. Noke is a massive welterweight who has tried to use his size to his advantage be throwing punches and kicks from a distance before swarming once he has his opposition either covering up or on the run. Lacking much athleticism, Noke has a lot of problems with speed and can be caught by surprise with either a well-timed strike or takedown. Not the best wrestler, Noke is an underrated submission artist in addition to possessing sound submission defense.
Sobotta has found a lot more success in his second go-round, but the fact he has faced less than stellar competition has something to with that. Even with that being the case, no one can deny the increased confidence and aggression he has displayed has also played a big part in those victories. Throwing punches and kicks in high volume, Sobotta doesn’t pack a lot of power, but doesn’t need that in order to set up his single and double leg takedowns. While he isn’t a big welterweight, his timing makes him difficult to stop once he gets underneath his opponent’s hips. From there he is patient in passing his opponent’s guard as he looks to take his opponent’s back so he can sink in his signature move, a RNC (6 of his last seven victories have come that way).
The Expectation: This is a lot closer than most would expect it to be. Noke’s size will give Sobotta problems as he has never faced someone that large, but Noke should also struggle with Sobotta’s speed. After seeing Noke struggle with a Jonavin Webb, I can’t help but think Sobotta will give him similar issues. Sobotta via decision
Anthony Perosh vs. Gian Villante (Light Heavyweight)
What’s at Stake: There is a big possibility that the loser will be on the job market, particularly in Perosh’s case.
The Fighters: It is hard to explain just how the 43-year old Perosh has turned his second UFC stint into a run that has lasted over five years, but that is the reality of things. Deceptively dangerous, Perosh’s lanky and un-athletic frame hardly presents an intimidating figure. Despite that, Perosh has become a smart fighter with a fundamentally sound boxing game who has found power in recent years. Perosh is rarely looking for the KO though, instead using his strikes to set up a takedown attempt where he can use his top heavy control. Few are better at passing guard into the mount than Perosh. From there he’ll either transition to his opponent’s back or rain down punches, depending on what his opponent gives him.
Villante is a huge 205er (a former heavyweight) whom the UFC has been waiting to emerge for a few years. His natural talents are readily apparent, but something always seems to get in the way of his emergence, whether it be an errant punch (due to poor defense) or a faulty gas tank. His stamina issues seem to have been addressed, but he has proven too content to stand and slug it out, trusting in his usually solid chin too much. Possessing good power in his own fists, Villante’s collegiate wrestling background has served him well in terms of keeping the fight standing, but it hasn’t translated well to his own takedown attempts as he tends to telegraph his attempts. Maybe that has something to do with his lack of speed…
The Expectation: Prognosticators have been waiting for the wheels to fall off of Perosh for a few years now and I’ll predict they do here… or that they already have. Perosh was bullied by Sean O’Connell who is similar to Villante in style. Only Villante is more physically gifted than O’Connell. See where I’m going with this? Villante via TKO in the first round
Richie Vaculik vs. Danny Martinez (Flyweight)
What’s at Stake: I hate to sound like a dick, but these might be the worst flyweights on the roster… and they’re fighting for their jobs.
The Fighters: Despite my previous statement, Vaculik has actually shown a lot of improvement in his UFC tenure. Possessing little striking upon his UFC entry, Vaculik has developed a swarming style in which he doesn’t give his opponent an inch of breathing room, as he’ll loop punches at his opponent’s head while occasionally mixing shots to the body. This strategy also results in Vaculik taking a lot of damage himself. Relying on timing to score his takedowns, Vaculik doesn’t possess a quick or powerful shot, but his scrappy demeanor makes him difficult to shake. Even if the attempt isn’t successful, Vaculik is happy if it creates a scramble where he might be able to take his opponent’s back.
Martinez owes his employment to his willingness to take a short notice fight in his last appearance, as his UFC record sits at 0-3. Coming from a wrestling background, Martinez’s strategy used to rely solely on winging haymakers at his opponent on his way into a double-leg attempt that more often than not proved unsuccessful, resulting in the fight going against the fence. From there, his doggedness would occasionally pay off with a completed takedown where he would look to pound out his opposition from there. Lately he has abandoned this predictable strategy for more of a crowd-pleasing brawling style, and his punching technique has improved, but not by much. Like Vaculik, He has taken a lot of damage as defense is an afterthought.
The Expectation: If Martinez would fight smarter, I’d favor him based solely on his physical skills. Vaculik will mix in some takedowns and curry the judges favor in a highly entertaining bout to maintain employment. Vaculik via decision
Dan Kelly vs. Steve Montgomery (Middleweight)
What’s at Stake: The old vet with little upside clashes with the youngster making a move up in weight with both looking to stay employed.
The Fighters: Make no mistake about it, Kelly is an ugly fighter to watch. Considering he only turned to fighting full time just three years ago after a long Olympic career as a judoka, it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Kelly’s boxing is extremely clunky, and worse is the fact that he is willing to trade despite his deficiency in that department. His age has eaten away at his athleticism as well, which has contributed to his striking struggles. Kelly is much more successful in close quarters where he can use his sound dirty boxing and judo base to flip his opponent on their head then reach into his diverse bag of submissions to finish them off after following them to the ground. But again… he has been far too willing to trade!
Heading into the 21st season of TUF, there was a good amount of hype behind Montgomery. One seizure later in addition to being on the wrong end of a highlight reel KO and Montgomery is on the verge of being a forgotten man despite being just 24. Perhaps the move up in weight will help him as he had some problems in cutting down to 170 lbs with his 6’4″ frame. Considering he doesn’t use his length all that effectively, I’d imagine that the move up will help. The physical tools are there, particularly as a striker, but he hasn’t been able to put everything together as there is no rhythm to his striking while also showing serious holes in his defense. He does have power in his strikes to threaten, particularly his kicks and an efficient clinch to nicely compliment.
The Expectation: Can I pick both to lose? I haven’t been enamored with Montgomery the way others have been and Kelly passed his physical peak a long while ago. The safer pick in these situations is traditionally the youngster, so I’ll go with the youth. Montgomery by decision.
Richard Walsh vs. Steven Kennedy (Welterweight)
What’s at Stake: The only fight an Australian is guaranteed to win, as these two lower-tier welterweights will be fighting for jobs.
The Fighters: Walsh’s lone UFC victory came over fellow Australian TUF Nations castmate Chris Indich… not a good sign. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the skills to stick around; he employs a physical, close-quartered style that is well-equipped to his skill set. Walsh knows his limitations, and does well avoiding fighting at long distances for long periods of time where he can be picked apart, largely using his boxing to close the distance. In the clinch he stays active, employing dirty boxing and elbows against the cage with some decent trips and throws when he wants to take the fight to the ground. Walsh is all about maintaining top control and grinding away on the ground as his overall grappling skills are limited to maintaining position.
Kennedy has racked up nearly 30 fights since 2008, almost all of them in Australia, making him a staple of the scene down under. Getting into the UFC as a late injury replacement, Kennedy doesn’t strike fear into his opposition with a single skill set, and is your typical journeyman who is good at everything without being great at any one thing. Lacking much in terms of power, Kennedy’s standup is designed for him to score points on the judge’s scorecard with basic boxing jabs and hooks, though his defense leaves something to be desired. While Kennedy has shown to own effective submission from the top position on the ground, he was able to do so in an Australian scene that lacks much in terms of wrestling. He’ll be hard pressed to get that position against Walsh.
The Expectation: Kennedy was easily controlled by Peter Sobotta in his UFC debut and Walsh is a much more physically imposing beast. Walsh is lacking in finishing ability which will allow Kennedy to hang around, but it seems pretty academic. Walsh via decision
James Moontasri vs. Anton Zafir (Welterweight)
What’s at Stake: Moontasri will be fighting for a job as late notice replacement Zafir looks to make an impact.
The Fighters: Moontasri’s move to welterweight is a bit of a surprise as he wasn’t exactly a large lightweight. Fortunately for him, his style relies less on him having a size advantage over his opponent as he is a very flashy striker with great finishing ability. There is often no rhyme or reason to his spinning arsenal, and he’s just as capable of putting himself in a compromising position as he is of catching his opponent aloof. When he is under control, Moontasri has good movement and footwork defensively to avoid too much punishment. He also possesses a sound and active offensive game in the clinch. Moontasri rarely looks to go to the ground. His wrestling doesn’t extend past staying on his feet, and submission attempts don’t go beyond catching an opponent in a scramble.
Let’s be honest about this, Zafir is only getting the call because there wasn’t enough time to get an adequate replacement to get all of his travel itinerary ready in time to go to Australia. Being an Australian native, Zafir didn’t have to worry about that. The high school teacher is a training partner of the guy he is replacing, (Brendan O’Reilly) while employing a similar grinding style. Not the greatest athlete, Zafir relies heavily on technique and timing to get score his double and single legs, relying on a steady diet of elbows and short punches from half guard or side control to wear down his opponent. While Zafir does have some Muay Thai experience, he is largely awkward on the feet, using his striking to set up the takedowns.
The Expectation: This was much more competitive when O’Reilly was still in the fight. Moontasri struggled with larger opponents and better athletes in his UFC losses and Zafir is neither of those. Should be an easy win for Moontasri. Moontasri via KO in the first round
Ben Nguyen vs. Ryan Benoit (Flyweight)
What’s at Stake: These youngsters will be jockeying for the opportunity to face a ranked opponent in what should be a fun opener to the card.
The Fighters: Nguyen is best known for his viral video fame in which his opposition attempted to bully him at the weigh-ins only for Nguyen to destroy him in less than a minute. Nguyen really found his stride once he moved to Australia, where many figured it was due to him facing lesser competition. His UFC debut against Alp Ozkilic shot down the idea, as Nguyen showed that he is a legitimate threat on his feet with power to compliment his constant forward movement. Nguyen isn’t a dynamo on defense, but he does just enough to avoid being hit cleanly in most exchanges and allows his abundant toughness to make up for the rest. Preferring to keep things standing, Nguyen has sound takedown defense, but offers little on the ground besides the ability to get back to his feet.
Despite coming off of a win over Sergio Pettis, Benoit was getting pieced up in that fight before cracking the younger Pettis with his explosive left hook that resulted in an upset for Benoit. In other words, Benoit needs to improve his defense if he wants any sustained success as he is content to eat a few shots to deliver one. His chin is solid enough that he can withstand a beating, but he isn’t landing a lot of volume compared to most of his opponents. With his extensive Muay Thai background, he is much more comfortable in close quarters than at a distance. Though he is dangerous in scrambles, Benoit largely tries to avoid the ground as he prefers strking, though he is capable of snatching the occasional well-timed takedown and is a sound grappler despite the occasional mental gaffe.
The Expectation: This is probably the most entertaining fight on the undercard and a tough one to pick as well. Benoit is more naturally talented, but I don’t like his fight IQ very much. Even with that said, I feel as though he could be turning a corner while Nguyen has proven vulnerable to hard hitters in the past. Benoit via TKO of the third round