What am I supposed to say about these prelims for UFC Fight Night 79? There are guys that could headline cards… if this were a Titan FC or Legacy FC event. There isn’t much to offer in terms of name recognition or guys that will be developing into a mainstay. The one fight that did offer intrigue (Sam Sicilia vs. Doo Ho Choi) was promoted to the main card after the injury to Hyun Gyu Lim prompted the move. Now we’re left with a lot of guys near the bottom of the barrel in each of their divisions. I guess they gotta fight at some point, and for those of you crazy enough to be up in the wee hours of the morning to watch them, I did the dirty work to let you know the necessities.
Dongi Yang vs. Jake Collier (Middleweight)
What’s at Stake: Yang makes his UFC return after being away for over three years as Collier looks to build on his momentum from his first UFC victory.
The Fighters: While Yang was never a blue chip prospect, his size, strength, and Korean heritage made him worth looking into as the UFC looked to expand their reach. Those are the same reasons he is being brought back… though it is mostly his heritage this time. At his best when he uses his judo background to trip his opposition down and utilize his heavy top control, either throwing heavy elbows and punches or searching for a triangle choke or kimura. Far too often he has been content to stand and trade in a brawling nature. Sure, his durability has allowed him to reach the bell in every one of his losses, and his power has shown itself in those exchanges, but his footwork and head movement have made him an easier target than most.
Despite having youth and underrated athleticism on his size, Collier has a limited ceiling in the UFC. Nevertheless, this is a very winnable fight for him as Collier is reasonably well-rounded, using his talents to fight against the strengths of his opponents. What exactly that strategy will against Yang will be interesting. Though not a powerful wrestler thanks to his relatively small stature at 185 lbs, Collier has been able to compensate with technique and a high activity level as he is a versed submission artist even if he isn’t high-level. On the feet, he is a fairly standard kickboxer who mixes punches and kicks to the head and body with good efficiency as he steadily improves the use of his reach. He doesn’t possess the same power Yang does, but his volume and slightly better defense could win him the standup.
The Expectation: This isn’t an easy one to pick as it is a very closely matched fight. The intangibles of fighting in front of his home fans in his UFC return in addition to not having to deal with the long overseas flight Collier has to deal with push me to favor Yang. Yang via TKO in the second round
Yui Chul Nam vs. Mike de la Torre (Featherweight)
What’s at Stake: A pair of your run-of-the-mill UFC featherweights face off looking to avoid a potentially fatal (employment-wise anyway) loss.
The Fighters: Nam lives up to his Korean Bulldozer nickname exceptionally well as he does just that: bull into his opponent looking to physically overwhelm them. There is little if any technique in his punches as he wings both arms with ill-intent. He is most effective when he can clinch up with his opponent with one hand while wailing on them with the other. In other words, the only thing Nam really has going for him is his power and tenacity in the striking department. He tends to gas himself out quickly if unable to finish off his opposition, which in turn makes him easier to take down, as he never has the best takedown defense to begin with. A larger 145 pounder, Nam rarely bothers to look for a submission preferring to use his fists on the ground while being merely adept enough in his defensive grappling to survive.
De la Torre is coming off a quick loss to Maximo Blanco in which the referee jumped in to stop the action faster than he should have. De la Torre was rocked, but not out. Now he has his back against the wall; such is life in the UFC. De la Torre is limited athletically, and has a history of getting subbed, but he has shown steady improvement in his time in the UFC, and likely won’t have to worry about Nam looking for a submission. He will need to worry about the clinch with Nam, but that is where de la Torre has shown the most strides with the ability to generate power in short distances along with his high level of activity. De la Torre’s ground game is active, as he is aggressive in looking for submissions himself (perhaps where some of his earlier problems stem from), but struggles to stuff takedowns consistently.
The Expectation: Another close contest. Nam will probably come out of the gate firing on all cylinders looking to take de la Torre out. If he can survive, I expect de la Torre to take control after the first round. So do I think Nam gets the finish? I’ll say no. De la Torre via decision
Tae Hyun Bang vs. Leo Kuntz (Lightweight)
What’s at Stake: This is a fat trimming fight all the way, as the loser of these action fighters is guaranteed to be released.
The Fighters: There is very little that needs to be said about Bang. It could even be said that his name says it all. Standing and trading is what Bang’s game is all about, and his fists land with authority. Occasionally he’ll throw a jab out there to get a feel for the distance, but usually it’s a haymaker that he is throwing out, though not without skill, as he does have a boxing background and usually throws in some sort of combination. Bang showed sound takedown defense before entering the UFC, but has struggled with the higher caliber athletes and grapplers who have been able to take him down with relative ease. He occasionally surprises with the occasional takedown attempt, but he isn’t a threat on the ground besides his GNP.
Kuntz has some length to him and throws a nice jab, but hasn’t learned to use his reach effectively for defensive purposes. Then again, that’s because he doesn’t put much of an emphasis on defense in the first place as his chin has thus far held up over the course of his career (just like Bang). In addition to his jab, he likes to throw side, front, and leg kicks from the outside. Kuntz was able to find some limited grappling success on the regional circuit, but lacks the technical wrestling or jiu-jitsu skills to be a threat there in the UFC barring some significant improvements in either department as his UFC debut against Islam Makhachev, as Makhachev easily had his way with him. Being scrappy only gets so far in the UFC… though it could get him a victory against the lower levels of the division.
The Expectation: Once again, a fight that is hard to pick. Kuntz does have surprising power, but I question whether or not he has enough to put iron-chinned Bang out. I think Kuntz can outland Bang over 15 minutes, but I’m going to say Bang puts him out before then. Bang via KO in the second round
Seohee Ham vs. Cortney Casey (Women’s Strawweight)
What’s at Stake: Why not match up the two women Joanne Calderwood has beaten in the UFC? Neither care for defense, so this should be fun (Said someone in the UFC offices)!
The Fighters: For Ham, it is less about defensive technique (though it is more a mental note than a priority) and more about a great deal of difficulty of getting inside her opponents range without getting hit herself. A natural atomweight, she is only 5’2″ with a 62″ reach, making her one of the smallest fighters on the roster if not the smallest. If she can find her range, Ham has a wide striking arsenal with nice pop in those strikes, even if it hasn’t produced any KO finishes. Look for her to find more success finding her range against a less technical striker in Casey. Even though she has sound takedown defense, Ham can be overwhelmed at times due to her size. She isn’t a great grappler either, but can still snag a submission in scrambles if the opportunity presents itself.
Casey made a hell of an impression in her short-notice debut this past summer, as she blitzkrieged Calderwood and nearly finished her in the first round before running out of gas. Even as her stamina failed her, she exhibited plenty of fight, giving plenty of reason to believe she could develop into a roster mainstay as an action fighter. Though her brawling nature falls right into Ham’s style, Casey exhibits a good chin and a lot of power. Problem is she won’t advance far until she can develop some disciplined offense on the outside. While Casey hasn’t shown much wrestling ability (Calderwood didn’t have any problems grounding her), she is active off of her back with submissions, often going for ill-advised attempts which put her in a bad position when not already on her back.
The Expectation: I really expect this to be the front-runner for FOTN. Both are tenacious brawlers at heart and will lay it on the line knowing that they could very well be cut if they don’t pull out a win. I think Sanchez’s size will be the difference in this one. Casey via decision
Yao Zhikui vs. Fredy Serrano (Flyweight)
What’s at Stake: With the UFC trimming fat as of late, look for these two to be fighting for a job, as the only reason they are on the roster is their TUF ties and nationality.
The Fighters: Zhikui should be on the outside looking in; his victory over Nolan Ticman in May was highway robbery, perhaps the worst decision of the year. Because no one has heard of Zhikui or Ticman, no one cares. That isn’t to say that Zhikui doesn’t have any physical tools to work with, but he is extremely raw, perhaps the most raw fighter on the entire roster. One of those raw skills is his punching power as he has the ability to put down most opponents, but he swings wildly, taking horrible angles towards his opponent often missing by a mile. Think of Ronda Rousey’s performance against Holly Holm but with even less skill. He does have some wrestling ability, but not enough to grind out his opponents.
Serrano is the ideal prospect for the UFC; he is an explosive athlete, has an Olympic wrestling pedigree, and some pop in his punches. The one catch though is that he is already 36 as he enters his third professional fight. Well, that isn’t the only catch. While his wrestling is high level in terms of pure wrestling, he has struggled to implement it successfully into MMA, as he telegraphs his takedowns. If he can figure out how to phase shift, he’ll stick around for a while. As for his striking, he likes to throw a lot of flashy spinning kicks, but doesn’t often land them. Aside from that, he had made strides in his boxing since his time on TUF and has one-punch power, but he still has a ways to go to be considered even average.
The Expectation: Neither of these guys are really UFC caliber fighters and it is doubtful they ever will be. I’ll give the edge to Serrano though as he is the more explosive athlete in addition to being a better wrestler. Serrano via decision
Ning Guangyou vs. Marco Beltran (Bantamweight)
What’s at Stake: Two more TUF talents who remain on the roster due to their nationality. And yes, they could fighting for a job as well.
The Fighters: With the UFC no longer pushing to get a foothold into China, Guangyou doesn’t have the job security he once possessed, as evidenced by the release earlier this year of the other TUF China winner Zhang Lipeng. He does have two UFC wins in two tries, but neither opponent was exactly UFC caliber. Owning a background in wrestling, Guangyou made his way using that background to obtain top position and use GNP to smash out his opponent, thus picking up the nickname the “Smasher.” Since winning the tournament he has developed a lot more confidence in his standup abilities thanks to his time at Tiger Muay Thai. He still has a ways to go and can be reckless, but Guangyou has some power in his fists and mixes in good leg and body kicks.
Beltran started his career as a boxer and possesses some sound combination punching as a result. The problem is that is pretty much where his strengths stop. He doesn’t have a lot of power, is a weak wrestler, and is merely adequate in his submission skills. Then again, it has been over a year since he last fought, is young in his MMA career, and aside from his time on TUF Latin America, has gotten top notch coaching for the first time in his career. Beltran’s scrappiness allowed him to pick up a victory in his UFC debut, but it will only carry him so far in the UFC. A lack of controlled aggression has had a Jekyll and Hyde effect on him as it has won him fights and cost him others, though he has toned that down while showing a better fight IQ.
The Expectation: This is either going to be a fun fight or a boring grindfest. Either way, I expect it to be sloppy as both are unrefined. Beltran lost to a wrestler in the TUF tournament, and I expect Guangyou to use that to his advantage to pick up a win. Guangyou via TKO in the third round
Dominique Steele vs. Dong Hyun Kim (Welterweight)
What’s at Stake: Introducing Dong Hyun Kim lite… not the same one fighting on the main card. He steps up on short notice against former short-notice fighter Steele.
The Fighters: Steele is going to have a huge size advantage here, as he is a natural welterweight going against a natural lightweight. It will be hard for him to utilize it as much, as he is a willing wrestler… he just isn’t that good at it; he can’t keep an opponent on the ground if he gets it there as he lacks much in terms of grappling. Steele is at his best when he can get down and dirty either trading shots in the pocket or grinding things out against the cage where he can best utilize his ample physical strength. Part of the reason he is successful there is his usually solid chin, but the reason we know it is solid is that he takes a lot of shots as a focus on defense is missing. Steele is also prone to bouts of inactivity and it doesn’t seem to be because of fatigue… at least not always.
Perhaps this Kim should simply be known as “The Maestro,” as “Stun Gun” is also from Korea, as well as the same gym. This could be a tough fight for Kim; he usually possesses the size advantage at 155 lbs, but will almost certainly be at the strength disadvantage this time around. Even if he does decide to stand and trade with the larger Steele, Kim will have a massive speed advantage, and should be able to dodge a good amount of Steele’s shots… if he remembers to get out of the way of them, something he doesn’t always do. Offering a number of ways to get the fight to the ground as he utilizes judo trips and body lock takedowns, Kim has developed a steady top control game with heavy punches that have ended a number of fights.
The Expectation: Though both were in the right place at the right time to get onto the UFC roster, Kim actually seems to have the skills to hang around long term. This will be a good test for him as Steele is much larger, but his edge in athleticism should prove to be the deciding factor. Kim via decision