On a weekend in which modern abominations such as Ken Shamrock-Royce Gracie III and Kimbo Slice-Dada 5000 are taking place, it’s easy to forget that this UFC Fight Night 83 event is taking place. Fortunately, with this event taking place on Sunday, MMA fans aren’t being forced to choose which MMA incarnation to watch.
It’s true that this is one of the more underwhelming cards that the UFC has put on in quite a while, but injuries, illness, and circumstance has forced a high turnover rate to greatly damage the quality of the event, with both the main card and the prelims taking about the same amount of damage. It’s hard to pick out a match that would steal the show on the preliminaries, but there are a number of talented prospects such as Oluwale Bamgbose, Jonavin Webb, and Ashlee Evans-Smith. However, all of them are coming off losses in their UFC debuts and very well could use a win to stick around. Here’s the rest in greater detail.
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Alex Garcia vs. Sean Strickland (Welterweight)
While both fighters are capable of putting on a slobber knocker of a fight, they’re also just as capable of putting on a snoozer. Obviously we’re all hoping for the former, but I’d keep my hopes checked. The winner could get a big jump up in competition if they can win impressively.
Garcia is a very compact (5’9″) and powerful competitor who has the talent and training camp (Tristar) to make a serious run up the division. Having fought only once in the last 18 months thanks to the UFC’s bloated roster, he has been flying under the radar for even hardcore fans as someone to keep an eye on. Though he took a dominant decision over Mike Swick in his last appearance, Swick was well past his prime, which is why the fans haven’t taken notice.
Garcia still hasn’t fully figured out how to get around his lack of reach on the high level, as he usually takes just as much as he gives. What has allowed him to find success is his powerful takedowns, using his natural low center of gravity to get underneath his opponent’s hips and drive them to the ground. He hasn’t shown much in terms of grappling once he reached the UFC, but his heavy base from the top and powerful ground strikes have rendered that a moot point thus far.
Strickland will serve as a difficult stylistic match for the Dominican native as he is on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of height and reach at 6’1″ with a 76″ reach. Then again, maybe not. Neil Magny did piece up Garcia on the feet, but Magny is freakishly long and Strickland isn’t the rangy style fighter Magny is. He has been showing an improved jab after dropping down to 170 lbs, realizing he needed to develop one to effectively utilize his newfound size advantage. He has become a bit too reliant on the jab recently, not sitting down on his punches baking him a minimal threat in terms of power. If he sits down on his punches, he does have KO power.
Strickland’s takedown defense has been solid thus far in the UFC, though his success come with a sizeable asterisk as he hasn’t faced a single wrestler thus far. As often as Garcia looks to go to the ground, it will be pivotal that Strickland maintain the success he’s had so far, but that isn’t going to be easy. He’ll probably go for a few attempts himself – and will probably find some success too as he does have a quick shot – but is better working his takedowns from the clinch.
This is anything but an easy fight to predict. I’d give Strickland the advantage in the striking department due to his range, but I’ve got to give Garcia the grappling advantage as his wrestling has been a huge factor in his last three fights. Garcia’s power will force Strickland to show him enough respect on the feet which will lead to takedowns for the Tristar representative to give him the edge in the eyes of the judges. Garcia via decision
Daniel Sarafian vs. Oluwale Bamgbose (Middleweight)
Most middleweight fights in the UFC have a distinct flavor of mediocrity attached to them as such a large portion of the roster can just as easily win or lose against one another. This fight doesn’t quite have that feel as both feel a step below the mediocre line. Sarafian’s two UFC victories came against fighters who clearly didn’t belog in the UFC while Bamgbose is so raw that it is hard to tell if that designation applies to him.
Sarafian has to be a favorite of the brass as he opened his UFC career 1-3, including one of the most non-competitive performances in recent memory in his loss to Kiichi Kunimoto. He has since rebounded against late injury replacement Antonio dos Santos to get back on the winning track, but that was over a year ago as he has been unable to stay healthy. At 33, it’s clear he is nothing more than a low-tier action fighter limited by a lack of height at 5’9″, but his punching power makes him a threat to steal any fight that degenerates into a brawl.
That isn’t to say that a brawl is the only way Sarafian can win. The issue has been instituting the rest of his game with success at the UFC level. He used to use his wrestling quite a bit on the regional circuit; his low center of gravity allows him to get underneath his opponent’s hips easier than most and drive them to the canvas. From there he is an underrated BJJ practitioner whose arm triangle submission of Eddie Mendez was a thing of beauty. The problem is that his takedown of Mendez was the lone takedown he has completed in five UFC fights, as he continues to struggle with his lack of range.
That alone gives Bamgbose a chance as his 78″ reach is exactly the type of thing that Sarafian has issues with. If Bamgbose wasn’t so inexperienced, I’d be picking him without hesitation as his physical skills are off the charts. Quickness, power, athleticism… everything you look for in a blueprint for an exceptional prospect. His inexperience hasn’t allowed him to build up a reasonable gas tank as all of his fights have ended in the first round and he his technique still needs a lot of polish.
Largely a one-off striker at this point, Bamgbose throws without much rhyme or reason at this point, and can get quite sloppy. His accuracy should improve as he gains experience and has a horrible habit of throwing himself off-balance in his attempts, making it easy for a counter striker to not only catch him, but knock him on his butt too. Worse than that is he shows very little with his grappling with little offense from the top position and even less off of his back offensively or defensively. Keep in mind though that he has been a pro for less than three years and the early stages of development are where the largest leaps of improvement take place.
I wouldn’t ever put any money on this fight as there are too many unknown variables. So whatever prediction here needs to be made with a grain of salt. Sarafian is the safe pick, but I’m gonna go with Bamgbose and gamble that he has made enough improvements to lay waste to the Brazilian. Even if he hasn’t, his reach alone should give Sarafian problems. Bamgbose via TKO in the first round
Anthony Smith vs. Leonardo Leleco (Middleweight)
Seeing as how most veteran prospects from Brazil are wild cards, this fight is largely about finding out if Leleco can be a UFC mainstay, or if his stay in the UFC will simply be a cameo. Smith isn’t the ideal choice for that, but what do you expect when he is tabbed to replace original opponent Trevor Smith with about a week before the fight?
To be fair, Smith (Anthony, not Trevor who will not be mentioned again) has been on a hell of a roll, winning seven straight with UFC vets Josh Neer and Brock Jardine among his victims. What is making it so much more impressive is that Smith has finished six of those fights, with the last three all coming in the first round. Then again, all but two of his fights have ended before the 15 minute time limit, as Smith is pretty much an action fighter defined.
As for his opponent, Leleco himself is an interesting study. Owning an 11-1 record with all but two of the wins coming by way of finish, it is hard to pinpoint his best skill. The easy choice is to point to his six submission wins and say he is a grappler, but the footage on him doesn’t necessarily agree with that assessment. He just finds a way to win. What will be interesting to watch is how he handles the weight cut as he has never fought at 185 lbs. before and has had a history of tiring quickly. He does a better job of fighting through the fatigue and remaining active better than most, but it can’t be discounted.
Smith has no issues identifying what he does best: attacking with elbows and punches. He has slowed his attack a bit as he looks for openings as opposed to rushing into danger, keeping his distance with the use of front kicks from his 6’4″ frame. Close quarters is where he does the most damage as his Muay Thai shines from there whether he has the Thai clinch or not. His Achilles heel has been his lack of wrestling. His defense has improved in that regard, but he is still pretty much no threat at all to go for the takedown himself.
What seems to prevent Leleco from developing a true identifiable style is his complete lack of wrestling which could very well lead to his downfall. He attempts double-leg attempts to get the fight to the ground, but does so without explosion or solid technique. Otherwise his sound grappling skills might actually take hold. On the feet, I’m not sure if I’ve seen anyone throw a greater percentage of their punches to the body as opposed to the head complimented by some hard knees from the clinch. Leleco needs a lot of work defensively too as he keeps his hands fairly low and backs up in a straight line to avoid punches.
Not knowing how Leleco’s cut to middleweight will go raises a big unknown in this fight. His lack of wrestling scares me against Smith, not to mention the fact that Smith has improved his distance striking as well since his first UFC fight. Stylistically this seems to be a bad matchup for the Brazilian. Smith via TKO in the first round
Jonavin Webb vs. Nathan Coy (Welterweight)
While it is more than plausible that the loser will receive his walking papers, this fight takes on a unique angle: Webb is seen as a prospect with some serious potential to develop into a long term mainstay, while Coy is a longtime veteran of the regional scene looking to earn that elusive UFC victory in what is likely the twilight of his career.
Most would agree that Webb got the short end of the stick in his UFC debut loss to Kyle Noke, as 9 of the 11 media representatives on MMA Decisions thought Webb had taken the decision, only for the judges to go the other way. Using his superior speed and athleticism throughout the fight, Webb used his wrestling and grappling background to get the bigger Aussie to the ground and keep him there for extended periods of time. He doesn’t have a lot of power in his shots, but usually times them well enough to finish the job.
What is keeping Webb from being an elite prospect is his shortcomings in the striking department. At this point, his punches are largely designed to help set up his shots as he often comes in at low angles to land them and confuse his opponents about what is really coming at them. Lacking much power in his punches, Webb’s best chance at hurting his opposition comes from his kicks. He has been making progress and landed several nice punches on Noke to prove it. It will be interesting to see where he is at in his development against Coy.
At 37, it’s hard to see Coy making any large strides in his development as a fighter. Similar to Webb in the sense that he is a wrestler first, Coy uses a grittier brand of wrestling, using his strength as opposed the speed of Webb to get the fight to the mat. Because of that strength, he is also very comfortable in an ugly fight with lots of clinch and cage work and would rather look to pound out his opponent on the ground rather than look for a submission.
While it is true that Coy does have some standup abilities, he also has a bit of a prideful streak in the sense that he has been too willing to stand and trade at times with opponents known as superior strikers simply to prove he can throw leather himself. It has gotten him in trouble as he lacks little outside of a pretty basic boxing base with the occasional leg kick. While Webb won’t cause too many problems in that sense, it opens the door to question whether he’ll try to outgrapple Webb to prove that he can. The fact that he is coming off a triangle submission loss to boxer Danny Roberts is probably not helping his psyche either.
This feels pretty clear to me. Coy is trending on the downside of his career while Webb is going in the opposite direction. I won’t be surprised to see Coy catch Webb with a bomb to pick up a win, but any other method of victory will catch me off guard as Webb has far more tools at his disposal and is still developing more. Webb via submission in the second round
Marion Reneau vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith (Women’s Bantamweight)
Once upon a time, both of these women were the hot topics in women’s MMA; Reneau for her unexpected and sudden success upon her UFC entry at the age of 37, and Evans-Smith for beating transgender fighter Fallon Fox. Now that their 15 minutes of fame have passed, they need to prove that they deserve to keep their roster spots win or lose with an impressive performance.
Well… maybe I’m taking that last statement a bit too far with Reneau. After winning her first two UFC fights, Reneau is now coming off of a decision loss to Holly Holm before the now-current champion beat the living hell out of the formerly invincible Ronda Rousey. It wasn’t a competitive fight, but Reneau hung tough in there and didn’t embarrass herself. Now 38, Reneau is going to be facing questions about her age for the rest of her career which has overshadowed the fact that she is a hell of an athlete and maintains the conditioning needed to stay at the elite level.
Evans-Smith faced less questions upon her UFC debut, but her subsequent loss to Raquel Pennington and suspension for diuretic use in the aforementioned bout have clouded her future. What many people seemed to miss was that was just her fourth professional fight and she took that fight on late notice. Being a big girl at 135 lbs and taking the fight when she did, the diuretic shouldn’t be seen as much of a surprise either. People are discounting Evans-Smith too early at this point.
If she wants to have any success against Reneau, she’ll need to impose her size and strength. With an All-American wrestling background, Evans-Smith may be inexperienced in MMA, but not in combat sports. Aside from getting the fight to the ground, she can pound out her opponent from her strong top base and is an awesome infighter with uppercuts and knees wearing down her opponent. Out in space… that is a different story.
Reneau, on the other hand, has shown good skills in space, mixing in her combination boxing with kicks and occasional power. Throwing at a high volume, Reneau eats a fair amount of damage herself. Fortunately she has also proven to be very opportunistic and will capitalize on any slippage an opponent reveals. If Evans-Smith can get Reneau to her back (and she probably will), she’ll have to deal with Reneau’s real strength which is her BJJ. The problem for her there is that Reneau’s lack of wrestling has prevented her from utilizing her strength outside of when her opponent takes the fight there.
How much has Evans-Smith improved in her year plus absence? Has age started to catch up to Reneau? Since we won’t know the answers to those questions until the fight actually takes place, this is yet another fight that is difficult to predict. The status quo before having those questions answered makes Reneau the easy pick, but I have a hard time believing Evans-Smith hasn’t closed the distance considerably even if Reneau hasn’t slipped. Still, I’m going to go the safe route. Reneau via decision
Lauren Murphy vs. Kelly Faszholz (Women’s Bantamweight)
An argument could be made that Murphy is the best fighter on the entire roster without a UFC victory. That compliment obviously has a huge asterisk attached to it, but she seems like a shoe-in to change that against a short-notice opponent in Faszholz.
Murphy does have a solid case that she won both if not one of her two previous UFC appearances, but hasn’t been able to curry the judges favor. It isn’t for lack of effort as she consistently tries to stay busy. Part of the issue is that her style isn’t aesthetically pleasing as she is at her best in a dirty, grinding fight where she can drag her opponent to the ground and unleash a torrent of ground strikes. She hasn’t been able to get that position very often thus far in the UFC as Liz Carmouche and Sara McMann are two of the better wrestlers in the division. Faszholz represents a much favorable matchup.
Even though I don’t necessarily believe that Faszholz is UFC caliber, it is only because she is getting her UFC opportunity before she has been properly seasoned as she has only three professional bouts under her belt. The talent is there and she is surprisingly patient for someone with so little experience. But her opponents have a combined record of 4-8 which also indicates a lack of experience for her opponents… something Murphy has in abundance.
Faszholz has been trained well, working with Cesar Gracie and the gang, and has been able to show off her submission skills by catching each of her opponents in a fight ending choke. She still has a ways to go in terms of her wrestling, but she is capable of operating in space as well in close distance from the clinch. She doesn’t have a lot of power in her punches, but it is reasonable to expect her to develop power as she continues to develop.
What Faszholz will look to do is keep the fight at a distance as Murphy, though willing to fight from range, isn’t the most fluid striker when given space. Faszholz has the better footwork and accuracy while Murphy is one of the more underrated athletes in the division, though a lot of that is due to her grittier style. Though Faszholz has fought larger opponents, none of them have been as strong as Murphy, further motivation to stay out of Murphy’s grasp.
I really wish the women’s larger divisions weren’t so shallow, as Faszholz certainly has the talent to become a mainstay, I just fear she is getting her call-up too soon. If nothing else, I’ll be happy to see Murphy get her overdue first UFC victory. The question is whether or not she’ll be able to finish off the newcomer or if it goes the distance. Murphy via TKO in the third round
Anthony Hamilton vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov (Heavyweight)
It’s hard to put a positive spin on this fight. Hamilton’s UFC victories have come against less-than-stellar competition and Abdurakhimov disappointed greatly in his UFC debut. But what else is the UFC to do if it wants to find some new talent? Try and try again….
To be fair, Hamilton has shown good ground strikes when he gets the fight to the canvas along with improved top control. Unfortunately he has struggled to stop fights from that position as he just doesn’t have the type of power you would expect from a man as big as he is. He’s had good success in getting his opposition to the ground to, usually doing so out of the clinch after working over his opponent with some dirty boxing and knees to the gut. Hamilton has also shown better cardio than you’d expect when first viewing his frame.
The issue for Hamilton thus far has been his performance in space, as he was KO’d quickly against Todd Duffee and was briefly stunned by Oleksiy Oliynyk, which led to Oliynyk’s takedown and submission. Hamilton’s offense isn’t horrible from there, as he showed the ability to mix up his strikes with kicks and punches to keep the opposition guessing on the regional circuit. His underrated athleticism really comes out at that time. Now if only he can use it to keep from getting hit…
Abdurakhimov was a hot prospect many moons ago only to be stifled by unheralded Timothy Johnson in his UFC debut, struggling with the sheer girth of his opponent who didn’t give the Russia native an opportunity to show off his athletic abilities for very long as Abdurakhimov was easily outstriking Johnson with a good jab. His biggest problem on the feet has been a lack of volume though as he looks to time the KO shot. If he can up his volume and given Hamilton’s struggles in space, Abdurakhimov could pull off the upset.
The problem was that once Johnson landed the takedown, it changed the whole complexion of the fight as Abdurakhimov allowed Johnson easily attain mount and rain down punches from there. Hamilton has a similar frame to Johnson and may look to do the same thing. Generally Abdurakhimov has shown good balance and takedown defense while knowing how to keep opponents at range. If the fight does go to the ground, his grappling is merely adequate with few finishing skills outside of ground strikes.
Given Abdurakhimov’s disappointing debut, I expected the odds to favor Hamilton, but that isn’t the case and I have to agree with the odds makers this time around (though the odds are close). I almost always pick some sort of finish to come out of a heavyweight contest as the power the big men possess always make it a strong likelihood, but my gut is telling me otherwise this time in what we can only hope is an entertaining bout. Abdurakhimov via decision
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