There isn’t anything on this UFC Fight Night 84 card beyond the main event that will excite the casual fan, even with a quality co-main featuring Gegard Mousasi and Thales Leites. But we all know the truth of the matter: people will be watching for Anderson Silva and Michael Bisping. So there is a very good chance that the preliminaries will be completely ignored.
If you’re one of those who likes keeping an eye out for the rising stars of the future, you might want to check out the prelims. Though it is unlikely that any of them challenge for a title someday, there are still quite a few that I have high hopes for. The UFC seems to love Makwan Amirkhani. Scott Askham could become an action-fighting staple. Arnold Allen probably has the highest ceiling of anyone on the preliminaries. And then there are wild cards like Teemu Packalen and David Teymur whose ceiling is undefined at this point.
Mike Wilkinson vs. Makwan Amirkhani (Featherweight)
Amirkhani has turned into a golden boy of sorts for the UFC with his model good looks, charisma, and aggressive (i.e. entertaining) style. Rather than throw him into the deep end (as they often do with their prospects), the UFC continues to take its time with his development as Wilkinson represents the perfect next step.
For his part, Wilkinson has been in this role before where he is expected to be fodder for an up-and-comer only for him to put the brakes on the Niklas Backstrom bandwagon. What has kept Wilkinson from advancing his career has been an inability to stay healthy as he has fought only once since June 2013. He lacks the standout skills necessary to become a serious player, but he is well-rounded enough that he can pull of the upset if his opponent doesn’t take him serious… as has already been proven.
Amirkhani on the other hand does possess the physical skills to become a serious player, but he needs a lot more refinement before he can start fighting at the top of the division. A plus athlete with a sound wrestling base, Amirkhani has been receiving training at a number of the best camps in Europe. Despite that, I’m not as high on him as others are after his two UFC fights have gone a combined 109 seconds as his matchups were incredibly favorable and he seems more occupied with selling himself than turning into a proven product.
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been putting in good work. His big and strong physique at 145 plays in perfectly to his wrestling as he can get his opposition to the ground using less-than-perfect technique. He has a tendency to go for the submission before obtaining the proper positioning to lose his advantage and his striking is a mystery as we’ve seen very little of it. Amirkhani has shown that he isn’t afraid to take risks, so don’t be surprised to see spinning back-fists or kicks that would go in tune with the flying knee he showed against Andy Ogle.
While Wilkinson isn’t a terrible wrestler, he’ll certainly look to avoid going to the ground with Mr. Finland as Wilkinson’s basic boxing attack is way ahead of Amirkhani’s clunky hooks… provided Amirkhani hasn’t progressed much in the last year. Wilkinson is capable of pressing the fight or countering, though it is clear he would much rather be the aggressor. He mixes in leg kicks for good measure with a cross and his powerful overhand right being his best punches.
I know I said I’m not as crazy about Amirkhani as others are, but I still favor him pretty heavily here. The UFC has been very careful to feed him limited athletes and Wilkinson fits that bill pretty solidly despite easily being the best opponent Amirkhani has faced thus far. Wilkinson will have his moments, but Amirkhani should get the finish before 15 minutes is up. Amirkhani via submission in the second round
Davey Grant vs. Marlon Vera (Bantamweight)
Wait… Grant is still on the roster? It’s easy to forget the UFC hasn’t cut him loose when we last saw him back in November of 2013 while Vera appears to be one of the few TUF Latin America products who could develop into a promotional mainstay.
It’s hard to say what Grant is capable of bringing to the table at this point as he has spent what should have been the prime years of his career on the shelf. Before the injuries he looked like he could hang around for a while as a low-tier gatekeeper of sorts, not a position to be ripping on. His lack of athleticism will keep him from climbing higher than that in a division chuck full of them, but he compensates with his massive frame and strength which he is able to utilize effectively despite an adequate wrestling game at best.
A plodding figure at 135, Grant is vulnerable to quick-twitch athletes whether it is a well-timed shot or a sudden strike. Despite that, he is far from helpless on the feet as he has some good power in his fists, hard legs kicks, and doesn’t need a lot of leverage to scoop up his opponent to plant them on their back. He’s picked up seven of his eight wins by submission (as well as his two TUF house wins) as he has above average submission skills. He is comfortable off of his back too, but also has a tendency to get himself into bad situations.
Vera on the other hand is blessed with great athletic skills as he is exactly the type of quick-twitch athlete that usually gives Grant fits. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he is going to be a bad matchup for Grant. His wrestling has been sound thus far in his UFC stint, but no one looks at Roman Salazar or Marco Beltran and think that they are serious takedown threats. Grant will easily be the biggest and strongest opponent he has faced and Vera’s tendency to hang out with his opponent in his guard could prove to be problematic against Grant.
Vera will look to pressure Grant with his kick-heavy offensive approach that highlights his long frame very well. His opponents often look to close the distance to prevent him from getting off with those kicks where Vera counters with a dangerous Thai clinch emphasized with knees to the head. He has some good trips, but little offensive wrestling, picking up most of his submissions off of his back or in the midst of a scramble. At 23, Vera still has plenty of time to realize his physical potential.
This is a hard fight to predict. Grant could very well impose his will on a physically weaker Vera, but then Vera could very well hit a home run KO to the dome of Grant as Vera’s athletic advantage is so pronounced. I’ll let the intangibles make my choice for me as Grant won’t have to deal with traveling across the ocean and will be motivated to put on a good performance in front of the home crowd. Grant via decision
Scott Askham vs. Chris Dempsey (Middleweight)
This is a hard fight to hype without being brutally honest about how one-sided this appears to be. While both have matching 1-2 UFC records, Askham has the look of a dude the UFC hopes to develop while Dempsey has been hanging around due to his willingness to take short notice fights at a weight class above his natural 185.
Askham did enter the UFC with a bit of hype as he possesses an exciting brawling type style that often results in a delightfully violent ending, but hasn’t been able to exhibit it consistently as his two losses have come against some of the preeminent grinders of the division. It isn’t that he isn’t capable of grinding himself as he knows very well how to use his 6’3″ frame to bully his opponent, but Askham likes to throw whether it be kicks in space of knees in the clinch.
Dempsey will try to prevent that as he will need to attempt to do the same thing Magnus Cedenblad and Krzysztof Jotko did to hang losses on Askham: make the fight ugly. Dempsey is among the most unathletic dudes on the UFC roster, but makes up for that with a great gas tank, aggression, and by being one of the strongest 185ers on the roster. Dempsey will look to get the takedown where he can rain down punches. The problem for him is that he telegraphs his takedown attempts as he possesses little explosion.
So what does Dempsey have to offer if he can’t get the takedown. Not much. Despite his bulky frame, he hasn’t proven to be much of a power threat on the feet with half of his regional wins coming by decision. That doesn’t bode well on the higher levels if he can’t put away the majority of his lower level opponents. Dempsey is willing to throw and has the boxing basics down, but similar to the problems it causes with his takedowns, his lack of athleticism has made him an easy target to hit for superior athletes.
Askham isn’t a fantastic athlete, but he does have the advantage here by a good margin. He’ll need to use that to keep the fight where he wants it on the feet: anywhere but the pocket. While Askham is still developing his hands, he shouldn’t have too big of an issue dictating where the fight takes place. Even if he struggles with that, he showed improved submission skills off his back in his last performance meaning Dempsey will have his work cut out for him even if he gets the fight where he wants.
So rather than asking if Askham wins, my question is whether he’ll get the decision or the finish. He rarely looks for submission and Dempsey hasn’t been able to avoid kill shots very well, so I expect Askham to give the hometown crowd what they want to see. Askham via KO in the second round
Arnold Allen vs. Yaotzin Meza (Featherweight)
Another fight that the UFC is trying to give a developing talent an easy win as massive 145er and man-child Allen welcomes Meza to England in what is expected to be a one-sided affair.
Arnold is absolutely massive for the featherweight division… something that I stated was the reverse upon his UFC debut only to find he has continued to fill out his frame. At 21, I have a hard time believing he’ll be able to spend the entirety of his career there as he continues to grow. I feared he would be overwhelmed as he is still relying very much on his physical skills as his striking is very rote. Well… maybe I’m overstating his physical skills as he is a skilled Greco-style wrestler who does a great job of wearing down his opponent against the fence ala Randy Couture.
Allen still has much to learn though as he was clearly losing to Alan Omer before catching Omer in his vice grip of a choke. Being able to cinch it in thanks to his unnatural strength, Allen’s choke repertoire is greater than the average fighter. He still struggles with his takedown defense, but has shown good sweeps and submission defense to keep from being overwhelmed on the ground. His striking defense still leaves a lot to be desired as well.
Fortunately for Allen, Meza doesn’t possess the physical attributes to take advantage of Allen’s weaknesses. A scrappy and slightly undersized featherweight, Meza is a top control grappler who has had limited UFC success due to his struggles to get top control. He’s actually very defensively sound as he does a good job using his length to keep opposition at a distance and limit the amount of damage he takes. The problem is that he is an incredibly limited striker with leg kicks being his most consistently effective weapon… and they aren’t anything to sing about.
If Meza can get the fight to the ground, he is patient from the top with very efficient guard passing skills and underrated submissions. Aside from his leg kicks, he produces his best striking offense from the clinch where he also looks for level changes for his takedowns. He’s likely to struggle with that thanks to Allen’s Greco skills. This will probably be a long night for Meza.
The biggest advantage Meza has on Allen is his fight IQ and he is going to need to rely heavily on that. Everyone knows that in the fight game, the mental side only goes so far and it should only be a matter of time before Allen catches Meza in a precarious position. Allen via submission in the second round
Brad Scott vs. Krzysztof Jotko (Middleweight)
If you’re looking for a bathroom or smoke break, this is the perfect fight to do so. Scott and Jotko are both grinders to the extreme so we can expect a full 15 minutes of clinching, underhooks, and dirty boxing against the fence.
Durability, stamina, and heart are pretty much all that is needed to describe Scott. He has proven to be immensely hittable in space as his lack of athleticism makes it difficult for him to get off-line. Perhaps most damning for him in space has been the lack of damage that his punches produce as he doesn’t have a lot of power behind them in addition to a very basic approach. Due to those limitations, Scott relies on making a fight dirty.
Even then Scott has struggled as he lacks competent wrestling skills to get the fight to the ground where he is very top-heavy with a nice set of submissions in addition to a lot more power in his punches on the ground. Due to his lack of offensive wrestling, most of his fights are spent in the clinch where he does a nice job of mixing dirty boxing with Thai knees. However, he also tends to leave himself open to return shots from the opposition.
Jotko is incredibly similar to Scott in the sense that he is an expert grinder who spends the majority of his fights against the fence. The difference is that Jotko is a bit better at pretty much everything. He shows better footwork in space to avoid taking damage. He’s a bit more diverse in his outside striking. He’s just as dogged in looking for the takedown, but uses better technique and trips to finish the job. He’s a better overall athlete. Hell, he even has an extra inch in reach (76″ for Scott to 77″ for Jotko).
Perhaps I over exaggerated when I said Jotko is better at everything. His submission skills aren’t nearly as deep as Scott’s and he has put himself in some bad situations due to his aggression. Jotko isn’t without grappling skills, but he hasn’t shown them very much in his UFC stint outside of his top control. Other than that though, Jotko has shown improvements in all areas to the point that it isn’t fair to call him one-dimensional anymore.
Jotko is capable of doing more than just grinding which is why I give him the edge in this fight. Even then, I don’t think he is going to abandon his wheelhouse by any means and expect this to be an extremely hard fight to watch. Jotko gets the win the same way he always does: ugly. Jotko via decision
Norman Parke vs. Rustam Khabilov (Lightweight)
I’m still trying to figure out what these guys are doing buried so deep on the preliminaries as they are two of the higher profile names on the card. Then again, they haven’t exactly had a string of success recently…
You’d never guess Parke came from a judo background watching him fight as spends most of his time dancing in and out of the pocket looking to pick apart his opponent. This strategy has been questioned by many, though he did put together one of his better performances in his win over Reza Madadi after a string of flat performances as he did a solid job of mixing in kicks to go with his usual high volume of punches.
Look for Parke to continue to emphasize distance against Khabilov as the Russian is a former sambo champion and has manhandled multiple opponents with suplex throws, including breaking Yancy Medeiros thumb. Khabilov still struggles with his range striking, though he has shown the ability to land the big shot whether it be an overhand right or a head kick. He uses his takedowns to set up his shots pretty well too, but still needs to increase his overall volume to better curry the judge’s favor, something that cost him in his last fight with Adriano Martins.
Even though Parke will look to keep his distance, I have a hard time believing that he’ll be able to stay completely out of the grasp of Khabilov. Don’t expect Parke to be completely overwhelmed by any means. Even though he rarely looks to use his judo skills anymore, it has translated into some of the best takedown defense in the division and he has been quick to get back to his feet if his opponent does get him down. This should end up being the aspect of the fight to keep the closest eye on as Khabilov’s success depends heavily on his ability to get takedowns. He was unable to get Martins to the ground and walked away with the loss.
What could be the wild card is whether or not Parke looks to take Khabilov to the ground. Parke hasn’t had a lot of success with his takedowns as he has looked to use traditional wrestling shots as opposed to his judo skills while Khabilov’s takedown defense has been surprisingly porous. Parke continues to go to the well despite his limited success, so this is a battle that should play a factor as well.
At first glance, Khabilov is the easy pick for this fight. But it has been about two years since he was the hip flavor of the month and Parke actually matches up pretty well against him. I’m not making this pick with any confidence, but Parke’s durability and volume will allow him to go the distance with the Dagestani and eek out a judge’s decision. Parke via decision
Daniel Omielanczuk vs. Jarjis Danho (Heavyweight)
Omielanczuk has established that he is good enough to hang around the bottom of the heavyweight division, but not good enough to make a significant impact. In other words, he’s the perfect guy for the UFC to welcome the UFC’s latest shot in the dark in former power lifter Danho.
What frustrates me most about Omielanczuk the most is I look at his skill set and durability (he has never been finished in his MMA career, hell of a feat for a heavyweight) and think that he should be better than what he is. He isn’t bad… he should just be better. A skilled kickboxer who has been discovering power in his punches that wasn’t previously there, Omielanczuk has been felled by his inability to defend the takedown, something that has felled him in each of his UFC losses. Even worse is that he had a decided advantage on the feet in each of those bouts.
Hard to say if that will be a factor here as Danho is a very raw fighter who certainly has the natural power to get anyone to the ground. Whether or not he has the technique is a different story. A former power lifter, Danho doesn’t disguise his takedown attempts and doesn’t use the proper leverage either, yet has still found some success with the takedown. If he can get his opponent on their back, he has some seriously powerful GNP. On the flip side, he has been taken down with ease by much smaller opponents as he still has very little wrestling knowledge.
Danho has a tendency of either not respecting or not caring about what his opponent can do and that could come back to bite him. Omielanczuk has some basic submissions that he knows how to use very well in addition to a nice combination striking game with both kicks and punches. He isn’t bad in the clinch either, but considering close quarters is the one area that Danho seems to have a good idea of what he is doing, look for Omielanczuk to keep the fight at a distance.
Danho is very much a brawler at this point. He rushes in swinging punches relying more on his power than his technique to hurt the opposition. He is willing to work over the body and mixes in uppercuts with his powerful hooks, but doesn’t offer much else. Leg kicks? No. Elbows? No. Knees? No. Then again, considering the big dude needs to cut to get under the 265 lb. limit, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Predicting heavyweight MMA fights has become a bit of a joke for a lot of analysts as this division above all others requires only one punch to throw all of the relevant information out the window. This feels very relevant here as Danho has finished all of his fights with strikes but is also clearly much less skilled than Omielanczuk in actual striking technique. I’m picking Omielanczuk due to his technique and history of durability, but that needs be taken with a grain of salt. Omielanczuk via decision
Teemu Packalen vs. Thibault Gouti (Lightweight)
I’m gonna sell it to ya straight: Both of these guys are fringe prospects at best with a strong possibility that the only win either of them get in the UFC will come here. Still want to keep reading? Damn… I’m impressed…
My previous paragraph should be seen more as a reflection of how deep the lightweight class is rather than a jab at these two. Packalen in particular has abundant physical skills that with striking skills that are still very much in development. He has some power which he has shown when drawn into a dog fight, he just needs to gain some polish and confidence. If he can do that, the spinning strikes he likes to mix in there and takedown attempts will be much more effective.
Grappling is his true wheelhouse where he knows how to use his thick 6’1″ frame to smoother his opponent from the top where he fishes for submissions, usually from side control. His takedowns are sound for the most part as he usually times his shots well with power, but his technique could use some polish. Though he shows a willingness to snag a submission off his back, his powerful sweep should be more concerning for opponents.
Despite the list of submissions on his record, Gouti is a striker all the way. He pumps a rangy jab out there to great effect as it does more than just allow him to judge distance. He follows it up with a powerful cross once he starts connecting with it and has started putting his opponents on their ass using that in his last few fights. The problem is that he doesn’t do much in terms of defense, often fighting with his hands down and too often expecting his jab pumping to keep his opponent at bay and eats a lot of kicks.
There is no doubt Gouti will want to avoid going to the ground with Packalan. Gouti is actually a very skilled choke artist (in the good way) and able to hold his own in the clinch to stay on his feet. What gets him is that he isn’t very top heavy, easily giving up the top position too often. Against a powerful grappler like Packalen, that could be disastrous.
I think I’ve already tipped my hand. I acknowledge that Gouti could piece up Packalen for 15 minutes or even end his night early. It’s more likely that Packalen is able to take down the Frenchman multiple times and either smothering him or pulling out a sub as the smart money is to pick the grappler over the striker. Packalan via decision
David Teymur vs. Martin Svensson (Lightweight)
Swedes who were teammates on the 22nd incarnation of TUF will face off to determine who gets to stick around and who will go back to the regional scene.
Teymur surprised many with his success on TUF as he was one of the least experienced members on the show with only four professional fights. Then again, that’s just MMA fights as Teymur has quite a bit of experience in K-1. He throws a lot of kicks (as you’d expect from a former K-1 fighter) and has some serious KO power behind them. Like most kickers, he needs room to operate and struggles when pressured, though he has developed some good offense from the clinch, particularly his knees.
He’ll need his clinch offense to be effective as Svensson will no doubt look to close the distance. Facing a similarly styled striker to Teymur in Tranh Le on the show, Svensson was on him like a wet blanket for the majority of the fight, bullying Le in the clinch and on the ground. He struggles at a distance with front and body kicks being his most effective weapons of choice with those being used largely to keep distance rather than end the fight. Teymur will have a heyday if he can maintain his distance.
Svensson is pretty sneaky with his takedowns, often using body-lock takedowns and trips while mixing the occasional shot for good measure. Aggressive off of his back as his submission attempts are both in earnest as well as hoping to create scrambling opportunities to escape, he is much more patient in top position looking to advance his position in order to sink in his sub. His long legs make his triangle choke particularly dangerous off of his back.
This is where Teymur needs to be exceedingly careful as his K-1 background does nothing for his ground game. He is active on his back using elbows and short punches on his opponent and looking to create a scramble to get back to his feet, but signs of a submission game have been absent. Surprisingly he has shown an explosive double-leg that often catches opponents off-guard due to his striking prowess. Now if only he can learn to put together effective offense on the ground…
There are a lot of similarities to the Packalen-Gouti fight as it is a striker vs. grappler as well. Again, I favor the grappler as Teymur hasn’t faced anyone nearly on the level of Svensson on the ground and I don’t think he’ll be able to survive Svensson’s submission attempts that will surely be coming once the fight hits the ground whereas Svensson is experienced enough that he should be able to survive Teymur’s striking. Svensson via submission in the first round