These preliminary card fights might be a bit difficult for some of us to view. It has nothing to do with accessibility to the channel or how pleasing the fights themselves will be. No, it has everything to do with how willing our wives and mothers will be to allow us to spend our morning and early afternoon to view a pair of combatants squaring off inside a cage on a day that is designated for our mothers.
Admittedly the prelim fights don’t offer any can’t miss matchups, though there are a few that should at the very least provide quality entertainment. The one that offers the most promise involves former title challenger Kyoji Horiguchi meeting a tough and savvy vet in Neil Seery. Seery isn’t exactly a well known name, but those that do know him know that he is never in a boring fight. Trust me on that one my friends.
Rustam Khabilov vs. Chris Wade (Lightweight)
Oh crap… a pair of grinders being matched up together too often results in a less than inspired contest. On paper it is an evenly matched fight with both owning four wins against lower to middling competition… at least by UFC standards.
All the hype around the suplex machine that is Khabilov dissipated once he started facing higher competition in Benson Henderson and Adriano Martins (losses) in addition to long layoffs in between fights thanks to visa issues. It was a lack of experience more than anything that factored into those losses as opposed to any physical deficiencies. He demonstrated a better understanding in his last appearance against Norman Parke by being more active in all phases.
Wade is similar in some ways as he is a bit awkward on the feet with an impressive ground game. Wade hasn’t faced what would be called a quality opponent thus far in the UFC, though I admit that you can only beat who is placed before you and he has done just that. I must also admit that he isn’t a true grinder as I stated in my opening paragraph, as he is very active in looking for submissions. The issue is if he can’t find one he hasn’t shown the ability to win a fight any other way as his wrestling is his overall base. His boxing is very disjointed which leaves him to rely heavily on kicks that pose no threat to finishing off his opponent.
Khabilov isn’t a smooth striker himself, but he does offer power that is missing from Wade to give him the advantage standing. He will occasionally pull out a head kick, but largely sticks to bombing with his fists. The hope is that we can see a brilliant display of grappling brawn (Khabilov) vs. finesse (Wade). Wade possesses a lot of savvy tricks such as knee taps and has proven to be dangerous in scrambles which means Khabilov will want to impose his physical will right from the beginning. Both are sound in the clinch with Khabilov edging out the advantage as he is physically stronger. Worth noting though is that Wade has yet to be taken down in the UFC, though he has only faced one wrestler thus far, one that washed out of the UFC in three fights in Christos Giagos.
I wasn’t too excited about this change in opponents for Wade (Rashid Magomedov got hurt) as Khabilov is one of the most physically imposing lightweights in the sport. The more that I’ve thought about it, the more I like Wade’s chances. Khabilov isn’t impervious to being submitted and his bouts of inactivity a cause for concern. I don’t see that being too big of a problem against Wade with his lack of power. Khabliov doesn’t offer Wade much respect and bullies him over the course of 15 minutes. Khabilov via decision
Magnus Cedenblad vs. Garreth McLellan (Middleweight)
Cedenblad is still in the UFC? Where has he been? The UFC doesn’t want to offer too much of a challenge for him as he returns from an 18 month injury layoff as they offer up the South African McLellan as a sacrificial lamb.
Cedenblad looked like a dude to watch at the end of 2014 as he won three fights in a row after losing his UFC debut, using his massive 6’3″ frame to overwhelm his opposition in an effective if not aesthetically pleasing style. It was expected he would get a jump in competition only for the layoff to occur. At 34 he can’t be considered a prospect, but he is skilled enough that he could still claw his way into the rankings even if the UFC doesn’t want him to due to his grinding style. Despite his long range (79 inches), Cedenblad would fight exclusively out of the clinch in a standing battle if he could as he can lift those knees into the gut of his opponent with ease along with grinding elbows and punches.
McLellan offers a similar style, preferring to fight in the clinch with dirty boxing and elbows. What he doesn’t have is the large frame possessed by Cedenblad in addition to being the lesser athlete (though neither of them is particularly athletic. A feel-good story out of South Africa, McLellan saw what he did wrong in his UFC debut and adjusted accordingly, winning by surviving an early beating and outlasting Bubba Bush and getting the finish at the end of the third round. He’ll need to dig deeper against Cedenblad if he wants to pull out the win as Cedenblad doesn’t tire the way that Bush does.
While Cedenblad is hardly a great striker from the outside, he has shown the ability to at least hang with competent strikers by returning some hot fire. McLellan has shown nothing from range. Don’t be surprised to see Cedenblad exchange at a distance from time to time using his reach to pick apart McLellan. Cedenblad knocked Jared Hamman to the ground from range, indicating he isn’t just a threat from close range.
McLellan has gotten to where he is with pure guts and heart as he is amongst the least physically gifted fighters on the roster. When he meets other fighters with heart and guts, he’s in for a long night. Cedenblad has a fair share of heart and guts himself. What really worries me is McLellan’s loss to Bartosz Fabinski in his UFC debut. Like Cedenblad, Fabinksi was a grinder. Even worse is that Fabinski is a natural welterweight whereas Cedenblad is an unnaturally large middleweight. Expect a finish from the Swede. Cedenblad via TKO in the second round
Jon Tuck vs. Josh Emmett (Lightweight)
Because the MMA Gods have a wicked sense of humor and love mixing things up right as fight analysts are about to release their previews, Emmett gets the call on short notice to fight Tuck… right as I had finished with the preview with Tuck and his previous opponent Nick Hein.
Tuck has exhibited his skills in all phases of the sport in his MMA run without appearing to standout in any one area. With two submission wins it would be easy to say that his grappling would be his biggest strength (and he is a more than competent grappler), but those subs came against some of the more anemic ground fighters seen at 155 in recent years which makes it a bit harder to judge how it will hold up against a strong wrestler like Emmett. An even bigger question is whether or not he will even be able to get the fight to the ground as Emmett has proven difficult to take down and just as difficult to keep down.
If Tuck can’t get the fight to the ground he does have a good kickboxing game that will keep him competitive with Hein. Using angles to land a high volume of jabs and leg kicks, Tuck doesn’t offer much in terms of power. Emmett will certainly have the advantage there as he is largely a brawler looking to dirty up the fight in the clinch where he shows off his Muay Thai with hard knees to his opponents. Tuck isn’t a bad clinch fighter himself and actually tends to end up there even when it isn’t to his benefit to go there. He’ll probably want to try to stay on the outside this time around and use his combination strikes as opposed to Emmett’s single power shots.
What will be the biggest x-factor in this fight is Emmett’s conditioning as he takes the fight with less than a weeks notice. Not only is the fight short notice, but he is now flying to Europe as opposed to a much shorter stateside flight and weight cut (foreign diets can be tricky for a weight cut). The Team Alpha Male representative traditionally has the typical deep gas tank that you’ll find on a wrestler so he may be able to pull this out. I’m not counting on it though and neither is many others. The late notice also could factor his approach as he likes to throw leather at will once he gets the fight to the ground. He’ll risk gassing himself more than usual if he tries that approach this time around.
While I think Emmett could pick up a win here if he was given the same amount of time to prepare as Tuck, I don’t think that is happening on short notice despite matching up rather comparably against the Guam native. Stepping in when he is takes some serious balls as he knows what a disadvantage he is at. Kudos to him, but I don’t like his chances. Tuck via submission in the second round
Yan Cabral vs. Reza Madadi (Lightweight)
While it is fair to say this is a matchup of two grapplers, they couldn’t be more different stylistically with Cabral using precision and finesse while Madadi is the aggressive mauler.
A BJJ practitioner who won a world championship in 2009, Cabral is still developing his MMA skill set despite making his professional debut almost nine years ago as he initially focused on his grappling career. Discovering the welterweights at the elite level to be much bigger and stronger, Cabral will be making only his third appearance at 155. The drop in weight has allowed his wrestling to improve significantly though there are still some sizeable holes in that category. His takedown defense is crap, though a lot of that has to do with him welcoming going to the ground in almost any way and he still struggles to disguise his shots. Despite not having much of a wrestling background, Cabral has been surprisingly efficient at finishing his takedowns when he is able to get under his opponent’s hips.
Madadi is trying to get his career back on track after a stint in prison for burglary killed the momentum he gained by beating Michael Johnson in 2013 before his legal issues surfaced. He did look a bit rusty in his return bout against Norman Parke being unable to get his vaunted wrestling on track, scoring only one takedown on 12 attempts. Though it is debatable whether or not he would want to take Cabral to the ground it would be surprising to see him abandon his base skill set completely as he shows good submission skills of his own and has never been submitted in his career. Once Madadi does get the fight to the ground he stays very busy with punches and elbows to force movement from his opponent so that he might be able to find an opening for a sub.
The wild card for this fight will be what takes place on the feet. Neither are known for what they can do on their feet. Cabral is the more disciplined striker with awkward Muay Thai that offers little in terms of power, though his leg kicks have a lot of sting to them. Madadi is a wild bomber with little rhyme or reason aside from closing the distance for his takedowns. He can stun or knockout his opponent with those fists, but they can usually be seen from a mile away.
I’m not crazy about the long term future of either of these fighters with it being a high likelihood that the loser will be cut with a loss. It’s clear that the prison stint had a distinct effect on Madadi and though it is expected that he’ll look better in his second effort since his return, I still like Cabral better in this one due to his disciplined approach more than anything. I anticipate Madadi’s confidence in his ground skills will come with a heavy price with Cabral scoring a submission. Cabral via submission in the second round
Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Neil Seery (Flyweight)
In a division devoid of worth challengers for Demetrious Johnson’s championship, former challenger Horiguchi is being brought along slowly to potentially turn him into a contender once again with the durable Seery being offering a stiff challenge.
Most would agree that Horiguchi was thrown into the title picture too soon while also understanding that a severe lack of depth in the division left the UFC with little choice other than to dumb Horiguchi into the shark tank. He did have a few bright moments in what was otherwise a drubbing by the champion and has since recovered with a clear victory over durable vet Chico Camus. His blend of speed and athleticism are at an elite level which make his combination boxing difficult to avoid while the power that he can produce makes him exceptionally dangerous as there are few if any in the division that can match his KO potential. He doesn’t hang around in the pocket for long, usually dancing at range before leaping in for his attack.
Despite being at an advanced age at 36, Seery continues to improve despite being in a weight class in which age becomes a factor earlier than other divisions. That is due to Seery being less reliant on athleticism than others in the division as he was never a great athlete to begin with. Instead Seery has made a living on his toughness and savvy and he has only grown more savvy with experience. Coming from a boxing background, Seery doesn’t mind standing in the pocket and trading punches as he possesses a good knowledge of angles, head movement, and the ability to switch stances with ease.
Aside from the occasional change of pace takedown, neither of these guys go to the ground often. Despite that, it is worth mentioning that Seery’s Achilles heel was formerly his submission defense though he has made great strides in that department since making it to the UFC, surviving a series of close calls from Louis Smolka last summer. Horiguchi doesn’t do much offensively on the ground outside of GNP but has shown great takedown defense (outside of his fight with Johnson of course) and great ability to sweep back to his feet.
Even though Horiguchi is the heavy favorite and rightfully so, I really like this fight. Seery is the type of tough veteran that someone can learn a lot from by stepping in the cage with him and he’s capable of stealing away the victory if he isn’t taken seriously. I don’t see that happening here. Expect a fun striking contest with the durable Irishman lasting until the final bell. Horiguchi via decision
Leon Edwards vs. Dominic Waters (Welterweight)
Edwards replaced an injured Peter Sobotta to create an even more interesting fight between two long, lean, and athletic welterweights looking to get back on track and avoid being cut in the process.
Edwards has the advantage of knowing that he can compete in the UFC having picked up a pair of wins while being competitive in his two losses while neither of Waters’ UFC contests were close. The development in his game has been seen from fight to fight even as he is coming off of a loss as Kamaru Usman is simply a freak of nature athlete that only comes around every once in a great while. Edwards actually surprised many by taking the first round in the minds of many by stuffing most of Usman’s early attempts, showing improved wrestling skills. His wheelhouse is still his kickboxing where he can strike suddenly with his lightning trigger and accuracy.
Despite Edwards representing his most athletic opponent yet, this is by far the most favorable matchup Waters has received thus far in the UFC. Despite owning a 79″ reach, Waters doesn’t know how to properly use his reach as he mostly throws hooks. A former junior college wrestler, Waters has found most of his success in that field, chaining his attempts together in order to get the fight to the ground or at least initiate a scramble where he can take his opponents back and use his long limbs to tangle up his opponents while he searches for a submission. Though his submission skills are still a bit raw, he has continued to progress and he is fairly comfortable off of his back… perhaps a bit too comfortable.
When looking at it that way this has the look of a classic striker vs. grappler match which means it will come down to who can get the fight to the dimension that they desire. Waters hasn’t looked impressive thus far in his UFC stint, but did find a lot of success in dragging down George Sullivan to the mat in his UFC debut, a fight he took on very short notice. Thus I think it is safe to say that most people are selling the TUF alum short. If he can get Sullivan down as easy as he did, I think it is safe to say he can get Edwards down. The question will be how often he can.
Edwards has the ability to end the fight at any time thanks to the power that his strikes offer. Waters has proven to be a pretty durable dude which makes me hesitant to pick Edwards to pick up another flash KO and the longer the fight goes the more it goes in favor of Waters. I’m picking Edwards to pick up a finish as I look at the list of opponents Waters has faced and none are as consistently skilled on the feet as the Englishman. Edwards via KO in the second round
Ulka Sasaki vs. Willie Gates (Flyweight)
Stepping in on two weeks notice while dropping down into a new division, Sasaki gets one last chance to prove he belongs while Gates faces the same win or go home ultimatum in another classic striker vs. grappler match.
Sasaki is a bit of a conundrum. He made a hell of a splash in his UFC debut by ripping apart respectable vet Roland Delorme before looking flat against both Leandro Issa and Taylor Lapilus and eliminating all of the shine he had upon him. A talented grappler, Sasaki has been unable to find any success with his takedowns which has left a sitting duck of sorts as he tends to keep his hands low when trading with leg kicks being his primary source of offense from there. Perhaps the drop in weight classes will allow him to find more success where he can find success using his long reach in addition to being stronger against smaller opponents. However, he wasn’t a small bantamweight by any means and there is serious concerns at whether or not he can safely make the drop, especially on short notice.
Gates is one of the few flyweights in the sport that sports a similarly lanky frame though he has proven multiple times that he is capable of making the cut. Gates will looking to keep the fight standing as he possesses enough power to put his opponent out cold, a rarity in the weight class. The problem is that is about the only plus skill that he owns. Though he has shown sound takedown defense, offensive wrestling and grappling has been completely nonexistent. He does have some submissions on his resume from the regional scene and though I’d think it is safe to say those have come out of scrambles rather than true BJJ skills.
The simple math comes down to whether or not you think Sasaki can get Gates to the ground. If he can Sasaki is about as creative of a submission artist as you’ll find, though that has cost him at times as well as he’ll give up position going for the submission. If Sasaki can’t get the fight on the ground it seems likely that Gates will need just a bit of room to land a haymaker that would floor the youngster as Sasaki’s low hands would likely come back to haunt him soon enough.
Whether you pick Sasaki by submission or Gates by KO, I won’t argue with you. I’m going with Gates as I’m very concerned about how effective Sasaki will be after the drop in weight. His opponents may not be as strong, but I fear he’ll be sacrificing too much of his own strength and even more important, he’ll be depleting his gas tank too much. And Sasaki offered so much hope for Japanese MMA… Gates via TKO of the second round
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