D. FOX: Preliminary card preview for UFC 198 “Werdum vs. Miocic”

By Dayne Fox, MMATorch Contributor

Demian Maia (photo credit Gary A. Vasquez © USAToday Sports)

We almost made it to the card without any major injuries… and then Anderson Silva has to have his gallbladder act up. Bummer. Then again, I don’t know why I’m lamenting that on a preview for the preliminary card fights, as one of the fights of lesser intrigue was pulled to the main card. Seriously, this could be the best preliminary card of the year… UFC 200 excepted of course. I’ll occasionally admit that the preliminary fights are worth skipping. This one isn’t by any means.

Demian Maia vs. Matt Brown (Welterweight)

You’d be hard-pressed to find a fight in the modern day that can be better labeled as striker vs. grappler than this one… and I’m absolutely stoked! Maia could very well earn himself a title shot if he can win impressively.

Raise your hand if you realized that Maia is riding a four fight winning streak. Liars! While it can be argued that Maia hasn’t faced any actual title contenders in that streak (Neil Magny is his best win), he has been increasingly dominant with each subsequent win, including clinics Magny and Gunnar Nelson in the last two appearances. Considered by many to be the best pure grappler in the sport of MMA, Maia doesn’t get enough credit as a wrestler. It can look awkward at times, but he does time his shots well and has found a lot more success now that he no longer is undersized against all of his opponents as he was when fighting at middleweight.

He matches up very favorably with Brown, who has four submission losses in the UFC alone to go with the nine total for his career. Though that is a disturbing number for the notoriously tough Brown, it has been almost five years since he last suffered a submission defeat while facing the best competition of his career the last few years as he worked hard to shore up that weakness. Another part of that has been his improved takedown defense. Well… that was the common thought up until his fight with Johny Hendricks last year in which the former champ took Brown down at will. If Brown knew how to use his 76″ reach, this wouldn’t be too big of a problem. However, Brown is 100% a pressure fighter who does his best work from the clinch… where he will be within takedown range.

I’ve slanted everything in Maia’s favor thus far making it sound like Brown doesn’t have a chance. I do favor Maia and will be picking him, but I wouldn’t consider placing money on this fight as Brown is respected by his peers as one of the toughest dudes in the industry and won’t go quietly into the night. Sure, Hendricks showed holes in Brown’s takedown defense and Maia’s wrestling is underrated, but Maia is no Hendricks by any means. Brown’s Muay Thai elbows and punches from short range are among the most devastating which in itself will make it difficult for Maia to score the takedown and perhaps even put the Brazilian out. Maia has only been put down once by strikes in his career which gives me pause to think that outcome is likely, though it shouldn’t be counted out.

Among the best preliminary fights the UFC has ever put on (yes, ever), I’m anticipating this fight more than a most of the main card. The likelihood of this fight going the distance is low and Brown in particular feels as though he has a point to prove. Few work harder and he has done a lot to shore up his weaknesses over the years. Has he done enough to keep Maia from submitting him? I don’t think so. Maia via submission in the first round

Warlley Alves vs. Bryan Barbarena (Welterweight)

Derail the UFC’s hottest young prospect and what do you get? A matchup against a more polished and dangerous prospect in Alves. Are we so sure beating Sage Northcutt was the best thing for Bryan Barbarena’s career?

Alves is the rare prospect the UFC has been bringing along at a reasonable pace. In fact, it could be argued that they have been stepping down his competition since he lost to Alan Jouban in his second UFC contest… well, the record books may not show it as a loss but we all know what was up. The definition of an explosive athlete, Alves has all the physical tools to develop into a contender. He just needs to learn how to put it all together within the confines of a sound strategy. There has been progress made on that front as he did his homework on Colby Covington and locked in what is becoming his signature move in the guillotine choke just over a minute into the fight. His striking is still raw as he wings looping hooks that have serious power behind them and tend to leave him tired in a hurry if he falls in love with a striking battle. Most of the time those strikes are used as a means of covering distance so he can get in range of his explosive single and double legs.

Barbarena is a fairly small welterweight as he moved up from lightweight following the IV ban which will be of note against Alves who is the first real welterweight he’ll be facing. Alves’ takedowns have been difficult for the typical welterweight to stop. Will Barberena be able to do so? He had issues with the lone wrestler he has faced thus far in Joe Ellenberger before Ellenberger gassed which leaves me worried about his chances with Alves.

Fortunately for Barbarena, Alves is similar to Ellenberger in that he often fades down the stretch whereas Barbarena is a hard-nosed bastard who may start slow, but he gains momentum the longer the fight goes. If he can survive the initial onslaught from the Brazilian then he stands a great chance of pulling off the upset. Despite being a bit undersized, Barbarena does have a lanky frame with a dangerous clinch game with elbows and punches. He isn’t a one-punch KO threat like Alves, but he is relentless and can pour the volume on in a hurry and has proven to be extremely durable.

This is an appropriate fight for both fighters as Alves needs seasoning more than anything and Barbarena needs a step up in competition to help justify his *upset* of Northcutt. Outside of the extremely raw Northcutt, Barbarena hasn’t faced an athlete the caliber of Alves and while Alves is raw in UFC terms himself, he isn’t half as raw as Northcutt. I expect this to be over pretty quickly. Alves via submission in the first round

Thiago Santos vs. Nate Marquardt (Middleweight)

Marquardt continues to hang onto his UFC career by a thread coming off of a surprising upset of CB Dollaway. He could lose that job if Santos tunes him up… as most expect.

Santos has come a long way from the guy on the second season of TUF Brazil who couldn’t last a minute in the cage with Cezar Ferreira. Sure, he’s strategically the same fighter who looks to take his opponent’s head off with his vaunted striking. The difference is that he has rounded out the rough edges of his game to make him more dangerous. There may not be a fighter on the roster more reliant on kicks than he is as he throws his feet with far more frequency than his fists. That’s OK though as his Muay Thai boxing leaves much to be desired while his kicks are among the most lethal as three of his four UFC wins have come in less than two minutes thanks to his kicking prowess honed by his capoeira background.

The hallmark of Marquardt’s career has been that he is one of the most well-rounded fighters in the sport, almost always able to find at least one advantage that he has over his opponent and effectively being able to single that out. With a career that dates back to the previous century and more than 50 fights to his credit, he has slowed considerably as he is no longer as athletic as he once was nor is he as durable. He showed his mind is still sharp as he saw Dollaway moving in and countered appropriately that resulted in an impressive KO.

Dollaway isn’t exactly a quick-twitch athlete in the same vein as Santos and some of the other opponents that have put Marquardt to sleep rather quickly. Marquardt will probably look to rely on his wrestling as a result, though that sounds like an endeavor he’ll probably struggle with as he now telegraphs his attempts thanks to his lost step, having his last nine takedown attempts stuffed. While Santos isn’t known for his wrestling, he has a fantastic sprawl that is accentuated by his opponent’s respect of his striking acumen. Marquardt’s grappling likely hasn’t faded and he’ll be at a decided advantage on the ground. He just needs to get the fight there in the first place.

The sport has passed Marquardt by, at least at the high level. As one of the most experienced fighters around, he recognizes more mistakes than most and is fully capable of capitalizing on those. Problem is that they are pretty much the only route to victory any more as opposed to an option. Santos’ is exactly the type of striker that gives Marquardt all sorts of problems. I don’t think this one will last long. Santos via KO in the first round

John Lineker vs. Rob Font (Bantamweight)

No, it isn’t Independence Day quite yet. That isn’t stopping the UFC from giving us this awesome fireworks display, as two of the most exciting strikers on the roster are set to collide.

Lineker would have a title shot by now if he could consistently make the 125 lb. weight limit for flyweight. Unable to do so, he has leaped up a division to bantamweight, finding success off the bat in one of the best firefights the sport has ever seen against Francisco Rivera. No longer spending all of his camp looking to make weight, it is reasonable to believe that we haven’t see the best out of the compact hard hitter just yet. Preferring to stand in the pocket and trade punches, Lineker throws leather at an incredibly high rate while mixing his strikes very well to the head and body. The dynamite in his fists and iron chin make him more than likely to come out on top when he draws his opponent into a brawl.

Aside from Font also throwing an exceptionally high volume of strikes, there isn’t a lot of similarities in their approach… at least at the first glance. With an extra five inches in height and almost that many in reach than Lineker, Font shouldn’t have much problem implementing his kick heavy offense from outside. Once he has found his range, Font leaps into his opponents with explosive hooks and uppercuts that he wings with reckless abandon looking to finish the fight. Opponents look to tie him up in the clinch often times to slow down the barrage only for Font to throw a series of Muay Thai elbows that have ill intentions. Are you starting to see why I’m excited about this fight?

Thanks to the size disparity, look for Lineker to dig deep into his bag and utilize some wrestling this time around. He doesn’t often use it, but has proven to own an effective shot when he so chooses to display it. He doesn’t look to grapple too often from there, preferring to use his GNP. He did show some submission ability in his last outing after dropping Rivera, but don’t expect him to look for that outside of a scramble. Font on the other hand hasn’t been tested at this level on the ground while showing little inclination to go there himself.

I know that Lineker is a sound favorite and I completely understand why. He has far more experience than Font against proven competition with a track record of putting the opposition to sleep. I’m incredibly tempted to pick him too. But I can’t get past the fact he has never faced anyone with the type of reach that Font possesses and I anticipate that it will cause him all sorts of problems. I know I’m picking the wild card here, but I’m picking the upset here. Font via decision

Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Patrick Cummins (Light Heavyweight)

A relic of the Pride days, Lil Nog hopes to find success in the twilight of his career against the world’s most famous barista in Cummins.

Not having faced the wars that his twin brother Big Nog has faced, Nogueira hasn’t followed his brother into retirement despite having a lot of miles on his body himself. Having the number of fights he’s been able to fight over the last four or five years limited by back issues, Nogueira looked better than he had in years in his last appearance; he had a high level of activity, in addition to standing up to punishment, something many have questioned if he can do capably anymore. While he isn’t a powerful puncher, he’s a technically sound boxer, throwing a large number of one-two combinations from the southpaw stance along with the occasional leg kick. Where he is most dangerous though is on the ground as he has long been one of the most venomous BJJ practitioners at 205.

Cummins will need to be wary of Nogueira’s submissions, as Cummins has yet to develop a dangerous striking arsenal to compliment his smothering wrestling. Harkening back to his collegiate career at Penn State, Cummins has a deep bag of tricks to get the fight to the ground with an explosive double-leg as well as an efficient single from the clinch. Though his GNP has been effective, he is content to sit in his opponent’s guard while throwing punches as he rarely looks to advance. As a result he doesn’t offer too much top control, often allowing his opponent back to their feet. In a weird way this could prove to work out in his favor against an opponent with a dangerous guard like Nogueira as Cummins has no problem simply dragging his opponent back to the ground time and again, averaging over seven takedowns over the course of a 15 minute fight.

Still raw on the feet, Cummins uses the threat of the takedown to set up his striking rather than the other way around when looking to land with power as a basic jab and leg kicks are the only reliable weapons he possess. With Nogueira’s durability a question, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see him score a flash KO. The issue there is that his striking defense has proven porous against opponent’s with a developed striking approach. He may not be the swiftest of strikers, but Nogueira knows what he wants to do on the feet and does it well.

I thought this fight was a coin flip upon first glance and I’ve been shocked at how many people have been picking Cummins to score the win. Sure, Nogueira isn’t what he used to be. But I thought he showed enough life in him against Shogun Rua to make me think he can still pull out a win or two before riding off into the sunset. If I’ve learned anything in my years it’s to never underestimate a Nogueira. I’m not about to do that here. Nogueira via submission in the second round

Francisco Trinaldo vs. Yancy Medeiros (Lightweight)

Two of the bigger 155 pounders meet in a meeting of two of the better fighters sitting outside of the rankings. Will a win provide them an opportunity to challenge an opponent with a number next to their name?

Trinaldo is riding one of the unlikeliest five-fight win streaks in recent memory. Having just turned 36 when the streak began, Trinaldo was thought to be on the downside of his career only for him to enjoy what has been the best stretch of his career as he now approaches 38. Coming into the UFC as primarily a grinding grappler (think of a poor man’s Gleison Tibau), Trinaldo has aged well enough to maintain most of his athleticism which has allowed him to make giant strides in his striking. Jumping in and out of the pocket, his grasp of angles has improved so much that he not only is landing cleaner shots but he is avoiding much of the damage he used to take as well. He hasn’t resorted to wrestling much in the course of his winning streak, though he will go to it when it is a favorable proposition for him to utilize.

With that in mind don’t expect him to try here. Flashing some of the best takedown defense in the division thanks to his own massive frame, Medeiros has not only proven to be difficult to take down but has also flashed an active submission in transition. He hasn’t shown much of his grappling on the ground, but most feel it is safe to say he’s proficient being a training partner of the Diaz brothers. He offers a lot more diversity on his feet than his training partners, throwing a lot of spinning back kicks and a particularly active left hand that he uses to throw both a jab and a hook in combination. His aggression can get him into trouble as he’ll leave his chin out there to be tuned up, though he has proven to be fairly durable thus far.

Over the course of seven UFC fights, Medeiros has yet to land a single takedown as he hasn’t shown much of an inclination to go to the ground. Knowing Trinaldo usually doesn’t look to go there too often himself, look for the majority of the fight to be spent on the feet. Medeiros will enjoy a five inch reach advantage on the Brazilian and is just as athletic if not more so than Trinaldo. However, Trinaldo has proven himself to be exceptionally disciplined the last few fights with some efficient counter punching. On paper, there is no distinct advantage for one fighter over the other on the feet.

Like a good chunk of the fights on the card this one is hard to pick. Both have shown improvements over the last few years getting to the current point they are presently at, some place many thought neither would ever get to. The arguments for picking either are valid, but I’m picking Medeiros as Trinaldo hasn’t faced anyone with the athleticism and/or length of Medeiros which should give him plenty of problems. Of course, this is more a guess than a prediction. Medeiros via decision

Sergio Moraes vs. Luan Chagas (Welterweight)

Originally scheduled to face one of the most hyped prospects in the sport, Moraes may have dodged a bullet when Kamaru Usman pulled out with an injury leaving Chagas to fill in on short notice.

Moraes has put together one of the quietest four-fight winning streaks in recent memory (despite a win over top 10 ranked Neil Magny), largely since the streak has been put together over the course of almost four years due to Moraes suffering from a number of injury issues himself. A vaunted BJJ practitioner, Moraes has won multiple BJJ World Championships which makes his opponents wary about going to the ground with him. I’m not going to pretend he is more dangerous off of his back than he is in top position (accentuated by his smooth guard passes), but he can certainly elicit a tapout from his back if given the opportunity. Getting the fight to the ground is the challenge for him. His wrestling technique is actually quite sound. The problem has been disguising his shots.

No one will confuse Chagas on the mat for Moraes, though that doesn’t mean that Chagas won’t be able to hold his own against the former BJJ champion… so long as he doesn’t look to keep the fight there. A submission by Chagas is unlikely, but it shouldn’t be seen as out of the question as he is also good off of his back and excels in scrambles where he can leap on his opponent’s back. Considering Moraes is a massive welterweight and Chagas isn’t a skilled wrestler, expect Moraes to not only look to take the fight to the ground, but expect him to have success in that endeavor too.

There are some similarities on the feet as both of them have a preference for looping punches with ill intentions. There isn’t a lot of technique to either of them though I’d have to give the power advantage to Moraes. Fortunately for both of them, the punches are usually a cover for closing distance for a potential takedown. Despite Moraes having more power, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he has the overall advantage. While both throw hard kicks to the legs, Chagas has a deeper bag of tricks in his arsenal with spinning and switch kicks to all areas of the body.

If Chagas wasn’t taking this fight with two weeks notice, I might consider picking him. The fact he is combined with his extreme comfort for fighting off of his back doesn’t bode well for him in my eyes. Moraes should be able to bully Chagas to the ground simply due to his size advantage and should snatch a submission shortly thereafter. Tough debut for the youngster. Moraes via submission in the first round

Renato Moicano vs. Zubaira Tukhugov (Featherweight)

Two of the younger and lesser-known prospects at 145 square off with the winner likely to receive a noticeable step up in competition.

Moicano hasn’t been seen in 17 months due in part to injury which has made him a forgotten commodity after an impressive debut. At 5’11” with a 72″ reach, he has a long frame suited to his powerful range game. Mixing in a probing jab with a heavy kicks to the body, he’s shown signs of expanding on his Muay Thai base with flashes of boxing combinations. He isn’t afraid to mix in spinning back kicks either, which he does with accuracy. Moicano has shown to be a solid athlete with real finishing power thus far.

Considering Tukhugov has some similarities, this should be a hell of a way to kick off the card. A counter striker, Tukhugov attacks in spurts with a torrent of kicks and punches when he finds the opening that he is looking for. What makes him similar is that his kicks are often targeted to the body in addition to the occasional spinning attack. Did I forget to mention the athleticism too? It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Tukhugov is the better athlete. Tukhugov’s boxing is farther along than Moicano’s at this point, though he’ll likely have a bit of trouble navigating through the reach of his counterpart.

The grappling battle offers a bit of intrigue as Carneiro will be looking less for the takedown (which Tukhugov is fantastic at defending) and more for the scramble where he is exceptionally dangerous at taking the back and finishing the fight with a choke. Tukhugov is the superior wrestler (though Moicano isn’t quite as bad as the Brazilian sterotype would suggest), though he doesn’t look for the takedown as often as you’d think despite owning some fine sambo credentials. Despite the wrestling advantage, Moicano has the submission and grappling advantage with slick guard passing solid top control. Can you see why I’d expect the ground battle to be an interesting one?

This is very much a coin flip fight. Both are young enough in age and in their careers that they could conceivably take a major leap forward in their development as well which makes this fight even harder to predict. I like Moicano’s experience as he faced a lot of top competition in Brazil before his arrival on the big stage while Tukhugov had a lot more cans on his resume. Combine that with the four inch reach advantage Moicano owns and I’m leaning towards him even more. Moicano via decision

[Photo (c) Gary A. Vasquez via USA Today Sports]

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