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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 209: Woodley vs. Thompson II – Fight Pass preview

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Get the scoop on the weekend’s Fight Pass portion of UFC 209, featuring a host of youngsters and unknowns and headlined by promising 205ers Paul Craig and Tyson Pedro.

While there is zero name quality to the early prelims of UFC 209, there is a strong chance that the contests on Fight Pass will have a high level of entertainment to them. One fact to illustrate my point: between the six competitors appearing, there is a total of four decision victories between them. Granted, they only have 36 wins between them – an average of six wins per fighter – but an 89% finishing rate in wins amongst the six of them is still pretty damn impressive.

While I stated there isn’t any name value, it is also too soon to declare that none of the fighters will ever become a quality competitor. Albert Morales is tied with Amanda Cooper for most UFC appearances between them with two, and that isn’t much time to establish oneself. There is a strong possibility one or two of them could become real keepers, but only time will tell.

The Fight Pass prelims begin at 6:30 PM ET/3:30 PM PT on Saturday.

Tyson Pedro (5-0) vs. Paul Craig (9-0), Light Heavyweight

Let’s hope Pedro and Craig turn out to be quality prospects as the light heavyweight is starved for any sort of depth as management has been letting some of the best young talent the division has had come up through the ranks. Perhaps the UFC knows something about them that we don’t….

There is no doubt Pedro and Craig have shown some talent, but it is way too soon to assume either would be able to challenge either Misha Cirkunov or Nikita Krylov, the two notable talents the UFC let walk away. Pedro in particular, fits the bill as his physical gifts are more readily apparent, though he is also far more undeveloped in his career. The 25-year old showcased his wrestling and grappling skills by getting Khalil Rountree to the ground and submitting him with relative ease. You may say that submitting Rountree isn’t a huge deal, but remember that Andrew Sanchez, a notable submission wrestler, was unable to do so over the course of 15 minutes. Pedro also has some basic boxing skills too, but make no mistake that the ground is where his bread and butter is at.

The same could be said for the uber-aggressive Craig. The lanky Scot requires the tiniest of openings to go after a sub, showing a willingness to give up position to do so. His submission of Henrique da Silva was a triangle from off of his back, beautifully demonstrating the danger of his guard. Craig’s long limbs make for a bit of an awkward fighter from his feet, finding the most comfort in the clinch where he can lean on his opponent and quickly transition to takedown or submission attempts.

Pedro is the better striker and wrestler, a combination that usually leads to victory. Despite that, I’m not comfortable picking him. Craig is a master of mitigating his weaknesses and is a hell of a submission opportunist. Pedro will assuredly have a deeper gas tank than da Silva, so it will be difficult for Craig to get the finish. I still think he’ll be able to do it. Craig via submission of RD3

Amanda Cooper (2-2) vs. Cynthia Calvillo (3-0), Women’s Strawweight

According to MMA math, Calvillo should be the victor here as she owns a victory over Aspen Ladd on the amateur scene who beat Cooper upon turning pro. Then again, MMA math has hardly proven to be an exact science….

Cooper does offer a bit of promise, though her star seems to dim a bit more with every subsequent appearance. It isn’t that she isn’t improving, it’s more that it doesn’t appear that she’ll ever have a true strength that she can fall back on. Cooper does put together good punching combinations honed from her years of boxing training and is fairly athletic. She has shown consistent improvement in her wrestling and grappling, proving she can be a submission threat when facing an opponent whose ground game is merely adequate. The issue is that she seems to lack that extra gear necessary to put her attack into overdrive. As Cooper is still developing, she is just as prone to being overwhelmed on the feet as she is the ground, depending on the matchup.

So can Calvillo do just that? Maybe. The Team Alpha Male representative is a bulldog, doing her best work up in her opponents grill with a flurry of punches complimented by dominant top control when the fight is on the ground. Where Calvillo is still developing is on her feet. Yes, she has shown a willingness to throw from the outside with a jab and side kicks being the most prominent strikes. The issue is that her technique still looks wonky, limiting the effectiveness of her strikes. Still, they are coming along to the point they should even out sooner rather than later. Her wrestling is very much her bread and butter with a series of single and double-legs being the base of her approach.

Remember the TUF finals when Tatiana Suarez completely trucked over Cooper? I have that image stuck in my head as Cooper heads into this contest. Granted, Calvillo isn’t the wrestler Suarez is and Cooper has shown growth in that time. Still, Calvillo’s ground game is good enough that it should overpower Cooper’s well-rounded approach fairly easily for a clear decision. Calvillo via decision

Albert Morales (6-1-1) vs. Andre Soukhamthath (11-3), Bantamweight

Put together at the same time as the Cooper and Cavillo contest with just over a week before the event, this short notice bout could steal the show as both Morales and Soukhamthath have a tendency to wow audiences.

Soukhamthath, a UFC newcomer, is the reigning CES bantamweight champion, a promotion the UFC has been mining quite heavily for the last year or so. His strengths and weaknesses are pretty easy to identify. He doesn’t throw at a very high clip, tentatively throwing his strikes one at a time making it easy to outpoint him, further evidenced by him only winning one of his four fights that have gone the distance. However, Soukhamthath is also incredibly opportunistic and doesn’t mind going for high-risk maneuvers – flying knees, spinning techniques, etc. — in an attempt to end the fight. He has excellent takedown defense too, often making his opponent pay the price with punches and elbows once he has stuffed the attempt.

There won’t be a shortage of opportunities for Soukhamthath to wow as Morales is pathologically aggressive. He isn’t necessarily a headhunter as he is willing to throw a high volume of leg kicks as he moves forward if the punches aren’t available. However, there is very little attention paid to his defense as he looks to overwhelm his opponent with a barrage of punches. Morales hasn’t shown off his wrestling much in the UFC, though he does have some nice reactive takedowns should an opening present itself with aggressive ground and pound.

I hope the short notice doesn’t take away from the quality of this contest as it has serious potential to be a barnburner. Morales doesn’t know how to be in a boring fight while Soukhamthath has produced some serious highlight reel moments. I favor Morales slightly due to his success against proven veterans Alejandro Perez and Thomas Almeida. He didn’t beat them, but he gave them each a run for their money as a sizeable underdog on both occassions. Even if I’m wrong, I don’t recommend passing up this contest. Morales via TKO of RD3

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