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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 210: Cormier vs. Johnson – FS1 prelim preview

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Take a peek into the televised prelims for UFC 210, featuring a welterweight scrap between up-and-comers Kamaru Usman and Sean Strickland.

I’ve seen plenty of people complaining about the prelims for UFC 210. There are claims that there aren’t any noteworthy contests. While I understand where fans are coming from, I’m going to complain about something entirely different. My complaint: why is Myles Jury and Mike de la Torre the preliminary headliner? Jury hasn’t won a fight since September 2014 while de la Torre has never been anything special. Don’t get me wrong, I like the match and do find it to be interesting… but the headliner? Really?

The other three contests are all better contests. Kamaru Usman, who appears to be on his way to contention in the welterweight division, faces the massive Sean Strickland. Charles Rosa and Shane Burgos may not have a lot of name value, but those who do know them won’t argue about their entertainment value. Even Patrick Cummins and Jan Blachowicz would seem to be a more intriguing contest despite both dropping more fights than winning in recent years.

Myles Jury (15-2) vs. Mike de la Torre (14-6, 1 NC), Featherweight

Let’s go back to the beginning of 2015. Jury was still undefeated at 15-0 with six of those wins coming in the UFC. He was preparing for a contest with Donald Cerrone in which many were picking him to win. What has Jury accomplished since that time? Nothing worth noting.

Jury wasn’t competitive against Cerrone in that contest, prompting him to drop to featherweight. Upon his arrival in his new division, he was quickly submitted by an overweight Charles Oliveira and we haven’t heard from him since. That was 16 months ago and Jury has become a forgotten figure with many figuring his career has peaked. Considering he is still only 28-years old, that shouldn’t be the case.

Perhaps the long layoff was due to Jury making adjustments to his body in order to better accommodate the weight cut as he looked bad against Oliveira. Sluggish movement in addition to being taken down with ease by Oliveira – hardly known for his takedown ability – were the primary takeaways from the fight. Before that, he had a reputation as a quality kickboxer who works in rhythm with a solid wrestling base. Remember, he once manhandled Michael Johnson in the wrestling department. If Jury can find a way to get back to what he once was, this should be a fairly easy contest to predict. We just don’t know if that Jury will show up.

De la Torre is a perfect test for Jury after a long layoff. De la Torre isn’t a great athlete, doesn’t pack a huge punch, and has found minimal success on the ground since coming into the UFC. However, it’s because of those factors that opponents have overlooked him, often getting too aggressive and allowing de la Torre to counter effectively in the pocket. He’s good enough that he could get the better of Jury should they engage in a firefight as he may not be a powerhouse, but de la Torre is technical enough he can hurt his opponent if they don’t respect him. Another area that has been a regular strength for him is his takedown defense. Expect Jury to test that at some point.

This is do-or-die for Jury. De la Torre isn’t a bad fighter, but he isn’t on the level of Cerrone or Oliveira. If Jury can’t right the ship here, it feels like a safe call to write him off as someone who can make some serious noise. De la Torre’s toughness has typically made him a tough customer to put away, but he has also shown vulnerability on the ground. If Jury is going to make this work, I got a suspicion it will be a grappling-heavy approach. Jury via submission of RD2

Kamaru Usman (9-1) vs. Sean Strickland (18-1), Welterweight

After completely demolishing Warlley Alves and calling out Demian Maia, you’d think Usman would get a big step up in competition. Nope. The UFC seems determined not to rush his development, instead matching him up with another prospect on the verge of breaking through in Strickland.

Usman has been one of the most hyped prospects in recent years thanks to his smothering wrestling. It hasn’t done him any favors in terms of building up a fan base as it usually results in a one-sided decision with little drama, but opponents see what he can do and usually don’t want to have a thing to do with him. Usman’s explosion is only part of the problem for the opposition as he is very technical and dogged in his attempts, chaining together single and double-legs or settling for a trip takedown. Even if he can’t get the fight to the ground, he can still suffocate his opponent against the fence with dirty boxing.

What has many believing Usman is ready for the next level was his performance against Alves. Thought to be a one-dimensional fighter, Usman showed he’s been putting in time in the gym, putting together slick boxing combinations over the course of the contest. While he is still a bit predictable on the feet, his natural elite athleticism makes it difficult for opponents to stop him even when the know it’s coming.

While Strickland is the rightful underdog, he isn’t a softball for Usman. After spending most of his career at middleweight, Strickland is HUGE for welterweight. Now that he is used to the cut to 170, he has shown better stamina, output, and takedown defense after showing issues in each of those areas upon the drop to welterweight. There are still holes in each of those areas, but he’s a different kind of beast than what Usman has faced thus far. Considering Usman has struggled at times to get the likes of Leon Edwards and Alexander Yakovlev to the ground, Strickland could have the proper ingredients to pull off the upset.

This is going to be a closer contest than most expect. Strickland may not have the quick-twitch gifts of Usman, though he could be the stronger fighter, an advantage Usman is used to having. Strickland is also skilled at keeping opponents at the end of his jab. Though I’m very tempted to pick the upset, I’m sticking with my gut in betting that Usman will continue to show improvements in his striking while scoring just enough takedowns to break down Strickland and get the judges on his side. Usman via decision

Shane Burgos (8-0) vs. Charles Rosa (11-2), Featherweight

There is a very strong chance that this contest gets overlooked. Not just on this card, but any card that it might appear on. Don’t sleep on this though… this should be a good one.

Burgos is best remembered for getting a haircut in the midst of his UFC debut, having his long locks cut in between rounds after his ponytail was getting in the way of his vision. If people can look past that, he put together an impressive enough debut on short notice that many in the division took notice. After a slow start, he got his counterstriking going with a major emphasis on a potent left hook while stuffing takedown attempt after takedown attempt. Granted, Thiago Trator is hardly an accomplished wrestler, but credit still needs to go to Burgos for doing what he needed to win. Even better for him is that Burgos’ wrestling has routinely been his biggest question mark and he was able to get that rolling.

Rosa doesn’t look like he is going to make a major run, but he has established himself as one of the better action fighters in the division while proving a stern test for the relatively untested. He’s best known as an aggressive submission grappler, a reputation that he has certainly earned. Strictly looking at him from that angle is selling him short on the feet. Sure, Rosa doesn’t have the most well-rounded approach, relying heavily on kicks from the outside. But he has surprised his opponents from time to time with a well-timed head kick in addition to showing a tough chin. Then again, he needs the chin as Rosa hasn’t shown much in terms of defense as he rarely sets up his takedown attempts very well.

Where the real fun of this contest will be is on the ground. For all of his shortcomings, Rosa’s toughness coupled with his chain of submissions makes him difficult to deal with. Burgos has proven to be a competent grappler and scrambler himself, though he hasn’t faced anyone who will push him in the way that Rosa will. I’m picking Burgos as his aggressive ground strikes, athletic advantage, and better technical striking should be enough to sway the judges… provided he can avoid getting caught in a Rosa submission. There are no guarantees he’ll be able to do so. Burgos via decision

Patrick Cummins (8-4) vs. Jan Blachowicz (19-6), Light Heavyweight

Cummins and Blachowicz are grateful for the lack of depth in the light heavyweight division as they would likely be long gone if they were in any other division thanks to each of them losing three of their last four. Unfortunately, it’s likely whoever drops this one will finally be gone….

Cummins is the better known commodity here thanks to his lopsided feud with Daniel Cormier a few years ago where he came out on the losing end. Even though he is now 36-years old, Cummins shouldn’t be done improving as he started his career in earnest very late. If he is done growing as a fighter, Cummins is in trouble as the book on him is crystal clear: rudimentary striking, questionable chin, great wrestling.

Even with that skill set, Cummins is capable of greater success than what he has found thus far. For some reason, he insisted on testing his boxing against Rogerio Nogueira in his last outing and paid the price when the crafty vet was able to get off a lengthy boxing combination to finish him off. If he sticks to using his boxing to cover space, Cummins is surprisingly effective in his standup. It’s when he tries to do too much that he runs into trouble.

On the other side of the cage, Blachowicz has the opposite problem: all striking, no wrestling. According to Fight Metric, Alexander Gustafsson and Corey Anderson, his last two opponents with some wrestling ability, were able to get him down on a combined eight out of nine attempts. Blachowicz’s inability to get back to his feet only exacerbated the problem. If the Pole can keep the fight standing, he’s the owner of very technical and accurate kickboxing who is best off the counter. Blachowicz stands a great chance of winning this contest if he can catch the American coming in on his shots as Cummins has telegraphed them from time to time. However, that is a big if to be relying on.

If there is a stoppage in this contest, I totally favor Blachowicz as he has proven to be very durable, something Cummins hasn’t been able to do. If it goes to decision, Cummins all day. I haven’t seen Blachowicz make any noticeable improvements in his ability to stop takedowns from fight to fight. Why would I expect that to be any different now? Cummins benefits from this favorable stylistic matchup. Cummins via decision

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