As the UFC returns to action after a three-week hiatus, take a peek at the early action on Fight Pass, highlighted by strawweights warriors Jessica Aguilar and Cortney Casey.
It has been three weeks since we were last treated to a UFC event…and I find the break to be refreshing. I’ve been able to do something other than view fights in my spare time, my usual activity as I prepare for these cards. Then again, I did ask for this position, so I really don’t have anything to bitch about. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to do it…
UFC 211 on the surface is easily the deepest card the UFC has provided us for 2017 and I’m not saying that simply because there are 14 contests. Unfortunately, the quality is being saved for the televised and PPV portions of the card. I’m not saying there aren’t some fights that could be fun. But if casual fans are looking for a name they’ll recognize, Fight Pass won’t be the place to watch.
Hardcore fans may disagree with that assessment as lighter-weight woman’s pioneer Jessica Aguilar headlines the internet stream with action fighter Cortney Casey. Though I don’t see this contest taking home a FOTN award, that’s due more to the quality of the fights on the card than these two not putting on a good show. Will Aguilar add to her already impressive resume or will Casey make a claim as one of the top up-and-comers at 115? We’ll soon find out.
The Fight Pass prelims begin at 6:00 PM ET/3:00 PM PT.
Jessica Aguilar (19-5) vs. Cortney Casey (6-4), Women’s Strawweight
Anyone else remember when Aguilar was considered by many to be the top woman’s strawweight in the world? That seems like a long time ago now and some believe that she is at the end of the line. If she is unable to dispose of Casey, those voices would only get louder.
It will be over 21 months since we last saw Aguilar step into the cage when she faces off with Casey due to a torn ACL. Sure, Aguilar was ravaged by Claudia Gadelha in her last contest. But it was Claudia Gadelha she lost to. Last time I checked, Gadelha was beating Joanna Jedrzejczyk through three rounds last summer. Plus, Aguilar entered that contest riding a 10-fight winning streak, including wins over former UFC champion Carla Esparza and two wins over the legendary Megumi Fujii. Aguilar is now 34 years old and coming off of the knee injury, so the whispers of Aguilar being on the decline can’t be ignored. We simply don’t know how much truth there is to the whispers.
Casey also lost to Gadelha in her last contest, though it was in a far more controversial manner. Nonetheless, she has made great strides since her UFC debut, developing a far more disciplined approach than her days as a brawler when she first came into the organization. She can still bite down on her mouthpiece and trade with the best of them if it degenerates into that, but her jab has become a far more prominent piece of her arsenal in her more recent appearances. Perhaps the most notable improvement has come in her wrestling and grappling. Remember her slick submission of Randa Markos? That was a thing of beauty.
She’ll need to dig into that wrestling and grappling to keep up with Aguilar as Aguilar has always been a wrestler first and foremost. She times her level changes incredibly well and utilizes excellent technique to get under the hips to finish the takedowns. Arm-triangle chokes are a specialty of Aguilar’s as well, providing opponents plenty of motivation to avoid Aguilar’s basic-yet-potent top game. Her standup is pretty similar to what Casey offers in that she operates behind a jab with the occasional kick to the legs or body, though Aguilar is a bit more passive than the Hawaiian native.
I’ve always liked Aguilar. Her outgoing personality makes it hard not to like her. But I fear the sun has set on her time at the top. Her last victory was 30 months ago and she has been fighting professionally for over a decade. While she didn’t quit against Gadelha, she was bullied throughout the contest. Casey may not have Gadelha’s wrestling base, but she is just as physically strong. More importantly, Casey continues to show improvement in every outing. I expect Aguilar will display her trademark toughness, though I don’t think it will be enough for her to claim a victory. Casey via decision
Jared Gordon (12-1) vs. Michael Quinones (8-1), Featherweight
The latest Lookin’ for a Fight prospect, Gordon makes his UFC debut against another debutant in Quinones.
Even though the track record for Dana White’s recent finds from the show have been less than impressive – Devin Powell comes to mind – Gordon may be one of the better discoveries of the series. One of the top prospects in the New England area, he’s been floating on the radar of MMA observers for a while. There isn’t anything too flashy about his game, putting together good boxing combinations to the head and body. Though Gordon isn’t a particularly powerful wrestler, he has a deep bag of tricks with knee taps and trips to get the fight to the ground when he wants to. He can be a bit to hesitant at times, leading to taking unnecessary and unanswered damage.
Quinones is an interesting prospect at 32 years old. Like Gordon, there isn’t anything flashy about what he offers, his offense revolving around a jab due to his long reach. Even though most of his finishes have come via his fists, his kicks are his most dangerous weapon as he wings them to all levels with a lot of snap. His wrestling ability is a big mystery – I haven’t seen footage of it being utilized or tested – which is what makes it difficult to get a strong feel for this contest.
This is pretty much a coin flip. While it’s probable that the UFC is trying to set up Gordon with a favorable contest, they’ve tried to do that before only for Lookin’ prospects to fall on their faces. I do like the talents of Gordon more than any previous find from the show since Randy Brown – though Devin Clark is proving me wrong after a rocky start. Gordon’s track record of getting the fight to the ground on a consistent basis leads me to lean towards him. Gordon via decision
Chase Sherman (9-3) vs. Rashad Coulter (8-1), Heavyweight
A contest originally scheduled to be European big men Jarjis Danho and Dmitry Poberezhets has turned into Sherman and Coulter due to injuries and other undisclosed reasoning. Either way…meh.
Okay, maybe I’m being a bit too harsh as Sherman has shown potential to be a long-term action fighter in a division that could badly use someone like that in a gatekeeping role. He needs to start winning for that to happen as he hasn’t picked up a UFC victory in two tries, though no one will claim his contests were boring. A plus athlete with an impressive 6’4″ frame and 78″ reach, Sherman’s problems stem from his lack of defense. In just under 23 minutes of cage time, he has eaten 145 significant strikes according to FightMetric. If he does connect with his own offense, he has enough power to shut out anyone’s lights.
His opponent, Coulter, is very much benefitting from the short notice as there is little to suggest the UFC would have had interest in signing him otherwise. There are positives. He has some boxing experience. He’s got good power in his right hand. That 8-1 record doesn’t look bad either. However, Coulter has only fought a single opponent who currently owns a winning record with his opponents owning a combined 30-65 record and a NC. Plus, he’s really a bloated 205er who has weighed in as low as 187 pounds for contests. Not inspiring for his future prospects at all.
The one thing that doesn’t have me writing off Coulter is Sherman’s lone victory over an opponent with a winning record – Jack May – came within a minute due to injury, so his record isn’t sparkling either. Still, Sherman has at least been competitive in his UFC losses and he’s a legit heavyweight. Coulter may have the benefit of not having to worry about a weight cut, but I still don’t like his chances. Sherman via TKO, RD1
Gabriel Benitez (19-5) vs. Enrique Barzola (12-3-1), Featherweight
While no one is expecting either Benitez or Barzola to become contenders at 145, both TUF Latin America vets have made impressive strides since their time on the UFC’s long running reality competition.
Barzola in particular has looked most improved, though a lot of that has to do with his lack of resources prior to his time on the show. Since gaining access to better training and facilities – he’s now working with ATT — Barzola has made huge progress in his striking technique, mixing in a barrage of leg kicks with his short punching combinations. He’s always been an aggressive wrestler and scrambler with decent ground strikes. Not only is he adding to his game, he’s also smoothing out the rough edges on the things he did well before.
Benitez, a southpaw, is one of the more underrated kickers in the sport, mixing them to the all levels effectively. Better use of the jab has increased the effectiveness of his simplistic boxing, which has also upped the overall volume of his attack. Benitez is a poor offensive wrestler, but makes up for it with a potent scrambling attack and dangerous guard.
This is a difficult contest to call. Benitez’s experience and plus submission skills would have made him an easy choice if these two were meeting up a year ago. Barzola’s continued improvements make this difficult to call. Combine that with his edge in the wrestling department and I’m lead to believe the Peruvian has what it takes to eke out a close decision over the Mexican. If nothing else, it should be a fun contest. Barzola via decision
Joachim Christensen (14-4) vs. Gadzhimurad Antigulov (19-4), Light Heavyweight
In any other division, this contest would mean next to nothing. At 205, the winner here could be looking at an entry into the official UFC rankings.
Christensen was largely brought in to be a veteran test to for inexperienced youngsters before they make their way up the ladder. He has fulfilled that role, falling to Luis Henrique da Silva while beating non-prospect Bojan Mihajlovic. He doesn’t do anything particularly well, but isn’t deficient in any single area either. He plods forward putting together basic punching combinations with a basic yet technically sound grappling game.
Antigulov is all aggression, blitzing his opponent from the opening bell with a barrage of strikes as he looks to score the takedown as quick as possible. Despite being undersized, that aggression and sambo-style wrestling has resulted in him being above average in terms of his ability to get the fight to the ground. It’s safe to say there isn’t a 205er more insistent on securing a submission on the roster and he has the skill to get it as all but five of his victories have come in that fashion.
If Christensen is to pull off the upset, he’ll have to survive the early onslaught from Antigulov. If he can, Antigulov tends to offer little outside of the first round as his style leaves him with minimal energy resources outside of the opening frame. Antigulov isn’t very technical on the feet himself which may give Christensen the opening he needs to clip him early, though it is more likely one of Antigulov’s reckless – though powerful – punches catches the Dane and either puts him out or sets up a sub. Don’t expect this to go the distance. Antigulov via submission, RD1