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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 212: Aldo vs. Holloway – FS1 preview

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Take a deep look into the FS1 prelims for UFC 212, featuring Raphael Assuncao welcoming former WSOF bantamweight champion Marlon Moraes to the UFC.

Tell me again why Raphael Assuncao and Marlon Moraes aren’t on the main card of UFC 212? Moraes has long been regarded as the best 135er not on the UFC roster when he was reigning supreme in WSOF. Now that he arrives, they do give him a quality opponent…but then place him on the preliminaries? Not sure if I agree with the strategy. Then again, I’m sure Moraes is happy with it. On a card not too many people are keen on buying, he’ll be seen by a lot more people by remaining on the televised prelims. So that’s what they were thinking…

The televised prelims begin on FS1 at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Raphael Assuncao (24-5) vs. Marlon Moraes (18-4-1), Bantamweight

To be fair to the UFC brass, Moraes is still very much an unproven quantity despite his dominance in WSOF. He hasn’t faced much in terms of quality. The best names he has beaten? Josh Hill – a TUF washout – and Sheymon Moraes. Unless you count a Miguel Torres who had seen his best days pass him by. By comparison, Assuncao has wins over Aljamain Sterling, Bryan Caraway, and former UFC champion TJ Dillashaw. Just a bit of a difference. It could also be pointed out that he trains with the likes of Frankie Edgar and Edson Barboza. Does his training make up for his lack of quality competition?

Many find Assuncao to be a boring fighter as he sticks to the basics in every regard. He tends to keep his range and pepper opponents with some of the most underrated leg kicks in the sport to compliment his jab. When opponents try to close the distance, Assuncao’s ability to counter with short boxing combinations make him about as difficult of an opponent for anyone at bantamweight. He doesn’t throw with a lot of power, rarely threatening to end a contest on the feet. His defense is more than adequate, though skilled strikers have been able to find holes, particularly attacking his legs.

Moraes is anything but boring – his ability to strike with a high-risk maneuver was a big part of the reason WSOF was willing to pay him such a hefty salary despite their financial troubles. He does a fantastic job of disguising his intentions, selling to his opponent that he’s about the throw in one direction before going in another. He throws almost as many kicks as he does punches, throwing them at all levels while capably doubling up on them when the opportunity presents itself. Most of his punches come off of the counter and he’s just as willing to attack the body as he is the head, a rarity even at the highest levels.

Assuncao has long been known as one of the soundest BJJ practitioners in the lower weight classes. Much like his striking, there is very little flash to it as he primarily focuses on position and fundamentals rather than securing a flashy submission. However, he has become one of the better wrestlers in the lower weight classes as well. He stuffed all of Sterling’s takedown attempts in his last contest and has been able to get the fight to the ground with great success when he feels he has the advantage there. Moraes isn’t a slouch, but he doesn’t have the same pedigree of Assuncao. Moraes hasn’t been tested in his wrestling very much lately – largely due to his footwork preventing opponents from even attempting them – though it would appear he has continued to shore up a former weakness.

Aside from the main event, there isn’t a contest that I’m more excited about on this card. Moraes is easily the biggest free agent signing the UFC has had this past year and could end up making a big splash. He should be fine once he gets his feet under him, though that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be able to do so against Assuncao. Assuncao won’t need many takedowns – perhaps only one or two will do the trick – and I see him doing just enough to squeak by the judges in much the same manner he did with Sterling. Assuncao via decision

Antonio Carlos Junior (7-2, 1 NC) vs. Eric Spicely (10-1), Middleweight

While this is a contest between two noted submission specialists, they couldn’t be much more different. Carlos Junior is as physically talented a prospect as you will find at middleweight while Spicely is hard-pressed to find a physical advantage in most of his contests. He isn’t big, fighting at welterweight at one point in his career. He is about as poor of an athlete as you will find at any level of the roster. He rarely owns a reach advantage either. In fact, Carlos Junior will have six inches on him in the reach department. And yet, Spicely just finds ways to win….

Spicely’s strategy is to drag his opponent to the ground any way that he can and lock in a submission as quick as possible. He expends a lot of energy doing this, meaning he is pretty easy to pick apart if he can’t secure the early finish as he depletes his gas tank. Nonetheless, few are more technical than Spicely in his submissions. He has to be considering he has such a small margin for error. Spicely’s standup consists more of him avoiding any major damage than posing any threat to his opponent.

Carlos Junior may be one the few 185ers who could challenge Spicely in a pure grappling contest. A BJJ world champion before crossing over to MMA, Carlos Junior has struggled with the striking end of the spectrum and with his confidence. He dominated Dan Kelly over a year ago over the first two rounds, but panicked when he couldn’t put him away and gave up the fight when Kelly finished him in the third. He has since rebounded with two wins, though he hasn’t exactly looked stellar in either performance. In fact, I’d say his striking regressed against Marvin Vettori. But that is just me….

This feels very much like a trap fight for Carlos Junior, similar to how the Kelly fight felt. Spicely has the grappling chops to withstand Carlos Junior’s assault… at least early on. Spicely doesn’t get stronger the longer the fight goes, which means he’ll need to secure an early finish. Given Carlos Junior’s grappling chops, I think he’ll survive and get one of his own later. Carlos Junior via TKO of RD3

Johnny Eduardo (28-10) vs. Matthew Lopez (9-1), Bantamweight

Wait… Eduardo is fighting with less than a year between fights? Wow. While that is a bit rude, Eduardo has a total of three contests in the last five years. You get where I’m coming from now?

Eduardo’s first professional contest came over 20 years ago. In other words, his lack of activity has probably been key to him extending his career as he hasn’t suffered from ring rust in any of his appearances the last few years. The muay thai instructor at Nova Uniao, Eduardo is extremely technical in his striking technique, breaking Eddie Wineland’s jaw three years ago with a single punch. Typically, Eduardo will stay on the outside and throw hard leg kicks in hopes of getting his opponent to rush into the pocket where the longtime vet can counter. He’s very patient as he waits for his opponent to make a mistake he can capitalize on, which can work to his disadvantage if the fight ends up going the distance.

Lopez would rather take the fight to the ground, showing no fear of going to the ground with grappling expert Rani Yahya. He did eventually succumb to a submission, but he held his own and dominated Mitch Gagnon with positioning in his last appearance. Before coming to the UFC, it was Lopez’s aggressive submission game that received the most attention. It hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s just been more difficult for him to finish off his opponents at the highest level. While Lopez has shown good power in his fists, he has yet to form a fully functional defensive strategy.

Great bit of matchmaking here. Eduardo has found ways to compensate for his age, executing a patient strategy that is tailor-made to finish off an aggressive striker such as Lopez. Then again, Eduardo has shown a weakness to opponents who can get and keep the fight on the ground. Gagnon has a history of gassing after the first round, so there are still enough questions about Lopez’s ability to do that to Eduardo. As such, I’m taking the proven commodity in a hostile Brazilian environment. Eduardo via TKO of RD2

Iuri Alcantara (35-7) vs. Brian Kelleher (16-7), Bantamweight

It has been a major struggle to find useful footage of newcomer Kelleher. The last full fight of his I was able to find was from over three years ago and lasted less than 90 seconds. Since that time, Kelleher has run off six straight wins, picking up wins over current UFC fighter Ander Soukhamthath and highly regarded prospect Julio Arce, twice over the latter. What I have been able to gather is Kelleher is an aggressive but disciplined striker who isn’t afraid to throw out the occasional spinning backfist or similar high-risk maneuver. He’s been lobbying to join the UFC for a few years now and finally gets his chance against one of the longest tenured members of the UFC’s bantamweight division.

Alcantara may be 36-years old, but he hasn’t slipped too much in terms of his athletic ability. Some have been arguing the present iteration is the best version we have ever seen. His ability to chain submissions is amongst the best in the division and he’s still capable of exploding with an out of nowhere flying knee or spinning backfist if he so desires. Then again, his wrestling hasn’t improved and it seems unlikely to at this point. Nonetheless, Alcantara showed the ability to take a beating and still find a way to escape with a submission out of nowhere as he did by securing a leglock in his last contest with Luke Sanders.

I don’t know much about Kelleher which makes this a difficult contest to predict. He appears to have a bit of a wrestling game, but I haven’t been impressed by his athleticism or physicality. Without some sort of physical advantage one way or another, I don’t see him pulling off the upset against an established veteran of Alcantara’s experience and ability. More than half of Kelleher’s career losses have come via submission. Anyone see where I’m going with this? Alcantara via submission of RD1

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