Get the inside scoop on UFC 216’s televised prelims, featuring red-hot French prospect Tom Duquesnoy and former Bellator lightweight champion Will Brooks looking to get back on track.
Though I sang praises for the whole card top-to-bottom for UFC 216 yesterday, I’m not totally sure how I feel about the televised prelims on FX. To be fair, part of my issue is that I don’t feel they are a big step up in quality over the Fight Pass prelims, but that says more about how good the early prelims are than anything else. The televised portion features one of the hottest prospects in all of the sport, a high-priced acquisition from Bellator trying to prove he isn’t a bust, and one of the breakout names of 2016 looking to right his ship after a rocky start to this year. Oh yeah…remember the controversy from earlier this year over breast implants and whether women should be allowed to fight with them? It may turn out to be the only notable story to the legacy of Pearl Gonzalez, but she’ll get a chance to prove otherwise.
The UFC 216 televised prelims on FX begin at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Tom Duquesnoy (15-1) vs. Cody Stamann (15-1), Bantamweight
Given his youthful age of 24, it isn’t much of a surprise the UFC is taking their time with their jewel of a prospect in Duquesnoy. However, as he’s a whirling dervish of violence that leaves hardcore fans yearning to see the UFC speed up the development. Nonetheless, it feels like one of the few times where I feel the UFC is doing the right thing much to the chagrin of fans.
To be fair, Stamann has only a single UFC appearance on his record and could prove to be a more difficult challenge for the Fireball Kid than most believe he is. Stamann showed a high level of intelligence in attacking Terrion Ware’s takedown defense, taking him down multiple times in every round. Generally relentless in chaining his attempts together, the stocky wrestler could very well expose Duquesnoy’s still-developing wrestling game. Given that Duquesnoy is small for the bantamweight division, it isn’t an unlikely scenario by any means.
The standup will be a completely different story. Stamann is hardly helpless on the feet, but he does tend to have moments of inactivity that will bite him in the ass if they crop up against Duquesnoy. However, that is unlikely to be a factor in this contest given his tendency to rely upon counters as Duquesnoy will give the former Golden Gloves champion no shortage of chances to swing back. Though Duquesnoy is a counter striker himself, he gets right up in his opponent’s grill with unrelenting pressure, giving them little choice other than to throw something in response. Duquesnoy does tend to take a lot of damage in the process, though it’s rare that he ends up taking more than he gives as his combinations are swift and smooth with rare power from such a small frame. Don’t let his small frame fool you either; he does his best work in the clinch with devastating elbows while mixing in the occasional takedown for good measure.
Duquesnoy struggled to stop Patrick Williams’ takedowns in his UFC debut. One of the things that worked in Duquesnoy’s favor is Williams’ tendency to fade quickly. The supremely conditioned Stamann won’t do that. Still, Duquesnoy’s advantages on the feet – including a 4″ reach advantage – should be enough to ensure that his progress should continue, even when Stamann proves to be a tougher test than most expected. Duquesnoy via TKO, RD2
Will Brooks (18-3) vs. Nik Lentz (27-8-2), Lightweight
Brooks’ UFC journey has not gone anything like he expected. Dominating the Bellator lightweight division — most notably with a pair of dominant wins over two-time champion Michael Chandler — Brooks barely squeezed past Ross Pearson before being finished by Alex Oliveira and Charles Oliveira in devastating fashion. A loss against Lentz will likely solidify his status as a free agent bust.
It isn’t that Lentz is a walkover. Lentz has long been one of toughest and grittiest members of the UFC roster, since 2009 to be exact. However, that also explains why Brooks is expected to get by him. All the wear and tear accumulated over that time has begun to take its toll on the former collegiate wrestler. It was disconcerting to see Lentz, long one of the top grinders in the sport, to lose at his own game against Islam Makhachev. Hardly a KO threat, Lentz has developed a highly functional boxing game with short combinations with his primary objective being to get the fight into the clinch where he does his best work.
For all of his athletic advantages, Brooks has gained a similar reputation to that of Lentz. Yes, Brooks does tend to slow fights down with his acclaimed wrestling, but to leave it at that is unfair to what Brooks does on the whole. An underrated boxer with above average counters, Brooks has shown a willingness to stand in the pocket and trade…so long as things are going his way. He’s struggled with the size and length of UFC lightweights thus far – another reason why his wrestling hasn’t been as effective – but Lentz isn’t nearly as big or long as either Oliveira. That should allow Brooks to once again find success in the clinch… an area where he has struggled.
Given they were former teammates at ATT, there is bad blood brewing between these two. Despite any personal animosity, this should be the perfect contest to get Brooks back on track. Lentz will take the fight where Brooks wants him to because he has no other choice. Lentz had the stylistic fight he wanted against Makhachev and still couldn’t pull out a win. Brooks isn’t quite as physical as Makhachev, but his wrestling is more technical and he’s more well-rounded. There is no reason Brooks shouldn’t be able to get his career back on track… unless he wants to challenge Hector Lombard as the biggest free agent bust from Bellator. Brooks via decision
Lando Vannata (9-2) vs. Bobby Green (23-8), Lightweight
After a stunning performance against Tony Ferguson in his UFC debut, Vannata followed up with a highlight reel KO of John Makdessi. It looked like he was well on his way to stardom only to be derailed by…David Teymur? Most people still don’t know Teymur from Thibault Gouti despite the win over Vannata. Can Vannata regain his footing against Green?
The loss could have been the best thing to happen to Vannata. Finding success with high-risk maneuvers such as spinning wheel-kicks and spinning back-fists, Vannata completely ignored the fundamental strikes such as a jab. Basically, the building blocks of a consistently strong striking attack have been missing from his arsenal. The high-volume of spinning attacks also served to deplete his energy levels in a hurry, gassing before the second round was out both times he has made it that far. Nonetheless, he found success despite the lack of basics thanks to his unorthodox footwork and confidence. Now if he can find a way to sharpen up his defense. He’d do well to start with keeping his hands up as he prefers keeping his hands low in order to come at his opponents from unorthodox angles.
Given Green’s tendency to stick his chin out as he mocks his opponent, he may be the perfect opponent for Vannata to rebound with. Green tries to get into his opponent’s head with his taunting and trash talk, but it has been falling on deaf ears in his last three contests. It isn’t that he isn’t technically sound. In fact, Green’s boxing combinations are among the best in the division, not to mention his excellent head movement when he’s on point. He’s also shown an underrated wrestling game, though he hasn’t made much of an attempt to utilize it in recent contest, last securing a takedown in 2013. Then again, he’s also been facing some of the better defensive wrestlers in the division since that time.
I expect the wrestling to come into play in this contest. Undersized for a 155er, Vannata is likely to struggle stopping Green from getting him to the mat if Green so desires. Vannata isn’t a horrible wrestler himself, but his struggles against Teymur – offensively and defensively – don’t reflect well on him in a contest against someone far more accomplished in that field in Green. Sure, there will be some fun exchanges on the feet too, but expect Green to look for the simplest path to victory as he comes into the contest riding a three-fight losing streak. Green via decision
Pearl Gonzalez (6-2) vs. Poliana Botelho (5-1), Women’s Strawweight
Botelho has not fought in over two years despite being signed over 16 months ago as she suffered an injury heading into her scheduled contest with Valerie Letourneau last December. An aggressive striker out of Nova Uniao, Botelho is surprisingly limited in her repertoire for someone with the Muay Thai pedigree. She rarely throws in volume, putting everything into her singular shots, though spinning back-kicks in particular seem to be a favorite of hers. It doesn’t result in high volume content, but given every one of her victories have come via KO/TKO, it’s clear that she has a lot of power behind her strikes.
Gonzalez has some similarities to Botelho in her striking style and overall stiffness. Where Gonzalez differs from Botelho is in her lack of power. which is compensated for with greater volume. She probes with a jab a lot and will follow up with some simple combinations if she sees the opening. However, Gonzalez has had a history of poor defensive fundamentals, though she did show some progress in that field against Cynthia Calvillo…at least when she was able to maintain her space.
The ground game is an interesting aspect as Botelho has shown some ability to get the fight to the ground, but not much else. Gonzalez has picked up more than half of her wins via armbar, showing a knack in the midst of a scramble for nabbing an arm. Her own wrestling has some holes, but she did get Calvillo to the ground on a couple of occasions, showing more than most expected out of her… she just couldn’t keep her on the ground.
The biggest x-factor is that Botelho has never fought at strawweight before, spending the entirety of her regional career at flyweight. At 5’8″ with a 68″ reach, her frame could prove to be a big advantage against the smaller Gonzalez…or it could be her bane as she could end up depleted by her weight cut. Without that potential factor, I favor Botelho as her power and killer instinct should be enough to hurt Gonzalez at various points or perhaps even put her away. Nonetheless, expect this to be a close contest. Botelho via decision