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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 217: Bisping vs. St-Pierre – FS1 prelims preview

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Get the inside scoop on the televised prelims of UFC 217, featuring a high-action lightweight scrap between Joseph Duffy and James Vick, plus former light heavyweight title contender Ovince Saint Preux.

UFC 217’s televised prelims on FS1 are an eclectic group of fights. You’ve got a pair of contests that wouldn’t be out of place on a PPV main card and two others that you’d expect to find on the Fight Pass portion of almost any card. I suppose that means they balance each other out. Nonetheless, they do save the best of all the preliminary fights for last, giving the main card a hell of a lead in.

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

James Vick (11-1) vs. Joseph Duffy (16-2), Lightweight

How deep is the lightweight division? A 7-1 record in the UFC isn’t even good enough for Vick to enter the official UFC rankings. Contrast that with light heavyweight where a 3-4 mark is good enough to put Jan Blachowicz in the top fifteen. As for Duffy, he owns a victory over the champion of the division. I’m not talking about Tony Ferguson. I’m talking about Conor McGregor.

I’m sure all of you who remember Duffy’s early UFC fights got sick of hearing about Duffy being the last man to defeat McGregor – thank you Nate Diaz for ending the incessant talks – but it was an effective statement to emphasize just how good Duffy could eventually become. The other thing that was constantly blared in our ears was how Duffy took a brief hiatus to ply his trade as a professional boxer. That experience improved his level of footwork and head movement to close some of his defensive holes. And of course, he puts together sound punching combinations, a stiff jab, and take good angle entries. What else would you expect from a former boxer? Opponents are aware of this too, so Duffy has surprised at times by mixing in a bevy of kicks to throw them off.

Admittedly, Vick isn’t as technically proficient as Duffy in his striking. Then again, few are and it doesn’t mean Vick doesn’t have any advantages in the standup. At 6’3″, it’s hard to find a lightweight who can match Vick’s size. His 76″ reach doesn’t jump out quite as much as his height, but he has been improving his ability to use his length with every fight. He still leaves his chin out there to be touched up by someone with a firm understanding in angles – i.e. Duffy – but it isn’t quite as hittable as it used to be.

There have been times where both have been exposed in the wrestling department by their opponents, though there are some caveats with that. Vick often allows his opponent to shoot in on him in hopes of sinking in his patented guillotine choke, a maneuver he has pulled off with great success on multiple occasions. He also implements a step-in knee from time to time to mix it up and is relatively quick to get back to his feet when taken down. Duffy’s UFC loss to Dustin Poirier came when he couldn’t stop Poirier from getting him to the ground. He has made great strides in that department since that contest, shutting down noted wrestler Reza Madadi’s offense in his last contest. Duffy’s submission abilities have been overlooked after his performance against Poirier, but he’s one of the more underrated scramblers and submission artists in the sport.

Vick’s opportunism always gives him a chance, but I can’t help but recall his performance against Beneil Dariush. Dariush had his way with the Texan on the feet, finding every opening and piecing him up. Duffy should be able to do the exact same thing. I’d imagine Vick has learned some things from that experience, but that was about as one-sided performance as I can remember in recent years amongst notable fighters. Has he made up that much ground? I don’t think so. Duffy via submission of RD2

Walt Harris (10-6) vs. Mark Godbeer (12-3), Heavyweight

We were supposed to get this last month only for Derrick Lewis’ back to flare up and cause the big man to pull out. Rather than have Lewis’ opponent – Fabricio Werdum — fall out as well, Harris stepped in, abandoning Godbeer in the process. When Harris emerged from his loss virtually unscathed physically, this contest was made once again… and I went digging for what I wrote about this fight last month while making a few minor changes.

An argument could be made that Harris is the most naturally gifted big man on the roster this side of Francis Ngannou. A former collegiate basketball player, Harris has finally begun to put the footwork he learned on the hardcourt to good use in the cage. Using angles and avoiding the pocket outside of his explosive attacks, he has begun taking advantage of his athletic gifts and is on the verge of emerging as a potential action fighter in a division badly in need of fresh blood. Though 34-years old, Harris is still relatively youthful in the land of dinosaurs and is still improving. However, he also showed his inexperience on the ground against Werdum. Lucky for him, Godbeer doesn’t ever go to the ground.

Godbeer is well-conditioned himself – for a heavyweight — but no one will mistake him for an extraordinary athlete. He is fortunate enough to largely match Harris in the height and reach department and should have the edge in the pocket. There’s nothing fancy about Godbeer’s punching; it’s just basic combinations that opponents can figure out before too long. Still, Godbeer hits hard enough that opponents can’t just stand in the in front of him and hope they can eventually land a big shot on the chinny big man.

Neither man has successfully executed a takedown in their UFC tenures. However, if Harris were to ever do so, this would be the contest to test his wrestling prowess as Godbeer is notoriously poor at stopping opposing takedowns. That may be a wise option for Harris should Godbeer insist in fighting in the pocket as Harris’ chin hasn’t been ironclad either. Regardless, I liked the steady improvements Harris had shown prior to the Werdum contest and expect to see more of the same here. Given the durability issues of both, don’t count on this one lasting too long. Harris via KO of RD2

Ovince Saint Preux (21-10) vs. Corey Anderson (10-3), Light Heavyweight

With Patrick Cummins pulling out due to a staph infection, Saint Preux offered to step in on short notice in hopes of picking up his third consecutive win after dropping three in a row. Regardless of who wins, the winner is a strong contender to earn a crack at Daniel Cormier down the line… provided Cormier doesn’t surrender his title any time soon.

Saint Preux already received a crack at a belt upon one of the occasions Cormier was supposed to clash with eternal rival Jon Jones only to for the current champ to suffer an injury. Saint Preux managed to go the distance with Jones, but it was also arguably Jones’ worst performance since he his early years in the UFC. Nonetheless, Saint Preux has never faced Cormier and is one of the more recognizable names at 205.

Employing a kick-heavy approach, Saint Preux tends to get in trouble if he stays in close range for too long. Yes, he has very heavy hands and may be the most explosive athlete in the division, allowing him to score KO’s out of nowhere with his sudden burst. Nonetheless, his boxing in the pocket has never progressed to anything effective outside of single shots from range, assisted by his 82″ reach to cover ground quickly. His ability to fight out of either stance and throw with either leg is another obstacle opponents must overcome.

Anderson is a far more traditional striker, putting together fundamental boxing combinations, crisp footwork, and a developing jab. He can get overexcited at times and begin looking exclusively for the kill shot, leaving himself wide open for a slick counter puncher – such as Saint Preux – to capitalize on his mistakes. Provided he stays disciplined, Anderson pushes a fast pace that most light heavyweights can’t match.

The heart and soul of Anderson’s game remains his wrestling. Armed with powerful double-legs and the ability to disguise his entries, Anderson has been able to get the fight to the ground when he wants. Well… up until his last performance against Jimi Manuwa. That highlighted one of the issues with Anderson; either he’s just in wrestling mode or striking mode without the ability to switch between the two. When he does get the fight to the ground, his ground-and-pound has looked better with each successive performance.

Saint Preux’s wrestling doesn’t have the same pedigree as Anderson, but he’s more capable of getting a takedown if he really wants one… at least early in the fight. Saint Preux tends to exhaust himself in a hurry if he emphasizes a ground game, part of the reason he doesn’t always employ that strategy. He’s also become the premier specialist for the Von Flue choke to the point many want to dub it the Von Preux choke. After three wins via the rare choke, I can’t say I’d argue that.

I’ll admit Saint Preux has looked good in his last two contests, but Rogerio de Lima and a late notice Yushin Okami are hardly the type of wins that scream future champion. Anderson has yet to pick up a signature win – though his decision loss to Shogun Rua is debatable – falling short every time he gets the opportunity to add a major scalp. This feels like his time. He has a full camp and an opponent who tends to fade when forced to wrestle for extended periods. He’ll need to stay disciplined to avoid Saint Preux turning out his lights, but I like his chances. Anderson via decision

Randy Brown (9-2) vs. Mickey Gall (4-0), Welterweight

The first two products of Lookin’ for a Fight meet to prove who is superior! OK, so there isn’t a whole lot of hype behind this contest, but at least it is a contest that makes sense for both of the raw prospects.

Gall was an absolute unknown when he joined the UFC, owning one professional fight over another debuting fighter. Three fights later and we still don’t know much about him as Mike Jackson, CM Punk, and Sage Northcutt aren’t exactly your typical UFC competition that will answer questions about your abilities. For context, Jackson and Punk were making their professional debuts against Gall. Nonetheless, Gall has shown natural athleticism, a high-level fight IQ for someone with his experience, and brilliant grappling prowess. He knows his grappling is his strongest attribute and wastes little time getting the fight where he’s best using a growing array of traditional wrestling takedowns and trips.

While Brown is Gall’s most proven competition, he’s still a raw product himself. He has proven to be an efficient striker, recently developing a jab to better capitalize on his 78″ reach. A strong clinch game has been another advancement in his progress, leveraging his large frame to dig knees in deep. Being able to compete in those areas has only enhanced his mid-range boxing, long his preferred fighting distance thanks to his natural power and decent footwork.

What this fight boils down to is who can best survive in the other’s world. Gall looked very uncomfortable on his feet against Northcutt with his chin leading the way with every strike. Brown hasn’t looked great on the ground, but he has shown improved submission defense, some slick submission abilities of his own, and sound takedown defense. However, Brown struggled against an aggressive wrestler in Mike Graves. Gall isn’t the wrestler Graves is, but he has great killer instinct is relentless in his pursuit of the finish.

Though hardly confident in my pick, I’m going with Brown. Gall’s lack of basic standup defense really frightens me away from taking the grappler. I know Gall has been away for almost a year to hone his craft, but Brown’s been gone for quite a while too and has a lot of room for improvement himself. While I expect it to be fun, I also expect it to be sloppy. Brown via TKO of RD2


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