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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 219: Cyborg vs. Holm – Main card preview

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Get the scoop on the early main card bouts of UFC 219, featuring the return of former interim champion Carlos Condit from a long layoff, as well as rising star Cynthia Calvillo against former champion Carla Esparza.

Let’s be honest: Daniel Hooker and Marc Diakiese doesn’t come close to filling the shoes left behind by Jimmie Rivera and John Lineker – the contest it is replacing on the main card due to emergency dental surgery for Lineker — much less had it been the originally scheduled contest between Rivera and former champion Dominick Cruz. It isn’t a crap fight by any means, simply one that doesn’t belong on a PPV main card. However, the other two contests on this portion of the preview are far from being out of place. Each features former champions in Carlos Condit and Carla Esparza. Some may have qualms with Esparza as there is little to her game that excites, but nobody will debate whether Condit is worthy of his place on UFC 219’s main card. What I’m really getting at is many now feel this is a two-fight card now. Don’t be so fast to make that assumption as those two contests could potentially offer relevance in the near future.

The main card of UFC 219 begins at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Daniel Hooker (15-7) vs. Marc Diakiese (12-1), Lightweight

After three straight wins upon his UFC entry, highly touted lightweight prospect Diakiese suffered the first loss of his career to the less hyped Drakkar Klose back in July. Though most observers didn’t expect Klose to be the one to slip up the athletic phenom, it was believed Diakiese’s heavy reliance upon his physical gifts over sound technique would cause him to slip up sooner rather than later. Now that he’s paid the price, it will be interesting to see if he begins taking a more methodical approach to the fight game.

Diakiese is best known to fans as a striker thanks to a series of brutal KO’s, including a string of five contests in which three lasted 36 seconds or less. However, he’s still very raw on the feet, swinging his heavy hooks with little set up. In fact, DIakiese rarely throws anything other than a killshot, disregarding establishing his range or other nuances of striking. His physicality serves him well in the clinch, but his disregard for proper positioning cost him against Klose as he exhausted himself down the stretch, leaving him easy pickings for the American. The real strength of Diakiese: his wrestling, as he can ragdoll his opponent… provided he is fresh.

Hooker is a polar opposite of Diakiese in most ways as a striker who relies heavily on the counter with very little desire to go to the ground. Hooker doesn’t come anywhere close to competing with Diakiese in terms of physical gifts, but his timing on the feet and physicality in the clinch have made every one of his UFC contests competitive. His takedown defense hasn’t been bad, but he also hasn’t faced anyone who is nearly the physical phenom that Diakiese is.

Hooker has enough similarities to Klose – including sharper striking – that an upset wouldn’t be very surprising. However, that is completely dependent on whether Diakiese hasn’t learned anything. If he has, he should be able to overwhelm Hooker. However, Hooker has never been KO’d and improved his submission defense since coming into the UFC. A finish appears unlikely. Diakiese via decision

Cynthia Calvillo (6-0) vs. Carla Esparza (13-4), Women’s Strawweight

The UFC continues to push Calvillo in hopes that she can become a marketable contender. With two finishes and an impressive performance over an established talent in Joanne Calderwood, Calvillo has taken all the right steps thus far to fulfill the promise the UFC sees in her. Entering as a touted wrestler, Calvillo hasn’t placed as great of an emphasis to take her opponents to the ground as often as expected. In fact, opponents have had almost as much success getting her to the ground… when they try at least.

It isn’t necessarily a horrible thing that Calvillo has been able to win the fights without having to completely rely on her wrestling. Her boxing is completely set up by a piercing jab, complimented by her developing boxing combinations. It isn’t the cleanest striking, but it has been effective enough as she has enough natural power in her punches to keep opponents from wanting to continually wade into the pocket.

At one point, Esparza was a sound boxer in the pocket. Then she had her confidence shattered when Joanna Jedrzejczyk pieced her up and she hasn’t looked comfortable from there since, employing a strategy in which she attempts an average of almost a takedown attempt every minute. If that doesn’t reek of desperation to avoid standing and trading, I don’t know what does. Esparza has found some success in closing the distance to operate in the clinch, grinding away where her opponents can’t utilize the typical reach advantages possessed over her. But giving her any type of distance and her effectiveness declines sharply.

Though Esparza is without a doubt one of the better wrestlers in the division, the effectiveness of her takedowns has been limited by her continual attempts to go to the ground. Though she has more finishes via submission than with strikes, it has been her ground-and-pound – set up by her excellent top positioning – that has led to her submission victories as her opponents tend to squirm underneath the onslaught which opens up the submissions for her.

There’s really only one question that needs to be answered for this contest: Can Calvillo stop Esparza’s takedowns? Calvillo was caught off-guard in her contest with Pearl Gonzalez, but knowing that Esparza will look to take her down time and again eliminates the likelihood of her being surprised. I still expect Esparza to secure some takedowns, but judges have placed a greater emphasis on damage as opposed to control recently. Calvillo via decision

Carlos Condit (30-10) vs. Neil Magny (19-7), Welterweight

It’s hard to see Condit as a member of the old guard now given his reputation was as an ultra-violent youngster with a penchant for extreme entertainment. But time catches up to all of us and Condit is no exception. As exhibited upon his return from a torn ACL a few years ago, he still possess inhuman levels of durability, taking a brutal beating from Robbie Lawler in their epic clash to open 2016. That contest proved he can still dish it out too. However, his last official contest against Demian Maia showed that he may be slowing down and that his heart may no longer be in the sport.

In hopes of rekindling his love for the sport, Condit has been away for 16 months. If he can come back as the same guy who came out on the wrong side of a controversial decision against Lawler, we’re in for a treat. Condit is typically a rabid pressure fighter, touching up his opponent with punch and kick combinations that overwhelm. Though they typically don’t possess a lot of steam behind them, he has always had a knack for when to turn up the power, as well as when to take a risk. How many remember his flying knee finish of Dong Hyun Kim? Simply beautiful.

Magny is like Condit in that he peppers his opponent with lighter volume with his power making the occasional appearance. At 6’3″ with an 80″ reach, opponents have typically had a hard time finding their range against the lanky welterweight. However, Magny’s mastery of his length is hardly considered expert as Rafael dos Anjos was easily able to slip under his punches to secure a takedown and school him on the ground. Against lesser grapplers – I said grapplers, not wrestlers — such as Johny Hendricks, Magny has fared well on the ground. Against Condit… hard to say.

It has long been known that the Achilles heel for Condit is his lack of takedown defense. Magny isn’t a true grinder, but he’s a solid takedown artist with the ability to work in the clinch from time to time. He’s likely to get Condit to the ground a couple of times… the question will be whether he can keep him down. Condit is about as wiggly as it gets on the ground, climbing back to his feet quickly after being dragged to the ground. Given that judges have placed a greater emphasis on damage than control, that doesn’t bode well for Magny’s chances.

Like most hardcore fans, I’m excited to see Condit returning to the cage… provided he at least resembles the same guy we all knew and loved. If he does, I have a hard time seeing Magny surviving the onslaught Condit will bring. If Condit looks unmotivated as he did against Maia, this could be a breakout performance for Magny. It’s no guarantee, but my guess is that Condit will be invigorated following his long layoff. Condit via submission of RD3

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