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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 228: Woodley vs. Till – Main card preview

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While I sang praises for the televised prelims for UFC 228 in my preview for that portion of the card, I don’t feel nearly as complimentary towards the opening contests of the main card. They aren’t necessarily bad, just not as intriguing as the those that come before it. I won’t argue with Jessica Andrade and Karolina Kowalkiewicz’s placement, but is Zabit Magomedsharipov and Brandon Davis a better contest than Jimmie Rivera and John Dodson? No. Maybe Magomedsharipov and Yair Rodriguez – who was removed due to injury – would have been. Perhaps I’m being too hard on this section of the card, but I would expect more given what the FX prelims look like.

The main card of UFC 228 begins at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Zabit Magomedsharipov (15-1) vs. Brandon Davis (9-5), Featherweight

Admittedly, it’s disappointing we don’t get to see Rodriguez in this spot. However, the UFC did a fabulous job of making sure the fans get an entertaining contest in lieu of that canceled contest as Davis will look to throw down with the Russian super-prospect.

It isn’t that Davis is incapable of stinkers. There weren’t many asking for a repeat viewing of his contest with Kyle Bochniak. However, Bochniak also employed a hit-and-run strategy that made it difficult for Davis to hunker down on his mouthpiece and trade fisticuffs. However, he isn’t simply a brawler as many would like to paint him. Davis has underrated movement with his feet and head and good timing on the counter. He isn’t a heavy hitter, is far from a technical marvel in his wrestling and grappling, nor is he a special athlete. Despite that, Davis’ grit, stamina, and durability make him a tough out for anyone.

Magomedsharipov has emerged as the favorite of hardcore fans thanks to his electric finishes of Mike Santiago and Sheymon Moraes last year. He utilizes his environment in a way that is akin to Anthony Pettis in his prime and isn’t afraid to throw spinning or leaping strikes. What often gets lost in the fray is Magomedsharipov’s ability to do what Davis does best: bite down and throw. Magomedsharipov is perfectly happy to stand and trade in the pocket and has done so with excellent results so far. Given that Magomedsharipov’s length and frame are about as long as his name has been quite helpful in his success.

When Rodriguez fell out and Davis stepped in, this turned into a showcase for Magomedsharipov. No disrespect to Davis as this represents a great opportunity for him to steal the thunder of his opponent, but the short notice against someone as skilled and unpredictable as Magomedsharipov is damn near impossible to prepare for. Magomedsharipov via submission, RD3

Jessica Andrade (18-6) vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (12-2), Women’s Strawweight

High stakes in this contest as there is a strong likelihood the winner gets another shot at the belt. This time though, rather than it being another shot at Joanna Jedrzejczyk, it’s Rose Namajunas holding the title.

That’s good news for both competitors as Namajunas presents a more favorable matchup. In fact, Kowalkiewicz has already defeated the reigning champion, disposing of her two years ago to earn her first shot at the title. To the surprise of many, the Pole dominated Namajunas in close quarters, cinching up a reputation as a tricky clinch fighter despite seeming to possess a less than physically dominant frame. Kowalkiewicz is a smart fighter with better than expected punching combinations in the pocket. It doesn’t hurt that Kowalkiewicz has proven to be far more difficult to take down than anyone expected.

Unfortunately for her, Andrade is superior in all the areas where Kowalkiewicz excels. Andrade may be the strongest strawweight on the roster, not much of a surprise given she used to fight at bantamweight when that was the only option for women in the UFC. Even more dogged and aggressive than Kowalkiewicz, Andrade marches forward with fists flying in hopes of putting a serious beating on her opponents. The thought when she dropped down to 115 was she would probably tire herself out as the fight goes, but Andrade’s stamina has held up brilliantly, showing zero signs of slowing down as the fight drags into the late stages.

I’ll admit Kowalkiewicz is the more technical striker. She’s probably a better submission artist too, something that could come into play as Andrade’s aggression has hurt her before as she has walked into submissions on occasion. Despite that, Andrade is simply a nightmare of a matchup for Kowalkiewicz. Regardless, it should be fun…while it lasts. Andrade via TKO, RD2

Abdul Razak Alhassan (9-1) vs. Niko Price (12-1, 1 NC), Welterweight

There is no mystery to what Price wants to do if he wants to win this contest: put Alhassan on his back. The native of Ghana has secured every one of his career wins via strikes before the first round has expired on the strength of his freakish punching power. Alhassan isn’t a bad athlete either and has a judo black belt to boot, making getting him to the ground a hell of a chore.

Given Price’s creativity on the ground – see his KO of Randy Brown with hammerfists off his back – he should be able to secure a victory with ease should he get the fight to the ground. However, there is plenty of reason for concern. Price is hardly a defensive wizard and tends to be overly aggressive in both his standup and in his pursuit of takedowns. This has served him well at times. But against a counter striker like Alhassan…

Price may have another avenue to victory if he can extend Alhassan beyond the first round, though Alhassan has shown a more measured approach since his loss to Omari Akhmedov, indicating that may not be the sure thing many believe it is. Regardless, I think Alhassan will connect with some heavy leather before Price can do what he wants. Alhassan via KO, RD1


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