There doesn’t appear to be anything special about the Fight Pass prelims for UFC 229. Given two of the three contests have former title contenders – one of them who fought for a belt this year – you’d think it might be something special. Alas, we all know that the UFC has been desperate to find anyone willing to challenge Cyborg Justino, so it’s no surprise most people have forgotten who Yana Kunitskaya is despite co-headlining a PPV this year. To be fair, each of the contests are well-matched and should be competitive.
The Fight Pass prelims begin at 6:30 PM ET/3:30 PM PT on Saturday.
Lina Lansberg (8-3) vs. Yana Kunitskaya (10-4, 1 NC), Women’s Bantamweight
It’s a bit depressing both these ladies are best known for being victims of Cyborg’s reign of terror, making their UFC debuts against the world’s most dominant female in MMA. I may have just killed my own interest in this contest….
Lansberg is known as the Elbow Queen for her penchant for… well, you get it. She did manage to subdue Cyborg in the clinch for a longer amount of time than anyone expected, though the expected result did eventually become a reality. Where Lansberg has been exposed is her distance striking in addition to being a subpar athlete at best. Nonetheless, her toughness and determination make her a tough out, even when seemingly outgunned.
Kunitskaya has a bit more to work with in terms of physical tools. If she can keep Lansberg on the outside, Kunitskaya has sufficient pop in her punches in addition to a boxing game that continues to develop to cruise to an easy decision. However, keeping Lansberg on the outside is a big if. Kunitskaya also offers a submission threat if you sleep on her. Remember when she caught Tonya Evinger in an armbar a few years ago in Invicta?
While I do believe this contest has the possibility of going either direction, there’s a couple of things that lean me towards the Russian over the Swede. First, Lansberg has slowed down considerably in the second half of some of her contests. Secondly, Kunitskaya still appears to be on an upward trajectory while Lansberg has leveled out. It probably won’t be pretty, but it should be competitive. Kunitskaya via decision
Gray Maynard (13-6-1, 1 NC) vs. Nik Lentz (28-9-2, 1 NC), Lightweight
There was a time when pairing these two together would have been a viewer’s nightmare, going the distance being the only way these two knowing how to win. Fortunately, Lentz seems to have gotten a bead on his patented guillotine choke and has found some power in his fists. Unfortunately for him, it came as his body has begun to slow under the weight of all the fights he’s been in over the course of 13 years. One thing that comes with all that experience is savvy and guile and Lentz has plenty of that. His boxing isn’t any flashy, but he hits hard and still has a hell of a chin after all this time.
The same can’t be said of Maynard. It’s well documented the former title challenger no longer can take a clean shot, though it should be noted he hasn’t been put to sleep over his last three contests despite the best attempts of a couple of those opponents. The former collegiate All-American in wrestling realized he was better off avoiding the exchange of fisticuffs and has made wrestling the focus of his attack once again. It isn’t just his fragile chin that makes that a wise proposition. Despite having sufficient power in his fists, he hasn’t secured a KO/TKO win in eleven years.
While both have adapted their styles to accommodate their age, Lentz has found more success in applying his adjustments. Sure, Maynard is probably the better wrestler, though Lentz has long been known for his grit-and-grind style as well. Should Lentz turn out Maynard’s lights – a strong possibility – perhaps Maynard will finally call it a day; something many have been wishing for quite a while. Lentz via TKO of RD2
Ryan LaFlare (14-2) vs. Tony Martin (13-4), Welterweight
While those who follow MMA closely know LaFlare is a sturdy test for anyone at 170, they also know his button-down approach does him absolutely no favors in terms of getting any love from the fans. LaFlare’s penchant for avoiding damage leads to ticky-tacky point battles that few find much joy in. It’s no wonder all seven of his UFC wins have come via decision. LaFlare relies on short boxing combinations, the occasional knee or kick, and a steady diet of takedowns and ground control.
Martin has some similarities to LaFlare, owning a simple boxing game to compliment his wrestle-based attack. The biggest difference is Martin’s wrestling is unrefined in comparison, though his submission game is far more aggressive and effective. He used to suffer from a short gas tank, but looked very effective in his last contest, his first at welterweight within the confines of the Octagon. On the feet, Martin relies heavily on the one-two combination, offering little beyond that.
While LaFlare is very much a meat-and-potatoes fighter to the naked eye, he isn’t an easy one to figure out. While he isn’t a great athlete, he is better in that department than most will give him credit for. Martin has continued to improve since he debuted almost five years ago, but it should say something about how raw he was that he is still a way away from being a consistent threat to fighters hovering around the official rankings. LaFlare via decision