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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 231: Holloway vs. Ortega – FS1 prelims preview

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I’ve been ripping on the quality of preliminary contests of UFC contests a lot as of late. I have to either shut my mouth or sing praises for the televised prelims of UFC 231 as they are pretty damn good. All of the contests could be placed on the main card of a PPV and not seem out of place. They wouldn’t serve as the main or co-main by any means, but there are quality contests here. However, I will add the caveat that none of these contests scream barnburner to me the way a Rick Glenn fight would. They should all be competitive though.

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

Claudia Gadelha (16-3) vs. Nina Ansaroff (9-5), Women’s Strawweight

Gadelha is in a weird spot. Her only career losses have come to former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Jessica Andrade, two of the divisional elite. With Rose Namajunas the current champion, it shouldn’t seem like Gadelha is miles away from a title shot coming off a win over former champion Carla Esparza. That gives Gadelha wins over the two opponents who have beaten the current champion in the UFC. And yet, no one ever mentions Gadelha’s name as a title contender at strawweight anymore. What gives?

Aside from her loss to Andrade being as lopsided as it comes – at least after the opening round – her recent wins over Esparza and Cortney Casey have been uninspiring. Gadelha is still as physically strong and powerful hitter as she ever was. Opponents have simply figured her out and have been responding accordingly. The biggest problem for the world-class grappler has been her gas tank as she cuts a lot of weight to make 115. Opponents weather the early storm from Gadelha and make their comeback from there.

Gadelha’s opponent, Ansaroff, is best known as Amanda Nunes girlfriend, but this could be a breakout performance for her as she comes in riding a three-fight win streak. Ansaroff has proven herself to be a high-volume kickboxer with some solid takedown defense. Given her extremely deep gas tank, that sounds just like the type of fighter who could give Gadelha problems. There are still questions about Ansaroff’s grappling as she hasn’t faced anyone who can either get her to the ground and/or possessed the chops to test her, but it’s hard to imagine that aspect hasn’t improved with the rest of her game.

The only fighter during her UFC run that Gadelha has been unable to get the ground is Andrade. Ansaroff has looked strong, but she doesn’t come close to resembling the brick house that is Andrade. Then again, no one else does. If Gadelha can pace herself, mix in her boxing combinations in a timely manner to avoid Ansaroff’s return fire, and land takedowns, the Brazilian should walk out the victor. Gadelha via decision

Katlyn Chookagian (11-1) vs. Jessica Eye (13-6, 1 NC), Women’s Flyweight

Believe it or not, the winner of this contest stands a good chance of being pitted against the winner of the flyweight title in the co-main event. We better hope for a spirited performance here or no one is going to be excited about either one challenging for a title of any sorts.

Chookagian has consistently been the better fighter between the two, circling the outside while using the fence to help her stuff takedowns. However, she has also consistently come up just short on so many of her punches that her activity level masks how little damage she is actually doing. Basically, it could be argued she lost each of her last two contests as she was both taken down and outstruck on the feet. Nonetheless, Chookagian is a smart fighter who utilizes her lanky frame to convinces the judges she’s winning… which is often all it comes down to.

Eye became a punchline for a while after enduring a four-fight losing streak and somehow remaining on the roster. She has rebounded since dropping to flyweight with two consecutive victories, utilizing a wrestling game that was nonexistent when she was fighting larger women at 135. Even with the takedown threat now a part of her arsenal, her backbone is still her boxing. The issue is her mental state. Even during her losing streak, Eye would start strong before getting hit hard and seeing things go off the rails as she loses confidence and goes into bouts of inactivity. If she can turn to takedowns when that happens – or eliminate that issue all together – she should be fine.

Though I don’t like the idea of one of these ladies fighting for the title, I do like the matchup. Eye possesses the physical tools to be something special at her new home while Chookagian’s length is about the only plus physical characteristic in her toolbox, making up for it with her mental fortitude and ability to stick to a strategy. Chookagian doesn’t hit very hard, so perhaps Eye won’t slip into a funk. Then again, I don’t trust Eye whatsoever. Chookagian via decision

Elias Theodorou (15-2) vs. Eryk Anders (11-2), Middleweight

Given his playful attitude, it’s a bit odd to think of Theodorou as an established veteran… but that’s what he is after about five years associated with the UFC. That doesn’t mean he isn’t improving. In fact, Theodorou has completely transformed himself from a frantic grinder into a steady, distance point fighter. Despite a slower pace, Theodorou still throws a high volume, combining for 195 significant strikes in his last two appearances. However, he’s proved he can still go back to his grinding ways if the matchup calls for it. However, Theodorou isn’t a threat to finish a fight.

Anders relies heavily on his ability to finish a fight at any moment. Still young in his career – the former University of Alabama linebacker has only been a pro for just over three years – Anders is not yet nuanced enough to put together a complete performance over the course of 15 minutes. However, his natural explosion and power are elite in addition to a sense of timing that can’t be taught. His technique in all aspects is still raw, relying on his physical tools to make up for what he lacks there.

The UFC wants Anders to succeed, placing him in two main events despite having been on the roster for only 18 months. Theodorou is a step down from Thiago Santos… but he is a big enough of step down to get back on track? Anders’ victories have come over Rafael Natal, Markus Perez, and Tim Williams. Not exactly inspiring names. Anders still has the potential to be something special, but his lack of experience is still very worrisome. In addition to becoming a smart vet, Theodorou is also incredibly durable. He should outpoint the former college football star. Theodorou via decision

Olivier Aubin-Mercier (11-3) vs. Gilbert Burns (13-3), Lightweight

Remember when Burns was one of the hottest prospects in the sport? That seems like ages ago now. The former BJJ champion hasn’t been a complete bust by any means. He simply never seemed to put everything together. It looked like he was about to breakthrough earlier this year, securing his second KO in a row as he finally gained confidence on the feet. Then, Dan Hooker happened, KOing Burns was for the first time in his career. Given the confidence issues he had in the past, will that have an adverse effect on the Henri Hooft pupil?

OAM was almost as hyped as Burns when he entered the UFC, though the French Canadian judoka was given more leniency due to his youth. Like Burns, he appeared to be hitting his stride earlier this year when he ran into a different type of buzzsaw in Alexander Hernandez. Under the guidance of Firas Zahabi at the Tristar gym, OAM developed confidence in a jab to compliment his physicality in the clinch. As a wrestler and grappler, few can match him and he’s a true back-take specialist.

It’s rare that a UFC puts together a contest outside of the very tip-top of any division, but it just made too much sense to not try and put these two together after their scheduled contest fell through in February. Both entered the UFC heavily reliant on their grappling only to develop into dangerous, if limited, strikers. Despite an admitted preference for striking in general, I’m very much hoping to see a chess match on the ground between these two as those type of contests are becoming more rare all the time. Given OAM’s advantage in wrestling and the questions about Burns’ confidence following his violent loss, I’m going with Aubin-Mercier to pull this one out. Aubin-Mercier via decision

Note: Diego Ferreira and Kyle Nelson will be the opening contest on Fight Pass. However, it was added to the card after the Fight Pass preview was already published. So, here it is… what little I could pull together on it in limited time.

Diego Ferreira (13-2) vs. Kyle Nelson (12-1), Lightweight

Ferreira entered the UFC with a reputation as a strong grappler. Outside of his UFC debut when he secured an RNC in less than a minute, he hasn’t had many opportunities to prove that. Instead, he’s had to find success with his sloppy, yet, somehow effective brand of striking. Throwing everything with power, Ferreira is anything but a technical striker. However, that may not matter too much as he is likely to physically overwhelm his opponent on very short notice.

It was only announced on Tuesday that Jesse Ronson was being pulled, so Nelson was given two days to make weight for this contest. No surprise, he’s a natural featherweight. You don’t think the UFC was going to find someone who usually fights at 155 to cut weight in a healthy manner within two days, do you? Nelson is a well-rounded fighter with improving power, but does he have enough time to prepare?

While I don’t think Nelson is a bad addition to the roster, this is way too much to overcome. Ferreira is physically imposing for a typical 155er with plenty of notice. I respect the Canadian for stepping up the way he has, but I’ll be shocked if he goes the distance. Ferreira via submission of RD1


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