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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 240: Holloway vs. Edgar – ESPN2 prelims preview

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A few months ago, Viviane Araujo entered the UFC as a short-notice injury replacement against an unheralded Talita Bernardo. Regardless of how most viewed Bernardo, Araujo was fighting at not one, but two weight classes above her usual strawweight home… on short notice. Securing the win would have been impressive enough… but she KO’d Bernardo who had been thought to be fairly durable. Now, we find out if Araujo is genuinely on the road to stardom or if she is just a one-hit wonder against a tough vet in Alexis Davis. There isn’t much else of significance on the televised prelims of UFC 240… unless the UFC is serious about revitalizing the flyweight division. If they are, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the winner of Alexandre Pantoja and Deiveson Figueiredo fight for the title before the end of 2020. However, while I certainly hope it to be true, I’m not ready to trust the UFC brass quite yet. There are two other contests too, but the expected impact from those bouts is minimal.

The televised prelims are on ESPN2 at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Alexis Davis (19-9) vs. Viviane Araujo (7-1), Women’s Flyweight

Make no mistake, the narrative is completely about Araujo in this contest. It wasn’t just the KO she secured against Bernardo that was impressive. It was the entire performance. She stuffed Bernardo’s takedowns. She flashed a jab. She put together good boxing combinations. Showed a variety of kicks, particularly to the body. Her feet were fast too. And yes, I said her feet. It’s hard to think what she didn’t do in her debut. However, I’ve already indicated that Bernardo isn’t exactly the toughest opponent to debut against. If Araujo can pull off a similar performance against the savvy Davis, we’ll know we have the real deal on our hands.

Even though the UFC has no interest in pushing her, Davis still has real value to the promotion in this type of role. There isn’t much Davis hasn’t seen in her decade-plus in this sport. Never owner of top-notch physical attributes, Davis employs a tactical striking game with tricky submissions to threaten her opponents with. Unfortunately for her, threaten is about all she can do as opponents are wary of her ground game and rarely give her an opportunity to show what she can do on the mat. Given the confidence and flair Araujo displayed in her debut, don’t be shocked if Davis gets the opportunity to nab the upset.

Some may feel the UFC is rushing Araujo by putting her in against Davis as Davis was probably a win away from a title shot at the beginning of 2018. That wasn’t very long ago. However, what is often left out of the Araujo narrative is the Brazilian is already 32 thanks to a late start to her career. If I were a betting man, I’d throw money on Davis as there is no way she should be as large of an underdog as she is. She could easily outpoint Araujo on the volume of her low kicks while Araujo struggles to figure out the slick veteran. What has me leaning towards Araujo – without the betting odds being taken into account — was she not only showed plenty of physical gifts in her UFC debut, she fought a smart fight too. She proves she’s the real deal. Araujo via decision

Alexandre Pantoja (21-3) vs. Deiveson Figueiredo (15-1), Flyweight

It was just earlier this year that many were expecting Figueiredo to punch his ticket for an opportunity for flyweight gold, but the talented Brazilian wasn’t able to deal with Jussier Formiga’s tricky wrestling and grappling. It wasn’t just Formiga’s groundwork that did in Figueiredo as the threat of the takedown rendered the typically dangerous Figueiredo timid on the feet, allowing Formiga to be the more effective fighter on the feet too. Why am I concentrating so heavily on Figueiredo’s last contest? Well, it could be argued that Pantoja represents Formiga-lite.

Like Formiga, Pantoja’s best weapon on the feet is his low kicks. He’s also a talented grappler with some good submission ability. Hell, he’s even a far superior athlete to Formiga. However, Pantoja isn’t nearly as sound defensively as Formiga, nor is he as fundamentally sound as the human backpack of the flyweight division. The biggest hole Pantoja has is his tendency to exhaust himself early. It’s hard to know if the Nova Uniao product has addressed this issue as he scored first round stoppages in his last two contests, but that hasn’t been an issue in every contest he’s gone the distance… only in those where he’s facing top opposition.

If I knew how Pantoja’s gas tank was going to hold up, this is an easy contest for me to call. Pantoja has developed into a solid boxer and is a strong enough athlete to compete with Figueiredo in scrambles. That would be enough to have me picking him, provided he isn’t going to get tired. However, if he does, Figueiredo has the power to make him pay a HEAVY price as Figueiredo has the most power of any flyweight on the roster. I’m torn who to take on this one, but I’ll go with Figueiredo’s power and physicality to be the difference in the end. Figueiredo via TKO of RD3

As for the rest….

  • Hakeem Dawodu entered the UFC as a hyped prospect with a penchant for violent finishes. The finishes haven’t been seen yet, meaning his stock has fallen in the eyes of some. That’s unfair though as the Canadian has displayed a very technical and accurate striking so far, utilizing expert angles and punishing his opposition while taking minimal damage in return. He gets a wild card in debuting Yoshinorie Horie, a heavy-handed counter puncher out of Japan. Horie is explosive, but he also has long periods of inactivity. Both are capable of securing the highlight reel KO, but Dawodu’s volume produces a greater opportunity to take a decision in addition to the greater chances of securing a finish. Dawodu via TKO of RD2
  • It’s been a long time since we saw Gavin Tucker in a UFC cage, almost two years. After a hyped performance in his UFC debut over Sam Sicilia, he endured one of the worst beatings in the annals of the promotion at the hands of Rick Glenn. Glenn isn’t a bad fighter, but he’s not considered a brutal ass-kicker by any means. Tucker just didn’t have the stamina to maintain his attack the entire course of the contest, allowing Glenn to then have his way with him. Seung Woo Choi is also looking to rebound from a loss. A powerful counter striker, Choi’s takedown defense cost him his UFC debut against Movsar Evloev. Fortunately for him, Tucker is unlikely to test that aspect of his game very much. The Korean will get a chance to show what he can do and the results should work out well for him given Tucker’s loss to Glenn is the type that ruins careers. Choi via TKO of RD2

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