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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Atlantic City: Barboza vs. Lee – FS1 prelims preview

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Get the scoop on the televised prelims of UFC Atlantic City, featuring a light heavyweight scrap between Patrick Cummins and Corey Anderson, plus Canadian bowling ball Alex Garcia.

The televised prelims for Fight Night Atlantic City are about what you’d expect from a UFC card these days. There are a couple of fighters who have headlined Fight Night cards in the past, but have also suffered enough of a drop in their stature due to recent losses. There are also some young fighters who have shown promise, but the UFC also isn’t sold on them becoming major players. There isn’t a single contest that looks like it would be a can’t-miss barnburner, but I also wouldn’t say the contests will suck. Basically, I can’t recommend whether to watch this section of the card or pass on it. Maybe you’ll have a better feel on what to do after you read this….

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

Ryan LaFlare (13-2) vs. Alex Garcia (15-4), Welterweight

Does anyone know what to make of Garcia? The Tristar representative has been anything but consistent in his Octagon appearances, alternating wins and losses in the process of his last seven contests. At times, he displays excellent energy conservation with an overpowering wrestling game and explosive power in his fists. Other times, he comes across as someone struggling to manage his stamina despite low levels of activity. As is the case for most fighters, Garcia excels when he controls the pace. Unlike most fighters, it’s almost impossible for Garcia to win if he can’t as his bowling ball frame tends to exhaust if his energy levels aren’t regulated properly, eliminating all power and accuracy before long.

LaFlare isn’t often thought of as a fighter who pushes a fast pace – largely because of his predilection to mix in a lot of takedowns – but the American has yet to end a contest completely spent. That isn’t because he doesn’t leave it all in the cage. It’s because LaFlare’s conditioning is amongst the best in the sport. Utilizing a bread-and-butter kickboxing approach with a low amount of power in his fists – all six of his UFC wins have gone the distance – there is nothing flashy about LaFlare’s style. Sometimes that isn’t a bad thing, but the indications at this point is that opponents have figured him out. After averaging almost five takedowns per contest in his first four UFC contests, he’s secured a single takedown in his four appearances since.

It’s easy to see where Garcia’s weaknesses play into LaFlare’s strengths, but the same could be said in reverse. If LaFlare can push a fast pace, Garcia is likely to fade in a hurry and make himself easy pickings for LaFlare by the time the final round rolls by. On the flip side, Garcia has improved his ability to control the pace and could simply be biding his time before landing a brutal kill haymaker that leaves LaFlare seeing stars. I don’t know if LaFlare’s KO loss to Alex Oliveira in his last appearance was a sign of cracks in the armor or was an aberration, but it is something to take into account. Given the Canadian has shown improvement while LaFlare’s own development appears to have stalled – even in his most recent victories – I’m going with Garcia. Garcia via TKO of RD2

Magomed Bibulatov (14-1) vs. Ulka Sasaki (20-5-2), Flyweight

It wasn’t that long ago that Bibulatov was viewed as the next great hope to dethrone longtime flyweight kingpin Demetrious Johnson. With as deep of an arsenal as flyweight has seen in any prospect, Bibulatov entered his contest with John Moraga undefeated with the expectation he’d truck over the former title contender. That didn’t happen. Instead, Bibulatov was KO’d in highlight reel fashion and his hype has seemingly gone by the wayside.

In retrospect, Moraga was – and still is – a better fighter than he was given credit for going into that contest. Translation: Bibulatov is still one of the best prospects the division has seen in recent years if not the best prospect. He can do a little bit of everything and do it all well. Wrestling? He’s versed enough in that field that a slam takedown isn’t a surprising development. Striking? He puts together slick punching combinations in addition to good timing on the counter. Grappling? Though Bibulatov is rarely given extensive credit for his grappling credentials, more than a third of his victories have come by way of submission. The kid has it all.

Sasaki knows all about being a hot prospect who failed to live up to expectations, dropping two in a row to a pair of fighters who have already washed after his impressive debut. He reinvented himself when he dropped down to 125 from bantamweight, creating problems thanks to his frame that was even thought to be big for 135. Though there is concern about how long he can continue to cut to the flyweight limit, Sasaki’s aggression hasn’t wavered despite the tough weight cut and he’s even learned to make some use of his 5’10” frame at a distance. Sasaki’s bread and butter will always be his submission game as he expertly uses his long limbs to entangle his opponents once he gets the back to sink in a RNC.

While most still believe Bibulatov is going to develop into a major player in the division, Sasaki is a huge X-factor. His aggression has been both his key to success and his downfall at times. It would be foolish to expect that aspect to disappear. However, there are signs he’s developing a better sense of when and where to attack. He’s not going to take a decision over Bibulatov’s more consistent brand of offense, but it isn’t hard to see Sasaki getting the Russian’s back in a scramble. Despite that, I’m going with Bibulatov to remind people why he was so hyped upon his entry, perhaps even securing a KO via some sort of spinning technique he’s known for. Hell, I’ll even go out on a limb and say it happens early. Bibulatov via TKO of RD1

Siyar Bahadurzada (23-6-1) vs. Luan Chagas (15-2-1), Welterweight

I’m caught off-guard every time I see Bahadurzada’s name pop up on a card. With five fights over the course of six years, he fights so infrequently that its easy to forget he remains on the roster. Even crazier, he only recently turned 34 as his career began all the way back in 2002. Nonetheless, Bahadurzada showed he has something left in the tank in his most recent appearance in the fall, displaying excellent timing on the counter and mixing in some straight punches as opposed to his usual overhand bombs. The question is whether the diversity in his striking selection is a permanent addition or an aberration. Bahadurzada would be better served if it’s here to stay.

Chagas went against type in his last performance, exercising great patience in looking for counters, setting up a classic club-and-sub against veteran journeyman Jim Wallhead for his first UFC victory. A young athletic prospect out of Brazil, the book on Chagas was that he would break out of the gates with everything he had only to fade quickly. It’s always been known he possessed the power in his legs and hands to make himself a permanent fixture on the roster as opposed to just being a footnote. Now it’s a matter of him putting it all together on a consistent basis.

Given Bahadurzada has looking like a middle-aged man since his mid-20’s, people often sleep on his athleticism. Sure, it isn’t what it was in his prime, but he has helped supplement that with an improved grappling and submission game he’s put on display in his last two appearances. Couple that with his impressive durability and I think he still has enough to turn away a still improving Chagas. Keep in mind I said that I think as I’m hardly confident in this pick. Bahadurzada via decision

Corey Anderson (9-4) vs. Patrick Cummins (10-4), Light Heavyweight

Hard as it may be to believe, an argument could have been made a few years ago that these two were the brightest prospects in the light heavyweight division. Neither have broken into the divisional elite, which wasn’t an entirely unexpected development. However, it would be unfair to consider Anderson and Cummins to be busts, especially when there are strong signs both are still improving.

Between the two, Anderson looks the most like being far from a finished product. He’s had flashes of greatness, putting together his wrestling and boxing seamlessly while pushing a pace most 205ers can’t keep up with. However, he has also gassed down the stretch which has allowed his opponents to finish him off late and has major holes in his striking defense. His boxing has stalled at times when his wrestling isn’t working for him too as much of his success is dependent on the threat of the takedown. The good thing is most of his issues are fixable and often covered up by his athleticism. Then again, there are concerns Anderson will never fix those problems as he is now four years into his UFC career.

Cummins’ official UFC debut came just a few months before Anderson’s but his 37 years of age is the biggest reason most have given up on him becoming a player at the top of the division. Nonetheless, the lack of wear and tear on his body has allowed Cummins to retain a lot of his athleticism from his youth and continue to show signs of improvement. An All-American wrestler in his collegiate days, Cummins boxing is still rudimentary, but he has improved his defense enough to allow him to survive longer on the feet than he did a year or two ago. Despite that, he still tends to get rocked at least once per fight, often needing to survive an onslaught.

There’s a reason the UFC rescheduled this contest after Cummins was forced to withdraw from UFC 217 from injury. There are too many similarities between these two that there is a major need for some sort of differentiation between the two. Translation: this is a razor thin contest. I’ll go with youth in this one as I don’t see Cummins having enough power in his fists to make Anderson pay the same way Anderson’s recent opposition has. Anderson via decision


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