Peer into the inner workings of the prelims on FS1 of UFC Auckland, featuring former flyweight title challenger John Moraga and native Aussie Damien Brown.
This section of the card is very difficult to predict. In every contest, there is either a competitor making their debut or who is returning to action after a lengthy layoff. How lengthy? We’re talking years. As for those making their debuts, they have been fighting questionable competition on the Australian scene. Some have surprised coming from that environment with immediate success such as Tyson Pedro. However, many have also washed out. Perhaps the easy thing to do would be to assume they’ll lose, but isn’t that why we watch the fights?
The FS1 prelims begin at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Damien Brown (17-9) vs. Vinc Pichel (9-1), Lightweight
Wait…Pichel is still in the UFC? Finding out he was still in the organization was a bigger surprise to me than finding out Angela Magana was after Cris Cyborg punched her. There is good reason for that. Pichel hasn’t appeared in the Octagon in three years, owning largely to injuries and other miscellaneous issues. Now 34 years old, it is reasonable to question if the long layoff has cost Pichel the best years of his career. Known primarily as a slugger, Pichel is an underrated wrestler and grinder…provided his opponent lacks a viable ground game. Though he isn’t thought to be much of a submission artist, he picked up a couple of wins with some surprisingly slick chokes. Then again, that was five years ago.
Brown isn’t a great wrestler, but he is an underrated submission artist. He isn’t flashy, largely relying on the basics to maintain positioning while waiting for his opponent to make a mistake. However, that hasn’t been the most distinguishable characteristic of Brown since coming to the UFC. No, his durability, toughness, and never-say-die attitude stands out in a sport whose athletes are known for those attributes. Seriously, Brown’s resiliency is off the charts. He has also improved his standup in that time. It isn’t dynamic and never will be considering his lack of athleticism, but Brown has shown enough pop to be a threat.
Not knowing how much the layoff will affect Pichel makes this a hard contest to evaluate. Then again, that seems to be the story for a lot of these contests. The physical attributes of both competitors are underwhelming to say the least, so it’s difficult to project who wins based on that projection. Going off of the limited information available, I’m inclined to think Pichel’s layoff will do him more harm than good, especially seeing as how he’ll have a long flight to deal with and Brown doesn’t. Whoever gets the victory will own one of the most unlikely three-fight win streaks in today’s UFC. Brown via decision
Luke Jumeau (11-3) vs. Dominique Steele (14-8), Welterweight
While I’m doubting how much success Jumeau will have in the UFC in terms of wins and losses, I’m sure as hell excited to see him making his debut. He’s all offense, all the time, continually moving forward looking for the kill. While he is largely a brawler, he’s hardly a mindless drone swinging as he moves forward. Jumeau will hit the occasional reactionary takedown and shows some underrated submission ability. Despite those positives, he has many defensive holes that can be exposed by a sound counter puncher.
Steele is capable of catching his opponent as they come in, but that is hardly his specialty. Steele, not the quickest of athletes, does his best work in the clinch, grinding away at his opponent against the fence. Out in the open, he’s not quite so efficient where his lack of speed can be exposed. He does possess an underrated ability to explode, surprising his opponent with a powerful right from time to time. Steele doesn’t throw a whole lot of volume, but he does hit hard.
Steele isn’t the most durable fighter – nor is he great defensively — which is why I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him get knocked out by Jumeau. However, Steele has gradually improved his fight IQ during his UFC run. Knowing Jumeau isn’t the best wrestler, look for Steele to try and turn the contest into an ugly affair. The uglier the fight gets, the more in his favor it will be…and I expect it to be ugly. Steele via decision
John Moraga (16-6) vs. Ashkan Mokhatarian (13-1), Flyweight
Much like the women’s strawweight contest I previewed yesterday, it’s hard to get a feel for this contest given the lack of footage available on Mokhatarian. What I have seen indicates that he is a strong wrestler with a penchant for slam takedowns. However, his wrestling ability is skewed thanks to the lack of wrestlers in Australia, meaning it’s hard to get a feel for how effective he’ll be against someone with a real wrestling background such as Moraga.
Curiously, Moraga hasn’t adapted to wrestling in the sport of MMA quite as well as many expected that he would considering he wrestled collegiately at Arizona State. Most opponents have recognized this, with the likes of Sergio Pettis taking him down multiple times in their contest. He hasn’t secured many takedowns of his own either, landing only two in his last seven contests. However, Moraga has been able to make his living off of opponent’s mistakes. For instance, he has secured two guillotine chokes on opponent’s takedowns. He’s not a bad counter puncher either. There isn’t a better opportunist in the division than Moraga.
Moraga has fallen a long way, challenging Demetrious Johnson for the title at one point to currently riding a three-fight losing streak. He won’t receive a better opportunity to right his ship than here as Mokhatarian is incredibly raw despite his impressive physical skills. It is plausible that Mokhatarian could earn the victory with his impressive ground-and-pound, but I expect Moraga to get the better of the striking and secure a decision. Moraga via decision
Kiichi Kunimoto (18-6-2) vs. Zak Ottow (14-4), Welterweight
It is very hard to get excited for this contest. Kunimoto is an undersized grinder whom most would only attribute one of his three UFC wins as legitimate. One came via DQ while nobody in their right mind would award him the decision against Richard Walsh…and yet two judges did. Regardless, Kunimoto can’t be taken lightly. Technically sound in the clinch with a slick submission arsenal, Kunimoto struggled with the size of Neil Magny, having no answer for the lanky American. Then again, that contest was over two years ago. Much could have changed for the Dave Strasser student.
Ottow isn’t nearly as long as Magny, but he does have a consistent attack from the outside with jabs and low kicks. Sure, it’s unspectacular, but it does the trick. Ottow doesn’t really have much of a choice given his lack of athleticism. That has shown up in his wrestling too as opponent have easily been able to stuff Ottow’s attempts to get the fight to the ground. If Ottow can successfully get the fight there, his top heavy submission game is the best weapon in his arsenal. The problem is that he hasn’t been able to get the fight there since coming into the UFC.
Kunimoto has a chance to win this one. His clinch work doesn’t get enough credit, but it is still hard to consistently operate with success from there when you’re almost always at a size disadvantage. Ottow isn’t a massive welterweight by any means, but he’s stocky enough that he can hold his own with most. Plus, Kunimoto hasn’t shown the best takedown defense. Though Kunimoto shouldn’t be counted out, I still favor Ottow due to his durability and fight IQ to pull out a rather uneventful decision. Ottow via decision