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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Denver: Korean Zombie vs. Rodriguez – Main card preview

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For a card that has been put through the wringer due to injuries, would you believe that UFC Denver still features a contest in which both combatants were in a title fight the last time they competed? Even with that being said, it the card still feels underwhelming as Raquel Pennington and Germaine de Randamie don’t do much to stir interest amongst fans. There was another fight that featured former title contenders, only for it to fall through when Ray Borg suffered an injury. Alas, it appears were unlikely to see Ray Borg and Joseph Benavidez get an opportunity to rebook things as it appears the UFC is getting ready to do away with the flyweight division. It’s a shame too as I’ve consistently enjoyed the action put on by the little guys. Any early takers on them bringing it back the same way they did with the lightweight division all those many years ago?

The main card of UFC Denver kicks off on FS1 at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Raquel Pennington (9-6) vs. Germaine de Randamie (7-3), Women’s Bantamweight

It feels weird referring to de Randamie as an ex-champion, but she legitimately had a big gold belt strapped around her waist just last year. I suppose when it boils down to it, we can’t blame her for not wanting to fight Cyborg Justino, can we? I sure as hell wouldn’t want to.

De Randamie is a hard one to figure out. Her lone loss in the UFC came to Amanda Nunes five years ago. Nothing to be ashamed about. However, outside of her controversial win over Holly Holm, her UFC victories have come over a past-her-prime Julie Kedzie, Larissa Pacheco, and Anna Elmose. None of those are worth pounding your chest over. While De Randamie’s UFC credentials are as questionable as they come for an ex-champion, her kickboxing credentials aren’t as she was undefeated over 37 contests. Her size is a weapon she knows how to use well, keeping her opponents at the end of her jab and kicks. Don’t think clinching up with her is a preferable solution either as she easily got the better of those exchanges with Holm, an area where Holm has excelled.

The obvious solution – get De Randamie to the ground – hasn’t been accomplished since her loss to Nunes. Then again, De Randamie also hasn’t faced any ground-based opponents in that time. Pennington doesn’t necessarily qualify that way either, but there’s no doubt she’s the best wrestler De Randamie has stepped in the cage with since the Nunes contest. While Pennington is usually thought of as a pocket boxer, it should be noted she has far more submission finishes than KO/TKO finishes. Pennington does put together some nice punching combinations, but she was proven to be less than world class in her lopsided title loss to Nunes this past spring. Then again, Nunes is probably the best athlete in women’s MMA at this time. De Randamie can’t hope to match Nunes’ speed.

This is a very difficult contest to predict. Pennington has improved her decision-making process immensely since entering the UFC, though she still has the occasional lapse. If she hasn’t been mentally scarred from the brutal beating Nunes laid on her this past spring, she’s probably going to right her ship. That’s no guarantee. Given Pennington has had confidence issues in the past, I’m favoring the disgraced former champion in this contest. De Randamie via decision

Beneil Dariush (14-4-1) vs. Thiago Moises (11-2), Lightweight

It’s been quite the fall for Dariush, who used to make his home somewhere in the top ten of the official UFC rankings. If he was thought to be in decline due to age or mileage, his slide would be understandable. That doesn’t appear to be the case. Perhaps opponents have just figured him out…

To be fair to the 29-year-old, Dariush has faced some tough competition and was even ahead on the scorecards before Edson Barboza put him to sleep when those two collided. Though he’s best known for his grappling chops – he is a former no-gi BJJ champion – Dariush has been forced to duke it out on the feet. He can hold his own in that category, but there is growing concern that he doesn’t have the chin to hang with the divisional elite. If he can avoid getting pieced up, Dariush’s striking is usually tight and taut with plus power once he gets flowing.

Moises reminds me of Dariush when the Iranian export first made his way into the organization. Like Dariush, Moises made his reputation on the grappling circuit, though he’s been making more noise as a striker recently. That includes his head kick victory from the Contender Series. He isn’t the most technical striker, but he’s fearless, aggressive, and durable…a fierce combination.

Should Moises pull off the upset, it wouldn’t equal the shock I experienced when Alexander Hernandez trucked the young veteran. I don’t say that because Dariush is coming off that loss. I say that because Moises has faced some impressive names on the regional scene and more than held his own. Nonetheless, Dariush is a BIG step up from anything Moises has faced. However, if Dariush falls short – again – it’ll be hard to believe he can even sniff his previous heights once again. Dariush via decision

Maycee Barber (5-0) vs. Hannah Cifers (8-2), Women’s Strawweight

Barber has made no secret of her goal to surpass Jon Jones as the youngest champion in UFC history. At 20-years-old, it’s a goal that’s well in reach if she can continue to develop. Barber put a brutal beatdown on Jamie Colleen in the Contender Series to gain her admittance into the organization. She’s suffocating in the clinch, helping to make up for her still developing kick-heavy offense. The ground is where Barber really shines as her physicality comes through, maintaining a heavy base and delivering her heavy brand of GnP.

Cifers is also making her UFC debut, though she is doing so on short notice. Like Barber, she has a suffocating clinch. However, her Muay Thai experience gives her a slight edge there as she is a bit more active and technical in that area. At a distance is where her real advantage will be as Barber is still figuring out her identity on the feet. Cifers knows what she wants to do on the feet, usually attacking the legs with her kicks to set up her powerful fists.

The UFC was trying to give Barber a softball with Maia Stevenson before the latter got injured. Cifers, despite coming in on short notice, is anything but a softball for Barber. If Barber can get Cifers to the ground where she can let her fists fly, she’s the easy favorite. If not, Cifers will likely outpoint her. Barber’s rate of improvement has been impressive, so I see her securing enough takedowns to get the job done…but just barely. Barber via decision

Michael Trizano (7-0) vs. Luis Pena (5-0), Lightweight

Some might look at this contest as the real final of last season’s TUF tournament as Pena was forced out without losing due to injury. Trizano emerged as the victor against Joe Giannetti in one of the worst finals contest in the history of the long-running series. It was bad enough Giannetti was let go outright following his loss.

Trizano doesn’t have any part of his game that stands out in any way. That isn’t to say he’s a terrible fighter. He’s actually very well-rounded. The problem is everything about him is vanilla. His striking is basic. His wrestling can be negated by anyone with a modicum of takedown defense. The best parts of his game are his takedown defense and his submissions. Now if only he can get his opponent off the fence and onto the mat instead…

Pena’s distinctive afro and personality garnered a lot of early attention, though he quickly proved that he’s more than just a gimmick. At 6’3” with a 76” reach, Pena’s hair isn’t the only thing that’s unique about him. He’s shown he knows how to use that to his advantage very well, keeping a jab in his opponent’s face at all times with front kicks being another weapon he regularly uses to keep his opponents at bay. His strikes tend to sting more than bludgeon as he piles on the volume at a rapid pace from his southpaw stance. Pena’s takedown defense is a concern, though he shows strong enough grappling chops.

It doesn’t take a lot of footage to see who has the higher upside between these two combatants. Pena’s frame and fluid style make him someone whom fight analysts are heavily intrigued by. Trizano is a dogged and durable competitor who won’t go down without a fight, but I struggle to see him being able to outpoint or finish the man known as Violent Bob Ross. Pena via TKO, RD2

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