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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Fortaleza: Belfort vs. Gastelum – FS1 prelims preview

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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Fortaleza: Belfort vs. Gastelum   FS1 prelims preview

Get the bare essentials for the UFC Fortaleza prelims, featuring a high stakes lightweight contest between Francisco Trinaldo and Kevin Lee.

Would you believe me if I told you that Trinaldo now owns the third longest winning streak in the lightweight division behind only Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov? It should have been second by now, but the MMA gods have decided we are not to see those two square off. Anyway, the point is that should be an indication of the depth of this card if someone who has had as much success as Trinaldo is merely on the prelims.

I will admit that Trinaldo’s level of competition hasn’t been the best, but seven wins in a row within the UFC is impressive regardless of who it comes against. Now he gets a different type of challenge than what he has faced thus far: a young wrestler who is on the up-and-up in Kevin Lee. Trinaldo needs this win more than Lee as he is already 38-years old whereas Lee is merely 24. A win would give Trinaldo eight consecutive wins and perhaps his first crack at a ranked opponent. High stakes for one of the more underrated underdog stories currently ongoing.

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

Francisco Trinaldo (21-4) vs. Kevin Lee (14-2), Lightweight

Even though Lee isn’t a major name, I still love this contest. Lee has looked markedly improved in each of his last three contests, all victories, with the last two featuring finishes of Jake Matthews and Magomed Mustafaev. A superior athlete with oodles of confidence, that confidence has gotten him into trouble in the past. He didn’t give Leonardo Santos any respect and the elder Brazilian responded by putting the youngster down. Lee hasn’t gotten ahead of himself in his last three contests, though his confidence has reappeared in abundance to the point it could be called cockiness.

Trinaldo is similar to Santos in some ways in that he is an elder Brazilian statesman with a grappling background who made his way to the UFC via TUF Brazil. Oh… he is likely to capitalize on an opening if Lee doesn’t show him the proper respect. A massive 155er, Trinaldo used to rely on his size to overwhelm his opponents, getting them to the ground and smothering them. As his level of competition increased, his size was no longer enough as his wrestling technique has never been elite. As a result, Trinaldo has become more of a striker and a pretty damned good one to boot. What is scary is that he is still improving in that field. His footwork has become a major strength, as has his willingness to mix up his punches to the body and head.

Lee has begun playing to his strength’s more regularly, focusing on his wrestling. It isn’t that he doesn’t have any ability on the feet as his natural power and hand speed shine through. It’s the lack of defense that has gotten him into trouble time and again. Fortunately for the Michigan native, he’s one of the most gifted wrestlers in the division, chaining together attempt after attempt to usually get the fight where he wants it. Lee has also become a sound back-take artist too, making him a real submission threat if he is able to take the back.

Aside from Barboza and Dariush, this is my favorite contest on the card. Trinaldo has the boxing to give Lee problems and the savvy to catch the occasionally overconfident up-and-comer much like Santos did. Then again, Lee has apparently learned from his past sins and Trinaldo hasn’t shown the best takedown defense. Compounding the issue is that Lee is the best wrestler Trinaldo has faced since his last loss to Michael Chiesa. Trinaldo has improved, but not enough that I think he can stop Lee’s takedowns. Lee via decision

Sergio Moraes (11-2-1) vs, Davi Ramos (6-1), Welterweight

Well this is a hell of a change for Moraes. Originally scheduled to fight striker Max Griffin, Moraes now meets a fellow grappling specialist in Ramos for the lone contest pitting Brazilians against one another.

Moraes is going to have a serious size advantage here as Ramos traditionally fights at lightweight. Considering neither is much of a wrestler or utilizes bullying tactics, does that really matter? Hard to say. Even though Moraes is four-inches taller, their reach is about the same. Not that either is exactly a technical striker. Both prefer throwing hard overhands looking for the finish with little regard for defense. Don’t be surprised to see spinning techniques come into play either, particularly from Ramos.

The most interesting battle will come on the ground where both have incredible credentials. Ramos won the 2011 Grapplers Quest in 2011 – which included an armbar submission of heavyweight Jeff Monson – and the 2015 ADCC. Moraes is a two-time BJJ world champion. However, it has been over three-and-a-half years since Moraes picked up a submission victory as opponents have become wary of Moraes top game and made an earnest effort to mitigate his guard passes and submission attempts to great success. Ramos is unlikely to be conservative given his own pedigree as he is traditionally an aggressive submission artist himself with one of the most dangerous guards upon his entry.

The question will be who can get the takedowns. Both can be reckless with their takedown entries, though I doubt they will pay the price for that in this contest as neither is an accomplished wrestler or disciplined striker. This is where Moraes’ strength advantage will come into play if it does. Ramos doesn’t give up on his attempts easy and is willing to pull guard if he’s unable to finish the takedown. Will he be willing to do so against Moraes?

This could end up being a delight for grappling fans or it could end up being an absolute bore. Ramos is a different breed than what Moraes has fought recently, giving me hope that we could get an exciting contest out of Moraes, something we haven’t seen in a while. My instinct says to go with Moraes given the short nature of Ramos’ call-up, but that didn’t do Moraes much good in his contest against Luan Chagas. Still, I think Ramos’ comfort off of his back will give the judges the false impression of control for Moraes even if Ramos is at the advantage. Moraes via decision

Rani Yahya (23-8, 1 NC) vs. Joe Soto (17-5), Bantamweight

Despite five contests without a single loss since returning to bantamweight, Yahya’s grappling-heavy style prevents him from getting a contest with a ranked opponent at bantamweight. I suppose it could be said that Soto is a former title challenger if he’s looking to find some sort of solace in his inability to move up the ladder….

Yahya’s fighting style is admittedly appreciated only by those who have a deep love of BJJ and even then there will be many purists who don’t find his stylings to be very pleasurable. His wrestling isn’t very technical as he relies more on his doggedness and determination to get his opponent to the ground. Once he gets the fight to the ground, that’s where the former Abu Dhabi champion really shines. Sticking to his opponent like glue, searching for chokes whether it be from the top or from his opponent’s back.

Yahya’s weaknesses have been well-documented. A poor striker whose leg kicks are his most reliable weapon on his feet, Yahya’s lack of athleticism tends to show itself on his feet. Even more troubling is his tendency to gas as he expends ungodly amounts of energy trying to wrest his opponents to the ground.

Soto will have a major striking advantage on the feet as he puts together good technical boxing combinations. His biggest weakness has been his defense as he has been outstruck by every opponent besides Michinori Tanaka. Then again, it isn’t like Yahya is a legit striking threat. Soto has also proven to be a sound grappler as he has picked up his last two victories via submission, including the rarely successful heal hook. However, much like Yahya isn’t likely to hurt Soto on the feet, Soto isn’t likely to submit Yahya.

I got a feeling that this contest isn’t on the must-watch list as many fans are leery of Yahya. Nonetheless, this should be a competitive contest. Soto’s wrestling and grappling should be enough to keep himself from being submitted and it would be shocking to see him lose the striking battle. However, I don’t like his inability to stay on his feet against anyone with a modicum of wrestling ability. Yahya takes a grappling heavy decision. Yahya via decision

Michel Prazeres (21-2) vs. Joshua Burkman (28-14, 1 NC), Lightweight

I understand what the UFC matchmakers were doing in one way or another when they put together all of the contests on this card… except for this one. Prazeres has won three in a row and five of his last six while Burkman has lost two in a row with only a single victory in six chances since coming back to the UFC. Can anyone explain this one to me?

Perhaps the UFC is sending Prazeres a message. Despite his success, the stout Brazilian has struggled to entertain audiences with his grinding style. He’s been unable to finish any of his five UFC victories and made minimal attempt to do so with only a single submission attempt according to Fight Metric over the course of his seven UFC contests, a ridiculously low number for someone who spends as much time on the ground as Prazeres. Nonetheless, his top control approach has been effective at smothering his opposition and keeping him employed.

Burkman has turned out to be incredibly difficult to take down with only the much larger Hector Lombard and Dong Hyun Kim taking him down for this UFC run when Burkman was still plying his trade at welterweight. That is enough to give him consideration to pull off the upset as Prazeres’ as the Brazilian will be in trouble if he can’t get the fight to the ground. Prazeres has improved his standup throughout his UFC run, timing his hooks very well off of the counter. The problem is he doesn’t utilize much movement to improve his own angles whether on offense or defense.

Burkman’s striking is a bit of a mystery. Often times looking uninterested in the contest, perhaps it is a ploy by the cagey vet to lure his opponent in as Burkman prefers to counter. If it works, Burkman has the power to seriously hurt them in addition to a wide variety of attacks. However, he has also failed to make adjustments in recent contests, such as allowing Zak Ottow to land leg kick after leg kick without any real answer.

Stylistically, this is a very favorable contest for Burkman as he is the more diverse striker in addition to possessing great takedown defense. Burkman may also be able to hit Prazeres with the occasional takedown of his own as the Brazilian hasn’t responded well when the tables have been turned on him. Despite that, I still believe that Burkman has looked less impressive with every subsequent fight. With as much tread as he has on his tires, I think we are seeing the decline of the longtime vet. Prazeres grinds out yet another decision. Prazeres via decision


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