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Diggin’ Deep on UFC on FOX 24: Johnson vs. Reis – Fight Pass preview

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Take a look at the early fights of UFC on FOX 24, featuring talented bantamweight Aljamain Sterling facing off with BJJ expect Augusto Mendes.

For those who don’t like the pacing of FS1 – or FOX events for that matter – I have some good news for you. Instead of the usual six preliminary contests on television, there are only four this time on UFC on FOX 24, with Fight Pass picking up the slack by airing five contests. As much as I enjoy MMA, I do value the half hour or so of time that will be saved with the quicker pacing found on the internet stream.

While I will acknowledge most of the Fight Pass contests are filler that only hardcore fans can love, it does feature one of the more talented lighter weight fighters in Aljamain Sterling headlining against Augusto Mendes. Sterling was seen as one of the top bantamweights in the world before taking two losses in a row while Mendes is one of the preeminent BJJ practitioners in the world. Not a bad way to start your Saturday afternoon/evening.

The Fight Pass prelims begin at 4:00 PM ET/1:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Aljamain Sterling (12-2) vs. Augusto Mendes (6-1), Bantamweight

Is this contest an indication of how far Sterling has fallen or is it proof of how much Mendes stock has risen? While there is truth to both, I’m prone to believe it’s more of the latter than the former after Mendes’ impressive — and entertaining — victory over Frankie Saenz this past January.

The other thing to take into account is Sterling’s two fight losing streak hasn’t come against weak opponents in Bryan Caraway and Raphael Assuncao. Both of those losses could have just as easily gone his way as both were razor thin split decisions. Even more encouraging, Sterling has been showing progress even in the losses, growing as a striker and better learning when to expend large amounts of energy. It’s small things like that that often separate the contenders from the pretenders. There is still more for Sterling to learn, but he is turning into the elite fighter many thought he could become.

Sterling’s wrestling is still his bread and butter, which is why it is all the more confusing why he didn’t make a greater effort to take Assuncao to the ground. His shot is cat-quick and even if he can’t finish the takedown, his scrambling abilities are as good as they come. Sterling has a creative submission arsenal too. If you can, take a look at his arm-triangle choke of Takeya Mizugaki and you’ll see what I mean. Though he still prefers to wing front and side kicks – utilizing his long limbs to keep his opponents from countering effectively – Sterling has made progress in his boxing, even if he is still far from a technician.

Mendes isn’t exactly a technician himself, but he has two things going for him that Sterling doesn’t: power and confidence in his fists. Mendes has absolutely no fear of engaging in a firefight, trusting in his ability to hurt his opponent with his powerful hooks. He mixes in hard leg kicks for good measure, though he is just as likely to get pieced up himself as he leaves a lot to be desired defensively. Where Mendes truly shines is on the ground. A decorated BJJ practitioner, Mendes has shown better than expected wrestling ability, relying mostly on trips in close quarters.

I’m very much looking forward to the ground exchange between these two. Both are fundamentally sound, though I’m very curious to see how Sterling’s athleticism comes into play. Sterling is very conscious of defense on the feet while trying to score points with his kicks and punches. On the other hand, Mendes prefers going for the finish. I’m favoring the youngster in this one as Mendes barely eeked by a fading Saenz whereas Sterling has been hanging close with those near the top of the division. Sterling via decision

Devin Clark (7-1) vs. Jake Collier (10-3), Light Heavyweight

I’ve been wondering when some of the larger middleweights would realize that there is a major dearth of talent at light heavyweight and make their way up to 205. Clark did so in his last contest and now Collier is joining him in that expedition.

Clark had fought his entire career at 205 before being found by Dana White on Lookin’ for a Fight where the Uncle Dana notified him he’d have to fight at middleweight if he wanted to go to the UFC. After doing so in his debut – a loss to Alex Nicholson – Clark returned to his previous home and was able to turn away Josh Stansbury. Sure, Clark struggled to get the larger Stansbury to the ground, but he did have good energy and was able to beat him to just about every spot. In fact, those struggles were largely due to him telegraphing his shots more than him lacking the power to get the fight to the ground. If Clark can better set up his takedowns, he should be able to find enough success in the wrestling department to justify his roster spot.

Collier does a little bit of everything well without excelling in a single phase of the fight. That often leads to him taking the fight where he believes his opponent is weakest. Thus, taking Vitor Miranda down every chance he got while looking to stand and trade with Ricardo Abreu. I’d expect him to avoid wrestling with Clark and look to exploit Clark’s lack of technique on the feet. Even though he is losing the size advantage he possessed at middleweight, he isn’t going to be a small 205er by any means, clocking in at 6’3″ with a 78″ reach. Collier knows how to use his jab efficiently enough that he should be able to keep Clark just out of range to retaliate.

Clark has slowly made progress on the feet, utilizing better footwork and mixing in feints, though he is still a long way away from high levels of proficiency. Though he shows the power to end the contest on the feet, his bread and butter is still pounding away at his opponent from the top position. Collier shows a sneaky good guard with underrated grappling overall.

There is a stronger buzz about Clark than there is about Collier and I understand why. Clark is a better athlete with more room to grow. However, he’s still very raw to be fighting in the UFC and Collier is the type of savvy fighter that gives the raw youngsters all types of problems. Collier has had durability issues, though I think not having to cut so much weight will help in that department. It should be close, but I expect Collier to get the job done. Collier via submission of RD2

Anthony Smith (26-12) vs. Andrew Sanchez (9-2), Middleweight

I have no doubt Connor Ruebusch is salivating over this contest as Smith and Sanchez define what the heart of the middleweight division is all about as well as anyone.

A major stylistic clash between a striker and a grappler, Sanchez represents the grappler in this exchange. Winner of TUF 23 tournament, Sanchez has worked hard to make himself a solid standup fighter, beating Trevor Smith in his last contest without making a real effort to get the fight to the ground at any point despite that being his area of strength. Part of that was due to Trevor Smith’s own strength on the ground, though it still needs to be seen as a sign of progress on the feet for Sanchez. He prefers to throw off of the counter and will throw the occasional spinning back fist every now and then.

Anthony Smith’s prowess on the feet will ensure that Sanchez goes back to his roots. At 6’4″ with a 77″ reach, Smith knows very well how to use his length to his advantage with a jab, straight punches, and kicks being thrown with regularity and accuracy. Though he does have some good power, Smith often runs into trouble about halfway through the contest as he begins to lose steam. If he doesn’t get the finish at some point in the first two rounds, he better hope he’s ahead on the scorecards and able to survive what his opponent throws at him. Out of his 26 victories, only two have come after the passing of the second round.

Smith has shown improved submission defense in recent contests, but it should be a concern against the likes of Sanchez. A collegiate wrestler who has become reputed for his submission skills. The funny thing is, Sanchez only has two submissions to his resume, coming in his first two professional contests against opponents with a combined record of 13-16. While it won’t be a surprise if he is able to submit Smith, I’m not really counting on it.

I expect this to start with a bang and end with a whimper. Smith will work hard in the beginning to get the finish only to tire himself out. Sanchez has been fairly durable with Kevin Casey being the only opponent who has finished him. Smith has shown better survival skills it recent fights, so I expect the contest to go the distance with the judges having a difficult time deciding the winner. I’ll go with… Sanchez via decision

Zak Cummings (20-5) vs. Nathan Coy (15-6), Welterweight

Interesting bit of matchmaking. Coy returns to the cage for the first time in 14 months while Cummings has fought three times in that span with two victories being recorded. Then again, it is doubtful the UFC sees a bright future for either competitor.

Perhaps that sounds harsh, but neither Cummings nor Coy are a great athlete and have suffered losses that indicate that there is a major ceiling to just how far they can climb. At 38-years old, Coy is seen to be nothing more than a gritty test in particular which is why this contest is a bit confusing. Wouldn’t he be better served testing the likes of Jonathan Meunier or Jessin Ayari? Just sayin’….

Nonetheless, this should be a competitive contest. Cummings is a physical beast at 170, making up for his lack of athleticism by overwhelming his opposition with his size and strength. Though he has improved his striking to the point his counter boxing is something opponents can’t take lightly, he is still a grinder at heart. However, throughout his UFC run, he hasn’t faced anyone who can challenge his wrestling prowess. The best wrestler he’s faced in that time? Depending on your point of view, either Gunnar Nelson or Dominique Steele.

Coy will certainly put him to the test in that regard. A collegiate All-American wrestler at Oregon State, Coy is a relentless takedown artist with a deep gas tank. Even as he ages, Coy hasn’t really shown the signs of age that most do at the stage of his career as he was never a great athlete to begin with. While he isn’t much of a submission threat, Coy exercises good top control with aggressive ground-and-pound, though it has gotten him submitted from time to time.

Where Coy is limited is on the feet. Even ten years into his career, he appears uncomfortable standing and trading. A jab being his primary weapon, he overextends it at times, doesn’t commit to it at others, often leaving himself vulnerable to counters against skilled strikers. Coy will occasionally mix in a kick, but that’s about the extent of his arsenal.

Unless Cummings is susceptible to someone similarly styled to him, don’t anticipate Coy being able to pull off the win. Cummings counterpunching style appears to be perfectly suited to take advantage of Coy’s suspect standup skills. I also suspect Cummings will be able to shut down Coy’s wrestling attack. Given Coy’s durability and submission defense hasn’t been stellar either, expect a finish. Cummings via KO of RD1

Ashlee Evans-Smith (5-1) vs. Ketlen Vieira (7-0), Women’s Bantamweight

Would you believe me if I told you a win here could put Evans-Smith in title contention talk? If she pulls it off, she’ll be tied with Sara McMann with the third longest win streak in the division.

Many might say that the competition level is the difference, but is it really? McMann’s streak has come over Jessica Eye, Alexis Davis, and Gina Mazany. Over the last three years, those names have a combined two wins in UFC competition. Should Evans-Smith win this, her opponents will have won twice as many as McMann’s over that same period of time. Just something to think about….

As for breaking down this contest, it isn’t the given for Evans-Smith that many believe it is. Vieira is massive for the weight class, still young at 25-years old, and full of potential. She knows how to use her frame efficiently to wear down her opponent in the clinch in addition to owning a good arsenal of trips and throws honed by her judo training. Plus, she packs a hell of a punch. Then again, she rarely lands that punch cleanly as her striking is incredibly wooden in addition to poor defense.

Where Macedo is fortunate is Evans-Smith isn’t a notable striker. She has made strides over the last few years to where she can put together effective punching combinations with the occasional kick mixed in for good measure. Evans-Smith has the same type of defensive issues as Vieira, making it questionable whether or not Evans-Smith can expose that. Where Evans-Smith excels is in the clinch and in the wrestling department. One of the few who may be bigger than Vieira in the division, Evans-Smith has pounded opponents into dust with her ground-and-pound as she is tough to move once she gets the top position.

I understand why there isn’t a lot of buzz about this contest. Neither competitor is known for their exciting in-ring style and their resume is underwhelming. But I expect there will be some buzz around Evans-Smith should she win given the shallow state of the division. Keep in mind that Bethe Correia fought for the title less than two years ago riding a similar win streak. If the talk does arise, I don’t think Evans-Smith would deserve the consideration, Vieira hasn’t shown enough to convince me she can overpower Evans-Smith. Evans-Smith via TKO of RD1

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