Get the lowdown on the appetizer to the main card on FOX, featuring fan favorite Roy Nelson and recent title challenger and TUF winner Tim Elliott.
Remember when Khabib Nurmagmedov and Rafael dos Anjos served as the preliminary feature contest of UFC on FOX? Yeah, that was as epic as a preliminary fight gets. While the prelims of UFC on FOX: Johnson vs. Reis don’t have a fight that can hold a candle to that, it is a nice collection of contests. Roy Nelson may be slowing down, but he is still just as much of a KO threat as he has always been. Tim Elliott is coming off of a game title shot against Demetrious Johnson. Bobby Green and Rashid Magomedov were both in the official UFC rankings as recently as last year in the ever so competitive lightweight division. And hardcore fans are excited about the debut of uber-prospect Tom Duquesnoy. Yeah, I do find this collection to be more than acceptable.
The televised prelims begin on FOX at 6:00 PM ET/3:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Alexander Volkov (27-6) vs. Roy Nelson (22-13), Heavyweight
The UFC is desperate for new blood to break through at heavyweight as the top of the crop has largely remained the same for the better part of a decade. Nelson has never been elite, but he is a good measuring stick for Volkov at this point.
A case could be made that Nelson has improved in recent years despite the pile of losses he has accumulated. All one has to do is look at the names he has defeated and those he has lost to and realize it has more to do with the quality of competition than any sort of notable decline. The reason for the improvement is Nelson has taken huge strides to improve his defense which could extend his career as he has taken as much if not more damage than anyone else in the division since his UFC inception. His chin is tougher than the majority of the division. Recall the huge bomb Derrick Lewis landed on him at the end of their contest to know it is still iron clad.
A large part of Nelson’s avoiding damage has been his recent emphasis on wrestling. In his first fourteen UFC appearances, Nelson scored a total of four takedowns. In his last four contests, it has jumped up to eleven. He does seem to exhaust his stamina in his labored single and double-legs as he doesn’t do much once he gets the fight to the ground despite his lauded BJJ skills. Nelson’s biggest weapon is still his patented right hand. Opponents know it is coming, but Nelson still has been able to use subtle movements to lure them into his range for the haymaker.
Volkov presents a unique challenge for all competitors due to his size. At 6’7″ with an 80″ reach, only Stefan Struve exceeds him in both categories. He makes good use of that length with a steady jab and kicks from a distance. He’s pretty damned good in the clinch too, particularly with his knees. Volkov can be too stationary on the outside which makes him an easier target to hit than he should be – Timothy Johnson was able to establish a jab against him – making it something he needs to work on.
Another problem area for Volkov has been his takedown defense. However, he did show well against Johnson in that area and Nelson’s takedown attempts are likely to be similar to what Johnson had to offer. Volkov does have a uniquely active guard for a heavyweight, but that isn’t something he wants to be testing as Nelson has never been submitted in his career.
I really want to see Volkov win this. The division badly needs fresh new blood even with Francis Ngannou looking more and more like a future champion. Then I think about Volkov allowing Tim Johnson to have the best striking performance of his career and I can’t help but believe that Nelson will catch him with a monstrous right hand at some point. Nelson’s stamina is another thing that has improved, so it may not need to occur in the first round, though I’d say that is still the safest bet. Nelson via KO of RD1
Patrick Williams (8-4) vs. Tom Duquesnoy (14-1, 1 NC), Bantamweight
While casual fans will look at this matchup with disdain, hardcore fans have awaited the arrival of Duquesnoy into the UFC for a few years now. To sum it up, Williams is expected to be fodder for one of the top prospects in the entire sport.
Even though fans have been anticipating Duquesnoy’s arrival for a while now, he is still only 23-years old. The young Frenchman is extremely well-rounded and should become a fan favorite right away given his aggression. Though his boxing is what jumps out initially, he’s shown to be just as comfortable working at range as well as in the clinch. Duquesnoy tends to eat a lot of damage, though it is due more to his aggressive style than defensive deficiencies as he shows excellent footwork and head movement.
Duquesnoy’s lone loss in his career came via submission to current UFC featherweight Makwan Amirkhani back in 2013. Since then, Duquesnoy has made a lot of progress to cover the holes that were exposed. For one, he dropped to 135 and waited until he was comfortable with the weight cut before jumping to the big show. The results have been outstanding as he has recorded finishes in each of those contests. Duquesnoy’s wrestling doesn’t get a lot of attention, but he has been able to get opponents to the ground when he really wants to.
Williams has proven to be an excellent test for prospects like Duquesnoy. Despite being 35-years old, Williams is still an excellent athlete with power and explosion. He wings heavy hooks and isn’t afraid to throw high-risk maneuvers such as flying knees or spinning back fists. A collegiate wrestler, he still has the spring in his step to burst for a power double if he so desires. However, Williams gas tank is about as shallow as it gets for the lighter weights, quickly expending his energy hunting for the finish. If he is unable to do so in the opening round, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to last until the final bell.
I’d be shocked to see this go the distance, a rare statement for a contest in the bantamweight division. Williams could shock the hyped newcomer just as he did Alejandro Perez. However, that was 17 months ago and I don’t see Williams having improved at his advanced age in that time. Outside of the main event, there isn’t a contest I feel more confident about. Duquesnoy via TKO of RD1
Bobby Green (23-7) vs. Rashid Magomedov (19-2), Lightweight
In any other division besides the shark tank that is lightweight, these two would be in the UFC’s official rankings. Instead, they are fighting to regain that status in a contest that is difficult to get a pulse on.
One of the most snake-bitten members of the roster – and perhaps in the entire sport – Green has had a series of injuries and personal issues derail what was once one of the most promising careers in the lightweight division. It’s reasonable to believe that he hasn’t been at his best in his last two performances, losses to Edson Barboza and Dustin Poirier. When healthy and focused, Green is among the fastest competitors in the division, utilizing his cat-like speed to bait his opponent in only to unleash a bevy of strikes in return. It is a risky strategy and burned him against Poirier, but it’s been effective against those with less pop in their hands.
Magomedov may not be able to make Green pay the same way that Poirier did, but it could be argued that Magomedov is the better technician. One of the better counter strikers in the division with excellent use of angles, Magomedov often gets caught doing nothing as he’ll wait for his opponent to throw much to the dismay of the audience. He’ll toss out the occasional jab and front kick on the initiative, but his lack of aggression could be the culprit that keeps him from bursting into the ranks of the elite.
It’s difficult to predict how much the wrestling and grappling will come into play in this contest. Though both have reputations as above average wrestlers/grapplers, they have relied on that aspect less and less as time goes. It could be partially attributed to their matchups, though I can’t figure for the life of me why anyone would rather stand and trade with Barboza as Green did. Regardless, both are also notoriously difficult to get to the ground as their takedown defense is amongst the finest. Green may have a slight edge in the scrambles thanks to his speed, but I’d have to give Magomedov a slight advantage in terms of the finer points of grappling.
To me, the outcome of this contest is reliant upon what version of Green shows up. His head didn’t seem to be in the right place against Poirier and he fought stupidly as a result. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen him in top form. Thus, I don’t trust that he can regain that form anymore. It’ll probably be a razor thin decision, but I’m going with Magomedov. Magomedov via decision
Louis Smolka (11-3) vs. Tim Elliott (13-7-1), Flyweight
Elliott may be coming off of the best performance of his career is his loss to Demetrious Johnson… but it was still a loss. In fact, it was officially his fourth consecutive loss in a row under the UFC banner. His job could be on the line, though the same could be said for Smolka who is riding a two-fight losing streak.
Smolka was being talked about as a potential title challenger himself before going on his current skid. He had won four in a row, including three finishes in a division where contests ended before the final rings are rarer than any other division. During his winning streak, Smolka showed good intelligence by fighting to his opponent’s weaknesses. Despite his long 5’9″ frame, Smolka isn’t a very efficient range fighter. He does put the height to good use in the clinch, using his height to leverage knees to the body with vigor. Where Smolka is at his best is in a grappling contest as he is equally skilled from the guard at submissions or sweeps in addition to being a dangerous scrambler.
Elliott has a knack for getting involved scramble-heavy contests too, though it isn’t always to his benefit. He does have terrific instincts and a real nose for the submission, but he isn’t an especially good athlete for the division which often leads to him being put into bad positions. Somehow, he usually finds a way to survive with only Joseph Benavidez having finished him. Elliott is a big guy at 125, often using his size and strength to get the fight to the ground. Keep in mind that he got Johnson to the ground four times, the most anyone has done so in almost five years.
The holes for each competitor are obvious. Elliott is an aggressive and unorthodox striker, often leaving his chin out there for an opponent to tag. He has improved his technique since his initial exodus from the UFC, but the defensive holes are still there. Smolka’s wrestling has been battered by pundits and rightfully so. Part of that is due to his own comfort on being able to scramble and/or grapple his way out of a bad situation, though it has also cost him in his last two fights. To be fair, Smolka isn’t too bad at getting the fight to the ground himself when he wants to, executing slick trips from the clinch.
Smolka is the far superior athlete here and I often find myself favoring the better athlete. I can’t do that here. Elliott has only lost to top competition while Smolka has only beaten middling competition. Given Smolka’s struggles to stop a takedown, I have to go with Elliott to get his career back on track. Regardless, I expect this to be a fun contest. Elliott via submission of RD1