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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Tampa: Joanna vs. Waterson – Main card preview

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Not that it really makes a major difference given the entirety of UFC Tampa is on ESPN+, but I’m more excited for the preliminary contests than I am for the main card. Sure, the main event between Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Michelle Waterson is fantastic. But it’s easy to pick holes in the rest of the main card. Kron Gracie does look like a serious prospect, but putting him in the co-main event after a submission of Alex Caceres in his lone UFC contest? Plus, his opponent, Cub Swanson, may have a familiar name, but he’s also lost four in a row. Mackenzie Dern has been hyped as a star and is returning from having a child, but the youngster also has a history of missing weight – badly – leaving many to wonder if she has the discipline to reach her potential. I’m not saying the fights on the main card suck, but they sure as hell don’t feel superior to the contests on the prelims.

The main card begins on ESPN+ at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Note: Due to a late change in the order of the card, you can find the contest between Niko Price and James Vick on the prelims preview despite it now taking place on the main card.

Cub Swanson (25-11) vs. Kron Gracie (5-0), Featherweight

It looks like the UFC is attempting to build up Gracie’s name by feeding him a degenerated Swanson. It won’t be as easy as it appears at first glance as Swanson still has something in the tank.

Swanson has been around for a long time. A professional MMA fighter for 15 years, including 12 under the Zuffa/IMG banner. That’s a lot of miles to put on a body, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s slowing down. However, one of the manners in which many usually decline – losing their chin – hasn’t happened to him. Well… at least not at the rate fighters who’ve been around as long as him have. He is slower to react than he used to be, but that doesn’t mean he’s finished. Yes, he’s lost four in a row. But did you catch his barnburner against Shane Burgos? Swanson not only absorbed a lot of damage – proving he still has a chin – he dealt out a lot of damage. Perhaps not as much as he would have a few years ago, but he’s still a threat to win some fights at the mid to lower tiers.

There is no denying Gracie will have a significant advantage on the ground, bringing honor to the family name with his BJJ skills. All five of his wins thus far have come by way of submission, the last three by RNC. Once the fight hits the mat, it’s Gracie’s world. The issue is getting it to the mat. Gracie is an impressive physical specimen and has used his strength well in the clinch to wrest opponents down. However, in terms of technique, the youngest son of Rickson Gracie still has a lot to learn. He’s worked with the Diaz brothers to become a reasonable striker, but he’s still inexperienced in that department.

You remember how I said the fight is in Gracie’s world if it hits the mat? Well, you could say the same thing about the fight being in Swanson’s world so long as they remain standing. Swanson has fallen in love with his boxing in the past to his own detriment, but it doesn’t seem like that will be an issue this time around. However, can he keep the fight standing for 15 minutes? Given Swanson hasn’t finished a fight in six years, it’s worth wondering if his power is not only in decline, but if it has been for several years. Swanson isn’t a terrible grappler, but he does have a history of losing via submission. All Gracie might need is a scramble. Swanson shouldn’t be completely counted out – there have been several betting lines on Swanson I’d be tempted to put money on — but there is a reason most people are picking Gracie. Gracie via submission of RD1

Mackenzie Dern (7-0) vs. Amanda Ribas (7-1), Women’s Strawweight

I wasn’t surprised to hear reports of a female participant on the card experiencing issues cutting weight. However, I was surprised that is wasn’t Dern those reports were referring to, Jedrzejczyk being the culprit this time around. That doesn’t mean she isn’t going to miss weight, though she has reported to be on target to make weight.

Much like Gracie, Dern is thought to be a wiz on the mat, perhaps even a prodigy. However, Dern doesn’t seem to have the same killer instinct Gracie possesses, having gone to decision against several of her opponents. Given she has yet to be in a fight where she wasn’t expected to truck over her opponent, it has given some reason to pause on just how high she can climb. That is taking things to the extreme as bumps in the road are to be expected for a prospect, even one as touted as Dern.

There have been concerns Dern hasn’t been as disciplined as her coaches would like her to be, her exit from the MMA Lab being a prime example. Regardless of how much she has committed herself, she has shown signs of improvement on the feet, knocking Amanda Cooper down to set up her RNC submission. I wouldn’t argue with the idea it was produced due to her prominent physical gifts, but one thing that has to be worrisome has been Dern’s inability to get the fight to the mat against Ashley Yoder. Yoder is scrappy as hell, but Dern should have been able to overwhelm her.

Ribas has had the opposite trajectory of Dern. Not thought of too much upon her UFC entry, Ribas was slapped with a USADA suspension for two years even before she had participated in a single fight. However, once she finally got inside the Octagon, she impressed absolutely everyone with her fluid grappling against Emily Whitmire. Basically, it appeared she didn’t spend her time on suspension eating cookies. There should still be concern about her striking as she was wild on the regional scene from a distance. Nonetheless, she showed well in the clinch and comes across as very likeable.

Prior to the reports of Dern being in shape, I was ready to declare she was ripe for an upset. There hasn’t been a lot of time off between the birth of her daughter and her first fight and it usually takes some time for a woman to work off the pregnancy pounds. But Dern looks energetic and motivated… and in shape. Ribas does have the advantage on the feet and Dern isn’t a great wrestler. However, she is a top-notch athlete. It’s likely Dern gets the fight to the mat at some point. Dern via submission of RD2

Matt Frevola (7-1-1) vs. Luis Pena (7-1), Lightweight

It’s hard to get a strong feel for Pena’s UFC career. He opens with a win over Richie Smullen, who never had the feel of a UFC fighter to begin with. Then he drops a close decision to Mike Trizano, a prospect that most believed Pena should have defeated. Then he has no business attempting to fight at featherweight, overwhelming a tiny Steven Peterson after Pena missed weight. And most recently, he disposes of Matt Wiman in the longtime veteran’s first fight in over four years. Do we really know much about Pena?

What we do know about Violent Bob Ross is he has a lanky frame that he has slowly begun to figure out how to use on the feet. However, slowly has been the operative word, not showing significant growth in his skill set. Nonetheless, Pena’s frame is a hell of a weapon on its own, even if he never fulfills the potential it provides. He uses his spindly limbs well on the mat to tie up the opposition in all sorts of compromising positions and has some decent trips, but the wrestling department as a whole is still a weakness. For example, Peterson, not really noted for his wrestling, got Pena down four times. Yikes.

One thing that’s for sure: Frevola will not let Pena sit back on his haunches and pick him apart. The hard charging Serra-Longo product is always moving forward, winging big hooks and pressing for takedowns. That philosophy cost him greatly in his UFC debut when Polo Reyes knocked him cold, but he’s become more subtle in his approach, mixing in some low kicks and picking his spots. That doesn’t mean he’s less aggressive; it’s just a controlled aggression at this point.

Frevola has had a steady progression since coming into the UFC, showing increasing discipline with each outing. Pena’s improvements have been smaller, a surprise given he’s newer to the sport than Frevola and most massive leaps occur early in a fighter’s career. Those leaps could happen at any point for Pena, but I’m not ready to commit to him until I see that progress. Frevola should bulldoze Pena, perhaps even secure a stoppage via GnP or submission. Frevola via submission of RD2

Eryk Anders (12-4) vs. Gerald Meerschaert (30-11), Middleweight

It seems Anders can’t decide if he’s a 185er or a 205er. He entered at 185, went to 205 for a one-off on short notice, back to 185 for a single fight, back up to 205 for two contests, and now returns to 185. What the hell!?

The story on Anders hasn’t changed since he entered two years ago, a bad thing as it indicates a lack of progress. An explosive athlete with major power, Anders spends a lot of time on the outside looking for openings, allowing his opponents to pick him apart due to his inactivity. His wrestling is still technically raw, relying on his plentiful physical gifts to either remain standing or go the mat. There’s a good chance Anders moved back to middleweight as he realized how much he relies on his physical strength in that aspect and decided he’d have more success being the bigger man.

Meerschaert is a stark opposite of Anders. A miserable athlete with years of experience and know-how, Meerschaert relies on outwitting the opposition rather than overwhelming them. He’s developed into a tricky striker over the years, enough so that he can at least compete on the feet. Where Meerschaert excels is when the fight hits the mat as he’s as crafty as they come on the mat, owning four submission victories out of his five UFC wins, each of them coming from a different type of submission.

If Anders can survive Meerschaert’s onslaught in the first round, he should take this contest. Meerschaert tends to empty his gas tank in a hurry with his all-out offense. On the flip side, Anders has shown supreme toughness and a solid gas tank. Anders has shown good instincts on the ground to survive what most opponents throw at him, but Meerschaert’s ground game is unlike most others. Anders is the betting favorite and I’d say rightfully so, but I think Meerschaert has the savvy to get Anders where he wants him and finish him. Meerschaert via submission of RD1

  • Thanks to some late mixing of the card, the contest between Thomas Gifford and Mike Davis will be on the prelims instead of the main card as it was listed to be on when the prelims preview ran. Nonetheless, it should be a fun contest. Gifford is the definition of a scrapper. Aside from his large frame for lightweight, he’s short on physical skills that typically define successful fighters, but heart and toughness are aplenty to be found within him. He’s got a knack for chokes too. Davis isn’t quite as big, but he’s not small by any means either. Plus, Davis is a hell of an athlete and a gifted boxer. Taking the contest on short notice might limit Davis’ ability to remain effective deep into the contest, but I’m going with him regardless. Davis via decision

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