Out of the three portions of the card, the FS1 previews offers the least amount of interest…at least in my opinion. The Fight Pass card offers a couple of prospects that could have a bright future and end up on a main card. The main card offers higher caliber fighters. It isn’t that the FS1 prelims are crap. There’s just less to grab the attention of fans outside of it being a fight between skilled fighters. If there is one I’d highlight, I’d point to the light heavyweight contest between Justin Ledet and Aleksandar Rakic. Both have shown promise in their short – yet undefeated – UFC runs. Neither has the feel of can’t-miss, but they could prove to be major players.
The FS1 prelims begin at 12:00 PM ET/9:00 AM PT on Sunday.
Nick Hein (14-3-1, 1 NC) vs. Damir Hadzovic (11-4), Lightweight
Wait…didn’t we just see Hein get submitted by Davi Ramos? Well, I suppose two months may have passed, but that’s still a quick turnaround. That was the first time in the career of the German sergeant that he had been finished, a strong indication of durability and resilience. Hein’s typical strategy consists of him moving in and out of the pocket and throwing punching combinations. Though he’s a judo black belt, he rarely looks to take the fight to the ground and doesn’t seem to have any reliable tools to finish a contest…at least at this level.
On the other hand, Hadzovic packs a hell of a punch. The 31-year-old has picked up more than half of his wins via KO/TKO, no small task at lightweight. However, Hadzovic’s lack of technique hurts him as he wades forward lobbing bombs at his opposition. His aggression has made him vulnerable to takedowns, an area he has been more than a little bit susceptible. How susceptible? He has stopped less than a third of his opponents attempts to take him to the mat.
Hadzovic not only has more pop in his punches, he is also the more creative striker. Usually that combination results in a fighter being the favorite, but Hein’s durability and Hadzovic’s poor takedown defense makes a decision win for the former police officer… provided he makes an attempt to expose Hadzovic’s poor takedown defense. Hein via decision
Emil Meek (9-3) vs. Bartosz Fabinski (13-2), Welterweight
The common belief was that Fabinski had been released despite two wins in as many attempts in the Octagon. How else to explain a nearly three-year absence? It isn’t like anyone ever found Fabinski’s grinding offense to be entertaining. Instead, he’s popping up with the highest profile opponent he’s had in his career in Meek.
Perhaps the UFC is doing this by design. Fabinski’s offense is akin to that of a wet blanket: smother your opponent from bell to bell without any serious attempts to end the contest before the 15-minute time limit. Even his standup is smothering as he does his best work in the clinch, pushing his opponent against the fence. It isn’t pretty, but it does a good job of nullifying any athletic advantages his opponents are likely to have over him.
Meek isn’t a special athlete by any means, but he isn’t a bad one either. What potentially makes Meek the man the UFC is using to take care of Fabinski is his incredible strength, extreme durability, and insane tenacity. He doesn’t quit until he hears the final bell and hits hard enough to put down a bear. However, his striking is still very rough around the edges and his come forward offense often results in reactionary takedowns from the opposition.
The UFC still isn’t totally sure what they have in Meek. On the flip side, they know what they have in Fabinski and they really don’t care for it. Meek’s willingness to brawl could play right into Fabinski’s hands. It isn’t like Fabinski can pull off his strategy without significant strength of his own. Nonetheless, Meek is hard to hold down – Kamaru Usman struggled to keep him down – and will undoubtedly make an impression on the judges with his standup simply by being more active. Regardless of who wins, expect this to be ugly. Meek via decision
Nad Narimani (10-2) vs. Khalid Taha (12-1), Featherweight
Though both are making their UFC debuts, the narrative is a bit different for these two. Narimani is already 31 with seven years of professional experience under his belt. He’s likely near his ceiling as a fighter, making him a gatekeeper of sorts upon his UFC debut. It’s role he’s capable of filling as he is well-rounded with some brutal GnP.
At 25, Taha is much younger with a higher ceiling. However, he has also faced less established competition and has more blatant holes, particularly his wild offensive approach which not only leaves him open to counters, but creates a lot of inaccuracy in his striking. Nonetheless, when he’s on point, he puts together good punching combinations with enough fight-ending potential that his opponent needs to respect his power.
I’m not sold on Taha as a high upside prospect. Not yet at least. I’m not saying there aren’t raw physical tools for him to develop, but there is no guarantee he will. What worries me in this contest is his poor takedown defense. There isn’t a huge wrestling scene in Europe and Asia, but he has still struggled to remain upright at times. Throw in the fact Narimani is larger than him and I feel more confident going with Narimani. Narimani via decision
Justin Ledet (9-0, 1 NC) vs. Aleksandar Rakic (9-1), Light Heavyweight
Though there was almost zero hype behind the signing of Ledet, he has turned out to be a pleasant surprise for the heavyweight division. However, Ledet has decided to drop down to 205 where he’ll no longer be the smaller opponent. The funny thing about this is Ledet had never even been taken down…
Most would agree with Ledet’s decision given he has made the light heavyweight limit before multiple times on the regional scene. His 80” reach is his greatest weapon as he knows full well how to use it to his advantage thanks to his stint in professional boxing. He won his UFC debut against Chase Sherman solely off the strength of his jab. Ledet has also shown the ability wrestle and grapple a bit, though no one is expecting him to be Demian Maia by any means.
Rakic has some similarities to Ledet. He isn’t quite as long as Ledet, but his 78” reach is longer than any of Ledet’s previous opponents. Nonetheless, his jab has looked nearly as good as Ledet’s and he throws out a bit more diversity with his low kicks, a tactic Ledet has a major aversion to. Rakic’s was known for his finishing ability on the regional scene, but in his UFC debut he settled for picking apart Francimar Barroso. Expect Rakic to look for the finish rather than engage in a point fight with Ledet.
Ledet has proven he can deal with bigger opponents than himself with little issue. Rakic has yet to prove that. Rakic’s finishing ability ensures this isn’t a slam dunk for Ledet by any means, but Ledet’s control of distance makes a finish from the Austrian appear to be an unlikely scenario. Ledet via decision