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I'll applaud the UFC for their decision not to cancel this card outright and moving it to free TV (sort of) once they realized that fans weren't going to pay for Johny Hendricks and Stephen Thompson to headline a pay-per-view card. Nothing against the match, but it isn't pay-per-view main event worthy.
The shuffling took a few matches off of the preliminary card (which also left me with less to preview). I was gonna say before the shuffling that Misha Cirkunov was the fighter to watch on the undercard as he's a genuine light heavyweight prospect in a division in desperate need of young blood. Since he isn't, the obvious match is between flyweight prospects Ray Borg and Justin Scoggins. Hope you like a fast pace when you watch them.
Worth noting in that this also features what could very well be the worst fight ever in the modern era UFC between Mickey Gall and Michael Jackson. I would almost rather watch Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock rise out of their rocking chairs from the retirement home and go at it a third time. Wait… that is gonna happen. What is MMA coming too?
Josh Burkman vs. KJ Noons (Lightweight)
A couple of longtime veterans of the sport, I look at this fight and see a lot of potential for a FOTN sleeper. Sure, success for these two has been fleeting over the last little while. But they are both tough outs with a penchant for standing a trading. How can this not be fun!
Burkman has to be on his last legs. He made his return to the UFC after a six year absence and was unable to pick up a victory in three appearances. Granted, he was facing some good competition and was out-sized in each fight as well, but you have to win fights at some point to keep your job. He's taken a step to overcome one of those issues by dropping down to lightweight for the first time in his career, though the age of 35 is a late time in one's career to be making that drop. This should be interesting.
Once thought of as a top flight lightweight while in Strikeforce, those days are long gone for Noons, having gone 3-6 (1 NC) in the time since. Perhaps realizing that a run to the top of lightweight is unlikely, Noons has been alternating fights between 155 lbs and 170 lbs, avoiding cutting the extra 15 pounds if he can help it. That approach allows some to call into question his commitment, but he is still dangerous.
The reason Burkman's been able to stick around despite a lack of recent success is that he is willing to put his chin on the line which has historically worked out well for him. Hard to say if the fact it finally cracked in his last outing against Patrick Cote is a sign of it fading or not after 40 fights. Though his fights are entertaining, he can be awkward to watch as his body language often indicates disinterest, though that isn't the actual case. A counter puncher, Burkman is usually trying to draw his opposition into engaging with him so that he might unleash a three or four punch combo on them.
Noons will likely be happy to oblige, as Noons is one of the most technically sound boxers in the division. No surprise given his background as a former professional boxer. Few are better at mixing shots to both the head and the body. If he has no fear of his opponent's takedown, he'll mix in a good diet of leg kicks, including the occasional elliptical kick.
What will be the X-factor in the fight is whether or not Burkman decides to use his wrestling, something he hasn't utilized much in his UFC return. Maybe that has something to do with his opposition being larger than him which won't be an issue against Noons. Noons never looks to go to the ground, though he has some good takedown defense. His submission defense has traditionally been solid too, though he did fall victim to a RNC in his last appearance and Burkman is quite skilled in chokes.
So much of this is dependent upon how well the weight cut goes for Burkman. If all goes well, he should be able to breathe new life into his career… if he emphasizes his grappling advantage. We know what Noons is going to do. Burkman we don't know. If he decides he wants to trade with Noons, he'll be playing with fire. I anticipate he'll look to play it safe and pick up his first UFC win in over eight years. Burkman via decision
Derrick Lewis vs. Damian Grabowski (Heavyweight)
There is room for either one of these break into the rankings in short order in a division that could use some new blood. Both have limitations though as Lewis' fight IQ and gas tank and Grabowski is making his UFC debut at 35 after not being seen in any sort of action for over a year.
Lewis is by far the more known commodity in this one, having fought six times in the UFC and teasing with his raw power. He has walked through some of his opponents with little issue at times, as there are few in the sport - much less the UFC - with his size and strength, needing to cut weight to get under the 266 lb. limit. However, he has struggled with more athletic opponents who can strike with their own brand of power while also avoiding Lewis' power punches. It isn't too difficult to hit Lewis as defense is a concept he pays little attention to, but that also means getting within range of his power. With a reach of 79", he has quite the range.
This could prove troublesome for Grabowski. A rarity at the weight class in that the grappling game represents his strongest suit, he isn't the smoothest of strikers. He does his best work in the clinch with his dirty boxing and knees to the gut, looking to wear out his opponent so that he can eventually drag the fight to the ground and snag a submission. This is a risky proposition against Lewis who can generate a lot of power in a short space, and Grabowski doesn't always maintain great control against the cage.
That would make this fight academic if it wasn't for Lewis' aforementioned questionable fight IQ. He'll tire himself out in a hurry by using his brute strength rather than technique. For someone of his physical abilities, he has surprisingly poor takedown defense too. Lewis would already be ranked if he could fix this habit, but has shown no inclination to do so.
With that being said, I haven't exactly been impressed with Grabowski's takedown abilities, which consists of trips and dragging his opposition down from the clinch, but wouldn't be surprised in the slightest to see him get Lewis to the ground. Grabowski is already one of the more talented heavyweight grapplers in the UFC without having spent a minute in the Octagon yet. The issue is that he will go for submission over position quite a bit and lose his advantage from there. Regardless of that, if Grabowski wins this fight it will likely be with a sub.
Even with Lewis' largely self-imposed limitations, I still like his ability to come out on top in this. Grabowski's success depends upon him wading into where Lewis is most dangerous and Grabowski doesn't have the requisite athleticism to so with a high level of success. Europe's recent UFC imports to the heavyweight division haven't exactly found a whole lot of success either. Lewis should end this pretty quickly. Lewis via KO of the first round
Ray Borg vs. Justin Scoggins (Flyweight)
At 22 and 23, respectively, Borg and Scoggins could very well represent the future of the flyweight division in what has all of the appearances of a classic striker vs. grappler in this battle to establish the top divisional prospect.
Borg represents the grappler. With quickness only rivaled by the champion Demetrious Johnson, Borg is one of the best in the business in scrambles and transitions since very few can actually out-quick him. He uses that explosion to get inside his opponent for single and double legs and does so with great success despite not owning a lot of power. Often times the goal isn't to finish the takedown, but to initiate a scramble where he can quickly take his opponent's back and search for his signature RNC.
Scoggins entered the UFC with a reputation as a kickboxer with a heavy emphasis on kicks. While he still has a deep kicking arsenal in addition to some good boxing, he has developed into a much more well-rounded fighter who can take the fight to the ground if he wants. Scoggins will have to take a very measured approach as Borg will look to get the takedowns off of Scoggins' kicks. Look for Scoggins to limit his kicks and rely more on his fists than his feet to beat up on Borg. Regardless of how elusive Borg is, Scoggins has proven to be a very accurate striker and is sure to land his share of strikes.
The same can't be said for Borg, who is still long ways away from having a competent striking game that he can rely on if he can't get the ground game to work for him. His punches are used to set up his entries and takedowns. With a tiny 63" reach, Borg is at a natural disadvantage from the get-go, but has the skills to develop into a talented pop-shot artist. It'll likely be awhile before that happens.
What will probably be the deciding factor will be how well Scoggins' takedown defense holds up. So far it has been outstanding, but hasn't faced anyone nearly on the level of Borg when it comes to wrestling ability or quickness, holding the athletic edge every time. He'll have the strength advantage, but the athletic edge is up for question.
This is going to be a hell of a scrap, easily the one I'm most looking forward to on the prelims. Borg is heavily favored, but this is a much closer fighter than what the odds are reflecting. Most are anticipating that Borg will be able to latch onto Scoggins for an eventual sub and that is the most likely scenario. Even though I anticipate it myself, don't be shocked if Scoggins pulls it out. Borg via submission of the third round
Noad Lahat vs. Diego Rivas (Featherweight)
Hard to give a proper introduction that doesn't sound demeaning to these two featherweights few know or care about. To make matters even worse, there are more reasons to believe that this fight will be a stinker more than an entertaining affair.
Lahat is the more experienced of the two in terms of fights as well as level of competition. Even then, that isn't saying too much. Still, his talent has been pretty apparent, which is why it's a shame that he took a long break from the sport at the beginning of the decade; it seems unlikely that he'll ever reach his full potential as he is a sound grappler with above average athleticism. His wrestling is still a work in progress, but he is relentless in his pursuit of the takedown.
Even if he wasn't the fight was going to hit the ground at some point as Rivas comes from a wrestling background and relies very heavily upon those abilities. He doesn't have much of a choice as raw as he is, with all but one of his fights (his lone UFC appearance) coming out of his home country of Chile, not exactly a bustling MMA scene. A TUF Latin America alum, Rivas does have the raw potential to develop into a UFC mainstay, but has all sorts of holes that need to be filled.
It will have been 15 months since Rivas had last stepped into the Octagon which means that he could be a completely different fighter by the time he faces Lahat as the learning process is fastest early in a career. That certainly is the case here. On his feet, Rivas throws single strikes and resets a lot as he isn't always sure what he is looking for in terms of openings. However, it should be expected that this is the area in which he has made the most strides. Look for him to be a much more confident striker.
Lahat himself has made good strides in his striking ability and will should have a decided edge there. He still has technical holes, but he throws a lot of volume and has occasional pop. I wouldn't expect Rivas to want to keep the fight on the feet too much, especially when Lahat's takedown defense has been a glaring weakness. Even prospect washout Niklas Backstrom took him down with ease. Then again, Rivas leaves a lot of holes in his grappling that a BJJ practitioner such as Lahat should be able to take advantage of and either reverse position or snatch a sub.
Not an exciting matchup, but the pairing does make sense. Lahat is a worthwhile challenge to see where the raw Rivas is in his development while giving Rivas a chance to walk away with a win. I think it's more than possible that Rivas is able to use his wrestling to grind out a boring decision, but I see Lahat either outpointing him or snatching the sub. Unless Rivas has tightened up his grappling, it will likely be the sub. Lahat via submission of the second round
Mickey Gall vs. Michael Jackson (Welterweight)
I know why this match was made, and even more importantly I understand why this match was made… but that doesn't mean I have to like it! There has never been a fight in the modern UFC featuring two more undeserving fighters to be fighting at this level. Gall has been guaranteed a shot at CM Punk if he wins, and I see no reason why Jackson shouldn't get the same treatment.
My account of these fighters is going to be highly inaccurate simply because there isn't footage of either of these guys out there. What would you expect when they have one professional fight between them? Can you see why I'm not very excited about this fight?
There are highlights of Gall from the Lookin' for a Fight show with Dana White and he appears to be a good athlete from that footage, but he was beating up another dude who was making his professional debut. He was putting together short boxing combinations in the highlights and he didn't look very smooth as he threw his punches… which is typical for a dude in his first fight. Where he is at in his development in regards to his career is pretty good, but this is the UFC son! We have high expectations! Apparently not anymore…
Jackson is a lanky dude who is known amongst the MMA media circles, but not as a fighter. He has a single amateur fight to his credit at 160 lbs. At 6'2", he's a pretty lanky dude who won that lone fight by decision. Not much I can take out of that.
There is no way in hell I would ever put money on this fight seeing as how there is almost no video to consume of either fighter. What I do know is that Gall impressed Uncle Dana and Matt Serra enough that they decided to give him this opportunity. Then again, they are purposely trying to give Punk a softball. Even knowing that, I'd pick Gall as the UFC likes his moxie and he can probably talk up a good fight with the former WWE star, which would make their fight that much easier to sell. Gall via decision
Artem Lobov vs. Alex White (Featherweight)
McGregor friend and training partner Lobov makes a quick turnaround from his loss in the TUF tournament finals in an effort to get back into the winning column against someone who hasn't stepped in the Octagon for over a year in White. Good potential for a slugfest.
It's hard not to admire Lobov's willingness to stand, trade, and goad his opponent, as he is willing to eat more than a shot or two to land one of his own. He isn't a great athlete, but takes solid angles when it comes to pressuring his opposition and tends to hit harder than his opponent can which is what led to his successful run through TUF. Having spent most of his career at lightweight, his drop to featherweight should result in him being that much more powerful against opponents that will predominantly be smaller than him.
White is taller, longer, and a much better athlete. He'll need to rely on all of these traits if he wants to have any success against Lobov. He usually takes a while to get going as he tries to figure out his range, often using front kicks to help gauge that. Once he does get going, he'll start to press and land boxing combinations moving forward in addition to some countering ability with serious potential for a KO. White isn't quite as heavy handed as Lobov, but remember that he is rangier which he needs to make a factor.
Neither of these guys have any great desire to ever take the fight to the ground. If one of them looks to go to the ground, look for White to be the one to do so. His takedowns aren't very explosive, often finding more success when he is able to drag down his opposition. White does know how to use his long limbs to his advantage off of his back and is a submission threat from there.
Lobov is strong in the clinch, often shucking off his opponent's attempts to get him down and often powering his way back to his feet quickly if he does go down. What his fight against Ryan Hall exposed is his lack of quickness as Hall used his quickness to catch Lobov in a bunch of precarious positions. Lobov deserves a lot of credit to keep from being submitted by Hall, showing good defense. As far as his own submission abilities, he hasn't shown much.
Depending on what you look for in picking a fighter, this could go a number of ways. Lobov utilizes poor defense, keeping his hands low in order to come at his opponent from various angles with his punches. Problem is, White is poor defensively too as he might be the most flat-footed fighter I've ever seen in the lower weight classes which often leads to him eating a lot of pock-shots. Then again, White is also the superior athlete by far. Though far from comfortable with my pick, I'll go with Lobov due to his ability to mix up his punches and kicks to keep White guessing. He'll either outpoint him or one of the harder shots will eventually catch the flat-footed White. Lobov via decision
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