Forty-eight hours or so ago, we were looking at one of the prelim cards that we’ve ever seen in the UFC. And that Conor McGregor went f**king crazy.
Now we are left with scraps, as eight promising fights have been reduced to four. Artem Lobov versus Alex Caceres, which was supposed to be the UFC Fight Pass Featured Prelim, was scrapped because of Lobov’s role in the scuffle. Then a promising flyweight battle pitting former title challenger Ray Borg versus young Mexican Brandon Moreno was scrapped because of minor injures to Borg in the scuffle. Meanwhile, Zabit Magomedsharipov versus Kyle Bochniak and Joe Lauzon versus Chris Gruetzmacher were moved to the main card because of shifts in the main card.
So what we are left with our four bouts, all of which will air on FS1, starting at 8pm, 7pm Central. Thankfully, the bouts we all have left have the potential to be scorchers, headlined by a bout between two of the world’s best strawweights.
Light Heavyweight Bout
Mike Rodriguez (9-2, 1-0 UFC) vs. Devin Clark (8-2, 2-2 UFC)
The night kicks off with a battle of young light heavyweights, as Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series contract winner, Rodriguez, of the tough New England MMA scene faces Clark, a Dana White: Looking for A Fight alum. Both men came into the UFC with tremendous reputations. Rodriguez is a former CES light heavyweight Champ with some truly spectacular knockouts on his record, while Clark is a former junior college national wrestling champion who is also former RFA light heavyweight champion.
When you see Rodriguez, 6’3 with a heavyweight reach, it’s almost impossible not to think of Jon Jones. You could confuse them from a distance, especially when Rodriguez is coming out doing weird shit, like the flying knee that he iced Jemelle Jones with last summer on DWTNCS, which got him into the UFC. Clark is a much more conventional fighter. After losing his UFC debut, Clark rebounded with two dominant wins over Josh Stansbury and Jake Collier before getting caught in a Roddy Piper sleeperhold and getting choked by Jan Blachowicz last October.
Clark clearly needs to take Rodriguez down, but the New Englander has excellent takedown defense and a good offensive guard, so he won’t be afraid to be taken down either. He should feel free to come out and try to put it on Clark, and I expect him to do just that.
Women’s Flyweight Bout
Ashlee-Evans Smith (5-3, 2-3 UFC) vs Bec Rawlings (7-7, 2-4 UFC)
What looked like a forgettable fight has gotten a lot more interesting in the last forty-eight hours, given the added spotlight and the mouth of Evans-Smith. Both women come into this in desperate need of a win, as Evans has lost two fights in a row and Rawlings has dropped three in a row. But Evans-Smith added some fuel to the fire by criticizing Rawlings for the kinds of pictures she posts on Instagram, which are often of the sexy variety, which Evans-Smith seemed to take exception to, given that Rawlings is a mother. Now Rawlings is pissed.
Stylistically, Evans Smith has more tools. She’s a better wrestler who likes to get her opponents to ground and beat them up, while Rawlings rallies almost exclusively on a boxing style and loves to swing her hands. Also, Evans Smith is coming down from bantamweight while Rawlings is coming up from strawweight. Yet given the animosity between these two women, it feels more likely that Smith might come and stand right in front Rawlings, which is exactly what the Australian wants. This could get real, real interesting if that happens.
Olivier Aubin-Mercier (10-2, 6-2 UFC) vs Evan Dunham (18-6-1, 11-6-1 UFC)
This has been the most overlooked bout of this card, which is a bit of a travesty given that both fighters have looked great in their recent fights, with the Canadian Aubin-Mercier winning three in a row and the veteran American Dunham is 4-0-1 in his last five fights. But with less fights on this card, these gentlemen now have much more attention on them.
Dunham is one of UFC’s longest tenured fighters, and he has rebounded excellent since losing three fights in a row in 2012-2014. The old pro is a grinder with an awkward style who can handle himself on the ground and the feet. Meanwhile, it’s pretty clear when Mercier wants to do. He wants to take down and submit you, as he’s shown with eight submissions wins in his career. Dunham might be the wrong guy for him, especially if he can stay on his feet in the first round and a half…
Women’s Strawweight Bout
Karolina Kowalkiewicz (11-2, 4-2 UFC) vs. Felice Herrig (14-6, 5-1 UFC)
The featured prelim pits ranked strawweights against each other as the eight ranked Herrig shoots her shot against fourth ranked Karolina, the former title challenger who represents the top opponent that Herrig has long coveted. Herrig has been on a consistent fight for redemption ever since she was beaten down by a young Paige Van Zant three years ago, and even though she has racked up four straight wins (including literally beating the shit out of Justine Kish), Herrig believes she is seen as a lesser fighter.
Enter Karolina, who challenged and nearly knocked out Joanna Jedrzejczyk in November 2016, only to be taken down and choked out quickly by Claudia Gadelha last June. Karolina has since rebounded with a win over Jodie Esquibel, and her stock has gone up with her doing much since then, as she is the last person to beat the current champ, Rose Namajunas. She also represents a significant stylistic challenge to Herrig, who likes to fight at a controlled pace and do just enough to win her fights with an outside kickboxing style. Karolina on the other hand, fights her way inside and grinds you out from the clinch. She fights at a constant style and breaks you down with her pressure. Not the kind of person Herrig wants to fight.
At the same time, Herrig is finally at the cusp of serious title contention. She is in the best shape of her career physically, but with the Chicago kickboxer, everything has always been mental, and we will not find out how mentally strong she until Karolina is in her face, trying to clinch and pound her face in. Only time will tell.
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