While the UFC 219 main card is good one full on interesting fights, the undercard has been hurt slightly by various injuries and changes to the card, and instead of the usual seven fight undercard, we will get only five, with several fights a little less interesting the ones that were originally scheduled.
That being said, there is still plenty to keep your eye on before the PPV begins this Saturday including the progression of a potential light heavyweight star, the continuation of one of MMA’s biggest feuds, and an interesting UFC debut.
Tim Elliot (14-8-1, 3-6 UFC) vs. Mark De La Rosa (9-0) (UFC Fight Pass – 7:30 p.m. ET)
It has been a tough and interesting year for the TUF 24 champion Elliot, who gained a lot of fans in giving UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson hell last December. He followed it up with an excellent win against Louis Smolka, but the crazy scrambling man Elliot fell on his own sword in his next fight, getting choked out by Ben Nguyen in June. Elliot was supposed get back in the cage at UFC 218, but Justin Scoggins pulled out of the fight three weeks before the fight and his scheduled replacement opponent came in overweight, and Elliot refused to fight, which was probably a good move in retrospect given what happened to Ricardo Lamas in Winnipeg.
Enter Mark De La Rosa, a bantamweight from my neck of the woods in Fort Worth, Texas. Elliot wanted a fighter who had never pulled out or missed weight, and De La Rosa fit the bill. Now most of the media attention has been on the fact that Mark and his wife, UFC flyweight Montana De La Rosa, will become the first ever husband/wife combo to both fight actively in the UFC upon his debut. But the reality is that De La Rosa is undefeated, has fought in credible promotions such as Legacy and Combate Americas, and has four submissions in his last five wins. This is a very interesting fight.
As great as Elliot is at initiating scrambles, he is also vulnerable in them. De La Rosa may just have the ground skills good enough to catch Elliot, as Ngyuen did. There is also a question to where Elliot’s mind is after he’s been through this past month. While De La Rosa will have to battle the vaunted octagon jitters, he shouldn’t be counted out here.
Louis Smolka (11-4, 5-4 UFC) vs. Matteus Nicolau (12-1-1, 2-0 UFC) (FS1 – 8 p.m. ET)
MMA can be an unforgiving game, and few illustrate that as much as Smolka, who a year ago was on a four-fight winning streak and looked to be a fight or two away from a title shot. But then he got choked out in one round by late replacement Brandon Moreno last September in Portland, and followed that up with losses to Ray Borg and Tim Elliot. Now his back is against the wall against the talented Brazilian Nicolau, who has won five in a row, including an upset over veteran John Moraga in July 2016. But Nicolau hasn’t fought since after serving a one-year suspension due to a USADA violation.
The key for Smolka is to keep it standing and to keep busy with combinations. Moraga, perhaps worried about being taken down, didn’t put near the pressure he should have on Nicolau, and Smolka has to find a way to do this effectively if he wants to win the fight. The last thing he wants is Nicolau, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt who is very big for this weight class, to take him down and get on top of him. Smolka is fighting for his UFC life here, and the margin for error is likely very small.
Marvin Vettori (12-3, 2-1 UFC) vs. Omari Akhmedov (17-4, 6-3 UFC)
A young prospect from Italy now training in Southern California, Vettori will take a significant step in class against Akhmedov, one of the Dagestan crew that seemed to be just about everywhere in the UFC these days. This is a bit of a curious matchup, as Akhmedov will be moving up to middleweight after three years of fighting as a welterweight and while the two are both 6’0, Vettori seems likely to be the bigger, stronger fighter.
On paper, it would see that Vettori would like to keep it standing against the combat Sambo master, but “Italian” is also a talented jiu jitsu player who managed to hang three rounds mostly on the mat with Antonio Carlos Junior, who has been strangling people up and down the middleweight class. Vettori is a threat against Akhmedov on the ground, especially if you consider that Akhmedov had problems in his last fight holding down Abdul Razak Alhassan at welterweight. That being said, it is probably imperative for Vettori to use his improved striking skills and keep the Russian off-balance. In all, it’s looks like a good fight for Vettori.
Myles Jury (16-2, 7-2 UFC) vs. Rick Glenn (20-4-1, 2-1 UFC)
This is an important bout for both of these men who seem to have the potential to be real players in the featherweight division. Jury was once one of the most highly touted prospects in the UFC, winning his first six fights in the company before stepping up to the big time too soon and getting whipped by Cowboy Cerrone. He then moved down to featherweight and after being victimized and choked out by an overweight Charles Olivera, he took a long break before returning with ground and pound KO of Mike De La Torre in April. Meanwhile, Glenn is a former WSOF featherweight champion who has won two in a row in the UFC and has set himself as a real sleeper in this division.
What makes this fight even more intriguing is that Glenn is now training with Team Alpha Male while Jury is a longtime member of Alliance MMA, two camps that have a long history of dislike and always seem to produce memorable matchups against each other. Given that we have a busy grinder in Glenn against the much more technical Jury, we could have the recipe for a very interesting fight. An exciting fight would probably favor Glenn, who beat the ever-loving crap out of the undefeated Gavin Tucker in October in Edmonton, and Jury would probably need to take him down and get on top to be most effective. But getting there will be easier said did done. I got a feeling about this one…
Khalil Roundtree Jr (6-2, 2-2 UFC) vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk (12-2)
This one should be exciting as TUF 23 runner up Roundtree has found his groove after starting his UFC run at 0-2, kneeing Daniel Jolly into oblivion in January and knocking Paul Craig clear the eff out in July. He was supposed to face former Glory kickboxing light heavyweight champion Gokhan Saki in this fight, but when Saki pulled out with an injury, Oleksiejczuk stepped in. The Polish fighter enters the UFC on a nine-fight winning streak, including three straight knockouts and was supposed to debut against Ion Cutelaba at UFC 217, but USADA got to the Hulk the week of the fight.
So while Roundtree was preparing for a world-class striker, he certainly cannot sleep on Oleksiejczuk who has eight wins by KO or TKO and is fighting in country where MMA is undergoing a real boom period. He’s got a real guy in front of him and this one should be VERY fun. The prelims should end on high note and it seems a safe bet that someone is going to sleep here.
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