I’m stepping up my coverage of the fights this week a little bit, going into the fights in a little more detail than usual. I’ll have my picks for the main card fights up later tonight or tomorrow, but for now, here are my thoughts on the prelims:
145 lbs: Justin Lawrence vs. Daniel Pineda
Justin Lawrence is a great example of a fighter who got pushed into the UFC too early in his career. Lawrence has considerable talent, particularly with his striking. He has an arsenal of kicks that he uses both to keep his opponent at distance, and to land strikes with serious concussive force. He also has decent wrestling, and is good at using his wrestling prowess to prevent his opponents from taking him down. The classic combination of effective striking and takedown defense should be enough for to make Lawrence very successful in the UFC.
Unfortunately, Lawrence has some glaring flaws as well, and unlike most fighters who enter the UFC, didn’t have enough time on the regional circuit to develop the well-rounded game needed to win consistently. In particular, Lawrence has poor conditioning, which may be attributed to the energy Lawrence puts into throwing all of his kicks. He’s also well below-average on the ground, and to make matters worse, Lawrence’s striking defense leaves a lot to be desired – while Lawrence tries to move around the cage like Lyoto Machida, he often gets caught by strikes in close quarters.
Against Daniel Pineda, I feel that Lawrence should be able to win. On paper, Lawrence has better striking and wrestling than Pineda. The problem is there are too many ways for Lawrence to lose. If Pineda can get the fight to the ground, he could definitely force Lawrence to tap out with one of his slick submission attacks. Even if Pineda can’t get the fight to the ground, he might be able to wear Lawrence out and get a late-round TKO stoppage. My pick to win is Justin Lawrence, because I feel Lawrence’s talent should be enough to get the win, but it’s not a pick I’m confident in at all.
Pick: Justin Lawrence by TKO
145 lbs: Maximo Blanco vs. Sam Sicilia
It seems inevitable that when Maximo Blanco and Sam Sicilia step into the cage, one of them is going to get knocked out. Both fighters are very aggressive strikers. Sicilia is a fighter who looks for the knockout from the opening bell, and puts everything into every punch he throws. Blanco is a fighter who will wait until he lands a clean strike, and then swarm his opponent with a relentless onslaught of strikes. For both of these fighters, it’s finish or be finished.
I just think it’s most likely that Sicilia is the fighter who gets finished. There are two things in particular I believe favor Blanco. One is that, while Blanco certainly puts a lot of energy into his attacks, Sicilia puts even more energy into his. While Blanco tends to fade in the second round of fights, Sicilia is usually completely exhausted. Often, when two very aggressive fighters clash, the one with better conditioning is the one who ends up with his hand raised.
The other thing that favors Blanco is his striking defense. Blanco’s striking defense is nothing to put in an instructional video, but he does a decent job of evading strikes with effective head movement. Sicilia, on the other hand, usually just takes punches to the face when his opponent attacks. In his 17 minute, nine second UFC career, Sicilia has absorbed a whopping 4.96 significant strikes per minute. To put that in perspective, the only UFC fighters I’ve found who absorb more strikes are Joey Beltran and Leonard Garcia. That’s not good, and that’s why I’m picking Blanco to win this fight by TKO.
Pick: Maximo Blanco by TKO
145 lbs: Cole Miller vs. Bart Palaszewski
While Cole Miller has been in the UFC for quite a while now, and has compiled a 7-5 record in the promotion, his list of victories is not the most impressive:
• Andy Wang
• Leonard Garcia
• Jorge Gurgel
• Junie Browning
• Dan Lauzon
• Ross Pearson
• T.J. O’Brien
Ross Pearson wins the “one of these is not like the others” award, as by far the best fighter Miller has defeated in his career. Against Bart Palaszewski, however, I do feel Miller has a distinct chance of winning.
While most of Miller’s wins are by submission, he’s similar to Stefan Struve in that he usually needs help getting the fight to the ground. Miller has only landed four takedowns in his UFC career, at a success rate of 25 percent. Against Palaszewski, a fighter who likes to stand and strike, Miller will probably be forced to play the striking game.
The thing is – Miller should be competitive on the feet. Neither fighter has good striking defense, but Miller at least throws a lot of strikes, as evidenced by his last fight against Nam Phan. Where I favor Palaszewski overall is that “Bartimus” should have a better chance of winning by knockout than Miller. Palaszewski has recent KO wins over Tyson Griffin and Zach Micklewright, while Miller has only won by TKO three times in his career. In what could otherwise be a 50-50 fight, the edge has to go to Palaszewski for this reason.
Pick: Bart Palaszewski by decision
185 lbs: Clint Hester vs. Bristol Marunde
There were a number of fighters I thought could make an appearance on the TUF 17 finale, but Bristol Marunde was not one of them. Marunde was very unimpressive with his stint on TUF 16, eventually losing to Neil Magny by decision. Since TUF 16 was arguably the worst season of TUF ever from an entertainment standpoint, I didn’t expect the UFC to give Marunde a shot. However, since TUF 17 competitor Zak Cummings presumably suffered an injury that forced him out of his fight, Marunde has been given a chance to fight Hester on short notice.
While I don’t think Marunde has the talent needed to compete in the UFC, he could find a way to beat Clint Hester. Hester is a fighter with noteworthy strengths – in particular, he has a talent for landing punishing strikes from awkward positions. When Hester is in the clinch, or on the ground, he’s usually the one landing hard strikes, while his opponent has trouble landing hard strikes back.
Hester should be able to beat up Marunde, but I can’t get past his weak ground game. His lack of polish on the ground was exposed by Jimmy Quinlan in particular; even though Quinlan had clearly lost the first round, and taken some punishment in the process, he was able to get Hester to the ground, take his back, and finish him by submission. Marunde doesn’t have Quinlan’s credentials in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but there’s definitely a chance he can drag Hester to the ground and force Hester to tap out. It’s not enough for me to pick Marunde, but it’s enough for me to not be confident in my pick of Hester.
Pick: Clint Hester by TKO
185 lbs: Dylan Andrews vs. Jimmy Quinlan
Dylan Andrews opened as a -160 favorite to beat Jimmy Quinlan in this match, but the betting public seems to like Quinlan, as Quinlan and Andrews are now about even according to the sportsbooks. I think the betting public (which, granted, has done better at picks than me historically) is on the wrong track here. I understand what they see in Quinlan – a fighter with good wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and a fighter taking on an opponent in Andrews who has lost by submission three times in his career.
The problem is that I think Andrews is just a better mixed martial artist. As good as his grappling is, Quinlan strikes me as a grappler competing in MMA, as opposed to a mixed martial artist with good grappling. When Quinlan faced Josh Samman, Quinlan was able to land an early takedown, but had difficulty advancing position. Meanwhile, Samman hit Quinlan with a lot of strikes from the bottom, and those strikes seemed to visibly bother Quinlan.
Contrary to what he showed against Uriah Hall, Andrews does have good striking, and if Quinlan doesn’t finish Andrews early, he could be in for a rough night. Quinlan can win this fight if things go his way, but I think he needs more seasoning before he’s ready for competition in the UFC.
Pick: Dylan Andrews by TKO
185 lbs: Luke Barnatt vs. Collin Hart
This is a very tricky fight to call. I think Barnatt has the better overall skill in MMA, and should have the advantage if the fight stays standing. I just don’t think the fight will stay standing, because Hart should be able to land takedowns on Barnatt. Barnatt is a very tall and lanky middleweight, which is great for striking and submissions, but not good for takedown defense. Hart showcased his wrestling prowess against Kevin Casey, and if he was able to take down a fresh Casey, he should be able to take down Barnatt as well.
On the ground, Barnatt is still dangerous, just because of his length. I doubt Hart has ever faced anybody as lengthy as Barnatt is, and that means he’ll have to watch out for triangle chokes and armbars. At the same time, Hart has shown that he has good top control, and the ability to grind fights out. Against Barnatt, he should be able to do the same.
My concern is that, when Hart fought Kelvin Gastelum, he decided to engage in a brawl, and was quickly knocked out. If he decides to do the same thing against Barnatt, he could meet the same fate, especially with Barnatt’s ability to land a knee to the chin while standing. Still, as long as Hart fights smart and takes Barnatt to the ground, he should be able to grind out a victory.
Pick: Collin Hart by decision
185 lbs: Kevin Casey vs. Josh Samman
As I explained before his loss to Bubba McDaniel was shown, Kevin Casey does not have a skill set that is conducive to mixed martial arts. First of all, Casey’s conditioning is bad to the point of being unacceptable. It’s one thing to be aggressive in fights and fade because of that, but Casey is usually gassed out in the second round, even if all he did in the first round was hold his opponent down. Casey also has very little to offer in the striking game.
Now, Casey can be dangerous in the first round of fights. He does have decent takedowns and very good Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from top position. Against Josh Samman, that’s a clear path to victory for Casey. Samman does not have good takedown defense at all, and if Kelvin Gastelum could get him to tap out in the first round, Casey might be able to do exactly the same thing.
Let’s be honest, though – if Casey doesn’t get that first-round submission, he’s toast. Samman has far superior conditioning and a decent “fight IQ” as well. He’s probably well aware that Casey doesn’t have cardio for three rounds, and is likely to fight accordingly. I see Samman getting taken down in the first round, weathering a little bit of a storm, and coming back strong to stop Casey by strikes in the second round.
Pick: Josh Samman by TKO