Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is bringing a bevy of “Prelims” fights to both UFC Fight Pass and FOX Sports 1 this weekend (Sat., Sept. 8, 2018) when UFC 229: “Khabib vs. McGregor” storms T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. MMAmania.com’s Patrick Stumberg continues the UFC 229 “Prelims” party with the second — and final — installment of a two-part undercard preview series below.
Showtime … at last!
Conor McGregor makes his long-awaited return to the Octagon this Saturday (Sept. 29, 2018) against reigning Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, headlining the year’s biggest mixed martial arts (MMA) event inside T-Mobile Arena in Last Vegas, Nevada. Meanwhile, former champs Tony Ferguson and Anthony Pettis battle in the co-feature of a pay-per-view (PPV) main card that also includes Derrick Lewis vs. Alexander Volkov for a potential crack at the Heavyweight title.
There are four more UFC 229 “Prelims” undercard bouts left to examine (check out the first batch here). Let’s go!
125 lbs.: Sergio Pettis vs. Jussier Formiga
Sergio Pettis (17-3) was in the midst of a four-fight win streak, the longest of his UFC career, when he ran afoul of future champ Henry Cejudo and suffered a decision loss in Dec. 2017. Six months later, “The Phenom” welcomed Joseph Benavidez back to the Octagon and became the first man not named Demetrious Johnson or Dominick Cruz to defeat “Joe B.”
He has knocked out and submitted three opponents apiece, though none in his last 11 fights.
Jussier Formiga (21-5) fought back from close losses to Henry Cejudo and Ray Borg to choke out Ulka Sasaki in Saitama, setting up a fight with the surging Ben Nguyen in Perth. Formiga proved he was more than just a grappler by dropping the local favorite with a spinning back fist before locking up his favored rear-naked choke.
Indeed, eight of his 10 submission victories have come via rear-naked choke.
Pettis impressed me in a big way against Benavidez, but it was hard not to notice the rust Benavidez was sporting, and the latter still managed to take Pettis down twice. In fact, Pettis has been taken down in all but one of his UFC fights. Even Brandon Moreno — not known for his wrestling prowess — got him down four times.
He’s usually able to scramble up, but that’s just not an option here. When Formiga gets you down, he goes to your back and he stays there until either the bell rings or he gets his forearm under your chin. Pettis doesn’t hit hard enough to dissuade the Brazilian, who’s developed enough striking to set up his wrestling. Formiga’s impeccable back control wins him another one as he stays glued to “The Phenom” for huge chunks of each round.
Prediction: Formiga via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Vicente Luque vs. Jalin Turner
A 1-1 run on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 21 and subsequent loss to Mike Graves at the Finale gave way to a 6-1 run for Vicente Luque (13-6-1), all the victories by stoppage within two rounds. Since losing a decision to fellow top prospect Leon Turner, Luque has submitted Niko Price and knocked out Chad Laprise.
He has knocked out and submitted six opponents each.
Jalen Turner (7-3) earned six first-round victories, five of them knockouts to earn a spot on the “Contender Series” opposite Max Mustaki. Turner dominated the first round with his striking before a broken foot forced Mustaki to bow out before the second.
“The Tarantula” will have a four-inch height advantage over “The Silent Assassin.”
Turner looks like a quality young prospect, and though he’s making his first appearance at Welterweight after a career-long run at 155 pounds, I expect his 6’3” frame to hold up nicely at this new division. That said, I’m not entirely sure what UFC was thinking pitting him against one of the most devastating young talents in the entire organization.
Turner is worryingly easy to hit, falling into the standard Lanky Dude Pitfall of standing too upright and not moving his head, and can step too far inside when looking to work the body. Beyond having the wrestling and ground game to exploit these habit, Luque’s developed genuinely crushing power in his hands. The math isn’t too difficult here.
Prediction: Luque by first-round knockout
135 lbs.: Tonya Evinger vs. Aspen Ladd
Tonya Evinger (19-7) pounded out Irene Aldana for the Invicta Bantamweight title in 2015, then successfully defended it four times before making the jump to the UFC. Her Octagon debut saw her step up on short notice against Cris “Cyborg” and survive two full rounds against the Featherweight champ.
This will be the first fight for “Triple Threat” in 14 months because of injuries on both her and Ketlen Vieira’s parts.
Following an 8-1 amateur run, Aspen Ladd (6-0) debuted professionally in Invicta and went undefeated (5-0), toppling Amanda Cooper and Sijara Eubanks along the way. Her Octagon debut saw her take down Lina Lansberg and secure her fourth ground-and-pound victory.
She has been out of action for nearly a year after a blown weight cut scrapped her April fight with Leslie Smith.
Though Ladd still has a lot of work to do cleaning up her striking, she already has the tools needed to win this. Evinger thrives when she can control the wrestling, which figures to be an uphill battle against the younger Ladd. In addition, Ladd pushes a terrific pace, allowing her volume to compensate for technical shortcomings.
This just looks like a case of a veteran getting outworked by a younger, more active fighter. Unless Ladd’s new weight class has a major impact, she lands enough left hooks and controls enough grappling exchanges to get the win.
Prediction: Ladd via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Alan Patrick vs. Scott Holtzman
Brazil’s Alan Patrick (15-1) has quietly assembled a 5-1 record during his five years in the Octagon, including an ongoing three-fight win streak. He was last seen returning from more than a year away to defeat Damir Hadzovic in Belem.
“Nuguete” will have two inches of height and five inches of reach on “Hot Sauce.”
Scott Holtzman (11-2) — a former hockey player — has gone 4-2 in the world’s largest fight promotion and will enter the cage this weekend on a two-fight streak of his own. He was last seen defeating Darrell Horcher in Fresno in Dec. 2017 on the Brian Ortega vs. Cub Swanson-led card.
Three of his five stoppage wins have come via (technical) knockout.
Patrick is a horrendously boring fighter, but you can’t argue with results. “Nuguete” has scored 19 combined takedowns in his last three fights, meaning the fight goes to the ground when, if, and how he wants it to. Though Holtzman is the sharper striker, his defensive grappling hasn’t caught up with the offensive part, and the need to get inside of Patrick’s reach to land strikes opens him up to those endless takedowns.
Patrick likely isn’t long for the sport at age 35 and doesn’t have the time to develop the striking needed to fully exploit his length, but this is an extremely winnable fight for him. Indeed, steady takedowns carry him to another decision victory.
Prediction: Patrick via unanimous decision
UFC 229: Must. See. T. V. There is nothing left to say. See you Saturday, Maniacs!
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 229 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.