While there has been a lot of discussion regarding the main events for UFC 97, some may have missed out on the high level of quality that will be found on the preliminary bouts this Saturday night. With bouts featuring the likes of Denis Kang, a returning middleweight title contender in David Loiseau, and a number of Ultimate Fighter standouts, the preliminary bouts should not be ignored. Here’s part one of my UFC 97 preview, which will focus on the seven preliminary fights.
Sam Stout vs. Matt Wiman
In the ultra-competitive lightweight division, coming off of a loss (or two) is not where you want to be, and both of these fighters tasted defeat in their last UFC appearances (Stout has dropped two in a row). While neither of them have been finished recently, they both need a win to get back into the mix, and in Stout’s case, to stay in the UFC, period.
Stout has always been touted as having great standup, and his technique is good, though he hasn’t shown much fight-ending power in the UFC portion of his career. Meanwhile, Wiman has slightly sloppy standup that often gets him in trouble (as it did when Spencer Fisher landed a flying knee for the ages in their bout a couple of years ago, but his ground game is sound all-around and better than Stout’s. I think that Wiman will get too comfortable and Stout will score early and often, although I think this has a good chance of going the distance, with Wiman maybe taking a round but dropping the decision to Stout in the end.
Ryo Chonan vs. TJ Grant
Ryo Chonan is an above-.500 fighter who doesn’t figure to ever play into the welterweight title picture, and he has only had a 1-2 record since coming to the UFC from Japan. However, his experience level and takedown defense (along with a nice size advantage) should be enough against TJ Grant, who comes to the Octagon for the first time with an impressive 13-2 record, and only having gone the distance one time (in a fight he lost to Gary Wright).
I’d expect Chonan to win this one by controlling the bout, avoiding takedowns and winning a decision. I don’t think he wants to try the ground game against Grant, and instead will focus on knocking him around the cage. I wouldn’t be surprised if this became sort of a snooze-fest, unfortunately.
Mark Bocek vs. David Bielkheden
Bocek, 2-2 since entering the UFC nearly two years ago and 6-2 overall, will enter this fight with virtually the same game plan as his opponent, David Bielkheden, who is also at .500 in the UFC, with a 1-1 record (including a quick loss to Diego Sanchez). The standup portion of the fight should be a wash here, although someone could land a surprising strike to swing the bout in their direction, as both are capable of making a costly mistake while standing.
Most likely, this fight will take place on the ground for the majority (if not all) of the time. I think that Bocek is the stronger fighter and better wrestler, but he showed in his last fight (a submission victory over Alvin Robinson) that he is willing to give up position to attempt a submission, which will help ensure that Bielkheden gets his opportunities from the top, as well. Overall, Bocek is the better “control” fighter, which means I’ll go with him winning via decision. If the fight ends via submission, however, I believe it will be Bocek that does the tapping.
David Loiseau vs. Ed Herman
Since his last stint in the UFC, “The Crow” has won four of his last six to earn a shot back at the major league level. However, among his four wins, the only fighter he bested with a quality record was Solomon Hutcherson (remember, “Team Dagger”?). Even Hutcherson has lost whenever he’s stepped up against top-notch competition, as he did against Jorge Rivera and Luigi Fioravanti, along with Loiseau.
Herman is 3-4 in his UFC career and likely has his back against the wall, as he’s dropped two straight. Still, his last loss was a split decision against a good fighter in Alan Belcher, so it’s not as if he’s been fighting too poorly. Herman will look to take Loiseau down if he knows what’s good for him, as Loiseau will dominate the stand-up portion of the fight, even if he’s not as good as he used to be. I expect Loiseau to be a game opponent, but Herman will be able to score a decision victory if Loiseau is unable to keep the fight standing. My heart says Loiseau, but my head says that Herman will ride out a judge’s decision.
Jason McDonald vs. Nate Quarry
This could be one of the better fights on the card, as both fighters have shown in the past that they can hang with top competition, at least for awhile. The problem is that neither fighter has been able to get a career-making win against such opponents as Rich Franklin or Demian Maia. Speaking of Maia, it’s hard to take much from Quarry’s quick loss to the up-and-coming superstar, as Maia taps *everybody* out quickly. Similarly, McDonald’s own losses to Maia and Wilson Gouveia are nothing to be too ashamed over.
This fight is interesting because either man has the skills to finish the fight inside of the full three rounds, which can’t be said about some of the other preliminary bouts. Quarry could certainly land a sudden knockout punch on McDonald, although McDonald has displayed a good chin throughout his career. Likewise, Quarry’s wrestling has never looked as good as it should in the octagon, and McDonald will probably look to take the fight to the ground early and often. If he does, he will look to submit Quarry, which is what I believe will happen…especially since Quarry will be likely to tire if he doesn’t finish the fight early. Still, Quarry’s puncher’s chance makes this an intriguing bout.
Denis Kang vs. Xavier Foupa-Pakam
Seven wins in a row have brought French fighter Xavier Foupa-Pokam to the U.S., with his name (too long for carry-on) arriving in the flight following right behind his own. Luggage delays aside, Foupa-Pokam has drawn a difficult opponent for his UFC debut in Denis Kang. Kang has fought everywhere, and is most notable for his incredible sixteen fight win streak, which lasted three and a half years until he lost a split decision to Kazuo Misaki in the Pride:Bushido Welterweight Grand Prix. However, in his UFC debut against Alan Belcher, Kang looked awful while losing by second round submission. He has also lost four out of seven fights since his win streak stopped.
Still, Kang should have more than enough to pull a submission victory out here. Foupa-Pokam is known to have very good striking skills, and if Kang doesn’t fight with the right strategy, he could end up getting into trouble, but I don’t think that Foupa-Pokam has the takedown or submission defense to withstand Kang for very long.
Eliot Marshall vs. Vinny Magalhaes
Finally, we have what should be a compelling bout between two standouts from the last season of “The Ultimate Fighter”, Eliot Marshall and Vinny Magalhaes. This fight is pretty easy to forecast, and the intentions of each fighter couldn’t possibly be clearer. Magalhaes will look to take the fight to the ground, where he could win within seconds, and Marshall will look to keep the fight standing and take advantage of Magalhaes’ awkward standup game.
I anticipate that Magalhaes has worked hard on his striking, but Marshall has a well-rounded skill set and fighters who are new to striking always look better in the practice room than in the cage. Magalhaes may even enter this fight thinking that he has equal striking to Marshall, but when he gets hit, bad habits and flaws will emerge. With that said, it is just as unlikely that Marshall will be able to hang around on the ground for long without tapping out to Magalhaes. If Marshall makes a single mistake and gets taken down, that could be it. Still, I think Marshall will stay out of trouble and finish Magalhaes by a TKO at some point, especially because Magalhaes doesn’t boast great takedown skills.