There are going to be plenty of eyeballs locked on the main event for UFC Fight Night in San Jose when Robbie Lawler takes on Matt Brown in a five-round battle no one expects to even see the 25th minute, but to get the evening started there are plenty of great matchups on the preliminary card to watch as well.
At the top is a lightweight showdown between always exciting striker Daron Cruickshank and former Strikeforce title contender Jorge Masvidal, who is coming off perhaps the best performance of his entire career in his last fight.
Also on the card, Kyle Kingsbury returns from semi-retirement to take on former NCAA All-American wrestler Patrick Cummins, who makes his third appearance in the Octagon.
Today's fantasy preview will look specifically at those preliminary fights to dissect who has the best shot at coming out on top, which oftentimes will ultimately determine who wins in the UFC Pick Em game as well.
DARON CRUICKSHANK VS. JORGE MASVIDAL
Since his time on season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter, Daron Cruickshank has become one of the most exciting and thrilling lightweights on the UFC roster because every time he fights there's a chance something explosive will happen. He's finished three different opponents recently with kicks, including an incredible wheel kick to help put away Mike Rio two fights ago. Cruickshank comes from a Tae Kwon Do background, so he's very creative and unique with the way he strikes, not to mention the angles he'll throw a kick from to land on an opponent's head.
Masvidal will definitely be his toughest test, however, because the former Strikeforce fighter is impossibly tough to finish and he's just a more well-rounded mixed martial artist than Cruickshank when looking at his complete fight skill set. Masvidal is a gritty striker with a long reach (he'll hold a three-inch advantage in this one), not to mention a steady wrestling attack where he puts his opponents down nearly three times per fight with over 68-percent accuracy. It's the wrestling game that could throw Cruickshank off from throwing his signature kicks and then the fight shifts dramatically into Masvidal's corner.
Masvidal is smart enough not to fall for anything flashy, but even if he does, he's got a granite chin, as witnessed in his battle with Rustam Khabilov last year, where he took a number of hard shots and kept coming back for more. Obviously, Masvidal would rather not get hit at all, so as he mixes up his wrestling and boxing, he negates the kicks of Cruickshank and that's where the fight will ultimately go to his corner.
Look for Masvidal to frustrate Cruickshank with his wrestling to stop the kicking game before a boxing-heavy attack wins him the fight by unanimous decision.
KYLE KINGSBURY VS. PATRICK CUMMINS
It's been nearly two years since Kyle Kingsbury last stepped foot in the Octagon, but he returns on Saturday night to take on hungry up and comer Patrick Cummins.
Kingsbury was in the midst of a tough three-fight losing streak when he exited the UFC, and it's hard to imagine things are going to get much easier for him in this one. Kingsbury is a physically imposing fighter with a lot of power, although it rarely translates to his striking outside of the one fight in the UFC he finished by TKO. Kingsbury is tough as nails, however, so he won't go away easily.
Cummins is probably going to be best served avoiding a stand-up battle with Kingsbury because that's where the former Ultimate Fighter veteran will want this one to stay. Cummins is a former All-American wrestler from Penn State, and he's like a pitbull going for takedowns in his fights. He averages over five takedowns per 15 minutes inside the cage, and he's not the kind of fighter to give up just because he doesn’t get his first attempt at taking the fight to the ground. Cummins will attack the legs, work from the clinch, look for trips - anything that ends with him on top and an opponent defending his strikes.
It's not flashy, but it's effective. It should be enough for Cummins to drag Kingsbury to the mat repeatedly over three rounds and take home a decision win.
HERNANI PERPETUO VS. TIM MEANS
A dark horse candidate to steal the early portion of the show is this matchup of strikers as Brazilian Hernani Perpetuo makes his second appearance in the UFC against Tim Means. Perpetuo lost a close decision in his debut to Jordan Mein, while Means dropped a fight to Neil Magny in his return to the Octagon earlier this year.
Perpetuo is a classic Brazilian striker who loves to throw big looping punches from the outside while feeding his opponents a steady diet of leg kicks. He gets a little wild at times so discipline in his stand-up game is still an issue, but more often than not it hasn't cost him because Perpetuo is able to flurry and put an opponent away before they can adjust and get away from his attacks. He will have to be careful of that kind of style in this fight, however, because Means is equally as dangerous and he might be even deadlier if he's not constantly concerned about the takedown.
Means has been itching for another stand-up battle ever since he took on Justin Salas in his second UFC fight back in 2012. Means is a long, rangy striker who stands 6'2" tall, so he's almost always the fighter with the better reach. He's got nasty knees that he can throw from anywhere and if he's not dodging takedowns then he can also unleash some kicks that won't come fast, but they will land with a powerful thud.
Means wants this to be a slugfest because that's a fight he will win nine out of ten times. He wants to draw Perpetuo into a battle where technique goes flying out the window, and if that happens in this fight, Means will feast like it's Thanksgiving dinner. Perpetuo isn't going to just fade and go away. so look for him to uncork some wild strikes in defense, but when it's all over, look for Means to come out on top by decision. This will certainly be a fun fight, however, and a potential candidate for Fight of the Night.
STEVEN SILER VS. NOAD LAHAT
Following two consecutive losses inside the Octagon, it's do or die time for former Ultimate Fighter competitor Steven Siler when he takes on Noad Lahat, who makes his second appearance in the Octagon this weekend.
Siler has shown flashes of brilliance since his time on the reality show, including a blistering win over former WEC champion Mike Brown, where he finished the fight in less than one minute due to strikes. Siler is primarily a stand-up fighter and it's the battles that ended up on the ground that have given him the biggest problems. While he did lose by TKO in a striking battle in his last fight, it's wrestlers like Darren Elkins and Dennis Bermudez that have haunted Siler in his UFC campaign. On the feet, Siler is proficient and can control the pace of a fight. He lands nearly three and a half strikes per minute with 42 percent accuracy, and that's where he'll want to keep this fight, because Lahat will certainly look to take this to the ground.
Prior to the loss he suffered in his UFC debut, Lahat was an undefeated prospect with five of his seven victories coming by way of submission with a varied attack of chokes. He found himself in deeper waters in his first fight in the UFC, where he fell to former Ultimate Fighter Brazil competitor Godofredo Pepey, and unless he can find a way to get this one to the mat, he might suffer a similar fate this time. Lahat looked uncomfortable when Pepey put the pressure on him in their fight and Siler will certainly look to exploit that weakness as well.
Given how his last fight ended under less than ideal circumstances (most believe it was an early stoppage), Siler is going to look to prove a point and make an example out of Lahat to show he not only belongs in the UFC, but that he's still a tough matchup for anyone in the division, especially a newcomer trying to make waves. If Siler finds his range, he'll open up on Lahat and should be able to put him away before the second round comes to a close.