UFC 174 lands in Vancouver this week and the preliminary card will showcase a mix of former Ultimate Fighter talent as well as a pair of bantamweights looking to get back into contention starting on Saturday night.
Former Ultimate Fighter Brazil finalist Daniel Sarafian drops down to welterweight after a three-fight run in the middleweight division, where he was already a very dangerous matchup for anyone in the division. Japanese fighter Kiichi Kunimoto will have the pleasure of welcoming him to the division when they face off in the featured bout on the undercard.
Also competing will be Canadian striker Yves Jabouin, who takes on Mike Easton in a fight between two bantamweights coming off losses, so there's no doubt both will be doing everything necessary to come out with a win on Saturday. Also on the undercard, TUF Nations semifinalist Kajan Johnson makes his long-awaited UFC debut against Korean fighter Tae Hyun Bang.
For today's fantasy preview, we're going to break down some of the fights on the preliminary card for UFC 174 to see who has the best chance of walking away with the victory while also predicting any possible upsets brewing this Saturday in Vancouver.
DANIEL SARAFIAN VS. KIICHI KUNIMOTO
Daniel Sarafian makes his debut at 170 pounds on this card, and there are high expectations for the Brazilian if the weight cut goes as well as expected. It's hard to say though, considering Sarafian is 31 years old, and because any fighter will tell you the older you get, the more difficult it becomes to shed those extra pounds.
That said, if Sarafian drops the weight effectively, he should be a great addition to the welterweight division. Sarafian is an explosive striker with solid takedown defense who lost both of his fights in the UFC by split decision, including a razor close fight with CB Dollaway three fights ago. Sarafian is well-rounded despite his tendency to look for the knockout because his lone win in the UFC came by way of submission and he has plenty of jiu-jitsu in his back pocket should he choose to use it.
Kunimoto will undoubtedly want to get this one to the ground, where his game can take over. He's a submission specialist, finishing four of his last five wins on the ground. Kunimoto is slick with his grappling from the top or bottom because he has a stifling arm triangle choke and a suffocating triangle choke as well, so if the fight hits the floor look out, because the Japanese welterweight will be looking for the finish in a hurry.
The biggest problem that will haunt Kunimoto in this fight is Sarafian's takedown defense. Now in the UFC, Sarafian only shows 50 percent effectiveness against the takedown, but considering he fought Dollaway (an NCAA All-American in wrestling) and did a great job staying off his back, the statistics might be a bit skewed heading into only his fourth fight in the UFC. Sarafian is powerfully strong, and if he can shrug off Kunimoto's attempts to get this fight to the ground, he can light his opponent up with strikes on the feet. Sarafian throws hard and don't be surprised that if he hurts Kunimoto standing, he might just get a finish.
Sarafian should get the win before the final horn with either a knockout or a submission, and this should be a nice welcome to the welterweight division for the former TUF finalist.
YVES JABOUIN VS. MIKE EASTON
This bantamweight matchup is pivotal for both Jabouin and Easton, who are both coming off losses. Easton, in particular, is in a rough spot considering he's dropped his last three in a row, although two of those defeats came to TJ Dillashaw, the new UFC bantamweight champion, and Raphael Assuncao, the top contender in the division.
Easton is a tough out for anyone at 135 pounds because he's a true 'Jack of all trades'. He's not great at any one thing but he's good at everything. Easton is an efficient striker, landing 3.64 significant strikes per minute and he's got great takedown defense, blocking 76 percent of his opponent's attempts. Easton may have a few losses on his record, but he always keeps it close and he's never been completely outclassed.
Jabouin is a much flashier performer than Easton, but that flair has also gotten him into trouble recently. Jabouin was knocked out by Eddie Wineland in his last fight and that came just one fight after he was finished by Brad Pickett in a vicious KO in England in 2012. Jabouin's consistency issues have also stemmed from his inactivity, where he's only fought four times in the past two years. At his best, Jabouin is a rangy striker with high level kicks that can do a lot of damage. At his worst, Jabouin leaves himself open for counter strikes and volume punchers and Easton just happens to be both of those things.
Easton just has to avoid anything crazy from Jabouin and work his combinations in and out and side to side to frustrate the Canadian. Once Jabouin opens up a bit to try and throw something up top, Easton can take advantage with his wrestling or an inside combination. Rinse, wash, repeat over three rounds and the end result is Mike Easton standing tall with a unanimous decision win.
KAJAN JOHNSON VS. TAE HYUN BANG
TUF Nations fighter Kajan Johnson makes his UFC debut after a career that spans more than a decade long in the sport. Johnson has been a well-known fixture on the Canadian fight scene for many years, but until he was able to do The Ultimate Fighter, injuries plagued him far worse than any bad losses suffered. Now that he's healthy, Johnson looks to showcase what he can do when he steps into the Octagon.
Johnson isn't afraid of going to the ground or standing and trading with an opponent. His record is a hodgepodge of knockouts and submissions and when you couple that with his experience, it's proof that he can take this fight anywhere and won't be afraid to mix things up.
Bang is much more agreeable to a stand-up fight, and while he has several losses on his record, there's no shame in the caliber of opponent he's faced. He's gone to decision with fighters like Jorge Masvidal and Takanori Gomi, so he's not only tough enough to walk into those kinds of matchups, but he's smart enough to survive as well. Bang's biggest weakness comes on the ground, which cost him in his UFC debut, so that has to be fixed if he wants to stick around a very deep and dangerous lightweight division.
While Bang has the power to put Johnson's lights out, the Canadian is savvy enough to stay away from any big exchanges. He'll hold a reach advantage over the Korean, and if Johnson is smart he'll work this to the ground in a hurry and start looking for submissions or ground and pound. Johnson will have a huge following to support him fighting at home in Canada, and this should be a nice chance for him to pick a win in his UFC debut.
ROLAND DELORME VS. MICHINORI TANAKA
The prospect watch at UFC 174 lands squarely on the shoulders of Japanese newcomer Michinori Tanaka. This 9-0 fighter is a black belt in Judo and someone most experts had pegged as a potential contender if he ever signed with the UFC. Well that day has arrived and now we get to see what the 23-year-old kid can do in the Octagon.
Tanaka comes from a top team in Japan, where he trains with several notable fighters, including ex-UFC stalwarts like Michihiro Omigawa and Caol Uno. Tanaka has a great submission game to compliment his Judo background, and in his last two fights he's also gone five rounds while picking up victories in both, which means he's got the cardio and conditioning to go all 15 minutes if that's what it takes in this fight.
Roland Delorme is no pushover, and he won't just fade away because Tanaka is supposed to be the next great fighter out of Japan. He's going to have a significant four-inch reach advantage, and he can match Tanaka in Judo, where he also holds a black belt as well as a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Delorme lost in his last fight to top 10-ranked bantamweight Alex Caceres in an ultra close fight, so he's well aware of how to go toe-to-toe with some of the best in the world.
That said, this is Tanaka's coming out party for the UFC and he should be able to get the job done. He's already come to the United States in the past to work with Team Alpha Male, so he's trained with the best featherweights and bantamweights in the world, including champion TJ Dillashaw. By his own admission, Tanaka thought it would take a few more fights until he proved himself worthy of landing in the UFC, but here he is, so the young Japanese bantamweight has to be sure the moment doesn't overwhelm him.
If he fights loose and gets comfortable early, Tanaka should get the job done, although chances are, given Delorme's toughness and quick thinking on the mat, he won't go away without a fight, so expect a decision when this one is over.