The UFC 177 preliminary fights taking place on Saturday feature a ton of talented competitors, including two former contenders from Strikeforce as well as an Olympic Gold medalist making his Octagon debut.
Lorenz Larkin looks to bounce back from a couple of tough losses as he takes on former college wrestler Derek Brunson in a fight that promises at least a few explosive moments between these two tough middleweights. Also, 2008 Olympic Gold medalist Henry Cejudo makes his UFC debut against a former title contender in Scott Jorgensen, who looks to give the newcomer a rude welcome to the Octagon.
There are some extremely tough fights to pick from on the upcoming UFC 177 preliminary card, so in today's fantasy preview we will break down some of those matchups that could be the difference between winning and losing in the UFC Pick Em game on Saturday night.
DEREK BRUNSON (-117) VS. LORENZ LARKIN (-103)
The odds make this fight between Derek Brunson and Lorenz Larkin the toughest bout to pick on the entire UFC 177 card and with good reason, considering the talent these two men possess and are capable of unleashing inside the Octagon.
Brunson is returning from his last fight, where he suffered an injured jaw in a defeat to Olympic Silver medalist Yoel Romero, but while the bout ended in a loss there's no denying he was doing very well up until the third round, when he got caught and finished. Brunson is a powerfully strong wrestler who put Chris Leben on his back several times in his UFC debut and even managed to out wrestle Romero, which is a huge accomplishment considering his credentials. Brunson averages over four takedowns per 15 minutes, so he's not afraid to use his wrestling throughout a fight. He hits his takedowns with just under 45 percent accuracy and that's going to be the real story of this fight as he tries to best Larkin, who blocks almost 80 percent of takedowns attempted against him.
Larkin doesn’t wrestle much in his fights, but his anti-grappling is very solid. In this fight, like most of his matchups, Larkin will look for a stand-up war where he is proficient, landing over three significant strikes per minute with 44 percent accuracy. His defense has been solid as well, blocking nearly 65 percent of the strikes attempted against him by his opponents.
The story in this matchup really does come down to who implements their game plan better. Larkin will want a stand-up fight and Brunson would probably prefer to drag this one to the ground. Given the kind of performances each of them have had in the Octagon thus far in their respective UFC careers, the edge seems to fall in favor of Brunson. His power and tenacity have pushed him to wins in some big fights, and if not for his misstep in the third round against Romero, he could be tackling a top 15 opponent right now. All Brunson has to do is get Larkin down early and put the fear of the takedown in his mind, and the remaining rounds should go the same way. Brunson's biggest weakness has been his cardio, so hopefully he's addressed that issue since his last fight.
HENRY CEJUDO (-160 FAVORITE) VS. SCOTT JORGENSEN (+140 UNDERDOG)
UFC 177 will mark the debut of undefeated prospect and Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo, who gets no easy test facing off with veteran flyweight fighter Scott Jorgensen.
Jorgensen enters the fight off a much-needed win over Danny Martinez after going 1-5 in his previous six fights. The former WEC title contender is still considered to be a tough matchup for anybody at 125 pounds, especially an inexperienced fighter like Cejudo, who is still developing his overall skills as a fighter. Jorgensen mixes things up very well in his fights, transitioning from striking, where he lands 3.55 strikes per minute to his ground game where he averages 2.73 takedowns per 15 minutes in the cage.
Where Jorgensen may struggle is with this one statistic and it could be the only one that matters when the night is over - he blocks takedowns at about 60 percent accuracy. Against most fighters that kind of defense would be stout. Against Cejudo it may not be good enough.
Cejudo will enter the UFC flyweight division as the best wrestler in the weight class on day one in the promotion and while he's a long way from challenging the best of the best, he's going to be a welcome prospect amongst the 125 pounders. Cejudo's style seems tailor-made for a long career in the UFC, but he's going to rely on his bread and butter to get a win over a fighter as tough as Jorgensen - that means wrestle, wrestle, wrestle and when he needs one more takedown, wrestle some more.
If Cejudo can stick to that plan and not deviate much by being drawn into a striking match with Jorgensen, he should squeak through with his first UFC win. It won't be easy, but he's got the tools to get the job done while making an impact in his debut in the Octagon.
ANTHONY HAMILTON (-200 FAVORITE) VS. RUAN POTTS (+170 UNDERDOG)
There's not much of a sample size for either of these heavyweight competitors considering both Anthony Hamilton and Ruan Potts were each finished in the first round of their UFC debuts.
On paper, Hamilton is the more dangerous of the two fighters as a heavy-handed puncher, and when he walks in on fight night he's going to be somewhere between 250 and 260 pounds with a good three inches over his opponent in height. Hamilton has finished six opponents by knockout or TKO, but if he's shown a weakness before, it's his submission defense, which cost him in his UFC debut where he got tapped out by the rarely used neck crank. In theory, Hamilton's lack of ground acumen could cost him against a fighter like Potts, who is known primarily as a grappler, but if he fights smart he'll never see the mat in this fight.
Hamilton just needs to keep the fight standing and unload bombs on Potts, who looked nervous at best when his first submission attempts against Soa Palelei failed in his debut. Hamilton probably isn't as skilled as Palelei when it comes to raining down fire on an opponent from above, but he's big enough and strong enough to put an end to Potts before he gets the chance to threaten with a submission on the ground. Look for Hamilton to put Potts away early, most likely with a first round TKO stoppage.
JOE SOTO (-120 FAVORITE) VS. ANTHONY BIRCHAK (+120 UNDERDOG)
The prospect watch is high with this bantamweight matchup between Joe Soto and Anthony Birchak. While there is usually a good up and comer to watch on the prelims, this is a case where two of them are matched up with each other.
Joe Soto is a veteran fighter out of northern California with a truly well-rounded skill set of striking and grappling in his arsenal. He has a mix of knockouts and submission wins on his record although lately it's his ground work that has so many people paying attention. It was just a few years ago when Soto's career almost came to an end due to a devastating eye injury, but he came back in late 2011 and has been on a tear ever since. Soto is a former All-American wrestler in junior college so he possesses good takedowns, and combined with his jiu-jitsu game, he's a real master on the mat.
Birchak is equally impressive and while his early career wasn't stacked with wins over notable opponents, he's rectified that lately with victories over current UFC fighter Ryan Benoit, as well as veteran competitor Tito Jones. Like Soto, Birchak's background is in college wrestling although he's developed into a much more striking-heavy fighter during his career. He is very aggressive and loves to go after opponents from the opening bell, rarely giving them a second to breathe. He'll have to be careful with that style against a wrestler like Soto, who loves to shoot a double leg takedown when someone is moving in on him.
Birchak comes from a Greco wrestling background, which means he prefers to fight in close with the clinch or by pressing his opponents against the cage. If he can stun Soto early, he'll find a way to finish this fight in the opening round. If Birchak gets put on his back within the first few minutes, Soto could grind him out for a decision win or possibly pull off a late submission.
There's not really a decided favorite here, but with his experience against a higher level of competition, the slight edge goes to Soto. Don't be shocked though if Birchak comes out like a hurricane and creates havoc in his UFC debut before getting his first win inside the Octagon.