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The UFC Fight Night card in Japan this weekend is not only highlighted by a great main card, but the preliminary fights are dotted with some of the best talent of any undercard inside the Octagon for all of 2014.
Among the fights taking place this weekend are Alex Caceres getting back in action against newcomer Masanori Kanehara, as well as Katsunori Kikuno taking on Sam Sicilia in a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Korean powerhouse Hyun Gyu Lim is also fighting, as well as top rated prospect Michinori Tanaka.
All told, this preliminary card is filled with fighters destined to be main card draws one day and this promises to be one of the best shows of the year.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine some of those key matchups on the preliminary card because with so many great fights on deck, it also means the odds are impossibly close when choosing winners and losers for the UFC Pick Em game. Let's see if we can sort a few of these out before Saturday.
ALEX CACERES VS. MASANORI KANEHARA
One of the most intriguing fights of the entire card happens to be the featured bout on the prelims, as Alex Caceres takes on debuting bantamweight Masanori Kanehara.
Kanehara is a veteran of the Japanese fight scene, having competed in several of the major promotions in the area over the years while amassing a pretty impressive record. He's not easy to define as a fighter because he definitely mixes things up very well and adjusts to whatever opponent he's facing on any given night. Kanehara is a rigid kickboxer who could probably use better head movement to avoid his opponent's strikes, but he delivers some serious power in his hands and feet when he's launching an offensive. Kanehara has a better than average shot from the outside and a stifling top game while looking to pass guard and land a submission.
Caceres is going to be a tough test for Kanehara because for once he'll be facing a fighter just as tall and strong as him in the cage. Caceres has developed into a very dangerous competitor since spending time on The Ultimate Fighter a few seasons back. He's slick with his submission game and that remains his best weapon, although he's found a way to use his range and length to give his opponents fits on the feet.
What works well for Kanehara in his debut is the fact that he gets to fight at home in front of a familiar crowd that will give him a ton of support against Caceres. He's got all the weapons to hurt Caceres on the feet and on the ground, but the question remains, can he do it? Kanehara's biggest struggles have been against power punchers, but he probably won't have to worry about that as much with Caceres, which could lead the Japanese newcomer to a positive result in his debut. If Kanehara can control the pace and take the center of the Octagon and never let Caceres get comfortable, he should squeak by with a decision victory. This might be the toughest pick on the entire card, so choose wisely because this one really could go either way.
KATSUNORI KIKUNO VS. SAM SICILIA
Following a tough loss in his last fight, Katsunori Kikuno goes down to featherweight for the first time since joining the UFC and he meets hard-hitting former Ultimate Fighter contestant Sam Sicilia this weekend.
Statistically, Kikuno and Sicilia are eerily similar. Both fighters land nearly three significant strikes per minute with accuracy ranging around 40 percent. They both average nearly two takedowns per fight, but Kikuno does best Sicilia in his accuracy, where he puts opponents down 73 percent of the time with his attempts.
Kikuno got caught in his last fight by Tony Ferguson, who might be one of the best power punchers in the lightweight division, but prior to the finish the Japanese fighter was doing well for himself. He's not afraid to get into a firefight, which could spell success or doom depending on how Sicilia approaches this matchup.
Sicilia is a big fan of throwing down with an opponent until one of them falls over. While he possesses serious knockout power in his hands, he might want to avoid exchanging with Kikuno or he could suffer by the result of his actions. Assuming Kikuno can drop the weight and comes into the fight with the same power and vigor that he did as a lightweight, he's got the kind of power and technique to finish Sicilia impressively before the second round comes to an end.
Kikuno has faced a laundry list of top fighters during his career and if he can make the cut to 145 pounds the right way he'll be a fun addition to the division. His debut might just come at the expense of Sicilia's chin on Saturday night.
HYUN GYU LIM VS. TAKENORI SATO
It's unclear who Takenori Sato ticked off when he signed with the UFC, but he's certainly had no easy road in the Octagon thus far. In his debut, he faced Erick Silva in Silva’s home country of Brazil before being blitzed and finished with strikes in just 52 seconds. This time around he faces Korean powerhouse Hyun Gyu Lim, who might possess some of the deadliest striking at 170 pounds.
Lim is devastating on the feet, especially if he gets in close, where he's finished two opponents thus far with knees in the clinch. Lim lands an incredible 5.53 strikes per minute with 43 percent accuracy and his takedowns and takedown defense are both virtually flawless through three fights in the Octagon. Lim also possesses a five-inch height and reach advantage, which will likely come into a play as he stalks Sato across the cage like a lion chasing after a gazelle.
Sato is a serviceable welterweight with a good submission arsenal at his disposal. The problem he'll have in this fight is getting close enough to Lim to land a takedown without eating five or six punches in the process.
If you're looking for a sure thing on the undercard, this is the one because Lim could soon develop into a legitimate top 15 welterweight and this bout should earn him a Performance of the Night bonus for a vicious knockout, possibly in round one.
MICHINORI TANAKA VS. KYUNG HO KANG
The prospect watch on the undercard lands on the doorstep of undefeated fighter Michinori Tanaka this time around. Tanaka is one of the top competitors coming out of Japan and he looked great in his debut win over Roland Delorme and there are big expectations for this young fighter.
Tanaka is an experienced ground fighter, and at just 23 years of age he's got a very bright future ahead of him. Tanaka is powerful on the mat, where he boasts a bevy of submission victories, and he's honed his skills with frequent visits to Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, where he works with some of the best fighters in the world in and around his weight class. He's also trained with notable names such as Caol Uno and Michihiro Omigawa as well as Kyoji Horiguchi, who fights on the same card as him in Japan.
His opponent, Kyung Ho Kang, seems like the perfect opponent to test the Japanese youngster because he's also a ground wizard with nine of his career wins coming by way of submission. He picked up his first finish in the UFC in his last fight where he submitted Shunichi Shimizu in January. Kang is an aggressive takedown artist as well, landing 3.42 takedowns per fight with 71 percent accuracy.
It's the wrestling game that will likely determine the winner in this fight because both of these fighters like to be on top when the action hits the ground. While Kang's statistics are better than Tanaka’s, it's not likely his wrestling will be up to snuff come fight night. Tanaka is a powerful bantamweight with good inside trips and throws to put his opponents down, and once he's on the mat, he's like a brick wall just crushing down with an imposing will.
Tanaka showed in his debut that he's willing to do whatever it takes to get the fight to the ground and he'll likely do the same to Kang in this bout. It won't be easy and he's going to have to work for every position he gains, but ultimately Tanaka should get through his second fight in the UFC with another win by unanimous decision.
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