As I explained in my last entry, the card in general was hit by the injury bug. Many forget that Jake Ellenberger was supposed to face Tarec Saffiedine before Saffiedine had to pull out which moved a solid match from the prelims to the main card (would have likely been the Andre Fili vs. Max Holloway bout). When you think that last week a match like Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Rafael dos Anjos was on the preliminaries as well it can be a little hard not to feel let down by what we are getting here. Still, while these fights aren't spectacular, I'm willing to label them solid.
The last bout on the prelims features Joseph Benavidez who headlined the last card that he was on in a title match against Demetrious Johnson. Benavidez has torn through the division tearing apart anyone not named Mighty Mouse and will now be tested against iron chinned Tim Elliott. It should make for an exciting slugfest.
Outside of that, legendary Takanori Gomi returns after more than a years absence, two prospects in the women's division willing to swing leather square off, and two grinding lightweights to kick things off (though if you might be alright to miss the lightweights).
Here is what is important to know:
#2 Joseph Benavidez (19-4) vs. #8 Tim Elliott (10-4-1), Flyweight
Benavidez is out of the title picture for the time being after coming up short in two tries, but that doesn't mean others can't make their name out of him. Elliott will try to do that.
Benavidez has come to represent how most see Team Alpha Male: a great camp of smaller guys that produces title contenders... but never champions. His four losses have come at the hands of two men who are undefeated as champions in Dominick Cruz and Johnson. The title has never seemed further away though as he is fresh off of his second loss to Johnson. Any hope to try again starts right here.
Elliott will get a lot of second looks based on his wild man look (not every day you see a white man with a beard and cornrows), but the dude can actually fight. His fight with current title challenger Ali Bagautinov was fairly close and he gave John Dodson all he can handle in his UFC debut to go along with his two UFC wins. He is highly unorthodox and will likely give Benavidez plenty of fits. Benavidez is the favorite, but Elliot is fully capable of pulling out a victory.
I really don't want to sound cliche, but when it is the truth I can't help but put it out there. Benavidez's striking has improved substantially since Duane Ludwig came aboard Team Alpha Male. He wasn't bad before, but the tightening up of the technique has really brought out excellent results as he easily put Darren Uyenoyama and Jussier Formiga away with his powerful fists. As Johnson showed last time out, his looping punches can be countered with a quick technically sound punches. Benavidez does have the attitude of looking to learn from what went wrong, so I expect he'll be a bit tighter. He does a good job of mixing in leg and body kicks too. Many forget about the high kick he landed on Uyenoyama early in their fight. Benavidez has looked much more diverse with his striking.
Elliott is somewhat difficult to pin down. He doesn't seem to do anything exceptionally well, but then again he doesn't completely suck at anything either. He put his face right in front of Bagautinov with his hands low in his last fight that it amazes one to think he wasn't knocked out. He got hit with some hard shots, but showed a cast iron chin. Despite that, he doesn't get hit as often as one would expect. He can be reckless in his attacks and allow his opponent to gain an advantage as a result, but he has had some success with that too. A quick jab is a regular part of his arsenal as is switching his stance. In-your-face is the only way he knows how to fight and he lands a high volume of punches. Look for knees from the clinch if he can get the position.
In an effort to help explain the mystery that is Elliott, it is important to know that he does come from a wrestling background. He has done a very efficient job of implementing judo trips into his arsenal which has led to him being highly efficient of when it comes to getting his opponents down. Considering Benavidez is an exceptional wrestler, it will likely be the key to the fight as Benavidez has only struggled to stay on his feet with Johnson and Cruz. If the takedown is working for Elliott, an upset could be in the making. He'll look for submissions regularly too if he can get it down, though I wouldn't expect a submission to happen with Benavidez.
Once again, the usual Team Alpha Male story line with regards to Benavidez's grappling: great wrestler with a deep arsenal of chokes. Benavidez is very strong for a flyweight and it will be rare to find anyone else in the division with a wrestling advantage. The funny thing is that Benavidez has actually been fairly poor at getting the fight to the ground as Fight Metric shows he only has 25% takedown accuracy. I admit that he hasn't been looking for takedowns a whole lot recently and anytime you fight Johnson or Cruz that percentage is going to drop... but wow. It has also been well over 3 years since he scored a submission victory. He might be able to help himself if he spreads his diversity into grappling as well.
Difficult to pinpoint X-factors. Elliott has an extremely deep gas tank, but I don't think that is an issue for Benavidez. I would say that how Benavidez reacts to being KO'd for the first time is a question, but my guess is he'll be fine.
Elliott is one of the toughest bastards in the UFC and realizes if he wants to ever make a run at the flyweight title, he needs to upset Benavidez here. Problem is Benavidez is still one of the best flyweights in the world and he'll be happy to prove any doubters wrong. Benavidez by Decision
The legendary Fireball Kid makes his return to the Octagon to face Vallie-Flagg. At 35, there likely won't be many more opportunities to catch Gomi fight anymore.
While Gomi has never come anywhere near matching the legendary status that he achieved in the Pride organization since coming to the UFC, he has shown glimpses of what made him a champion of high regard. His 3-4 record in the UFC is a bit deceiving as most believe he pulled out the victory over Diego Sanchez as opposed to the judges awarding it to Sanchez.
Vallie-Flagg comes out of the well reputed Jackson-Winklejohn camp with his recent 12 fight undefeated streak snapped in his last outing against Elias Silverio. It seems his luck ran out as he scored 3 straight controversial split decision W's before that. While many will point out Gomi's age, its easy to forget that Vallie-Flagg is older at 36 and has had back issues which have kept him out of fights before. If healthy, Vallie-Flagg represents a good challenge.
Gomi's game always has been and always will be boxing. Even if he were to work on kicks for the duration of his fight camp, he would end up reverting back to his boxing. Its a good thing that he is quite good at it. Well... Gomi has some holes to put it lightly. The main reason he is so effective at it is his unusual power he possesses for the weight class. He owns 13 KO/TKO victories, including a one-punch KO of iron chinned Tyson Griffin who had never been finished to that point. Combine that power with Gomi's seemingly indestructible chin and its easy to see why Gomi was able to overcome a lack of polish. As he's gotten older he has gotten more wild with his throws and the holes in his defense (always noticeable) have gotten larger. And while he still hasn't lost by KO/TKO, Nate Diaz and Eiji Mitsuoka have both dropped him and neither are known for their power.
Vallie-Flagg has shown to have a hell of a chin himself with no KO/TKO stoppage losses on his ledger either. He may not have faced the same caliber talent as Gomi throughout his career, but names like Yves Edwards and represent strikers more than able to test ones chin. Vallie-Flagg enjoys to press the action as a high volume brawler. He isn't thought of as a power puncher, but is certainly capable of wearing down his opponents with punches in bunches throwing a good mix of all sorts of punches. Most punches he throws are tight, but the occasional haymaker comes out too. Unorthodox strikes like superman punches or flying knees are a fairly regular part of his repertoire. He has no problem pushing the fight against the fence and does a solid job wearing out his opponent there.
What worries me about Vallie-Flagg is his grappling. He has improved his submission defense throughout his career (3 of his first 6 fights he lost by submission), but was dominated and controlled by Silverio in all of the grappling aspects. That is Silverio's game, but what was expected to be a close fight was not even close. I expected more out of Vallie-Flagg's wrestling as I hadn't thought it too bad before that fight. Maybe Silverio really is that good... but I have my doubts. Still, I expect Vallie-Flagg to make some attempts to get the fight to the ground for points if nothing else (he is a Jackson fighter). He is big and strong for the class and Gomi is suseptible to being submitted.
While I say that Gomi has poor submission defense, when you look at some of the names who have submitted him (Nate Diaz, Nick Diaz, BJ Penn, Kenny Florian), it becomes a little easier to forgive. To the surprise of many, is actually a very good wrestler. Do you really think he became the best lightweight in the world without any grappling? Its clear he isn't comfortable on the ground though as he rarely takes his time to make the next logical move... hence why he has been submitted often. His wrestling has served as a good base for his takedown defense as well.
Similar to Benavidez and Elliot, not many X-factors in this fight. About the only one that comes to mind is Gomi's had an issue with gassing in the past, but looked fine in his last two outings against Diego Sanchez and Mac Danzig. Vallie-Flagg has never shown that issue.
Vallie-Flagg had a lot of luck in running his unbeaten streak to 12 and when luck runs out, it tends to run out emphatically. Power is something that doesn't go away (just ask Dan Henderson) and I expect Gomi to add another highlight reel KO to his career. Gomi by KO 2nd Round
This fight will have an interesting dynamic as Correia is 5'4 and Duke is 5'11. Any guesses on who will wield the 9' reach advantage?
Correia won a split decision over long-time (and very respected) veteran Julie Kedzie in her UFC debut. Some say it was controversial, I thought it was fair. Though Kedzie is a good name to put on your resume, Kedzie has been past her prime for a little while now and Correia hasn't faced any other notable competition outside of Erica Paes and Paes only has 4 pro fights herself. She trains with the Pitbull Brothers (Patricio and Patricky) of Bellator fame.
Duke has a fair amount of fans for a couple of reasons. First are her good looks (she is a former model after all) and second is her willingness to swing and brawl, particularly highlighted by her fight in the TUF house against Raquel Pennington. She had little trouble in disposing of Peggy Morgan in her first (and thus far only) fight out of the house and has the brass smiling at her potential.
Correia is often dubbed as a powerful striker, but when only one of you seven victories have come by strikes, I don't quite think that you've earned that title. It is clear when you watch her throw her punches that she has potential to be a powerful striker and at this juncture I'm more than comfortable to call her a good striker. Understand that I think she has the ability to put her opponents out... she hasn't done it yet. Its like calling someone a champion when they haven't won the title yet. Her approach mixes fairly effectively between being a counter striker and moving forward. She has a solid jab I would love to see her be more aggressive with and mixes in short range combos to the body and head most effectively. When she forgets to look for the power shot and mixes in the occasional kick she is at her best... but those things don't always happen.
If there is anything to take out of Duke's dogfight with Pennington its that she has one hell of a chin as Pennington landed some hard shots. I would have questioned her fight IQ as well, but she shut me up with her dominance over Morgan. Duke does everything she is supposed to do to utilize her height to its greatest effect. Front kicks, leg kicks, jabs, and knees from the clinch which are are all still a work in progress. That doesn't mean that they aren't effective at this point. At only three professional fights at this point, you know that she is learning at a rapid pace and the fact her technique is where it is at is quite impressive. Her movement still needs a lot of work, but it was improved against Morgan.
Its hard not to be impressed with Duke's submission acumen for someone with relatively little experience. It wasn't exactly fast or the most smooth, but I loved the transition from a guillotine to a triangle choke she put on Morgan. After she put Morgan in the triangle she continued to throw strikes and score points. Sure, she didn't finish Morgan with the choke, but it was still impressive nonetheless. She did show some inexperience in the same fight though as her refusal to let go of a headlock put her into a very bad position where Morgan was able to take her back. Her wrestling could definitely use some work and may present problems for her with Correia's bulldog mentality.
I have yet to see Correia make a serious attempt at a submission quite yet, but have seen what she can do when she gets the top mount and that is about as good as any submission attempt to end a fight. As you can guess from her striking, her GNP is quite heavy and aggressive. She showed inexperience against Kedzie when she dragged her over to the cage for GNP which allowed Kedzie to wall walk. Rather than asking what she will do when the fight gets to the ground, the question is how will she get the fight to the ground. She relies on shooting for double legs, but due to her struggles to set them up effectively with her strikes and Duke's range, she is going to have a very hard time with that.
The biggest X-factor here is easily the inexperience of both fighters indicating that they both have a lot of room for improvement... and will likely show it. Expect both to have a new trick or two and improved technique. The fact that Duke continues to train with Ronda Rousey will only improve her takedowns and submissions as well.
I've been teetering back and forth on this one. Duke's reach may be too much for Correia to overcome, but Correia disposed of the lanky Paes with ease. The betting line is spot on in this one. Rather than pull out a coin, I'll go with my gut on this one and say Duke's length is the defining factor in this fight. Duke by Decision
Lots of similarities between these two. Both entering their 10th UFC fight. Both have wrestling backgrounds. Both have curly hair... not that you care about that last fact.
Castillo is coming off what was easily his most crowd pleasing performance in a loss against Edson Barboza where he came thisclose to finishing the Brazilian in the first round. The Team Alpha Male representative may be less known than some of his other teammates, but he is no less respected by his peers for his no-nonsense style. Another fight like his last one though and he could start to get more fans attention... though it would be hard to do from Fight Pass prelims.
Brenneman made his return to the UFC in January after picking up 4 wins on the regional circuit and his return could not have gone much worse for The Spaniard. He got dropped by a punch which led to him being submitted by debuting Beneil Dariush. Considering he had previously fought at welterweight against the likes of Johny Hendricks, Anthony Johnson, and Rick Story, the way he was finished was surprising. Whether he wins or loses, expect a much better showing this time around.
Castillo is very much a boxer with his striking style. His striking is not very dynamic as he tends to drop his head and wade in with an overhand or a hook hoping to land on his opponent. It isn't pretty, but has been effective for him. He landed a straight right against Barboza to knock him down and almost end the fight with some follow up shots and GNP, but like I stated, wasn't enough and he ended up gassed for the remainder of the fight. Still, the knockdown shows his technique has been improving. Don't expect anything fancy out of Castillo as the extent of his dynamics is whether he punches to the body or the head. Not even leg kicks are a part of his game.
As basic as Castillo's striking is, Brenneman's is even more so. Castillo at least shows some joy in striking, Brenneman would rather wrestle. Translation: he is a grinder through and through. When he is standing he does most of his work up against the fence. Outside of that he'll use basic jabs and hooks to close the distance and more often than not use it in combination with a takedown. Kicks have become Power is something that he is lacking in abundance, so his desperation to get the fight to the ground is a very smart idea for him.
Brenneman had a good amount of success at welterweight despite being undersized in every bout due to his very technically sound wrestling. He was able to be very top heavy, but far too often was only able to maintain position generating very little offense, though he has been more impressive with his GNP since the weight drop. He very methodically works to pass guard with little flash, but lots of success. I don't know if he recently improved in his submission capabilities or if he had to focus his energy on maintaining control on his larger opponents, but 3 of his 4 victories since making the drop in weight have come by submission, including an impressive Peruvian necktie over Jeremy Castro on the regional circuit.
There is very little that is dynamic about Castillo's wrestling either (there is a major pattern going on between these two). Like Brenneman, he has a very effective top heavy game. If there is a difference its that Castillo is much more active with his GNP and it is a lot heavier as well. Castillo isn't known to search for submissions, but he does come from Team Alpha Male which means he is well-versed in RNC's and guillotines. His submission defense has been fantastic as he fought off multiple attempts from both Paul Sass and Jacob Volkmann in recent years after his first two career losses came by way of submission.
Both have very good takedown defense, but they have rarely faced wrestlers of each others caliber. It will be interesting to see that play out. Castillo has a reputation of gassing in his fights. This could be a major problem for him since Brenneman has no cardio issues at all. Another thing to look at has been Brenneman's propensity to be dropped as of late and Castillo has the power to do it. He doesn't go out easy and can recover if given time, but Castillo would be wise to look for a choke if it happens.
These guys are very similar and this could end up being a boring grinding affair. I fully expect Castillo to get the early advantage and Brenneman to take the last half. It will likely be a split decision with Castillo getting the nod. Castillo by Decision
Record for last Card: 11-2
Record for Year: 90-51-1