I promised that I would always be honest on here and even with my mostly positive outlook on the fights that the UFC throws at us, I'm pretty disappointed in what the UFC is providing us with these televised prelims. The only one that I wouldn't question as being better fit for the Fight Pass is Mike Easton and Yves Jabouin... and Easton has lost three in a row!
I'm sure most of you have figured out by now though that I am a bit obsessive though and will be watching the fights regardless. The promise of violence always draws me in. And if you read ahead you will see that I'm predicting a fair amount of finishes... though I have been way off on those recently. Oh well. I'm sure if you're reading you'll be watching.
Story Thus Far: Even though most who come into the UFC via the TUF route are undersized for the division in which they compete in during the show, most drop down to their proper weight when the time comes to make their UFC debut. Sarafian didn't take that route, but he didn't embarrass himself either at middleweight despite having a 1-2 record as his losses were competitive split decisions. Dropping to a better weight class for him, he should have more success now.
Kunimoto may be 1-0 in the UFC, but his victory came at the hands of Luiz Dutra Jr. being disqualified due to illegal elbows on behalf of Dutra. Not the way you want to make your debut. He is a long-time veteran of the Pancrese organization and owns a victory over UFC veteran Edward Faaloloto... not that that says much as Faaloloto owns a 2-5 record (don't ask me how he got in the UFC in the first place).
Fighting Style: If you were to look at Sarafian's method of victory record, you would be deceived by the fact that he owns 7 victories by submission, but none by KO/TKO. Make no mistake, boxing is Sarafian's primary weapon as he does have a good amount of power in his fists and stalks his opponents in the ring. His submissions come from him beating down his opponents until he can slip in a choke... sorta like Donald Cerrone. He is capable on the ground with BJJ (he is a black belt), but isn't the strongest wrestler.
Kunimoto is undersized for welterweight (as most from Japan are when they cross the ocean to here) and does everything well, but nothing great. His striking is technically sound and he has a very good counter right, but he is far from overwhelming in his striking. He has trained with Dave Strasser, so I would believe that he has some alright wrestling at the least and he has shown good submission abilities with 8 victories coming that way.
What to Expect: Sarafian has been aggressive thus far in his UFC fights and there is no reason to expect him to do any differently against a much smaller Kunimoto. Kunimoto showed solid strength and fence work against Dutra in the short amount of time they fought, but Sarafian is much stronger than Dutra. Kunimoto should be able to survive, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't take a beating.
Kunimoto's best chance will be to stay outside of Sarafian's range and try to counter Sarafian's aggression. As stated earlier, he does have a solid counter right that can stop Sarafian if Sarafian is coming forward with enough momentum. As much as I want to be partial and not give away my pick so early, it genuinely seems like Kunimoto's best option.
I'm sure that some of you are thinking that Kunimoto should be able to get the fight to the ground and do better from there. I wouldn't be so sure. Sarafian does most of his work standing, but his BJJ is very good and his strength advantage and BJJ knowledge would make it most difficult for Kunimoto to submit him. Don't be shocked to see Kunimoto try, but be shocked if he succeeds.
X-Factors: Jet lag could play a big part here. Kunimoto has never fought on this side of the meridian. Then again, Sarafian has never fought in the northern hemisphere. Still, the east to west travel is more adverse due to the time difference.
Who Will Win: I'm sure it has been spelled out by this point. The UFC has indicated it wants Sarafian to succeed badly (why else would they sign Eddie Mendez for one fight which he quickly lost to Sarafian) and Kunimoto is another sign of that. Kunimoto has shown little to indicate that he'll have long-term success and no one should expect him to. Sarafian by TKO 1st Round
Story Thus Far: This fight was originally supposed to be Germaine de Randamie-Milena Dudieva. Don't you love it when the injury bug gets involved and completely jacks things up? I don't... do realize who much more I had to dig up to try and find something decent to say about these two?
Letourneau's record shouldn't fool you. Her second and third professional fights were losses against the former Strikeforce champion Sarah Kaufman and soon-to-be UFC title challenger Alexis Davis respectively. Not even Ronda Rousey jumped into those deep of waters to start out. Coming out of Tristar Gym (get used to that on this preview), she has also worked with American Top Team as of late. She also lost a house entry fight to Roxanne Modafferi on TUF 18.
Phillips is taking this on just a weeks notice and just two weeks after her last bout. After losing her professional debut to former Muay Thai world champion Miriam Nakamoto, she has since ran off four straight victories. Outside of training at Sikjitsu with Miesha Tate, Mike Chiesa, and Sam Sicilia, Phillips is very much a mystery. It happens when footage is hard to come by.
Fighting Style: Letourneau is a kickboxer with some solid technique. She does mix up her kicks everywhere and her head kicks can particularly be deadly (ask Kaufman about it). The problem is that she isn't aggressive enough. If she turned that up a notch or two her lack of size (she usually fights at 125) wouldn't be much of a factor. Speaking of size, she'll be a prime candidate to be pushed around at 135 as her grappling technique isn't bad, but she suffers from brain farts and allows her opponent to easily advance position.
Like I said about Phillips, she is very much a mystery as the only video I've been able to find was an amateur fight from two years ago and I believe it was her first one. She shows good power in her hands and is fearless, willing to take a punch in order to give one. Physically strong as well, I would expect she has developed some takedown abilities since then even though it wasn't shown at that time.
What to Expect: This is going to be difficult to predict with so little known about Phillips, but I'll do my best. As patient as Letourneau is, expect Phillips to be the aggressor and look to close the space between her and Letourneau as Letourneau needs some room in order to be most effective with her kicks. Letourneau isn't a horrible boxer, but I haven't seen much when it comes to counter striking from her. She is in trouble if she doesn't have it.
I haven't ever seen Phillips on the ground, but you would think that she has some good wrestling abilities training with Tate and Julianna Pena. Letourneau's submission abilities would be more developed (that is my guess), so while Phillips would show more control on the mat, Letourneau would be the bigger threat to end it.
Expect a finish. Both of these ladies have a history of ending their fights (only one decision victory between them) and knowing that they won't be on the most solid ground if they put forth a lackluster effort, both want a stop. To be completely honest, I wouldn't bet which one does... only that one of them does.
X-Factors: Debut jitters could come into play here. Hard to say with these two as neither seems to be intimidated easily. For Letourneau though, Tristar has been criticized for creating boring fighters (think GSP and Rory MacDonald) despite their success. If Letourneau is working with ATT, will see find a more aggressive side? Her last fight did last just 34 seconds.
Who Will Win: This fight is a massive crapshoot as Phillips is a mystery and Letourneau is a prospect that it feels hasn't completely tapped all of her potential. But I liked the aggression in her last bout and feel she could be turning a page against the mystery that is Phillips. Letourneau by TKO 1st Round
Yves Jabouin (19-9) vs. #8 Mike Easton (13-4), Bantamweight
Story Thus Far: After having spent the majority of his career at featherweight, Jabouin decided to drop down to bantamweight about 3 years ago and promptly won his first three bouts at his new class. Being given a step up in competition after that, he has now dropped 2 of his last 3. Perhaps he doesn't have to win to stay employed... but it is a possibility the Tristar representative will have reached the end of the line.
Easton is in a similar but shakier boat as he won his first three bouts as well, but has also dropped his last three to give him a .500 record in the UFC. His losses have come against the best in the division, including his last one to the current champion, T.J. Dillashaw. He hasn't been finished though and has been competitive (even if just at times) in each fight. Despite that, four losses in a row is often a ticket out of the organization.
Fighting Style: Jabouin has a reputation as a talented kickboxer. While I don't want to completely disregard that, he hasn't finished a fight since before his Zuffa days in 2008. Despite that, his striking is his best weapon and it shouldn't be taken for granted. A spinning back kick is his favorite technique, though he has a good variety of kicks and Muay Thai techniques. He isn't a great grappler, but has found his best success when he is willing to at least try to get the fight to the ground to mix things up.
Easton has picked up a reputation as a one-dimensional short range boxer and opponents were able to catch on pretty quickly. He keeps his hands high, but high enough that he leaves his body exposed and Dillashaw in particular worked over his body as well as a lot of leg kicks. He is tough as nails though and actually has a solid wrestling pedigree and owns a black belt in BJJ. He has a tendency to over-commit to his takedowns (when he actually goes for them) and the fight ends up being stuck against the cage.
What to Expect: Easton has now lost three in a row and if he hasn't gotten the point that he needs to change things up, he'll soon be out of the UFC. His recent interviews have indicated awareness of this though and knowing that Jabouin struggles on the ground, look for Easton to make a commitment to get the fight to the ground and actually make good use of his wrestling and BJJ.
Easton is the stronger fighter and has the better ground game. No one will argue that. Even with that said, look for Jabouin to attempt some early takedowns in an attempt to open up his striking more. He isn't much of a counter puncher and needs to be the aggressor to score solid offense. If he can give Easton one more thing to think about, he should be able to open up his offense significantly.
Don't expect Easton to completely abandon his short boxing and clinch game. It isn't that it sucks... he just needs to do more than try to bully his opponent. Jabouin doesn't have the reach to completely stay out of Easton's range, so Easton will get his chance. In fact, it should still be quite prominent as Jabouin has good knees and elbows himself. If the fight remains short range the whole time, its doubtful that Easton would be solely to blame this time around.
X-Factors: Not a lot of factors here. Both have good conditioning so I wouldn't expect one or the other to tire. Desperation could be a factor for both though, so don't be surprised to see them both go balls out... which creates a greater likelihood of an unexpected KO.
Who Will Win: Easton is clearly the more talented all-around fighter, but has been fighting a one dimension fight for a while now. Things are going to change here. He knows that he is in trouble now and will react accordingly with the smartest fight he has fought in the UFC thus far. Easton by Decision
Story Thus Far: It may not seem like it, but Johnson has been in the fight business for well over a decade at this point. Known to most fans for his time on TUF Nations (as well as the broken jaw he received from teammate Chad Laprise), Johnson is sliding back to his more natural home of lightweight for his UFC debut. Worth noting is that this will be his first non-exhibition bout in almost three years.
Bang is coming off of a loss in his UFC debut to Mairbek Taisumov where he was largely picked apart. Bang has been around for close to a decade himself, but spent most of his career in the Asian circuit. He has faced some solid competition in Takanori Gomi and Jorge Masvidal, but has never been able to get over the hump. At 31, this is likely his last chance to do so.
Fighting Style: A brown belt in BJJ, Johnson's strength is definitely the grappling game. He was the smallest guy during his time on TUF, but easily outgrappled Brendan O'Reilly for a RNC to go with his 11 career submission victories. Kickboxing is his striking base and its solid but nothing spectacular as he lacks power. At 5'8, he owns a freakish 75' reach and does a good (not great) job utilizing it putting together good short combinations and shows some Muay Thai as well.
Bang has a lot of power in his fists as half of his wins have been by KO/TKO, but spends too much time looking for a power shot. For instance, if he wasn't trying to counter Taisumov with a power punch, he was launching flying knees... with little success. He's in good shape if he connects, but doesn't throw with a lot of volume. His grappling is shaky as his takedowns involve little technique and he allowed a smaller Taisumov to take him down multiple times with little resistance, though his submission defense has proven solid.
What to Expect: While small at welterweight, Johnson is about the right size at lightweight and is both a bigger and more savvy fighter than Taisumov. He is likely to have little problem getting Bang to the ground. Look for Johnson to take some risks on the ground as Bang traditionally hasn't made opponents pay with grappling mistakes.
I have a hard time believing that Bang won't try to address his lack of volume, so expect him to be more active. It isn't that he didn't land at all against Taisumov... but considering he rarely takes the fight to the ground himself he needs to either get the KO or land more than his opponent. The more you land the more likely you are going to get a KO. I'm sure you see where I'm going. I'm just hoping Bang has figured it out for his sake.
Johnson will find success standing if he is willing to mix up his strikes everywhere. I know that sounds obvious, but Bang keeps his hands low and does little to check kicks. Thus, his head and legs should be wide open. He'd be wise to keep the combos short (he usually does) so as to not give Bang enough time to load up. Johnson doesn't have a history of power and Bang's chin is solid. He won't be putting out the native of Korea.
X-Factors: Bang didn't have a long flight for his UFC debut... but he will this time. Hopefully he doesn't get jet lag. Johnson has been around the sport a long time and been around some of the best in the business (another representative out of Tristar). Don't expect jitters. But will he be affected at all coming off of the broken jaw?
Who Will Win: I admit that Bang is a tough dude, but I never thought he was UFC material. Johnson on the other hand looks like he could get a few good years in the organization. I expect him to be a bulldog on the ground and find a sub one way or another. Johnson by Submission 2nd Round
Record for last Card: 8-3
Record for Year: 131-78-1