The Fox Sports prelims feature 3 Ultimate Fighter winners and in 3 of the fights and the other fight features an Ultimate Fighter runner-up. So if you have watched the show regularly in the last 3-plus years then you should see a familiar face amongst this portion of the card. Unlike the Fight Pass fights, I'm not making any promises of likely finishes. Some of the match-ups are not match-ups that are not conducive to finishes. I still decided to go out on a limb and predict a few of them end with a crowd pleasing finish... but I wouldn't blame ya if you think otherwise.
Story Thus Far: Chiesa was the sentimental favorite of the 15th TUF season as his father died during his time in the house and emerged the winner of the tournament. With a 3-1 record thus far in the UFC, Chiesa has only fallen to the ranked Jorge Masvidal. Chiesa has time to develop into a contender at the age of 26... though it is very much up in the air if he will do so.
At 35, Trinaldo has settled into a nice role as a lower level gatekeeper in the lightweight division after joining the UFC through the initial incarnation of TUF Brazil. At 4-2 he has experienced good success thus far... but his victories have come over men with a combined 1 victory in the Octagon. If he wants to do more than feast on the bottom feeders of the division he needs to make his move now.
Fighting Style: I don't think of Chiesa as a large lightweight... but at 6'1 with a 75' reach he is certainly a big dude at 155. Rather than use those long limbs to strike from range, he uses them more like tentacles as he has an ungodly ability to take his opponents back and sink in a RNC as half of his victories have come that way. A high school wrestler, his scrambling ability is among the best in the business but his background hasn't done a lot for his takedown ability. He showed a beautiful judo throw in his last bout so he seems to be branching out. His striking... its improving. And it needs to .
Trinaldo is massive for the division (he fought at middleweight on TUF Brazil and didn't seem out of place). He'll put a lot of pressure on his opponents and loves to wing a big overhand left (he's a southpaw). He does so fairly recklessly and leaves himself open to get hit in return, but his chin has been solid thus far. He has some vicious kicks as well which he usually aims at the legs or body, but can get to his opponents head as well. He does a good job of working up against the cage with dirty boxing and knees. He is top heavy on the ground and uses his strength to get the fight to the ground quite well.
What to Expect: Trinaldo will come out very aggressive in the beginning and try to overwhelm Chiesa... since that is what he always tries to do. The big reason for that is Trinaldo has very good finishing ability when he is fresh and his first 3 UFC victories all occurred within the first 7 minutes. If Chiesa can whether the early storm he'll be likely to pull out the victory as Trinaldo slows down considerably in the second round.
Considering Chiesa's scrambling abilities and Trinaldo's constant gassing, Trinaldo will be very susceptible to being submitted in the second and third rounds as Piotr Hallmann was able to do to him in October. And I'd say Chiesa is a bit more submission savvy than Hallmann. Trinaldo really will want to finish the fight early.
Chiesa's striking is improving and I haven't given that enough credit up to this point. He was able to floor Jorge Masvidal and Masvidal has a very good chin. He won't be completely overwhelmed in the standup battle, but Trinaldo is bigger and stronger and will look to push the fight against the cage. Chiesa has looked better in the clinch as of late too though... Worth noting is that neither of these guys have a TKO/KO loss on their record so both have tough chins to crack. If my money is on one of them to get a KO though its gonna be Trinaldo.
X-Factors: I know that I've mentioned that Trinaldo has gas tank issues, but I haven't said that he has been trying to improve in that area with notable results. He won the last round in his decision victory over Jesse Ronson a few months ago and looked good for the most part. Was his improved gas tank an aberration or should we expect further improvement?
Who Will Win: I think that I've already tipped my hand. Trinaldo always starts fast only to slow down late and makes himself susceptible to being finished. Chiesa has no stamina problems and is an expert at coming out on top during scrambles. He'll hook onto Trinaldo's back for another RNC victory before the fight is out. Chiesa by Submission 3rd Round
Story Thus Far: Some expected Ferguson to be a title contender by this point in his career as he is 3 years removed from his TUF 13 tournament victory in which he won every fight by KO/TKO to claim the crown. A loss to Michael Johnson and a year and a half's layoff following due to injury made him a forgotten man. A quick victory over Mike Rio put him back on track, but at 30 he isn't seen as a vibrant prospect anymore. He needs to put together a winning streak in a hurry to fulfill the potential saw in him just a few short years ago.
Kikuno is a highly unorthodox veteran of the Asian circuit who claimed the lightweight title in the DEEP organization before making his UFC debut at the first event of the new year over Quinn Mulhern. He was once a very hyped youngster whom many thought would make his UFC debut long before he did. At 32 he isn't old, but is past his prime and in greater need to make a move than Ferguson. Otherwise he will be a gatekeeper and likely a staple for Asian events.
Fighting Style: A collegiate wrestler, Ferguson seemed to have forgotten his roots after he won the TUF title and became strictly a brawler. Ferguson acknowledged this himself after his last fight and has vowed to get back to his wrestling roots to make him a more well-rounded and unpredictable fighter. Not that his boxing is bad (he throws a little of everything from jabs to uppercuts)... but when you know what your opponent is doing it makes it a lot easier to combat. He has done a good job mixing leg kicks in and is a strong lightweight who does a solid job muscling around his opponents in the clinch.
Kikuno has a very unusual style and those that haven't seen him fight might end up asking themselves WTF. He is a karateka in the sense that most fans are unfamiliar with. Whereas Lyoto Machida and Stephen Thompson are elusive, Kikuno offers very little movement and relies on pressuring his opponents. His crescent kick to the body is his signature move and is thrown with unbelievable power. His most problematic area is when his opponent can get him on the ground. He has improved there from a few years ago and shows a strong base to prevent takedowns, but it is still the best road to victory over him.
What to Expect: This is the perfect fight for Ferguson to prove that he is serious about becoming more well rounded. Ferguson is traditionally an aggressive fighter and that would play in perfectly with Kikuno's countering style. Its true that Mulhern attempted to get the fight to the ground constantly... but Mulhern struggles with takedowns so Kikuno hasn't truly been tested in that area as of yet in the Octagon. Ferguson would be wise to challenge Kikuno's base and has the chops to do so.
That isn't to say Ferguson should take it strictly to the ground. Kikuno is very selective with his shots and Ferguson prefers to throw in bunches. He could very well overwhelm the Japanese veteran if he plays the angles right. If he doesn't, Kikuno's power could end the night earlier than expected for Ferguson.
Both fighters are used to being able to outsmuscle their opponents and will have a difficult time doing so to one another. I would expect Kikuno to own the advantage due to his judo background developing his balance and utilization of leverage. This could be problamatic for Ferguson as he may end up keeping the fight at a distance as a result to use his reach (roughly 8' advantage over Kikuno)... which also sets him up for Kikuno's crescent kick.
X-Factors: Neither fighter is known for their submission prowess, but have shown improvement in recent bouts. No one expects a submission in this fight... but it really shouldn't surprise as much as it will if it happens. Kikuno's time delay and flight could throw him off too. He has never fought outside of Asia.
Who Will Win: I expect most North American fans will pick Ferguson simply based on the fact they have some familiarity with him, but Kikuno is no stepping stone. He deserves to be in the UFC and could end up being a dark horse in the division. But I think Ferguson is just a smidge better in this fight... it would be a different story if it were in Asia though. Ferguson by Decision
Story Thus Far: Holdsworth is coming off of a victory in the TUF season 18 tournament in which he is largely the forgotten winner of the season in deference to Julianna Pena. Even before Pena's devastating injury, Holdsworth may have actually had more of a ceiling. Training with Team Alpha Male, you know that he is getting proper training and competition at his camp.
Camus has been a surprise with a 3-1 record in the UFC as he came into the company with no hype. He hasn't been dominant in his fights and will never be a threat to contend for the title, but he has proven to be extremely resourceful and savvy enough to prove to be a stiff test for any youngster looking to break into the rankings... or at least begin challenging those in the rankings. It will be interesting to see how his recent split from Roufusport affects him going forward.
Fighting Style: Even though Holdsworth is from Team Alpha Male, he isn't the classic wrestle-boxer that comes from that camp. He is a BJJ black belt who also has a background in Kenpo, Tae Kwon Do, and Muay Thai. Doesn't sound like an Alpha Male guy at all, does he? He has worked with Marc Laimon in the past though which does make a bit more sense with regards to his BJJ specifically. He is incredibly slick with his BJJ and patient as well. All of his victories (including the exhibitions on the TUF tournament) have come by submission. His striking is basic at this point and it doesn't need to be anything more than that at this point to compliment his subs. He throws a jab with regularity and has some power in his right hook.
Camus is a bit difficult to figure out what it is that he does best. Duke Roufus is a reputed striking coach, but Camus seems as though he prefers to grapple even though he is prone to mistakes on the ground. That isn't to say that Camus doesn't know what he is doing... he just gets overconfident at times when he has the dominant position. He likes to switch up his stance when standing to throw off his opponent and is technically sound boxer with good accuracy. He doesn't mix in many kicks and considering he did come from Roufusport, you know he has some kicks in his arsenal. Why they don't come out more often is a mystery.
What to Expect: Camus has been more than happy to go to the ground in each of his fights in the UFC, but look for him to keep it standing this time around. Holdsworth has a lot of experience in grappling, but is still relatively inexperienced in the sport of MMA as a whole with his striking the most untested aspect. It may be the fact that Camus is one of the smaller bantamweights on the roster that he has tried to negate his lack of reach... but he'd be stupid to avoid striking with Holdsworth. Look for the kicks I mentioned earlier to help make up that lack of reach.
On the other hand, Holdsworth will continually look to ground Camus. The fact he is working with the likes of Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez, and TJ Dillashaw means his wrestling should be much improved from when we last saw him 6 months ago. Takedowns have been a weakness of his, but Camus isn't exactly great at preventing takedowns (37% stuff rate according to Fight Metric).
Camus has a bad habit of putting his hands on the mat while in top control making him susceptible to getting his arm caught. Against someone like Holdsworth that could be the end of the fight in a hurry.
X-Factors: The ceiling of both fighters has to play a factor here. Holdsworth clearly has a long ways to improve while it doesn't seem like Camus can get a lot better (at this weight class at least). Holdsworth will likely have improved by leaps and bounds by comparison. And I'm not just referencing wrestling. But... Camus has likely been able to pick up a new thing or two at his new camp and adjusted to no longer being with Roufus.
Who Will Win: Its hard to find a Team Alpha Male fighter who isn't in the top half of the division and if Holdsworth isn't there yet he will be soon. Camus is the perfect type of opponent for him to start his rise up the division and will make it tough... but Holdsworth pulls it out in the end. Holdsworth by Submission 3rd Round
Story Thus Far: After coming up short to Chiesa in the finals of the TUF 15 tournament, Iaquinta ended being on the sidelines for over a year leading a lot of fans to have forgotten about him. Since making his return last August, he has fought three times with unanimous decision victories over the likes of Ryan Couture, Piotr Hallman, and Kevin Lee. If he wins this fight he is likely to get a definitive step up in competition.
Clarke hasn't been quite as successful as his only UFC victory came in his last bout against John Maguire whom it is worth noting has lost 5 of his last 6 bouts. His losses were at the expense of Anton Kuivanen and John Cholish and one of his previous opponents are in the UFC. The former TFC champion has the ability to hang around, but he'll have to start fighting more than once a year to raise his profile and beat someone on the roster.
Fighting Style: Training out of the Serra-Longo Fight Team, Iaquinta has developed a very well rounded game punctuated by some technically sound boxing. Doing a good job to mix up his striking with some leg kicks and landing in volume, he showed some pop in his punches his last outing as well as the willingness to go for a risky submission if the opening is there. Don't let his single submission victory fool ya... he can grapple and has an outstanding sprawl.
There is little secret to what Clarke's game plan is: get the fight to the ground and submit ya. His 6 submission victories are solid proof of that. Coming from a wrestling background, he has been surprisingly poor in getting the fight to the ground. He has shown good control once he does get the fight to the ground. He showed a much more active striking game with a mix of punches and leg kicks, but little steam behind any of them. He paws with his lead hand a lot which can lead to eye pokes (worth mentioning with all the crap surrounding Jon Jones).
What to Expect: Iaquinta is much better at dictating where the fight takes place and is going to do that the entire fight. Look for him to spend most of it standing, but won't be afraid to go for the occasional takedown. While Clarke has shown better striking in his last outing, Clarke still isn't near the same level of Iaquinta.
Clarke might be the better grappler and almost assuredly will attempt some takedowns. Can he get Iaquinta down? Nothing is impossible in MMA, but it will be a difficult proposition for the Canadian, especially if he doesn't show more than he has thus far in the Octagon. Even if it goes to the ground, Iaquinta showed he can get out of a bad situation against Lee. Clarke's best chance if he can't get the sub is to control him. If he can't get the fight down look for him to grind things out against the cage.
Both of these guys have shown great cardio, so the fight should be fought at a high pace throughout. Expect a lot of punches to be thrown as a result with Iaquinta being the more accurate striker.
X-Factors: Clarke is sneaky in snaking in a choke in scrambles. If he wins thats how I see him doing it. He could be rusty too though as he hasn't fought in almost a year.
Who Will Win: Can I make it anymore obvious? I wasn't crazy with Clarke being Iaquinta's next opponent as I see him as a step sideways at the best. Its gonna take a lot of luck on the part of Clarke to escape with a victory... though Johnny Eduardo showed us anything is possible. Iaquinta by TKO 2nd Round
Record for last Card: 5-8 Record for Year: 101-63-1