There is a strong theme with every recent UFC card, especially on the prelims. It would be a large volume of Dana White’s Contender Series alums. Of the seven contests on the prelims of UFC Norfolk – a total of 14 competitors — seven of the participants come directly from DWCS. That’s half of the participants. It could have been higher had both Steven Peterson and Mike Davis not pulled out with injuries.. That’s not even counting Alex Munoz who was replaced by another DWCS alum. I’ve also been keeping a tab of every featured prelim of 2020. Every single featured prelim has been scheduled to have a DWCS alum up to the day before the event, weight issues being the only thing keeping the final results for the year from being unanimous. This card is no different as Kyler Phillips represents the DWCS alum this time around. Sorry if you’re getting tired of me beating the DWCS drum, but the UFC’s reliance on undercard fighters coming out of the program is alarming.
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UFC Norfolk – Benavidez vs. Figueiredo – PRELIMS Picks, Odds & Analysis – The MMA Vivisection by Bloody Elbow Presents
Marcin Tybura (17-6) vs. Serghei Spivac (10-1), Heavyweight
Though it seems like a lifetime ago, it was just over two years ago that Tybura headlined a Fight Night against Fabricio Werdum, going the distance with the former champion. Including that contest, Tybura has a single win in his last five fights. A lot of it appears to boil down to a loss of confidence in the big Pole as he hasn’t been the same since being brutally KO’d by Derrick Lewis, a fight he would have won had he been able to make it through the final round.
Tybura proved in his winning streak into his headlining role that there’s a lot to like about him. He doesn’t have earth-shattering power, but he’s a versatile enough striker to be dangerous, his head kick KO of Viktor Pesta being a brilliant example of that. He also has one of the better gas tanks at heavyweight and has proven to be a more than capable wrestler and grappler. It all comes back to where his head space is. If Tybura continues to resemble the tentative fighter who is reluctant to engage, he should consider getting out of the sport entirely as he’s setting himself up for major injury.
Spivak surprised many when he bounced back from a quick KO loss to Walt Harris with a dominant performance over Tai Tuivasa. Spivak identified where he could expose Tuivasa and did so, scoring takedown after takedown by catching kicks and utilizing the clinch before finding an arm-triangle choke about midway through the second. Spivak has a good-sized frame, is strong in the clinch, and is already one of the better submission grapplers in the division. However, he isn’t a strong athlete, shows poor striking defense, and his chin provides more questions than answers.
Strictly on trajectory, Spivac is an easy choice. He’s young enough that he should continue improving for the next several years and appears to have a good head on his shoulders. However, he doesn’t have the tool set to expose where Tybura has been struggling. In fact, Tybura should be able to negate what Spivac does well. If Tybura can’t secure a win here, he’s done as a viable UFC heavyweight. Fortunately for him, Spivak is tailor-made for him to get back on the right track. Tybura via decision
- I’m not sure what Kyler Phillips and Gabriel Silva have done to deserve the featured prelim spot – they have zero combined UFC wins between them – but they’re in the spot. Phillips came into the sport as a well-renowned BJJ practitioner, but he also has a background in judo and wrestling. Despite his overall grappling prowess, he’s displayed a functional standup game with a heavy emphasis on kicks. However, he also has a tendency to flame out in a hurry. Silva, the younger brother of former UFC and current Bellator competitor Erick Silva, is just about as physically gifted as his brother, a very strong compliment. He’s about as disciplined too, a far more scathing remark. The younger Silva has plenty of explosion and showed plenty of grit in his debut loss to Ray Borg, gaining several supporters despite the loss. However, Borg doesn’t have the power Phillips has displayed on the feet and Silva’s defense is subpar. The contest is largely a tossup, but I’m favoring the debutant on the back of one of his fast starts. Phillips via TKO of RD1
- Even though most analysts thought Brendan Allen was getting his UFC call a bit early – thanks to DWCS — the Roufusport product proved to be up to the task, upsetting the spindly Kevin Holland. Perhaps most surprising was the adversity he overcame in order to secure the W, including fighting out of a deep RNC. Despite coming out of a camp known for producing dangerous strikers, that’s the weakest part of the 24-year old’s game. Nonetheless, he is improving in that area, making better use of his lanky frame and has never been KO’d despite his reputation for poor defense. That may not matter much as Tom Breese has never been considered a lethal striker. However, I said lethal, not competent. Breese operates behind a jab to close the distance so he can get the contest to the mat and execute his physical, but still technical, brand of submission grappling. However, this would only be Breese’s second contest since June 2016 due to a litany of reasons, including an anxiety attack right before his last scheduled contest. Though I wish Breese well and would pick him in a heartbeat if his head is on straight, I can’t trust the middleweight. I’m reluctantly going with Allen. Allen via decision
- Luis Pena may not be a DWCS alum, but he absolutely is the prospect the organization is looking to push in this situation. It isn’t hard to see why. With a 6’3” frame and a 75” reach, he presents a hell of a puzzle for other lightweights to solve. As he gains a greater understanding of how to utilize his size, he’ll be sure to develop into a difference-maker. Unfortunately, he’s not quite there yet. His takedown defense is subpar, in part because he believes his submissions off his back and ability to scramble are enough to make up for his wrestling deficiencies. He learned the hard way that won’t work against Matt Frevola. Pena faces an opponent in Steve Garcia who fights a similar style. However, Garcia has been the larger man while fighting at bantamweight and featherweight. He’s not a small lightweight – he’s 6’0” – but it’s difficult to maintain that type of style when you’re used to being the larger man yourself. It’s an adjustment to begin facing someone your size. It’s yet another adjustment to face someone significantly longer than you. Garcia does have more power than Pena, but Pena has displayed a strong chin. His size proves to be the difference. Pena via decision
- There have been several hit and misses coming out of DWCS. Despite not yet having a UFC win in two tries, Jordan Griffin is not a miss. Another Roufusport product, Griffin has proven to be one of the more aesthetically pleasing scramblers on the roster, engaging in back-and-forth battles with Dan Ige and Chas Skelly. Griffin is anything but a technical marvel on the feet, but he’s nonetheless effective thanks to his aggressive pace and survival instincts. Regardless, he can be exposed on the feet. Whether that’s TJ Brown – another DWCS alum — is up for debate. Brown is fairly aggressive on the feet too and flashes a jab, but is most comfortable dragging the fight to the mat. Brown is a solid wrestler, but can he keep Griffin down? If he can, Brown is a good candidate to secure the upset. I’m not convinced he can. In fact, I think Griffin can outwork him. Griffin via submission of RD3
- It isn’t hard to see what Uncle Dana liked about Aalon Cruz. At 6’0” with a 78” reach, Cruz has a massive frame for featherweight. He’s not afraid to take risks either as his flying knee finish on DWCS backs up that assessment. He throws a lot of volume too. However, he also showed poor defense, is very labored with his punches, and has been outworked on the mat on several occasions. If Cruz hadn’t been a professional since 2013, I might be willing to give him some leeway, call him a prospect that needs more seasoning. Seven years is quite a while to be invested. Regardless of my doubts, he’s the deserved favorite against Spike Carlyle. Carlyle, after a long amateur career, has been beating up on cans and inexperienced prospects. He is scrappy as hell with surprising power and sound wrestling, but is also an average athlete at best. Plus, though he can fight at 145, he usually doesn’t. Is it because the weight cut takes a lot out of him? I’m going with Cruz. Cruz via TKO of RD2
- Just three fights into his UFC career and Ismail Naurdiev has already been on a hell of a roller coaster ride. A remarkable UFC debut that snapped the eight-fight win streak of Michel Prazeres was followed by a flat performance against Chance Rencountre. With everyone down on him, he rebounded by easily disposing of the always dangerous Siyar Bahadurzada. An impressive athlete with an explosive burst, Naurdiev’s striking has been the consistent part of his game. However, it was his wrestling and scrambling that have made the difference in his UFC wins and losses. Fortunately for him, Sean Brady more closely resembles those he disposed of than the massive Rencountre. Brady has a nonstop motor with a vast arsenal of strikes with a sound ground game. However, he’s also on the small side for 170 without any standout physical attributes. He may have been able to stuff Court McGee’s takedowns, but everyone has been doing that. I can’t see him keeping the feet standing against the likes of Naurdiev. Naurdiev via decision