Diggin’ Deep on UFC Moscow – Prelims preview

UFC Moscow represents another Eurasian card beginning in the AM’s for those in North America. You already know what the quality of the card is as I – and countless other MMA writers – have stated on many occasions. Most of the prelims are filler as the UFC attempts to sort through its bloated roster to figure out whose going to be a player for the organization in the near future. That doesn’t mean there aren’t well-matched fights. That doesn’t mean there won’t be entertaining contests either. But are you missing much by choosing to do something else with your Saturday morning? Probably not. Nonetheless, I got all the shit-eating wild men covered who can’t get enough MMA.

The prelims begin on ESPN+ at 11:00 AM ET/8:00 AM PT on Saturday.

Magomed Ankalaev (11-1) vs. Dalcha Lungiambula (10-1), Light Heavyweight

It might be going too far to say Ankalaev has been disappointment in his UFC run, but he certainly hasn’t lived up to expectations. A burly, methodical specimen, Ankalaev has relied heavily on being the bigger and stronger man in the cage, an advantage that he’ll hold again against the stout Lungiambula. While that has generally worked out well enough for him, Ankalaev isn’t so big that this approach will work for him as he moves forward. Plus, it isn’t like his wrestling, supposed to be one of his bigger strengths, has been overly effective against the lower ends of the division thus far. I still like Ankalaev’s prospects to be a long-term mainstay at this rate, but I can’t ignore the flagrant red flags being waved in my face with regards to his abilities to become a contender.

At 5’8”, it’s hard to see Lungiambula making a serious push into the top ten, much less becoming a contender. Nonetheless, the short South African has plenty of power in his stout frame and is extremely explosive. To his credit, he knows how to use his stature to his advantage, getting the necessary leverage to execute his judo throws and trips where he can dish out his vicious GnP. However, the biggest concern with Lungiambula is the lack of quality competition under his belt. Ankalaev may appear to be tentative at times, but he’s also faced several opponents he can’t just mow over with his physical gifts as Lungiambula has done. Lungiambula is a good athlete, but he’s not going to be able to do that to Ankalaev.

Ankalaev is a sizeable favorite and rightfully so. While not as explosive as Lungiambula, he’s a gifted athlete nonetheless with a disciplined approach… sometimes too disciplined. Given Lungiambula’s lack of size, I’d expect Ankalaev to effectively implement his wrestling to negate Lungiambula’s opportunities on the feet and utilize his own physical brand of GnP. Ankalaev via TKO of RD2

  • You can’t help but get the feeling the UFC brass was celebrating somewhere when Carlos Diego Ferreira upended Rustam Khabilov in February, snapping Khabilov’s six-fight win streak. No one debates how good Khabilov is. It’s that his patient counter striking can be an eyesore for viewers, taking every one of those six consecutive wins to decision. However, his offense revolves around his physical wrestling, having secured less than three takedowns in a contest only once since 2016. That’s music to his ears as his opponent, Sergey Khandozhko, is miserable at defending takedowns. Even if Khandozhko is facing smaller opponents now that he’s dropping from 170, it doesn’t seem like it will matter much against Khabilov. Khandozhko seems tailor made to get Khabilov his first finish in over six years. Khabilov via TKO of RD2
  • The sheen on Karl Roberson’s star has been fading as the former professional kickboxer has struggled to keep his fights standing. To his credit, he’s clearly improved his grappling and submission defense, but offense wins fights; defense only keeps one alive for the opportunity to win. If Roberson can throw with confidence, he has KO power. The problem is, his concern with being taken down has made that a rare occurrence. It’s hard to say if he’ll get that opportunity against Russian newcomer, Roman Kopylov. Kopylov is most comfortable on the feet himself, mixing in some spinning attacks with his technically sound boxing, but he has also shown the ability to take the fight to the ground and win from there. Just the threat of the takedown should open things up enough for the undefeated prospect to find a finish. Kopylov via TKO of RD3
  • Some were surprised it took this long for the cousin of the lightweight champion to make his UFC debut, but the day has finally come for Abubakar Nurmagomedov. It doesn’t take much to see the similarities in their fighting styles – shouldn’t be a surprise given they train together – though no one will ever mistake Abubakar for being on the same level of Khabib, particularly with regards to his wrestling. Then again, who is? He gets one of the scrappiest competitors on the roster in Germany’s David Zawada. In two UFC contests, he has one FOTN bonus and the other contest came thisclose to picking up a second. However, he struggles to effectively conserve energy in his typical aggressive pursuit of a finish. Abubakar isn’t indestructible, but he has shown notable durability. He should find a way to emerge victorious. Nurmagomedov via decision
  • Every time Uncle Dana begins singing praises about a fighter, it seems to be a kiss of death for their progress. Think of Sage Northcutt and Paige Van Zant. Thus, Roosevelt Roberts should have been wary that he was being primed to stumble and that’s exactly what the talented young lightweight did at the hands of tough vet Vinc Pichel. No one denies that he has physical gifts in abundance, possessing a lanky frame, solid wrestling, and a suffocating guillotine. It’s a matter of putting all together with experience. Whether or not he’s picked up enough experience to overthrow durable Russian Alexander Yakovlev is tough to answer. Yakovlev isn’t a great athlete, but he’s a massive 155er with a slick ground game. However, he doesn’t offer much volume on the feet, making him vulnerable to decisions. It’s a risky pick, but I’ll say Roberts rights his ship behind his busier striking. Roberts via decision
  • Though Jessica-Rose Clark and Pannie Kianzad have done the damn thing before, much has changed in the four-plus years since they last danced. Kianzad was seen as a rising star at that point, though she has since posted a losing record in addition to missing weight on several occasions. She has struggled to get her scrambly wrestle-grapple game going against larger opponents and doesn’t have the boxing skill set to make up for when that isn’t working. Fortunately for her, Clark is small for 135, small enough she’s moving up from flyweight. Clark has a distinct advantage on the feet and could outpoint her Swedish counterpart, but it’ll be a struggle for her to keep the fight standing. Even if the circumstances have changed for the combatants, the result should be similar to their first encounter. Kianzad via decision
  • The only reason Davey Grant has held onto his roster spot for six years is due to inactivity. The Brit has fought just four times since making his UFC entry and has been less competitive with each passing contest. Never much of an athlete with severe limitations in the striking department, Grant needs to get the fight to the mat to find success. Given his takedown abilities have stagnated, that explains a lot of his struggles. He’s got a great opportunity to turn things around as Grigorii Popov has shown very little ability on the ground. However, Popov has an extensive Muay Thai background with a propensity for spinning attacks. Whether it’s a spinning attack that finishes Grant is debatable, but the smart money says he does finish him off. Popov via TKO of RD2