No "Rush," no problem.
Two of the most savage punchers in the history of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight division, Johny Hendricks and fellow southpaw destroyer Robbie Lawler, will lock horns at UFC 171 this Saturday (March 15, 2014) with the vacant 170-pound strap on the line at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas
In addition, Carlos Condit will look to make a case for another title shot when he faces Tyron Woodley, while Jake Shields takes on former Bellator champion Hector Lombard.
The "Prelims" got a bit of a demotion this week; therefore, you'll have to catch the top four under card matches on FOX Sports 2. We examined the first four of eight scheduled UFC 171 "Prelims" under card bouts that will air online via Fight Pass yesterday right here.
Let's now take a deep dive into the remaining four that will air on FOX Sports 2 below:
170 lbs.: Kelvin Gastelum vs. Rick Story
He had to go to the judges for the first time in his career to do it, but Kelvin Gastelum (7-0) pulled off one of 2013’s more surprising upsets, defeating the much-hyped Uriah Hall to claim victory on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 17. His subsequent welterweight debut proved just as successful as he soundly thrashed Brian Melancon less than halfway through the first round.
He was originally set to compete in Dec. 2013 against fellow TUF winner Court McGee before injury scrapped the bout.
With his back against the wall after a 2-4 run, Rick Story (16-7) pulled through with one of his best career performances, dominating Brian Ebersole at UFC 167 in Nov. 2013. The win was his first over a current member of the UFC roster since his 2011 upset of Thiago Alves.
He is the only man besides Georges St-Pierre with a win over Johny Hendricks.
Story is a tank of a man and a recipe for frustration against anyone at 170 pounds. I would not be terribly surprised if he handed Gastelum his first loss, but the latter’s speed and pressure seem well-equipped to handle him.
Story’s Achilles heel thus far in his UFC career has been his takedown defense -- Charlie Brenneman, Martin Kampmann and Demian Maia all found success putting him on his back. Gastelum is not only durable, but has the cardio needed to keep Story on the defensive all night. Further, Story’s punches, concussive as they are, are on the wild side, giving Gastelum the opportunity to sneak in combinations.
It’ll be a barnburner and Story will make him earn it, but Gastelum will come out with his unbeaten record intact on the strength of his takedowns and power shots.
Prediction: Gastelum via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Raquel Pennington vs. Jessica Andrade
Raquel Pennington (4-3) earned her way to the semifinals of TUF 18, defeating veteran Tonya Evinger and the towering Jessamyn Duke and earning "Fight of the Season" in the latter effort. The boxing of Jessica Rakoczy proved too much to handle, however, ending Pennington’s run via unanimous decision.
She nonetheless got off on the right foot in UFC proper, beating Roxanne Modafferi at TUF 18 Finale.
Jessica Andrade (10-3) entered UFC’s bantamweight via the deep end, succumbing to the ground-and-pound of Liz Carmouche in her debut. She found slightly more success against Rosi Sexton, battering the longtime division stalwart for just her first decision win.
She enters the bout as a late replacement for the injured Julianna Pena.
All signs point to a slugfest, which favor's the Brazilian’s experience and power to win the day.
Pennington’s a fun fighter to watch, but anyone that reticent to try takedowns against a world-class boxer can’t be trusted to come up with a good fight plan. She doesn’t seem to possess a clear standup technique advantage and, even if she does try to drag Andrade down, doesn’t have anywhere near the strength or wrestling of Carmouche.
That leaves a brawl. Andrade will meet her advance and should outslug her for a wide-but-fun decision win.
Prediction: Andrade via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Dennis Bermudez vs. Jimy Hettes
After scoring a pair of iffy split-decision wins, Dennis Bermudez (12-3) came in against Steven Siler on the warpath, edging his former TUF 14 castmate at UFC Fight Night 31 in a highly-entertaining decision win. The victory marked his fifth straight since a three-fight skid that culminated in his loss to Diego Brandao.
At 5’6," he gives up three inches of height to Jim Hettes (11-1).
After a year on the sidelines following his loss to Marcus Brimage, Hettes took on Scotland’s Rob Whiteford in Manchester in a clash of Judo specialists. The 22-year-old came out on top, locking up a fight-ending triangle midway through the second.
The win marked his tenth by submission and eighth by form of choke.
Bermudez gets rocked every fight, has three submission losses and should probably be 10-5. Just putting that out there before I explain the reason I’m picking him to win.
Hettes is unquestionably a beast, but he also got whipped on the feet by Marcus Brimage. Bermudez, though not a technician, is a bulldozer of a man who can lay down the same breed of punishment for all 15 minutes. Jimy just seems lost on the feet at times and I don’t have much faith in his ability to take Bermudez to the mat.
One ill-timed clinch may be all it takes for Hettes to work his magic. Bermudez won’t give it to him, battering him with wide hooks and surviving one or two submission scares to take home his sixth UFC win.
Prediction: Bermudez via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Sean Spencer vs. Alex Garcia
Sean Spencer (11-2) entered UFC on short notice two Januarys ago, submitting to a late triangle choke from "Sapo" Natal 15 pounds north of his preferred weight. His time at 170 pounds has thus far proven more fruitful, as he’s defeated prospect Yuri Villefort and former TUF hopeful Drew Dober.
"Black Magic" has scored four finishes in his nearly five-year career.
Alex Garcia (11-1) made a stunning impression in his debut in Dec. 2013, wiping out Ben Wall with one punch in less than one minute. The win marked his fifth straight since a 2011 loss to Seth Baczynski and his eighth finish inside the first round.
"The Dominican Nightmare," a TriStar-trained product, has gone the distance just once in his career.
Barring some serious cardio trouble on Garcia’s part, signs point to Spencer getting pasted. He’s not a skilled wrestler and not a powerful striker -- he’s mediocre, though not in the insulting sense of the word. There’s simply nothing in his toolbox to counter Garcia’s immense strength, power and wrestling ability.
Whether Garcia elects to engage on the feet, drop ground-and-pound or work for a submission, I don’t see Spencer being able to stop him. The Dominican should overwhelm "Black Magic" in a hurry.
Prediction: Garcia via first-round technical knockout
Three terrific Welterweight fights, all featuring tremendous punchers ... consider my fancy tickled.
See you Saturday, Maniacs.
MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 171 fight card below, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, right on through the FOX Sports 2-televised under card bouts at 8 p.m. ET and then main card PPV, which is slated to begin at 10 p.m. ET.
Current UFC "Prelims" Prediction Record 2014: 32-16