We are now just five days away from UFC 189: "Mendes vs. McGregor," which takes place inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, on July 11, 2015.
That means it's time to get down to the itty bitty, nitty gritty.
Who has the experience, determination, intelligence and the talent to prevail in "Sin City" this weekend? Good question, which is the reason I'm going to break it all down for you into five "factors" that describe the strength and weaknesses of the gladiators on this card.
There are six "Prelims" undercard matches to get through -- two on Fight Pass and four on FOX Sports 1 -- before we reach the pay-per-view (PPV).
Let's start with the first three fights:
Lightweight (155 lbs.): Cody Pfister (11-4, 0-1 UFC) vs. Yosdenis Cedeno (10-4, 1-2 UFC)
Cedeno: Cuban, 30, turned pro in 2009, black belt in Shito-ryu Karate, fighting out of Blackzillians in Miami, Florida
Pfister: American, 24, turned pro in 2010, wrestler, fighting out of Nick's Fight Club in Amarillo, Texas
Chill Factor: In his three UFC fights, Cedeno has demonstrated calm and poise on the feet, using his extensive experience in Karate to light up his opponents on the feet. Indeed, perhaps Cedeno has been too relaxed, demonstrating a lack of urgency to get back to his feet when he gets taken down. Pfister, on the other hand, goes in with high energy and urgency, trying to get the fight to the ground. This manic approach only works if the opponent can be taken down. Against James Moontasri (0-8 in takedowns) it failed miserably and tired him out. Having said that, Moontasri came in overweight in Pfister's Octagon debut loss. Advantage: Cedeno
Fear Factor: Neither fighter really has much in the way of a reputation to be feared since both are on losing streaks. I'm sure Pfister knows the best way to lose this fight is to stand and bang with Cedeno, while the latter realizes if he can't stop the takedown he will likely lose his third decision in UFC and get cut. Advantage: None
IQ Factor: Again, neither fighter has shown a high Fight IQ inside the cage so far, although Pfister is relatively young still and has room to grow. Cedeno has actually shown rather poor Fight IQ at times, getting taken down in rounds where the striking was otherwise close against Ernest Chavez and Chad Laprise. Advantage: None
Muscle Factor: Pfister is a capable wrestler who could have success against Cedeno, who tends to stand fairly upright in his karate style. If he can "impose his will" against the Cuban then the American should be able to right his UFC record to .500. Cedeno's wheelhouse has always been fights in which the opponent tries to test his skills exclusively on the feet. He demolished Jerrod Sanders in his sophomore fight, winning via retirement after one round. Advantage: Pfister
X-Factor: In a fight like this it's all going to come down to who has improved the most on their weaknesses since their last outing. With Cedeno training part-time at the Blackzillians camp you've got to assume he's getting the better quality training partners. As much success as Pfister has had in his young career, unless I'm very much mistaken he's remained in his hometown gym where he's probably the biggest fish in a small pond. That could hurt the American if he's looking to up his game to the world's biggest mixed martial arts (MMA) organization. Advantage: Cedeno
Flyweight (125 lbs.): Neil Seery (15-10, 2-1 UFC) vs. Louis Smolka (8-1, 2-1 UFC)
Seery: Irish, 35, turned pro in 2005, purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, fighting out of Team Ryano MMA in Dublin, Ireland
Smolka: American, 23, turned pro in 2012, brown belt in Judo, fighting out of Hawaii Elite MMA in Waipahu, Hawaii
Chill Factor: This is a classic old lion versus young cub match up. With wars against the toughest English and Irish fighters in MMA, you know Seery knows how to scrap. In his first three fights in UFC, Seery went toe-to-toe with Brad "One Punch" Pickett in a losing affair, while defeating Chris Beal and Phil Harris. Smolka may not have the experience, but what he lacks there he makes up in youth and exuberance. With an MMA career only three years old and his sole loss coming in a split decision to No. 10-ranked Chris Cariaso, underestimating Smolka would be unwise. Advantage: Seery
Fear Factor: Both fighters are going to be comfortable wherever this fight takes place, whether it be on the feet or the mat. But, if I had to guess, Seery would want to keep contest standing where his striking should take a slight edge over the Hawaiian. In the fight he lost to Pickett, he was winning when the contest was on the feet, forcing the Englishman to take the fight south, which he did on four occasions. His follow-up fights showed a high volume attack, landing 169 punches of an insane 355 attempted. Advantage: None
IQ Factor: Throw out the experience disparity and both guys have demonstrated an awareness of how to "play the game" with points and keeping off their backs. Smolka is a very fluid and dynamic fighter, able to scramble for position and take the fight to where he has the most advantage. Against Alptekin Ozkilic, he survived nine takedowns and land 92 significant strikes en route to a unanimous victory. This may not be an IQ factor since Seery's chin is fairly solid, but his reckless style could get him into trouble given Smolka's demonstrated ability to capitalize on openings. Advantage: None
Muscle Factor: Nobody in this fight has a distinct advantage, a sign this was a well-made matching. Seery will look to dominant with his high volume attack while Smolka will want to use his height and reach advantage to keep him at bay. I foresee Seery taking the center of the Octagon while Smolka works from the cage. Advantage: Seery
X-Factor: At 35 and with a lot of miles on his body, you've got to wonder whether Seery can manage to outpace the younger and improving Smolka. We've seen plenty of older fighters perform well in the UFC but the improvement of young fighters each time out is usually leaps and bounds greater than what we see from those who have already settled into their fighting style. Advantage: Smolka
Bantamweight (135 lbs.): Cody Garbrandt (6-0, 1-0 UFC) vs. Enrique "Henry" Briones (16-4, 1-0 UFC)
Garbrandt: American, 23, turned pro in 2012, 32-1 as amateur boxer, fighting out of Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California
Briones: Mexican, 34, turned pro in 2007, well-rounded in disciplines, fighting out of Entram Gym in Tijuana, Mexico
Chill Factor: Although Garbrandt hasn't even been fighting professionally for three years yet he's demonstrated the kind of poise and patience that would indicate a high level background in striking. The elder fighter, Briones, is one of the better prospects to come out of Mexico, although it's a little misleading of UFC to say he's coming in on a seven-fight unbeaten streak. A veteran of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Latin America," he was knocked out by an upkick in the very first fight against Marlon Vera even though he was dominating the match from top control. Advantage: None
Fear Factor: Again, neither guy has a reputation that would cause him to the fear the other's skillset, but Briones is going to want to avoid standing in the pocket and trading with Garbrandt, who probably has superior skills there. Briones has proven he's dangerous everywhere, whether it's standing or on the ground, so there's reason to believe Garbrandt will be aware of all eventualities. Advantage: None
IQ Factor: It's difficult to make any definitive statements about fighters with one UFC bout under their belts, but it's hard to argue with a perfect record when it comes to Garbrandt. And standing over a fighter who can land an upkick knockout, while potentially a fluke, still has to give the American the better betting odds. Advantage: Garbrandt
Muscle Factor: There's no denying the toughness of Briones, particularly when he is a standout among a country so stacked with talent. But although Entram Gym surely has its share of good fighters (Akbarh Arreola comes to mind), it's got nothing on Team Alpha Male, one of the premiere gyms in the United States., with grappling partners like Urijah Faber and Chad Mendes and striking coaches like Martin Kampmann, you've got to assume Garbrandt is coming extremely well prepared to withstand any and all attacks. Advantage: Garbrandt
X-Factor: How important will it be that Garbrandt trains at an elite gym, he's undefeated and only 23? We don't know, and that makes this fight largely a proving ground for the up-and-comer. With six wins, all by knockout, four in the very first round, you've got to be leaning to the young gun here. Briones, meanwhile, is a ripe 34, who will need to be on point if he's going to do well. Those who watched him on the show know he's got the skills to succeed, but at his age and deeper talent pool will he drown? Advantage: Garbrandt
That's a wrap!
Stay tuned for the next two "Fight Factor" previews in an upcoming article. And as always, keep your dials on MMAmania.com for breaking news and updates about UFC 189.