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UFC Fight Night 81 'Prelims:' Fight Pass undercard preview and predictions, Pt. 1

More fights are coming to Fight Pass and FOX Sports 1 this weekend (Sun., Jan. 17, 2016) when UFC Fight Night 81: “Dillashaw vs. Cruz” kicks off from TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.'s Patrick Stumberg kicks off the UFC Fight Night 81 "Prelims" party with the first installment of a two-part under card preview series.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

He's back ... for real this time.

After injuries held him to just one fight since 2011, former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight champion, Dominick Cruz, will finally get a chance to challenge for his belt, taking on reigning 135-pound roost ruler, T.J. Dillashaw, in the main event of UFC Fight Night 81 this Sunday night (Jan. 17, 2016) inside TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.

The FOX Sports 1-televised card will also feature an excellent Lightweight fight between former 155-pound champions Anthony Pettis (UFC) and Eddie Alvarez (Bellator), as well a Heavyweight slugfest between knockout artists Matt Mitrione and Travis Browne.

As usual, the "Prelims" undercard will be split between Fight Pass and FOX Sports 1. Check out our preview and predictions for the first batch below:

155 lbs.: Paul Felder vs. Daron Cruickshank

Felder defeated a very capable opponent in Jason Saggo in his UFC debut, but it was his spinning back fist KO of Danny Castillo that put him on the map. Against two of the division’s best strikers, Edson Barboza and Ross Pearson, Felder remained competitive throughout but ultimately lost via decision. He has seven wins via knockout.

After an exciting, competitive first round, Cruickshank suffered an eye poke against K.J. Noons that resulted in a No Contest, the first of his previously 6-3 UFC career. Both subsequent fights, against Beneil Dariush and James Krause, resulted in rear-naked choke losses. He stands two inches shorter than Felder at 5’8."

Felder and Cruickshank are both what I think of as "grab bag strikers:" those who have solid fundamentals and a ridiculous arsenal of crazy strikes but struggle to integrate the two. Felder seems to have the edge, however; he’s huge for 155 and has the counter-wrestling to shut down the takedowns Cruickshank falls back on in times of need.

I would also tab Felder as the bigger hitter and he showed solid durability against Barboza, making this an uphill battle for "The Detroit Superstar." Felder hits him harder and more often, stopping him late or taking a wide unanimous decision.

Prediction: Felder by unanimous decision

205 lbs.: Ilir Latifi vs. Sean O’Connell

The late-notice loss for Ilir Latifi (10-4) in his Octagon debut gave way to two straight first-round stoppages of Cyrille Diabate and Chris Dempsey before "The Sledgehammer" fell afoul of a Jan Blachowicz body kick. He returned to action last July, blowing out Dutchman Hans Stringer with punches in just 56 seconds into their fight.

He will give up five inches of height to the 6’1" Sean O'Connell (17-6).

O’Connell began his UFC career 0-2, suffering a knockout loss to Ryan Jimmo in his debut and a questionable decision loss to Gian Villante next time out. His last two fights have seen him demonstrate his power by knocking out Matt Van Buren and Anthony Perosh, the latter in less than one minute.

He has nine professional wins via knockout.

This is going to be fun. Both of these men have serious power and a taste for throwing heat. Despite his lack of height, however, two things have me leaning toward Latifi: The Swede is the better wrestler and I have more faith in his ability to take what O’Connell can dish out than vice-versa.

It should be a hell of a scrap while it lasts, but I expect Latifi to mix in takedowns and lower O’Connell’s hands before dropping the hammer late in the first.

Prediction: Latifi via first-round knockout

145 lbs.: Charles Rosa vs. Augusto Mendes

American Top Team’s Charles Rosa (10-2) stepped right into the deep end in his UFC debut, taking on Dennis Siver on short notice and ultimately losing via split decision. He got his first UFC victory next time out by submitting Blackzilian Sean Soriano, then fought top prospect Yair Rodriguez to a competitive split decision loss.

He has zero decision wins, submitting seven opponents.

"Tanquinho" enters the Octagon as one of the most decorated jiu-jitsu artists on the planet, sporting world titles in both gi and no-gi competition. His MMA career has thus far proven successful as well, as he's scored five stoppages in five fights. He was set to fight fellow unbeaten Ricardo Ramos for the LFC bantamweight title before stepping up on short notice.

It's difficult to overstate just how good Mendes is on the mat. And while Rosa's a grappling beast in his own right, he is absolutely screwed if the fight hits the mat. That said, Mendes is taking a massive step up that I'm not sure he's ready for. "Tanquinho's" last win came over a guy who is currently 3-7 and he fought someone who was 1-1 at the time not long before. Further, his striking is still a serious work in progress, as he tends to just plant his feet and wing punches without moving his head.

Not to mention the size he's giving up

Rosa should be able to keep this one standing and pick Mendes apart there, stuffing takedowns and boxing his way to a decision win.

Prediction: Rosa via unanimous decision

135 lbs.: Rob Font vs. Joey Gomez

Nine consecutive victories brought Rob Font (11-1) to UFC, where he smashed George Roop with one punch in his promotional debut. He’s since been booked against Chris Beal and Mitch Gagnon, only to pull out due to injury both times.

He has seven wins via stoppage, four of them by form of knockout.

Known as the "KO King," Joey Gomez (6-0) has ended all six of his professional fights in the first round, five of them within two minutes. The former Marine also enjoyed a successful amateur career, unofficially going 10-3.

He replaces the injured Patrick Williams on short notice.

Both of these men have the looks of solid prospects; Font’s win over Roop speaks for itself and Gomez’s power is certainly eye-catching. This is a toss up, really, so I’m taking a look at the intangibles.

Font has been dealing with injuries which kept him out of the cage for all of 2015 and, while Gomez enters on short notice, he was in the process of preparing for a fight scheduled one week before this one. Plus, on a less scientific note, I just like the looks of his style.

Expect him to score another early technical knockout.

Prediction: Gomez via first-round technical knockout

205 lbs.: Francimar Barroso vs. Elvis Mutapcic

Francimar Barroso (17-4), representing Nova Uniao, entered UFC having won 12 of his previous 13 fights. He is currently 2-1 in the promotion, recently rebounding from a decision loss to Hans Stringer with a victory over Ryan Jimmo.

"Bodao" has eight wins via knockout and another six by submission.

Elvis Mutapcic (15-3), a former MFC Middleweight champion, came up short in his World Series of Fighting (WSOF) debut against Jessie Taylor, snapping a five-fight win streak. He's won twice since, though the more recent victory was a borderline-criminal mismatch against a professional loser.

He replaces the injured Abdul-Kerim Edilov on less than one week's notice.

Edilov is one of the division's best young prospects, making his removal rather annoying. Still good to see Mutapcic get a shot, though, and I think he takes this one despite the step up in weight.

Barroso has had three fights to demonstrate any kind of proficiency in any aspect of the game and has failed to do so. He kicks fairly well, I suppose, but that's about it. At least Mutapcic has solid power striking and should be the busier fighter. Of course, this could just be me finding reasons to not pick Barroso, so make of it what you will.

Mutapcic boxes his way to a decision.

Prediction: Mutapcic via unanimous decision

Four more UFC Fight Night 81 fights to preview and predict tomorrow, including a headlining bout that features a friend of Mania.

Don't miss it!

Remember, too, that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 81 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the main card kicks off at 10 p.m. ET.

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