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UFC 221 card: Tyson Pedro vs Saparbek Safarov full fight preview

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MMA: UFC 209-Pedro vs Craig Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight prospects Tyson Pedro and Saparbek Safarov will duel this Saturday (Feb. 10, 2018) at UFC 221 inside Perth Arena in Perth, Australia.

A pair of first-round finishes saw Pedro on the fast track to the Light Heavyweight elite, but the wrestling and patience of Ilir Latifi slowed his rise. Nevertheless, Pedro is back on the main card of a pay-per-view (PPV), ready to get back in the win column. On the other hand, Safarov is just a single fight into his UFC career, a short-notice debut that saw Gian Villante hand him a one-sided beating. That loss was more than one year ago, and Safarov is once again being thrown into the fire opposite stiff composition for just his tenth professional fight.

Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each man:

Tyson Pedro
Record: 6-1
Key Wins: Khalil Rountree (UFC Fight Night 101), Paul Craig (UFC 209)
Key Losses: Ilir Latifi (UFC 215)
Keys to Victory: A full-sized Light Heavyweight with some obvious athletic gifts, Pedro is a rangy striker with great submission skills as well. His recent loss showed that Pedro still has to polish some areas of his game, but even in that defeat Pedro showed solid takedown defense.

Last time out, Pedro was out-maneuvered by a veteran. This is a direct reversal of roles, as Safarov is quite possibly the least composed fighter in the 205-pound division. He’s a slugger who chases his foe down and slings heavy leather, but he’s not going to exploit any of the issues that Pedro dealt with last time. Luckily, that plays much better into Pedro’s game. He’s a tall and lanky Light Heavyweight against just about everyone, but those advantages will be especially obvious opposite the undersized Russian.

At range, Pedro should slam Safarov with his usual heavy kicks. It won’t be difficult to convince Safarov to charge forward, which is the perfect moment for Pedro to change levels, land a takedown and hunt for the submission.

VS.

Saparbek Safarov
Record: 8-1
Key Wins: Rodney Wallace (Akhmat Fight Show 18)
Key Losses: Gian Villante (UFC Fight Night 102)
Keys to Victory: An accomplished athlete in Sambo and Russian hand-to-hand combat, Safarov mostly showed aggressive brawling in his debut against a much larger foe. Perhaps a full camp will allow him to show his full skill set, which he’ll need to defeat the Australian.

Given his build, it’s no surprise that Pedro excels with kicks at range and brutal knees in close. He’s less sharp from inside the pocket, where Latifi was able to find success with combinations. Safarov puts together punches well enough, so navigating his way into the boxing range should be his goal. Ideally, Safarov would then use any success with his boxing to set up takedown attempts, which should help slow down his foe’s explosiveness.

If Safarov can make his way through the kicks, he has a definite chance to make things ugly and find some success.

Bottom Line: This fight was made to return Pedro to the win column in front of an Australian crowd.

Pedro has clear potential. There are very few prospects raising interest at Light Heavyweight, but the 26-year-old Aussie is undoubtedly one of them. He’s well-rounded and dangerous, capable of big things if he puts his skills together. That’s obviously what UFC is hoping for, and matching him with a fighter who looked really mediocre in his debut is the fastest way to get Pedro’s momentum back. Of course, it could always backfire, as Safarov’s full skill set is still something of a mystery.

Speaking of, the Russian could steal his foe’s hype with a big win here. His debut loss was a while ago and on short-notice, so this is very nearly a fresh start for the Russian. If he wins, he’s suddenly relevant at 205 pounds. If not, he’ll likely receive another shot in UFC, potentially in the Middleweight division.

At UFC 221, Tyson Pedro will open the main card opposite Saparbek Safarov. Which man will earn the victory?