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UFC 221 card: Tai Tuivasa vs Cyril Asker full fight preview

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Sydney-Coulter vs Tuivasa Christopher Hyde-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight bruisers Tai Tuivasa and Cyril Asker will brawl this Saturday (Feb. 10, 2018) at UFC 221 inside Perth Arena in Perth, Australia.

Would this fight be on the main card of a pay-per-view (PPV) if it were not a Heavyweight fight or Tuivasa were not an Australian? Almost certainly not, but the silver lining here is that it’s nearly guaranteed to be an entertaining firefight. Tuivasa — the first indigenous Australian to compete inside the Octagon — is a full-sized Heavyweight with massive knockout power and long-time sparring partner of the legendary Mark Hunt. He made his Octagon debut just a few short months ago, winning in spectacular fashion via flying knee. Asker, meanwhile, has split four bouts evenly inside the Octagon and will enter this match up as the underdog, but the Frenchman is both a submission and knockout threat.

Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for both men:

Tai Tuivasa
Record: 6-0
Key Wins: Rashad Coulter (UFC Fight Night 121), James McSweeney (Australian Fighting Championship 17)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: At 24 years old, Tuivasa is a bad ass Heavyweight prospect. Despite weighing in at 265 pounds with a pudgy build, Tuivasa is as deceptively fast and powerful as one would expect of a Samoan rugby player.

In this bout — just as in all of Tuivasa’s previous ones — he will have a significant power and athleticism advantage. Last time out, Tuivasa made use of those gifts in smart fashion: He didn’t rush anything, smashing Coulter at range with kicks before suddenly moving forward with a combination and the eventual flying knee.

It was patient, well-trained fighting. If Tuivasa can fight with the same strategy here, there’s absolutely no reason it won’t work out once again. Asker is reasonably dangerous on the feet and a decent wrestler, but he will be severely smaller than his foe and will not be able to stand up to Tuivasa’s punches. So long as Tuivasa does not waste energy on flash, he should be in for another short night of work in Perth.

VS.

Cyril Asker
Record: 9-3
Key Wins: Dmitry Smoliakov(UFC Fight Night 103), Yaozong Hu (UFC Fight Night 122)
Key Losses: Walt Harris (UFC Fight Night 111), Jared Cannonier (UFC Fight Night 86)
Keys to Victory: Asker is a well-rounded Heavyweight who has yet to truly make his mark in the division. His pair of victories were finishes, but they came against rather low-level competition ... even by UFC Heavyweight undercard standards.

The bright side here is that Asker can both strike and wrestle. And a mix of skills is always best when dealing with a more powerful opponent. As Stipe Miocic showed just a few weeks ago, an athletic and powerful fighter can quickly be diffused if forced to waste energy getting out of bad positions.

This is obviously a far step back from the Heavyweight title, but the concept still applies. Asker will want to be elusive on the feet, not easy to pounce on with a combination nor easy to counter. Tuivasa is an aggressive young fighter who is unlikely to be content just scoring points, so it shouldn’t take long for him to begin pursuing Asker.

That should be Asker’s opportunity to make things ugly. If he can time a shot, that would be great, but even dragging Tuivasa into the clinch would be acceptable. Tuivasa has never been outside the first round, and he’s unlikely to be so dangerous if he goes into the second after a grappling heavy opening frame.

Bottom Line: It’s a showcase fight for “Bam Bam.”

Despite this being just his second UFC fight and seventh professional bout overall, Tuivasa enters this match as a near 3-1 favorite. That hype is the result of Tuivasa’s impressive debut and athleticism compared to Asker’s mixed performances, but capitalizing on it in this match up could result in a ranking next to Tuivasa’s name and big opportunities in his near future.

A loss means it’s time for everyone to slow down and recognize that the Aussie is still just 24 years old.

This is undoubtedly a riskier fight for Asker, who has yet to display any excellent technique or otherworldly knockout power. A loss leaves him winless opposite opponents with at least one UFC win on their record. It could even see the UFC leave him behind.

However, Asker could prove all that wrong by derailing Tuivasa. Of course, many would immediately argue that Tuivasa was never actually any good in the first place — see Ngannou, Francis — but the more observant would note that it’s the biggest win of Asker’s career, and a sign that the Frenchman has improved across his UFC tenure.

At UFC 221, Tai Tuivasa and Cyril Asker will trade heavy blows. Which man will remain standing when the dust settles?

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