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UFC Fight Night 159 predictions: ‘Rodriguez vs Stephens’ undercard ‘Prelims’ preview - Pt. 1

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is bringing a bevy of “Prelims” fights to ESPN+ this weekend (Sat., Sept. 21, 2019) when UFC Fight Night 159: “Rodriguez vs. Stephens” storms Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Mexico.’s Patrick Stumberg kicks off the UFC Fight Night 159 “Prelims” party with the first installment of a two-part undercard preview series below.

UFC Fight Night: Font v Pettis Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

High-flying Mexican sensation Yair Rodriguez looks to build off of his “Knockout of the Year” contender this Saturday (Sept. 21, 2019) when he takes on perennial contender Jeremy Stephens inside Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Mexico, headlining the latest Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) show on ESPN+. UFC Fight Night 159 also features fast-rising prospect Alexa Grasso against former champion Carla Esparza, as well as the return of Brandon Moreno against undefeated Russian standout Askar Askarov.

UFC Fight Night 159 features seven “Prelims” undercard bouts this time around, so let’s check out the first four and go from there ...

125 lbs.: Sergio Pettis vs. Tyson Nam

Sergio Pettis (17-5) fought his way into Flyweight title contention with four consecutive victories, capped off by a decision over Brandon Moreno in “The Phenom’s” first-ever main event. He’s just 1-3 since that victory, though he did become the first man since 2009 to beat Joseph Benavidez in a non-title fight in that one victory.

He’s one inch shorter and nine years younger than Tyson Nam (16-9-1).

Hawaii’s Nam shocked the mixed martial arts (MMA) world back in 2012 with a one-punch knockout of Bellator champ Eduardo Dantas, only to lose his next four bouts. He’s found more success in his current run, which includes a draw with future The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) competitor Yoni Sherbatov and a head kick knockout of former UFC title challenger Ali Bagautinov.

He steps in for the injured Alex Perez on little more than three weeks’ notice.

Pettis is fortunate that Perez had to withdraw. That’s because Nam, though a quality fighter, is nowhere near the stylistic nightmare the wrestling-heavy Perez was. “The Phenom’s” rock-solid striking fundamentals look like an excellent answer for the overly patient Nam, who has a habit of letting the striking stats get lopsided as he waits for a perfect countering opportunity.

Nam does have some real power when he bothers to swing and Pettis’ chin has failed him before, but Pettis is unlikely to give him the clear shots he needs to let his hands go. Expect Pettis to potshot and frustrate Nam, never really hurting him but racking up enough of a volume edge to take home a wide decision.

Prediction: Pettis via unanimous decision

205 lbs.: Vinicius Moreira vs. Paul Craig

Vinicius Moreira (9-3) showed his toughness and grappling skill on “Contender Series: Brazil,” where he survived some early trouble to choke out Muay Thai specialist John Allan and earn himself a contract. Said toughness hasn’t quite held up in the Octagon, as “Mamute” suffered a pair of first-round knockout losses to Alonzo Menifield and Eryk Anders.

Neither he nor Paul Craig (11-4) have ever gone the distance, combining for 18 submission wins and two (technical) knockouts.

“Bearjew” followed up his claiming of the BAMMA Light Heavyweight title with a bonus-winning armbar of Henrique da Silva in his Octagon debut. He’s since gone 2-4, though he did pick up two more bonuses via comeback submissions of Magomed Ankalaev and Kennedy Nzechukwu.

He’ll give up one inch of height to his Brazilian foe.

This should be a loser-goes-home match — Moreira is way too slow and hittable to bring his grappling to bear, while Craig’s striking and wrestling have yet to catch up to his submissions. Both need highly favorable match ups to make any sort of run in the Octagon and I’m not sure even the top-heavy UFC Light Heavyweight division has enough potential victims.

This, however, is a highly favorable match up for “Mamute.” Craig’s striking is … existent, which already gives him the edge on the feet, but his willingness to pull guard and the ease with which he’s taken down bode ill. Moreira’s the far larger man and his top control is scarier than Craig’s bottom game; therefore, he muscles Craig to the mat, wraps up a submission, and sets himself up to get knocked the hell out by his next UFC foe.

Prediction: Moreira via first-round submission

135 lbs.: Sijara Eubanks vs. Bethe Correia

Sijara Eubanks (4-3) defied a low ranking on TUF 26 to smash her way through the competition, only to pull out of the Finale because of issues with the weight cut. She went on to beat Lauren Murphy and Roxanne Modafferi, missing weight against the latter, then fell once again to Aspen Ladd in her “Fight of the Night”-winning return to 135 pounds.

Both of her pre-UFC professional wins came by ground-and-pound technical knockout.

It’s been four years since Bethe Correia’s (10-4-1) unsuccessful title bid against Ronda Rousey, and the Brazilian has fought just five times in that span. Her last three fights have seen her battle Marion Reneau to a draw, suffer a head kick knockout loss to Holly Holm in her second main event, and tap to an Irene Aldana armbar after ending a nearly two-year hiatus.

“The Pitbull” is one inch taller than Eubanks, but will give up three inches of reach.

Correia has won one (1) fight in the last five years, and that was a robbery against Jessica Eye. She did much better than I expected against Aldana last time out, but at 36 years old, I think we’re past the point of her being a threat in the division ... being a decent brawler isn’t enough in the modern UFC.

“Pitbull” doesn’t have enough power to slow down Eubanks’ pressure and she faces a considerable disparity in wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, giving her few avenues of victories. Though I can see her possibly outlasting Eubanks if the latter doesn’t pace herself, there’s not enough going her way to bank on that hypothetical. Eubanks walks her down and racks up long stretches of top control for the win.

Prediction: Eubanks via unanimous decision

155 lbs.: Claudio Puelles vs. Marcos Mariano

Claudio Puelles (8-2), representing Team Chuck Liddell, won three bouts on TUF: “Latin America 3” before falling to Martin Bravo at the Finale. He entered his subsequent bout with Felipe Silva as a sizeable underdog, only to score an improbably comeback kneebar to earn “Performance of the Night.”

This will be his first fight in 16 months because of injury.

Marcos Mariano (6-5) — who opened his professional career 2-3 — won four of his next five before joining UFC in February. He debuted against the all-action Lando Vannata in Melbourne, tapping to a kimura late in the first round.

He stands three inches taller than Puelles and will have a four-inch reach advantage.

It really speaks to how much UFC loves Lando Vannata that they signed a guy for the express purpose of losing to the “Groovy” one. Mariano’s height is literally the only notable thing about him; otherwise, he’s an okay striker with no ground game to speak of.

Puelles is no world-beater himself, but he’s a very capable grappler with considerably more experience against competent opposition. Once he lands his first takedown, it’s only a matter of time. He sends Mariano back to the Brazilian circuit with a quick rear-naked choke.

Prediction: Puelles via first-round submission

Three more UFC Fight Night 159 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, all of which feature at least one knockout artist. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 159 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the main card portion that will stream on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Fight Night 159: “Rodriguez vs. Stephens” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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