Remember the days of SPIKE and FX fight night main cards? This four-fight televised prelim slate is better than all of them. And on a card that’s been ravaged by swift and seismic shifts on the main card, the prelims have escaped relatively unscathed!
Simply put, every fight could be an Fight Night headliner on its own right. Yes, even the Sage Northcutt fight, although that would be best on Fight Pass. Each fight is incredibly pivotal, with two of them having potential title ramifications.
Cat Zingano returns, TJ Dillashaw faces an old foe for the next Bantamweight title shot, a pair of Welterweights with a history of weight issues take each other on, and it should be an incredible slate.
Televised prelims (8/7c, FS1)
Enrique Marin (8-3) vs. Sage Northcutt (7-1)
Opening up the televised prelim portion of the card is one of the most overhyped prospects in quite some time. Northcutt is very green, but gets paid like a veteran. He’s notorious for his ground game and jovial artitude, as well as his father’s interference in his career. He also posses a pair of third-degree black belts; one in Kajukenbo and one in Taekwondo. He’s never gone the distance, winning four fights via knockout, three via submission, and losing his last fight via shocking submission in December.
Now, Northcutt returns, against the only man on the card that doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. Marin, his opponent, has five submission wins, three decision wins, and two submission losses. He lost his UFC debut November Erick Montano split decision, and while it would be amazing if he pulled off the upset, I’m not going to bank on it. Prediction: Northcutt via tko, round 2.
(1) TJ Dillashaw (12-3) vs. (3) Raphael Assuncao (23-4)
Up next is a Bantamweight title eliminator that deserves better than a prelim slot. I can’t think of a time where a man who was a UFC champion earlier in a year was on the prelims in his next fight. Well, that’s wxactly what’s happening with TJ Dillashaw. He lost a slightly controversial decision against former longtime champion Dominick Cruz, and will look to get a rematch if he beats the last man who defeated him prior to that fight, Raphael Assuncao.
Assuncao and Dillashaw first locked horns in January 2014, with Assuncao winning a controversial decision. Yes, whenever Dillashaw loses these days, it’s always in that manner. Finally, they get their rematch. Assuncao is fighting for the first time since late 2014, due to ankle injuries. The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt has won seven straight fights, mostly via decision. Had he not gotten hurt, he would’ve gotten his title shot by now. A win tonight for the man who has ten submission and decision wins apiece will give him the shot he’s deserved for quite some time now.
As for Dillashaw, the former Division 1 wrestler and Alpha Male upstart has been shadowed by drama for the past year. His split from the team has generated a lot of high-school level drama, he lost that controversial decision to Cruz in January, and he clearly needs a win to get his life in order. Half of his wins have come via knockout, and the former champion arguably beat Assuncao in their fight two years back. Smart money obviously favors him. However, I won’t pick him. I obviously think he will win, but Assuncao deserves his shot. Besides, a loss clearly paves the path for the hotly anticipated Dillashaw/Faber fight, so I sort of have to pick Assuncao here. Smart pick: Dillashaw. My prediction: Assuncao via split decision, again.
(6) Johny Hendricks (17-4) vs. (12) Kelvin Gastelum (11-2)
This fight in one word: ugh. Both men have had success inside the octagon, especially Hendricks. He participated in arguably the best Welterweight title fight since Hughes/Trigg 2 against Georges St. Pierre in November 2013, and won the title the following March. Since then, the former knockout artist has gone 1-2, and is coming off a stunning first round knockout loss to Stephen Thompson on Super Bowl eve. His win came via grinding decision over Matt Brown, and the once revered knockout artist hasn’t had a knockout win since November 2012. Oh, and he missed weight yesterday.
Speaking of missing weight, Gastelum has a history with that too. He may be 7-2 inside the octagon, but he’s 1-2 in his last three, and has missed weight twice. As a result of weight issues, he was ordered to fight at Middleweight last June, after which he destroyed Nate Marquardt. His two losses are via split decision.
Although Hendricks seems unmotivated, I still believe he might be the better fighter. He deserves to get knocked out tonight, but my gut tells me he’ll win a controversial decision, just because. Prediction: Hendricks via split decision.
(3) Cat Zingano (9-1) vs. (5) Juliana Peña (7-2)
Cat Zingano is back! The woman who’s faced tragedy many times has returned for the first time since her quick loss to Ronda Rousey last February. She’s only gone the distance once, having won five times via knockout and three times via submission. In my book, she’s the most entertaining fighter in the women’s Bantamweight division.
Meanwhile, Peña might be the most detestable woman in the division. She recently got in trouble for attacking a bar owner, has a bad attitude, and, well, is pretty hard to root for. She is a great fighter though, having won all three of her UFC bouts, including the final of the TUF 18 women’s Bantamweight tournament.
Honestly, I love Cat Zingano. Her story is heart-wrenching, yet she always stays positive. She has a calm demeanor, but is an absolute killer inside the octagon. If she loses, it might ruin the card for me. If she wins, it’ll be the highlight. Hopefully, she’s not rusty, and gets the job done. Prediction: Zingano via tko, round 2.