UFC 173: Preliminary Card Predictions
The UFC returns this weekend with UFC 173. Live from Las Vegas, the bout is headlined by a bantamweight title fight between juggernaut Renan Barao and underdog contender TJ Dillashaw.
Before the pay-per-view main card is a stacked preliminary card. The card contains several TUF winners, some great up-and-coming prospects and new faces to the company.
I did the Bellator prelims last week with the intention of not including them, but that would not be fair. That being said, most of those pics were educated guesses, still scoring just above .500.
With that said, let's take a look at the prelims and make some predictions.
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Sam Sicilia vs. Aaron Phillips
Kicking off the Fight Pass prelims are a pair of featherweights, as TUF 15 vet Sam Sicilia takes on newcomer Aaron Phillips. Phillips takes this fight on late notice for Doo Ho Choi, who dropped out with an injury.
Sicilia is a power-puncher that has consistently found himself in fun fights in his five-fight UFC stint. However, he has gone just 2-3 in his UFC tenure, falling victim to such guys as Cole Miller, Rony Jason and Maximo Blanco.
Phillips is an exciting young fighter, but is a bit inexperienced at 5-0. Of those five fights, he has put away three with strikes, showing that he does have power in his hands.
If this fight is contested on the feet, it will be very exciting. If one man decides to make this a grappling a match, it could get a little boring. Either way, I think Sicilia's experience will be the difference-maker here.
Prediction: Sicilia def. Phillips via TKO
David Michaud vs. Jingliang Li
Next up is a bout in the welterweight division, as TUF 16 competitor David Michaud returns to the company to take on Chinese newcomer Jingliang Li. Michaud fills in on late notice for Danny Mitchell, who bowed out of the fight with an injury.
Li is a China Top Team rep with a great grappling base that one has to believe would have won TUF China if he was included. Li has won five of his eight bouts via submission, including a nasty guillotine choke that has put away four of those foes. His latest win was over Luke Jumeau, a win that earned Li some recognition.
Michaud, who was taken out in the elimination round of TUF 16, has been a staple of the North Dakota regional circuit. He is 7-0 as a professional, including wins over Bellator vet Carey Vanier and Ian Stonehouse. He is well-rounded, comfortable with taking people down and working from top position.
MMA in China at this point is just not advanced enough to have confidence in, especially against a battle-tested guy like Michaud. Michaud should use his wrestling and top pressure to wear Li out and run a decision.
Prediction: Michaud def. Li via decision
Anthony Njokuani vs. Vinc Pichel
Capping off the Fight Pass prelims are the lightweights, as Nigerian-American striker Anthony Njokuani returns to the cage to fight TUF 15 vet Vinc Pichel.
Njokuani is a Muay Thai specialist known for his headhunting style. The knockout artist has not fought since April of last year, when he put Roger Bowling to sleep with a nasty one-punch KO. He has shuffled between wins and losses in the UFC, so having Pichel in a comeback fight may be the remedy for "The Assassin."
Pichel is also a knockout artist, though he is more famous for being knocked out with a Rustam Khabilov suplex display. He likes to bang on the feet, something that was shown on TUF 15 and in his latest win over Garrett Whiteley.
Pichel needs to wrestle here, though Njokuani has faced better grapplers in his career. That will lead to Njokuani using Pichel as target practice, putting the Californian down with some knockout strikes.
Prediction: Njokuani def. Pichel via TKO
Al Iaquinta vs. Mitch Clarke
The Fox Sports 1 prelims kick things off in the lightweight division, as Canadian Mitch Clarke takes on TUF 15 runner-up Al Iaquinta.
Since losing to Michael Chiesa for the TUF 15 tournament title, Iaquinta has gone on a tear and vastly improved from fight to fight. He has improved his boxing to complement his wrestling, which has led to impressive wins over Ryan Couture, Piotr Hallmann and Kevin Lee.
Clarke saved his job in his last fight, as the Canadian beat John Maguire to avoid going 0-3. Clarke has improved as well since his arrival to the MMA Lab in Arizona, which has rounded off his game.
Clarke is as durable a fighter as there is, but Iaquinta is more skilled. He will win this fight wherever it goes, running a clear-cut decision to make it four straight.
Prediction: Iaquinta def. Clarke via decision
Chris Holdsworth vs. Chico Camus
Next up, we move on to the bantamweight division, as TUF 18 winner Chris Holdsworth meets gamer Chico Camus. Camus stepped up for Kyung Ho Kang, who dropped out of the fight with an injury.
Camus is a well-rounded fighter who is comfortable anywhere on the ground and on the feet. Other than a slip up to Dustin Kimura, Camus has run roughshod over Dustin Pague, Kyung Ho Kang and Yaotzin Meza.
Holdsworth was a special talent on TUF 18, as his reign of dominance was something to be seen on the show. During his time on the show, he submitted Louis Fissette, Chris Beal and Michael Wootten before choking out Davey Grant in the finale.
On the feet, this may be close, but Holdsworth has shown an extraordinary ability on the ground with his combination of wrestling and submission fighting. That will be enough to overcome Camus here.
Prediction: Holdsworth def. Camus via submission
Tony Ferguson vs. Katsunori Kikuno
Another lightweight bout is a foot, as TUF 13 winner Tony Ferguson looks to stay in the win column against Japanese striker Katsunori Kikuno.
Ferguson was an exciting prospect coming out of TUF 13, as the Team Lesnar competitor dominated the competition on the show that included a huge knockout over Ramsey Nijem to win the tournament. Although he would go 3-1 after the Nijem win, he was unable to stay very active due to some injuries he had suffered, including a broken arm.
Kikuno is an unorthodox striker who proved to be an interesting commodity in his solid debut win against Quinn Mulhern. Kikuno uses a traditional karate style with lots of in-and-out movement and rarely used techniques, including a beautiful crescent kick.
Kikuno's movement will make this a tough challenge for Ferguson, but I trust the American's boxing and wrestling here. Whereas Mulhern is more of a grappler without the takedown chops, Ferguson has the amateur background that could ground Kikuno when needed.
Prediction: Ferguson def. Kikuno via decision
Michael Chiesa vs. Francisco Trinaldo
Headlining the prelims will be another lightweight bout, as TUF 15 winner Michael Chiesa takes on TUF Brazil vet Francisco Trinaldo in a battle of grapplers.
Chiesa is a grinder in the truest form, using clinch, wrestling and top pressure to wear on opponents. Once he gets guys to the ground, he does not stop attacking, as the Washington native is great at advancing position and securing a choke. This has been seen in wins over Al Iaquinta, Anton Kuivanen and Colton Smith.
Trinaldo is a hulking lightweight he needs to pace himself or risk running out of gas. Most of his wins have come early when he's able to use his freshness to either connect with a chin or secure a takedown and dominate on the mat. However, when dragged into deeper waters against Gleison Tibau and Piotr Hallmann, "Massaranduba" has shown he can be vulnerable.
Chiesa has good cardio and sets a rigorous pace from the onset of the fight. That will prove to be hard for Trinaldo to keep up with, as the Brazilian suffers a late submission or a clear decision loss.
Prediction: Chiesa def. Trinaldo via decision