UFC 171 is quite the card. We have a veritable welterweight tournament, and the prelims are actually just as stacked with good fights. Let’s dive in!
The undefeated Kelvin Gastelum (7-0) will ride his wave of success into what could be arguably the toughest fight of his career against Rick Story (16-7). Despite Story being 3-4 in his last 7, he’s beaten plenty of quality opponents, including Johny Hendricks at the Ultimate Fighter 12 finale. Gastelum missed weight his first two attempts before making the 171 lb limit, which is never a good sign, still the fight will go on and these two wrestlers will likely see who is the better striker. On paper, Gastelum is the better fighter right now, with the superior takedowns and slightly better striking, while Story has a knack for pulling out wins as often as he lets a fight slip away. I’m a huge proponent of staying away from fighters that miss weight, so put the slight advantage to Story as he may be the fresher fighter on Saturday night.
A women’s bantamweight fight is up next, as Racquel Pennington (4-3) takes on Jessica Andrade (10-3). Don’t let the 4-3 record fool you, Pennington is a talented up and comer, and at 25 years old, she has already fought against some good competition in the TUF house and Invicta. She has losses to Cat Zingano and Leslie Smith, but was able to snap her two-fight losing streak by defeating Roxanne Modafferi soundly at the TUF 13 finale. Andrade is coming off a solid win over the vet, Rosi Sexton at UFC Fight Night: Machida vs Munoz. Pennington is an aggressive and borderline wild fighter who is fun to watch for her strength and plodding style, while Andrade is a bouncy striker who accurately sticks and moves in an effort to confuse and throw off her opponents. This very likely could steal the show, but I say that about every female fight (or so it seems). These are two good fighters that should put on a show. If Pennington can wade into the strikes Andrade is throwing and make it a dirty boxing fight mixed with a takedown or two, she could steal it. As it stands on paper, Andrade is elusive and slick, and could be the perfect counter to the brawler in Pennington.
Featherweights are up next, as Dennis Bermudez (12-3) puts his five-fight win streak on the line against Jimy Hettes (11-1). This, my friends, is a darn good fight between two fighters who are on the cusp of making something of themselves in the featherweight division. Hettes’ lone loss was to Marcus Brimage, while Bermudez hasn’t lost since his promotional and featherweight debut against Pablo Garza at UFC on FOX: Diaz vs Miller. This has all the hallmarks of what should be a fantastic grappling match, as Bermudez is a wrestler by trade, while Hettes is more of a BJJ fighter, constantly working towards the submission. Hettes has finished 10 of his fights via submission, while Bermudez has only lost by submission. Bermudez has had trouble putting his opponents away in the UFC, taking 4 of his 5 fights to the judges, winning two split-decisions. If he works his wrestling, he might be able to put this one away, put it’s much easier said than done against the extremely active Hettes.
Yet another welterweight fight graces the card, as Sean Spencer (11-2) battles against Alex Garcia (11-1). Garcia seems like one to watch. He’s finished 8 fights in the first round and his UFC debut was over in 43 seconds in a knockout win over Ben Wall. He’s got 5 subs and 5 knockouts, and rains down ground and pound like a fighter two weight classes up. Spencer is no pushover, he’s on a two-fight winning streak after returning to welterweight from middleweight, losing to Rafael Natal at 185 in his debut. Spencer is a solid fighter who shines in no particular area, but is solid throughout. Garcia will look to knock him out early, and if he doesn’t, he’ll try to bring it to the ground and finish it there. Spencer has the wherewithal to survive this onslaught, but it will take a lot of work to challenge Garcia’s gas tank and make it a knock down, drag out fight in his favor.