UFC 178 Preliminary Card Preview

UFC 178We won’t know until after the fights actually play out how entertaining UFC 178 ends up being, but there is no shortage of reasons to tune in for Saturday night’s pay-per-view event. When the main event is the least intriguing bout on the main card, you know you have a well-constructed show. Even the prelims show off the embarrassment of riches this card possesses. In a month that has seen fights like Kiichi Kunimoto vs. Richard Walsh, and Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Wendell Oliveira on main cards, it will be a shock to the senses for MMA fans that Dominick Cruz (19-1) makes his (very, very, very) long awaited return on free TV, with a potential title shot hanging in the balance no less. It’s not like Cruz is being fed some softball either. He’ll be taking on the #5 ranked bantamweight in the UFC, Takeya Mizugaki (20-7). The last time Cruz fought, the UFC was still broadcast on Spike TV and Versus. There was no flyweight division in the organization. There were no women’s divisions in the organization. Brock Lesnar was still a going concern in the UFC’s heavyweight division. It’s been a while. Despite his nearly 1100-day gap since his last fight, Cruz remains a whopping -475 favorite (bet $475 to win $100) over Mizugaki at Several Bookmakers. The prevailing sentiment is that even if he’s not at 100% right away, Cruz should still be able to control the striking, and he’s always got his wrestling as a backup plan should he feel the need to use it. It’s hard to expect a championship level performance out of Cruz, but he was so good and so consistent before his injuries that it would be surprising to not see him return to form in some degree. Of course, Mizugaki shouldn’t be discounted in this fight. He’s on the best run of his career, using his grinding style to wear opponents out across his current five-fight winning streak. Cruz was always known for his excellent cardio before his injuries, so that style may not benefit Mizugaki here if the former champion is back to his old self. However, if Cruz takes a while to shake off his ring rust, Mizugaki should be right there to take advantage, and bettor can get him at +425 (bet $100 to win $425). Continuing the trend of strong prelims, #12 ranked Jorge Masvidal (27-8) takes on James Krause (21-5). Wacky circumstances seem to follow Krause around since he was signed to the UFC, and this fight isn’t any different. Originally, Masvidal was set to face Bobby Green on this card, but when Khabib Nurmagomedov dropped out of a bout with Donald Cerrone, Green got promoted to that fight. Unfortunately for Green, once the UFC signed Eddie Alvarez, the fans were far more interested in Cerrone/Alvarez, so he was dropped from the card completely. This is of course the same Bobby Green who picked up a win over Krause due to a potential low-blow that was ruled a body shot and saw the fight stopped by TKO last November. Krause followed that up with a win over Jamie Varner in a bout where Varner broke his ankle very early in the first round, but was still able to score multiple takedowns to make for a very competitive round before the bout was stopped by the doctor. As for the actual fight, Masvidal is a fairly large favorite at -375, with the comeback on Krause at +335. While Krause is talented in all areas, Masvidal seems to have the edge everywhere. Krause is a bit better when it comes to the kicking game, but Masvidal has excellent defense and sense of range on the feet which should mitigate that edge. When it comes to the grappling game, Krause has a solid set of submissions in his arsenal but is almost exclusively on his back when the fight hits the ground. That should be the case here, as Masvidal is the better wrestler and very tight with his grappling game overall. A win here for ‘Gamebred’ would push him to 5-1 in the UFC, and should bump him into the top 10 at lightweight, where some very interesting fights open up. Moving on to the welterweight division, former middleweight title challenger Patrick Cote (20-8) takes on standout striker Stephen Thompson (9-1). Cote has gone 3-1 since returning to the UFC in 2012, but could just as easily be 1-3, as a very close decision went his way and he was the beneficiary of a DQ to Alessio Sakara (both of those fights were in Montreal, by the way). Thompson is a much more solid 4-1 in his UFC run, with his only loss coming to Matt Brown very early in his development. The line reflects the different paths these men seem to be on as Thompson is another big favorite at -385, with the comeback on Cote +345. If Thompson can avoid the wrestling that Cote showed against Kyle Noke in his last outing, he should dominate on the feet. However Matt Brown was the last man to put a concerted effort into taking Thompson down, and he was quite successful at it, so this is a good test for the talented striker. The first bout on Fox Sports 1 remains in the welterweight division, as John Howard (22-9) takes on Brian Ebersole (50-16-1, 1 NC). Howard dropped his last bout to Ryan LaFlare after winning two straight upon his return to the UFC. Ebersole is coming off a pair of losses to Rick Story and James Head, dating all the way back to July 2012. It’s that inactivity which seems to be keeping bettors away from Ebersole, as despite opening just a small underdog at +140, he’s now up to +215, with Howard a solid -235 favorite. Howard’s overall game has looked much improved since coming back to the Octagon, especially showing better wrestling and fight IQ. Ebersole on the other hand has put on a string of declining performances, and despite being just 33 years old, his incredibly active career may be catching up with him at this point. Moving on to UFC Fight Pass, lightweights Kevin Lee (8-1) and Jon Tuck (8-1) find themselves in very similar spots. Both picked up wins in their most recent bouts after suffering decision losses the time before. They hope to build on that momentum and climb the very long ladder that is the lightweight division. Tuck is a fighter many have had high hopes for, and looking at his individual skills you can see why. He’s got dangerous striking, a solid grappling game, and good physical tools, but struggles to put everything together. Cardio has been a big concern for him in the past but he’s taking steps to improve that area of his game. Lee on the other hand doesn’t have as many technical skills as Tuck, but is a very good athlete and seems to be smarter about sticking to a gameplan. Against Al Iaquinta he was able to take the fight to a very close decision, and Iaquinta is proving himself to be a legitimate lightweight. Bettors seem to be siding with the potential of the 22-year-old Lee as opposed to the known faults of Tuck, as the ‘Motown Phenom’ has been bet up to a -250 favorite, with Tuck at +230. Opening up the card is a bantamweight bout between former WEC title challenger Manny Gamburyan (13-8, 1 NC) and Cody Gibson (12-4). At 33, Gamburyan is dropping to 135 for the first time in his career. When fighters make that sort of move late in their career, it’s usually in an effort to prolong their stay at the top but rarely works out as such. This is a winnable fight for him however, as Gibson has been put on his back by strong grapplers in the past. Despite dropping to his third weight class in the UFC, Gamburyan will still be at a size disadvantage against Gibson, who is 5 inches taller and has a few inches in the reach as well. As many of the fights on this card are, this seems to be a battle of two men going in different directions. Gamburyan has dropped five of his past seven (with one of those being changed to a no contest), while Gibson has won seven of eight. Gibson’s one loss in that stretch — to Aljamain Sterling — seems to be the performance that has impressed the most, and is part of the reason he remains a -190 favorite. Gamburyan is +175 as an underdog. As usual, you can catch every UFC prelim bout, starting on UFC Fight Pass at 7:00pm ET and moving up to Fox Sports 1 at 8pm.

Written by Brad Taschuk

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