UFC 246: Three Must-Watch Prelims
Although much of the buzz concerning UFC 246 has to do with Conor McGregor, there are a number of potentially exciting fights that are being overlooked. It has happened countless times before – the MMA community directs all of its attention toward the main event and is subsequently blown away by a series of fights on the prelims. That may be the case this Saturday as well, so consider this a heads up and make sure you’re seated with your snack and drink well before the main card.
To start, we’ve got what I consider to be the “people’s main event,” and that is the fight that all of those that follow the sport closely are keeping an eye on: Sodiq Yusuff vs Andre Fili.
Yusuff made his first appearance on Dana White’s Contenders Series, earning an upset victory over the much lauded Mike Davis in a stand up war that White referred to as the fight of the season. Given Davis’ recent success in the octagon, this win is all the more impressive for Yusuff. He then followed that up with a blistering first round knockout against Suman Mokhtarian. In March, Yusuff had an exciting back and forth striking affair with Sheymon Moraes that saw the Nigerian walk away with a decision win. Yusuff then was given the opportunity at mainstream exposure on the main card of UFC 241, which included Nate Diaz, Daniel Cormier, and Stipe Miocic. Here, Yusuff scored another first round knockout against Gabriel Benítez. The win sent a statement to the rest of the featherweight division: “Super” Sodiq Yusuff is here to stay.
Fili, on the other hand, has had more of a slow-burn rise to contendership. Having made his debut in 2013, Fili went 6-5 in his first 11 bouts with the promotion. Now, however, “Touchy” is on a two-fight winning streak, including a unanimous decision victory over Myles Jury and a first round knockout of Sheymon Moraes. In a recent interview with MMA Junkie, Fili noted that “there really isn’t anybody at ’45 that I won’t fight, that I won’t beat. I’m the best ’45er in the world right now. I really believe that. I’m excited to prove it.” Fili battles Yusuff on the ESPN portion of the UFC 246 preliminary card, and the winner of this bout likely catapults themselves into a fight with a top 10 featherweight later in 2020.
Next, we have Drew Dober vs Nasrat Haqparast, which should be an exciting stand-up affair.
Although Dober has been in the UFC since 2013, he seems to just now be hitting his stride, having won 6 of his last 8 fights and currently coming off of a devastating first round knockout against Marco Polo Reyes. Dober has long been lauded for his technical striking skills and physicality in the clinch. His opponent, Haqparast, is one of the fastest rising stars in the UFC’s lightweight division. At 24 years of age, he is riding a three fight winning streak and coming off of a second round “Performance of the Night” knockout over Joaquim Silva. Like Dober, Haqparast, who trains at Tristar Academy under Firas Zahabi, is known for his high-level striking. Speaking with MMA Junkie, Dober said he understands why the UFC put this fight together. “Both him and I like to stand and trade and look for a knockout, so we’re definitely going to start this fight card off nice.” Dober vs Haqparast opens up the ESPN portion of UFC 246.
Finally, keep an eye on Roxanne Modafferi vs Maycee Barber. Modafferi is a pioneer in women’s MMA, but Barber has proclaimed herself as “The Future,” aiming to dethrone Jon Jones’s title of the youngest UFC champion in history. Barber is 8-0 with 3 straight TKO finishes in the UFC. Most recently, she defeated fellow rising prospect Gillian Robertson in the first round of their October bout. It’s clear that the UFC sees potential in Barber, as this fight is the main event of the ESPN prelims, acting as a prelude to the main card action and an attempt to convince more viewers to purchase the pay-per-view. Modafferi, on the other hand, is 3-3 in her last 6 and coming off of a dominant decision loss to Jennifer Maia. In a recent sit down with MMA News, Modafferi said “I’m more than willing to derail that hype train as I have done in the past with Antonina Shevchenko and a few other fighters. I think it is going to be exciting, both pressure fighters, I think it is going to be a great entertaining fight. I don’t underestimate her either, she is young, seems very well-rounded and strong. I’m stoked for this fight.”
UFC 246 takes place on Saturday, Jan. 18, headlined by the return of Conor McGregor against veteran Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.