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UFC 259 Prelims Preview

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The UFC 259 prelims feature several rising talents, a few contenders, and even a former champ. With a total of 10 bouts, the UFC 259 prelims are guaranteed to deliver action, in what might be the most talent-rich card of the year.

The event’s featured prelim presents former bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz taking on promising prospect Casey Kenney. Another bout to spotlight contains a couple of flyweight contenders in Joseph Benavidez and Askar Askarov. Those are just two of the can’t miss fights set for the UFC 259 prelims.

The early prelims can be viewed this weekend on ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass beginning at 6:00 PM (ET). The UFC 259 prelims follow at 8:00 PM (ET), airing on both ESPN and ESPN+.

UFC 259 Prelims Preview

Dominick Cruz (22-3) vs Casey Kenney (16-2-1)

The announcement of this match-up may have surprised many, but it honestly makes sense for both parties. Cruz returned last May after a three-year layoff and immediately fought for a championship. Obviously, things didn’t go his way and he now finds himself at #11 in the rankings. Conversely, Kenney stayed incredibly active since entering the UFC in 2019 – amassing a record of 5-1.

“The Dominator” stands by two things, ring rust is a myth and Keith Peterson was intoxicated during his fight with Henry Cejudo. Nevertheless, he’s one of the best bantamweights of all time – having won and defended the belt on two separate occasions. There’s no doubt that Cruz will come out firing, as he yearns for his first UFC victory since 2016.

While Kenney has never fought someone with credentials like Cruz, he does have a respectable resume – even outside of the UFC. Victories over Brandon Royval and Vince Cachero at LFA earned Kenney his UFC contract. He then defeated veterans Manny Bermudez and Ray Borg to kick off his UFC career before suffering his only hiccup in a decision loss to the tough Merab Dvalishvili. Yet, he came back strong by rattling off three straight wins against Louis Smolka, Heili Alateng, and Nathaniel Wood. He’s proven to be a worthy foe at bantamweight.

Stylistically, we’re in for a treat. We all know about Cruz’s top-notch footwork and his high fight IQ, but he has an incredible knack for cutting angles. He gets in the pocket, lands his shots, and escapes before getting touched (normally). Meanwhile, Kenney likes to walk his opponents down from his southpaw stance. His durability allows him to eat shots in order to inflict damage of his own. A slight speed advantage might go to Cruz, and it may even be the difference in the fight.

Song Yadong (16-4-1) vs Kyler Phillips (8-1)

Remarkably, Song Yadong – at just 23 years old – will be making his seventh UFC appearance when he faces Kyler Phillips on the UFC 259 prelims. The Team Alpha Male product has yet to beaten in the UFC – compiling a record of 5-0-1. Phillips impressed in both outings last year and is hoping to keep the momentum rolling.

Though never having actually lost in the UFC, you could say Yadong didn’t really win either of his last two bouts. Most had him losing to Marlon Vera and he fought to a draw with Cody Stamann. Regardless, his ceiling is very high and Phillips is a step down in competition compared to his last two opponents.

“Matrix” is no elder either at just 25 years of age. His aggressive and free-flowing style has made him a joy to watch ever since appearing on the Contender Series in 2018. Wins over Gabriel Silva and Cameron Else last year set him up for his biggest fight to date.

These are two young, hungry hard-hitters who will be looking to finish the fight. Yadong vs Phillips has FOTN potential due to the sheer fact they both throw every strike with bad intentions. Both are comfortable trading in the pocket and both like to throw spinning attacks, but slight power and experience advantages go to Yadong.

Joseph Benavidez (28-7) vs Askar Askarov (12-0-1)

Five of the top 12 flyweights on the roster are set to compete on the UFC 259 prelims – highlighted by #2 Joseph Benavidez and #3 Askar Askarov. The former needs to string together a couple of wins before getting another crack at gold, while the latter might get his first title shot with a win this weekend.

Benavidez had a very difficult 2020. His title hopes were crushed twice by Deiveson Figueiredo, but he feels he has another run in him – and it begins at UFC 259. He’s proven to be one of the best flyweights in the world, but he’s still out to prove he can be the very best.

Askarov is unbeaten as a martial artist, and the only time he didn’t reign victorious was in a split draw versus Brandon Moreno. In just three UFC appearances, he’s climbed all the way up to third in the rankings. “Bullet” is dangerous and fairly big for a flyweight.

Both are good on the feet and both are good on the ground but expect them both to enter with differing game-plans. Askarov will likely look to use his size and strength advantage by clinching and eventually getting it to the mat. Meanwhile, Benavidez might look to soften Akarov up with body kicks and his heavy hooks. However, “Bullet” may find real success once he gets ahold of Benavidez.

Rogerio Bontorin (16-2) vs Kai Kara-France (21-9)

#8 Rogerio Bontorin vs #9 Kai Kara-France is a grappler against striker match-up when it comes down to it. Bontorin flaunts a black belt in BJJ, while Kara-France is a seasoned kickboxer. This is a good clash of styles at flyweight.

Bontorin is a Contender Series contract winner, who’s begun his UFC career by winning two of his first three bouts. The Brazilian native has shown that if he gets ahold of you, he’s boa constrictor like with his grappling abilities. There’s no doubt we’ll see him look to get this fight to the ground.

Kara-France has dropped two of his last three fights since beginning his UFC career 3-0. “Don’t Blink” is a City Kickboxing affiliate with some serious power, which was even exemplified in his last outing against Brandon Royval. His biggest moment was beating Tyson Nam in a thrilling decision, but he’s still searching for that first UFC finish.

It’s no secret as to what the game-plans of these two men are. Bontorin will look to get his hands on Kara-France as soon as possible when they’re still dry. Contrarily, Kara-France is going to do everything he can to keep this fight standing. The very first sequences of this fight might tell the entire story – don’t blink.

Tim Elliott (16-11-1) vs Jordan Espinosa (15-8)

Both of these men have lost three of their last four and are in desperate need of wins. Buckle up because Tim Elliott and Jordan Espinosa are going to leave it all out there when they square off.

Elliott had a three year stint in the UFC from 2012 to 2015 where he went 2-4. He then ventured to Titan FC where he became flyweight champion and earned himself an appearance on The Ultimate Fighter in 2016. Elliott won the tournament and re-entered the UFC against the champ at the time, Demetrious Johnson. He lost that fight and has since gone 3-4. He’s always fought a tough schedule.

Espinosa went 2-0 (both finishes) on the Contender Series before finally being awarded the contract. Like Elliott, Espinosa has fought a difficult string of opponents since entering the UFC. He’s badly needs a win this weekend.

Elliott is a battle-tested veteran who comes to fight each and every time, but sometimes it’s his aggressiveness that gets him into trouble. Espinosa is a wrestler with solid striking, but he’s been susceptible to submissions once taken down. This may end up being the most entertaining fight on the UFC 259 prelims.

Kennedy Nzechukwu (7-1) vs Carlos Ulberg (3-0)

A couple of giant light heavyweights are facing off in Kennedy Nzechukwu and Carlos Ulberg. They really do share a lot of similarities on paper, like both being inexperienced Contender Series knockout artists. The largest disparity is Nzechukwu’s six inch reach advantage.

The “African Savage” has improving precision to go along with his natural born power. Out of his southpaw stance, the Nigerian native delivers devastating blows to opponents while always seeking the finish. His lone professional loss came via submission to #14 Paul Craig.

Ulberg will fly over to Las Vegas will his City Kickboxing teammates Israel Adesanya and Kai Kara-France. “Stylebender” talks very highly of his teammate, who faces a tough test in his debut. With such a small body of work it’s difficult to project his talents, but we’ll soon find out.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 04: Carlos Ulberg reacts after his knockout victory over Bruno Oliveira in a light heavyweight fight during Dana White’s Contender Series season four, week eight at UFC APEX on November 04, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/DWCS LLC/Zuffa LLC)

What we do know is Ulberg has power and he trains with a great team. His opposition has the reach advantage and a slight experience edge. However, this orthodox vs southpaw match-up ought to bode well for these light heavyweight’s kickboxing styles.

Sean Brady (13-0) vs Jake Matthews (17-4)

Sean Brady takes his undefeated record into this welterweight crossroads match against Jake Matthews. Both are on the cusp of breaking into the top 15 in what is an underrated fight on the UFC 259 prelims.

Brady has kicked off his UFC career by winning three straight; including a submission win over Christian Aguilera in his last outing. He has a very well-rounded game and he uses his striking to seamlessly transition into the clinch. From there, he’s adept at securing takedowns and softening opponents up before seeking submissions.

“The Celtic Kid” is still just 26 years old despite having already made 14 UFC appearances. All of that experience might come in handy against a less experienced foe like Brady. If Matthews wins, it almost always goes the distance so cardio will never be an issue for him.

Well done by the UFC matchmakers in pairing these two up with one another. They’re similar in many ways, but the biggest edge probably goes to Brady’s power. He’s demonstrated ability to drop opponents while Matthews has not. Yet, the Australian native is so durable that it may not be enough.

UFC 259 Prelims Preview Wrap Up

Livia Renata Souza (14-2) vs Amanda Lemos (8-1-1)

The lone women’s contest on the UFC 259 prelims contains a couple of Brazilian strawweights in Livia Renata Souza and Amanda Lemos. Souza is a former Invicta FC champ, while Lemos is a large strawweight – having competed up at bantamweight.

Both ladies possess grappling credentials and will look to showcase them. However, it’s the fighter who has more success on the feet who will walk away the winner.

Uros Medic (6-0) vs Aalon Cruz (8-3)

Both of these lightweights stand over six feet tall and both earned UFC contracts via Contender Series finishes. Uros Medic is an undefeated Serbian prospect under the tutelage of the renowned Rafael Cordeiro. Meanwhile, Aalon Cruz is a Florida native in search of his first UFC victory.

Medic is very big for the weight class and that may be the difference in this one. Cruz was finished by a much smaller Spike Carlyle in his debut, which doesn’t bode well for this match-up.

Mario Bautista (8-1) vs Trevin Jones (12-6)

Mario Bautista stepped in to face Trevin Jones on short-notice – replacing Randy Costa. After losing his debut to Cory Sandhagen, Bautista has won two in a row including a win over Miles Johns. Jones had a bonkers debut against Timur Valiev, in which he made a miraculous come from behind victory. It was later turned to a no contest.

Both guys have been in deep waters, but the way Jones handled those tribulations was notable. UFC 259 begins with a banger of a bantamweight scrap.

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Ryan Truland is an experienced MMA writer for Ryan regularly conducts interviews with athletes, provides creative pieces, and whatever else is needed to keep readers up to date with the latest and greatest MMA content.