UFC 259 Preview: The Prelims

UFC 259 takes place on Saturday March 6, in the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. This card is stacked, so much so that I’ve decided to give the prelims section of the card a preview of it’s own.

Former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz has not had his hands raised inside the octagon since 2016. Cruz went on to lose his title in the same year when Cody Garbrandt danced his way to a unanimous decision victory to become the new king at 135 pounds.

We didn’t know then that we would not see “The Dominator” compete again until the year 2020. He came back from a great deal of injuries and was rewarded an instant title shot against champion Henry Cejudo. Cejudo stopped Cruz in the second round and retired as double champion.

His opponent, Casey Kenney will see this as a huge opportunity to gain momentum in a talent rich 135-pound division. Kenny has been on the rise since his first UFC defeat by the hands of Merab Dvalishvili.

A quick submission win over Louis Smolka, followed by two decision victories over Heili Alateng and Nathaniel Wood made sure Kenny got this shot to breach the top 15 in the official rankings. He will be looking to make it four wins in a row and take out a former champion in what would be a sensational double swoop.

I think that Cruz bit off more than he could chew when stepped in against Cejudo, who is an elite fighter. But it’s very understandable why he took the fight with the title on the line. This is a good test for Dominick, Kenney has proven himself in recent fights to be a worthy challenger and I expect to see both guys involved in a technical battle on the feet.

Kyler Phillips and Yadong Song will also go toe-to-toe in the bantamweight division. Phillips, who is 2-0 since joining the UFC ranks will look to hand Yadong his first loss inside the octagon.

Yadong has progressed well in his six UFC fights so far. He has picked up three finishes, two decision victories and one draw. Yadong will look to springboard.up the ranking after his win over Marlon Vera, but Phillips will be no pushover for the Chinese fighter. Phillips possesses some strong grappling and is very dangerous when the fight hits the mat. Really interesting matchup between two bantamweight prospects.

Joseph Benavidez is battling for one last title run. Fresh off a double set of losses to champion Deiveson Figueiredo, Benavidez finds himself going out of the frying pan, and into the fire. Askar Askarov will be the man standing across from the flyweight veteran.

The Russian entered the UFC and took on Brandon Moreno on his debut. That fight ended in a split draw, Askarov bounced back with two impressive wins over Tim Elliott and Alexandre Pantoja, both of those fights going to the judges’ scorecards.

This fight is make or break for Joey B, a win sends him right back into title contention. A loss will have him on a hat-trick of defeats. If Askarov can go out there and finish this fight, it would be fair to be asking the question about retirement while looking in the direction of Benavidez. The man owes nothing to the sport.

The fairy tale would be a win for Benavidez, but fairytales are few and far between in the world of mixed martial arts. I feel that to win this fight, Benavidez will have to be at his absolute best. If he is not at the races, Askarov does have the tools to win this fight in devastating fashion.

Kai Kara-France and Rogério Bontorin will clash in the flyweight division. Kara France, from New Zealand, went 1-1 inside the cage in 2020, he picked up a nice decision victory over Tyson Nam. The City Kickboxing standout succumbed to a second round submission loss to Brandon Royval in his last fight and he will get to test out his grappling game even further coming in here against Bontorin.

Rogério Bontorin is a DWCS alumni. The Brazilian won by submission on the show back in 2018, and was awarded a contract by Dana White. Bontorin picked up wins over Magomed Bibulatov and Raulian Paiva before losing a decision in his last bout against Ray Borg.

This fight will be a stern test for Bortorin, who has picked up 11 submission victories so far in his professional career. His route to victory is putting Kara-France on his back, if you’re Kara-France you want to keep the fight standing. Super interesting stylistic match-up.

A women’s strawweight contest between fellow Brazilians, Lívia Renata Souza and Amanda Lemos will get us kicked off on the preliminary card. That brings us to the early prelims section of the card which is available on UFC Fight Pass.

The pick of the five fights on the early prelims, is a contest in the 170-pound division. Sean Brady, who is undefeated, will step in to take on Jake Matthews. Brady is 3-0 in the UFC and he will face his toughest opposition to date when he faces off with the Australian. Matthews is on a three fight win streak, he beat Diego Sanchez in his last outing. This will be his fifteenth fight under the UFC banner.

Tim Elliott will look to keep himself in the win column after his decision win over Ryan Benoit in July 2020. Jordan Espinosa will be the man standing opposite Elliott. Espinosa is in desperate need of a win, he has only gotten his hand raised once in his last four fights.

Kennedy Nzechukwu squares off against Carlos Ulberg in the light heavyweight division, Ulberg comes into the fight undefeated. Uroš Medić will also look to keep his perfect record intact when he makes the walk to fight Aalon Cruz in the 155-pound division. The opening bout of this stacked card is in the bantamweight division, Mario Bautista takes on Trevin Jones.

Check out my preview of the main card later in the week.

Preliminary card (BT Sports / ESPN+)

Bantamweight Dominick Cruz (22-3) vs. Casey Kenney (16-2-1)
Bantamweight Song Yadong (16-4-1) vs. Kyler Phillips (8-1)
Flyweight Joseph Benavidez (28-7) vs. Askar Askarov (13-0-1)
Flyweight Rogério Bontorin (16-2) vs. Kai Kara-France (21-9)
Women’s Strawweight Lívia Renata Souza (14-2) vs. Amanda Lemos (8-1-1)

Early preliminary card (ESPN+ / UFC Fight Pass)

Flyweight Tim Elliott (16-11-1) vs. Jordan Espinosa (15-8)
Light Heavyweight Kennedy Nzechukwu (7-1) vs. Carlos Ulberg (3-0)
Welterweight Sean Brady (13-0) vs. Jake Matthews (17-4)
Lightweight Uroš Medić (6-0) vs. Aalon Cruz (8-3)
Bantamweight Mario Bautista (8-1) vs. Trevin Jones (12-6)

Ian O'Neill is the host of the SevereMMA UFC Preview show and one of the co-hosts of The Auld Triangle - Irish MMA podcast. You can find more of Ian's work on the SevereMMA Patreon where he co-hosts The Chasing Pack and The Contender. Follow him on Twitter and on Instagram @ioneillmma

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