All Is Not Lost: UFC 200 Prelim Preview

Fightland Blog

By Tom Taylor

Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

UFC 200 was arguably the most stacked UFC card of all time—and despite the last-minute loss of Jon Jones, that claim didn’t just apply to the main card. The evening’s preliminary lineup is packed to capacity with big-name fighters competing in relevant matchups, so there’s really no reason to be too bummed about the loss of the main event.

In fact, by the time the card’s pay-per-view portion is kicked off by Cain Velasquez and Travis Browne’s heavyweight bout, we’ll have already enjoyed appearances by veterans, prospects, contenders, TUF winners, and former Shooto, Pride, Dream, Strikeforce and UFC champions.

Here’s a quick rundown of this historic card’s preliminary bill!

Jim Miller (25-8-0) vs. Takanori Gomi (35-11-0)

The fact that UFC 200’s early prelims are being kicked off by Jim Miller, a veteran of 22 UFC bouts, and Takanori Gomi, a former Pride champ and one of the greatest lightweights of all time, is a testament to just how stacked this card is.

Of course, both fighters are mere shadows of the forces they once were. Miller is just 1-4 in his last 5, while Gomi sits at 2-3 in his last 5. That said, this fight remains a very compelling one, as Miller possesses all the grappling skill required to end Gomi’s night early, and Gomi’s being one of the meanest punchers in the history of the lower weight classes means that he’s capable of ending things for Miller just as abruptly. Though these two veterans are clearly both on the decline, this one seems almost incapable of making it to the judges’ scorecards. A strong warmup for this massive event.

Gegard Mousasi (36-6-2) vs. Thiago Santos (13-3-0)

Former Dream and Strikeforce champ Gegard Mousasi was one of the first fighters confirmed to be on the UFC 200 lineup. Back then, he was expected to take on the streaking Derek Brunson in a middleweight bout that many expected would end up on the main card. As the card continued to expand with bigger and bigger fights, however, Mousasi and Brunson were pushed all the way down to the early prelims. Then, as we know, Brunson was forced out of the bout with vision issues, and was replaced by rising Brazilian striker Thiago “Marreta” Santos.

From the early vantage point, this fight looks like a high-risk, low reward bout for the long-time contender Mousasi. That is to say, there seems to be a real chance he comes up short to his dangerous opponent, whereas he’s unlikely to gain much additional ground if he does win.

Will Mousasi dispatch Santos and maintain his standing at middleweight, or will he show up torpid and under-motivated for this low-reward bout, and have his top-10 spot usurped by an opportunistic Santos as a result? These are the big questions heading into this main-card-worthy prelim showdown.

Diego Sanchez (28-8-0) vs. Joe Lauzon (24-12-0)

The early prelims will be wrapped up by a lightweight bout that promises to paint the canvas red. In one corner, we’ll have Diego Sanchez, who won the first season of The Ultimate Fighter as a middleweight. In the other, we’ll have the ever-dangerous Joe Lauzon who, alongside Anderson Silva, has earned the second-most post-fight bonuses in UFC history at 13.

At this stage, both lightweights are clearly nearing the end of their careers. Really, it would take a miracle for either fighter to crack the top-10 again in the ever-stacked lightweight division. Yet their respective veteran savvy, lionheartedness, durability, and well, tendency to bleed everywhere, render this one an extremely likely candidate for fight of the night honors. So sit back and let these two grizzled veterans, who own a combined 43 UFC bouts, dazzle in what is surely to be one of the last bouts of either man’s career.

Enrique Marin (9-3-0) vs. Sage Northcutt (7-1-0)

The first bout of UFC 200’s televised prelims will see the ultra-hyped Sage Northcutt attempt to rebound from his first pro loss against Spain’s Enrique Marin—undoubtedly the least-known fighter on this star-studded card.

With no intention of disparaging Marin, it’s safe to say that the most interesting details of this fight surround the 20-year-old Northcutt. Having had his hype-train derailed by a welterweight Bryan Barberena last December, the world is keen to see how the young fighter will respond to this first bit of adversity. We all want to know if he will bounce back with a vengeance, or, unaided by anything close to veteran resolve, crack under the pressure.

Ah yes, the pressure. The pressure to grow into a marketable MMA star. The pressure to live up to the mammoth expectations of the UFC, and if the rumors are to believed, those of his career-controlling coach/father Mark Northcutt. Yes, when “Super Sage” walks onto the canvas at UFC 200, the world will be watching to see how he performs under the weight of these things, while a dangerous Marin will be looking to capitalize on any mistakes the young fighter makes.

TJ Dillashaw (12-3-0) vs. Rafael Assunção (23-4-0)

Recent bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw’s being relegated to the prelims are, once again, a clear indication of just how absurdly stacked this card is. Despite having lost his title to Dominick Cruz back in January, the former champ remains a huge name, and a fighter that would make a strong addition to pretty much any pay-per-view. Yet here he is on the undercard.

Of course, Dillashaw’s position on the UFC 200 undercard does not diminish the significance of his bout. When he takes on Rafael Assunção, he’ll have the chance to return to the win-column after his recent title loss, and to avenge one of the few losses on his extremely impressive record.

Despite Assunção’s winning their first bout, however, this one does look like a fairly surmountable challenge for Dillashaw, who has evolved considerably since the pair first met. Factor in the fact the Assunção has not fought in almost two years, and this looks like an even more winnable fight for Dillashaw.

At the end of the day, however, this is a clash between two of the best bantamweights on earth, both of whom are very capable of walking away with the W. Whichever fighter does emerge victorious has a very real chance of being the next man to challenge Cruz for the bantamweight crown. On the prelims or not, this one is as high-stakes as non-title fights get.

Johny Hendricks (17-4-0) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (11-2-0)

The lone welterweight bout of the night will pair former champion Johny Hendricks with TUF winner Kelvin Gastelum—both of whom headlined the last cards they competed on. Once again, this one kinda screams “main card fight.” Yet just like Dillashaw, Mousasi, and so many other decorated UFC 200 competitors, these two welterweights have been forced to the undercard by the magnitude of the main card’s fights.

The most interesting feature of this bout is not so much that both fighters are long-time members of the welterweight top-15. Instead, it’s that both currently find themselves on seriously thin ice. Both have their backs to the wall.

Despite being a former champ, Hendricks has lost 3 of his last 5 bouts, and worse still, has looked nothing like the high-action knockout machine he was a few years ago. If he loses again, he’ll fall even further out of welterweight contention—perhaps irrecoverably so. Gastelum, meanwhile, is in a similar boat. Though he’s never worn UFC gold, or even fought for gold, he was once one of the most hyped fighters on the UFC roster. Yet having lost 2 of his last 3, he’s coming dangerously close to losing all of the hype that kicked off his UFC career. Factor in the damage both men have done to their careers by recently missing the welterweight division’s cap, and it becomes even clearer that neither man can afford a loss.

Yes, while this one has been called a must-win for both fighters, it is perhaps even more accurately labeled a must-not-lose. Given this, we’re likely to see very focused—meaning dangerous—versions of Hendricks and Gastelum come fight night.

Cat Zingano (9-1-0) vs. Juliana Peña (7-2-0)

It has got to be strange for Cat Zingano to look at the UFC 200 poster and see Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes—two women she has not just defeated but finished—competing for the women’s bantamweight crown. In fact, had Zingano been a little quicker to return from her tough, 14-second loss to Ronda Rousey last February, she could well have been one of the women competing for the divisional title on this historic card. Instead, however, Zingano spent well over a year on the shelf after her loss to Rousey, while the rest of the division continued to buzz on in her absence.

Yet at UFC 200 this talented bantamweight finally makes her return opposite the streaking Juliana Peña. Should she win, she could well find herself fighting for the belt opposite Tate or Nunes before the year is done.

Of course, Peña is likely to have other plans for Zingano’s comeback. Though the TUF winner hasn’t realized quite the same heights as her upcoming foe, she’s currently on a three-fight streak over respectable competition. Should she extend that streak to four with a win over Zingano, she too could be called upon to fight the winner of Tate and Nunes.

Though it hasn’t been labelled as such—probably because of the division-altering variables presented by a possible Ronda Rousey return—Zingano vs. Peña could well be an unofficial number-one-contender fight. Moreover, the hyper-aggression of these two fighters means it should be a barnburner, and, despite the presence of names like Diego Sanchez, Joe Lauzon, Jim Miller on the card, a legit contender for a post-fight bonus.  


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