The undercard to UFC 144 appears to be stacked with potential upsets. Will Steve Cantwell be able to avoid Fukuda’s crafty takedowns? Is Chris Cariaso’s speed and movement enough to negate Mizugaki’s massive size advantage? And can Kid Yamamoto reverse his disappointing 0-2 record against British bantamweight, Vaughan Lee?

UFC 144: Facebook Matches & Undercard Prelims

Riki Fukuda vs. Steve Cantwell

Riki FukudaAlthough both these men are officially coming off a loss, many believe Fukuda was robbed in his promotional debut against Nick Ring. In fact, the scoring was so bad that Dana White decided to award Riki his win bonus despite the judges scoring the fight against him.

Throughout that fight Fukuda utilized his basic striking to set up and score a few takedowns early and late in the fight. In the first round he showed off his nice double within the first minute of the match. His wrestling isn’t anything special for the division but it’s obviously his biggest edge over Cantwell.

Perhaps most impressive was the how competitive he managed to keep the stand-up against an accomplished striker like Ring. He was able to find some success his straight left and short uppercuts on the inside. He showed a few glaring holes defensively, but he proved to be surprisingly hard to hit in the second and third rounds.

With that said, Cantwell is clearly the better striker here. He has great timing and precision behind his overhand right and shortens the punch well on the inside. If he does happen to get taken down here his ground game should prove to be savvy enough to avoid being submitted.

The best UFC pick here is probably a prop bet on Fukuda by decision. Cantwell should start to show sports betting value at anything over +155, however I’m hesitant to back him in UFC 144 until he shows us he’s retuned to his pre-injury form.

UFC Pick: Riki Fukuda

Norifumi Yamamoto vs. Vaughan Lee

Kid Yamamota’s transitional phase from Japan to the UFC has been one of the biggest letdowns for the Bantamweight division. Prior to the signing, many expected Kid to breathe new life into the division and possibly even emerge as a legit contender to the belt.

Instead he’s gone 0-2 with the promotion, including a disappointing loss to Darren Uyenoyama as a -400 UFC betting favorite. At this point his decline as a fighter is simply irrefutable.

The biggest thing Kid still has going for him is his one punch knockout power. I still consider him to be one of the pound for pound hardest punchers in the sport, and possibly even the biggest knockout threat within the division. 

Yamamoto loves to sit back and ambush opponents with his big straight left followed by his right hook. His hand speed is still highly impressive despite his decline in other areas. To his credit he did manage to drop Uyenoyama with a left hand in the second round and impressively survived having his back taken for over around a third of the fight.

Vaughan Lee, meanwhile, has a nice arsenal of strikes himself but really lacks the fluidity and combination ability to be considered an elite striker. He likes to stay aggressive with his guillotine choke and has a few nice trip takedowns against the cage.

Simply put, Vaughan Lee is peaking as a fighter whereas kid seems to be on a rapid decline. I regretfully have to advise a play on Kid at anything close to even but I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to back Lee at anything over +140. With so many x-factors, the best play here may end up being no play at all.

UFC Pick: Norifumi Yamamoto

Takeya Mizugaki vs. Chris Cariaso

In his last 3 performances, Chris Cariaso has proven undervalued by the odds makers -- going 2-1 in the process.

Chris CariasoAfter taking a decision off of Will Campuzano, he went in as a +350 underdog against Michael Mcdonald and managed to fight him to a split decision. His speed, leg kicks and rapidly improving ground game were all on display in a close loss.

Chris is great at getting in and out of the pocket with his leg kicks while using them to initiate the majority of his combinations. He has a sneaky short left on the inside and usually prefers to counter with his lead.

 His ground game has also shown steady improvements since getting submitted by Renan Pegado at WEC 53. Aside from securing an omoplata against Mcdonald, he achieved full mount in the second round against Vaughan Lee and even managed to take his back in the third.

Mizugaki’s size and takedowns, however, should be enough to ensure that he opens as the betting favorite. His takedown ability was on full display in one of his more recent bouts against Reuben Duran. He showed a nice double leg from the outside and repeatedly took Duran down with an impressive body lock against the cage.

He may be at a disadvantage in the striking department but he has a nice right hand that he usually looks to stalk and counter with. At times he’ll also look to persistently attack his opponent lead leg from the outside, which he successfully used to slow Duran down late in their fight.

I currently have to side with Mizugaki here but Cariaso is a very live dog at anything over +140. His improved takedown defense, massive speed advantage and ever evolving ground game all lead me to believe he may be once again underpriced here. 

UFC Pick: Cariaso at +140 or higher. 

Zhang Tiequan vs. Issei Tamura

As a late replacement for Leonard Garcia, Issei Tamura will be looking to upset one of the more consistently overrated fighters in the UFC.

Since entering the UFC/WEC in 2010, Zhang Tiequan has proven to be one of the more consistently overrated fighters by the oddsmakers. At -250 over Danny Downes, he gassed out and dropped a decision to one of the worst fighters in the division. More recently, he came in as a slight favorite over Darren Elkins and managed to get out wrestled and out struck in route to another decision loss.

From the limited footage out there, Issei Tamura failed to impress me. He has a solid right hand but no real set up or footwork to get inside. However, the fact that he has short, stocky limbs and seeing him survive the active guard of Gustavo Falciroli does lend slight credibility to his submission defense.

With Zhang, you know he’s usually going to either secure an early choke or fade late. I’m hoping to get Tamura at decent dog-price here, otherwise I would avoid this fight altogether.

UFC Pick: Issei Tamura

UFC 144 Fight Card