The prelims of a UFC event are usually the proving grounds for young, up-and-coming fighters. It’s a low pressure environment that can help ease a fighter into becoming comfortable with competing under the spotlight. The arena is filled with only the hardcore fans during the early portions of preliminary bouts which can help a fighter hear his corner and not be overwhelmed by the roar of the crowd.

The low pressure environment is something that 22-fight veteran Bryan Caraway can relate to. Caraway’s struggles with anxiety are well documented after his time on The Ultimate Fighter. It appeared as if Caraway would defeat himself before even stepping foot in the cage. His anxiety got the best of him most notably when the prospect of facing the dangerous Brazilian Diego Brandao came up during the show.

Now the anxiety issues seem to be a thing of the past for the 28-year-old Caraway as he’s steamrolled through his first two bouts in the UFC. The Team Alpha Male fighter tapped out fellow castmate Dustin Neace in the second round to earn a victory in his UFC debut. Perhaps even more impressive than the victory was the fact Caraway was hospitalized with pneumonia only a week prior to the bout. Caraway followed that up with a “Fight of the Night”  performance in his bantamweight debut against Mitch Gagnon. Caraway eventually secured the victory by submission in the final round at UFC 149.

Now Caraway faces a true test of wills against Takeya Mizugaki on the UFC on Fuel TV 8 prelims. Mizugaki is a veteran of the sport and perhaps one of the most durable fighters in the bantamweight division. He won’t go away quietly and will provide a good barometer of just how far along Caraway has progressed as a fighter. If Caraway can move past Mizugaki, he may be in line to face some upper-level guys and within striking range of an UFC title shot.

There are a number of qualities about Caraway that make him a potential force in the bantamweight division. One of those is the team he works with is one of the best in the country, Team Alpha Male. Working with guys like Chad Mendes and Urijah Faber is only going to make your MMA game better. Say what you will about their records in title bouts, the gym still produces quality fighters.

Another thing to like about Caraway is his ability to finish his opponents. Owner of 17 victories, amazingly only one of those has gone to the final bell. That includes 14 wins via submission. When facing a tough opponent, it’s important to take them out when you can, as early as you can, and it appears as if Caraway has no problems pulling the trigger to look for a finish.

A factor that may increase his chance at rising up the rankings is the lack of depth in the bantamweight division. Renan Barao and Dominick Cruz sit atop the division, but after that the field is wide open. Faber has losses to both Cruz and Barao, and so too does Scott Jorgensen. That really only leaves Eddie Wineland and Raphael Assuncao as the guys next in line, either of which could find themselves facing Caraway in the future.

It’s still too early in Caraway’s UFC tenure to know if he can truly challenge for gold, but if he adds a victory against Mizugaki, especially a submission victory, the future appears to be bright for the fighter.

Photo: Bryan Caraway (L) has his hand raised in victory (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Kyle Symes
Staff Writer

Kyle is a recent graduate of Aurora University, where he obtained a Bachelor's in Communications. Kyle resides in Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He played baseball and football in both high school and college, but is now focusing on an amateur MMA career.