Ever skipped work for an afternoon at the ballpark, or even just to cheer on your favorite team in front of your big screen television during a day game on a weekday?  Well, if you’re on the West Coast, there’s another sporting event worthy of feigning a sudden afternoon case of food poisoning to ditch work early and head home to watch.  That event would be the UFC on Fuel TV 3 prelims.

In what has become mostly an oddity for the world’s largest MMA promotion, the UFC hosts a weekday card on May 15.  The Zuffa brand heads to the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va., on Tuesday for a 12-fight showcase that includes six preliminary bouts streamed live and free on the UFC’s Facebook page.  While the stream’s start time is 5:30 p.m. ET, such a time slot means that it falls within normal business work hours for those further west.

And those closer to the Pacific have plenty of reason to play hooky from work for this lineup.  Two Californians, a Washington native and a Hawaiian head to the Octagon during the preliminary card portion of the show.  San Diego resident Alex Soto will kick things off against fellow Californian Francisco Rivera.  Washington’s master of the guillotine choke, Cody McKenzie, will try to snag another neck against highly decorated wrestler Marcus LeVesseur and Hawaiian TUF alum Brad Tavares battles Dongi Yang.  Rounding out the prelims, we’ll be treated to Jeff Curran against Johnny Eduardo, Kamal Shalorus versus Rafael dos Anjos and T.J. Grant taking on Carlo Prater.

In this edition of The MMA Corner’s Round Table, I’m joined by Rob Tatum and Joe Schafer for a look at all six prelim bouts.

BW: Alex Soto (6-1-1) vs. Francisco Rivera (7-2)

Tatum: A pair of Southern California bantamweights kick off the action on the preliminary card as Francisco Rivera returns to the promotion on short notice to take on Alex Soto. Soto was originally expected to welcome Azamat Gashimov to the UFC, but Gashimov was forced to withdraw just two weeks prior to the event.

Alex Soto (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

Ironically, Soto’s UFC debut came on short notice, but he was overwhelmed by rising contender Michael McDonald. Although the loss was the first of Soto’s young career, the manner in which it happened—a brutal knockout—leaves reason for concern against a heavy-hitter like Rivera.

Rivera went 0-2 in his time under contract with Zuffa, but has rebounded under the Tachi Palace banner since being released. In fact, he was training for a May 11 fight in TPF when the UFC came calling. So, unlike some short-notice fighters, he should be in shape.

How this fight goes comes down to one thing in my eyes: movement. Soto is the more athletic fighter, but he’ll have to do everything he can to avoid Rivera’s power. Should the fight hit the ground, it’s Soto’s fight to win, but I believe that Rivera will find a way to connect sooner or later, handing Soto his second straight KO loss.

Schafer: I concur, good sir. Soto wants no part of Rivera’s power, especially after that disappointing start in the UFC. In fact, I’d say Soto will be highly vulnerable on the feet in this fight and will definitely want to get this thing to the ground, where he might be slightly better than Rivera, who is by no means a rock star.

Soto will have a better chance of surviving on the mats in the long run, but I don’t see him finishing Rivera via tapout either. What makes this a survival fight for Soto is the fact that he’s not much of a finisher and has questionable footwork when standing. To expand on Rob’s comments, Soto tends to move forward and backwards, an easier pattern to get countered and clipped, than side to side. He starts off at a highly energetic pace in the beginning, which tends to make him more reckless than he needs to be, and then fades towards the finish line.

Francisco Rivera (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

Not to say that I’m overly impressed with what I’ve seen of Rivera, I just have a feeling he’ll able to cut the angles quicker and land his power before Soto will be able to take him down. If this fight lingers into the later rounds, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Soto scored a few takedowns and picks up the decision. But my prediction will be Rivera by second-round TKO.

Henderson: Not much confidence for a guy who was undefeated until running into an unstoppable force in McDonald. Soto has shown a lot of potential in the regional circuit, but he definitely needs to make a statement here to show that he can hang in the big leagues.

I can’t really argue with Rivera’s striking advantage.  “Cisco” has knockout power and that will definitely need to be the one thing Soto avoids.  Soto’s fighting background primarily comes through jiu-jitsu, and he’ll need to focus on taking Rivera down and submitting him.

Although Rivera’s striking-heavy approach and his lack of a win under the Zuffa banner concerns me, he has now gone 2-1 since dropping from featherweight.  He’s comfortable at the lighter weight, and he’s posted wins over two legitimate opponents while competing for Tachi Palace Fights.

I think Soto will eventually find success inside the Octagon, but I don’t think it will come here.  Rivera scores the TKO victory, sending Soto back to the regional circuit to get a bit more experience before making another run at the UFC.

BW: Jeff Curran (33-14-1) vs. Johnny Eduardo (25-9)

Schafer: With nearly 50 professional fights to Curran’s credit, this Illinois native has seen it all at the young age of 34. That might not seem very old under normal circumstances, but Curran has plenty of cage mileage on his body. He’s lost to a who’s who list of competitors throughout his time in elite organizations like Pride, IFC, WEC and the UFC. And, most recently, you can add Scott Jorgensen to that list.

Jeff Curran (L) (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

Normal wear and tear aside, I thought Curran still moved well against Jorgensen and looked sharp enough to end his career with a couple of impressive wins. In fact, he has only been knocked out twice—the most recent of those losses happening back in 2001. So, after years of competing in the cage, Curran certainly has the tools to make any opponent think twice about looking past him.

Similarly to Curran, Johnny Eduardo has amassed an extensive career in MMA at the age of 33—fighting for the 35th time on May 15—and has never been knocked out. After entering the Octagon with a 11-fight winning streak, Eduardo lost a unanimous decision to Raphael Assuncao last summer.

The fact that the majority of Eduardo’s losses have been due to tapout and that Curran is an accomplished, second-degree Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt really stands out as a game changer for me. Curran rarely gets finished; most of his losses come by way of decision. I can’t help but to think Curran will score some takedowns, capitalize on Eduardo’s weakness on the ground, and pull off another submission victory.

Henderson: Both of these men have experienced plenty of wear and tear on their bodies, no doubt.  They’ve been around the sport so long that Eduardo faced Takanori Gomi in 1999 and Curran made his WEC debut in 2002.

Other than a submission win due to a rib injury over Dustin Neace, Curran hasn’t finished an opponent via tapout since his IFL days.  Even his last loss via stoppage came in 2007, when Urijah Faber secured a guillotine choke on “Big Frog” back at WEC 31.

Eduardo has been more of a finisher, but he tends to live or die on the mat.  He’s won via submission 13 times, but there’s no denying that he does indeed have a weakness on the ground when it comes to submission defense.

Johnny Eduardo (R) (Sherdog)

What I like about Curran in this fight is his big show experience.  He’s no stranger to the Octagon or large promotions.  Eduardo, despite all his years in the business, didn’t make his UFC debut until last year.  I think Curran’s time in the spotlight will give him the confidence he needs to take out Eduardo, and I think his wrestling and jiu-jitsu will allow him to follow through on that confidence.  Curran finally finishes another opponent, forcing Eduardo to tap in the later stages of the fight.

Tatum: On paper, this has the makings of quite the sloppy affair. As both Joe and Bryan has stated, both possess strong grappling skills, but despite all of their combined experience, neither is a proficient striker. In fact, in their 82 combined fights, they have a combined seven wins via TKO/KO.

Eduardo is the ground equivalent of the reckless striker—the guy who scores a knockout or wakes up in the locker room. His seven submission losses have to look like a juicy steak to someone with the ground skills of Curran.

I’ll reiterate both of my fellow panelists and take Curran to score a slick, second-round submission.

LW: Rafael dos Anjos (15-6) vs. Kamal Shalorus (7-2-2)

Henderson: It could be a loser-leaves-town fight for lightweights Rafael dos Anjos and Kamal Shalorus, both of whom have suffered recent losses. Dos Anjos came out on the wrong end of a split decision against Gleison Tibau at UFC 139 and Shalorus is on a two-fight skid following losses versus Jim Miller and Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Kamal Shalorus (R) (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

Remember that highlight reel knockout of dos Anjos by Jeremy Stephens way back at UFC 91?  Although dos Anjos has proven to be a solid fighter, defeating George Sotiropoulos and Terry Etim during his UFC stint, my mind cannot help but return to that vicious KO when I think about dos Anjos in the Octagon with Shalorus.

This fight will definitely play out wherever Shalorus wants it to play out.  His wrestling is world-class. The only problem is that he tends to either use it solely for defense or ignore it altogether in favor of wild haymakers.

And that’s where dos Anjos’ loss to Stephens comes into play. I can’t help but envision dos Anjos’ chin being in the perfectly wrong spot when one of those bombs goes flying.  This fight plays out one of two ways: either Shalorus lands that big wild punch, or dos Anjos makes Shalorus’ haymakers look ridiculous while picking apart the Iranian-born wrestler. I’m leaning towards the latter.

Tatum: As Bryan pointed out, Shalorus isn’t the best tactician or game planner. Against Nurmagomedov, he only looked to use his wrestling after getting pummeled on the feet for the majority of the fight. Looking back at his WEC career, he has always had a propensity for keeping the fight standing, when he likely could’ve brought it to the ground.

With dos Anjos, his 4-4 Octagon record is misleading. His four losses have come to top-15 competition, but half of his four wins have come against lesser foes that are no longer with the promotion. While I don’t believe he’s in danger of being cut after a close fight with Tibau at UFC 139, he does need a strong showing against the Iranian-born fighter.

Rafael Dos Anjos (R) (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

For me, the biggest factor in this fight is going to be one technique: dos Anjos’ uppercut. He uses it to get inside and should be able to hurt Shalorus the same way he did Sotiropoulos. I’ll echo Bryan’s sentiments of dos Anjos, but I believe he’ll rock Shalorus on the feet before slapping on a fight-ending rear-naked choke in the second round.

Schafer: Rob, I challenge you to prove to the world that you use the word “propensity” in a casual setting! I kid, I kid. If there is one thing in MMA I can’t stand, it’s a fighter who stubbornly ignores his strengths and tries to prove something to the crowd. Shalorus is one of those guys for me. Both of my fellow panelists nailed exactly what makes my blood boil, while at the same time, makes me somewhat respect that crazy wrestler.

Regardless of what I think about his incredibly predictable, widely thrown, bull-rushing punches, I admire that he can still compete at this level at his age. The guy is almost 40—though there seems to be a lot of speculation and uncertainty surrounding his age—and he’s still threatening if the right game plan is executed. Plus, he has a lot of heart and an iron (sheik) chin.

That’s all the praise Shalorus is getting from me. In general, I cringe every time he passes up a chance to utilize his superior, world-class wrestling for second-rate Wanderlei Silva punching. I can’t imagine he’ll do anything different against dos Anjos.

Despite having a tough time getting past those next level opponents, I agree that dos Anjos can survive one more loss if he puts it all on the line. Shalorus, on the other hand, should not get the same courtesy, but something tells me Dana White’s affection towards guys who fight like punching bags will come into play here. I think dos Anjos will pick apart his opponent for three rounds for the decision victory.

LW: T.J. Grant (17-5) vs. Carlo Prater (30-10-1)

Schafer: T.J. Grant is coming off a big win against Shane Roller at UFC Live: Cruz vs Johnson last October, slapping an armbar on his foe in the third round. Going into that fight, Grant was having problems getting victories over named opponents like Dong Hyun Kim, Johny Hendricks and Ricardo Almeida. Those losses were staggered with wins over lesser-known guys.

T.J. Grant (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

Having experienced those turbulent ups and downs in the Octagon, I like Grant’s chances coming into this fight calm and collected, mentally tough, and ready to expand on the momentum gained by putting Roller away. Assuming my speculation is correct, actually stepping foot into the cage would be a nice change of pace for Grant, who was forced to pull out of a fight with Charlie Brenneman last summer and then against Jacob Volkmann last December.

So, it’s hard to really gauge Grant’s full potential, even after seven UFC fights, going in against another veteran like Prater, who is making a strong return to the Zuffa organization with five straight wins. Four of the Brazilian’s victories came by way of submission. Grant is still a question mark for me and I like Prater’s chances of getting the fight to the ground. I’ll take the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Prater with a third-round submission.

Tatum: Not to turn Joe’s analysis into Swiss cheese, but I think he missed a few key factors in this one. First off, Prater’s winning streak includes a controversial UFC 142 win over Erick Silva that was the result of a disqualification. Prater, stepping in on short notice and competing at welterweight, was overwhelmed by his fellow Brazilian and if not for a handful of Silva’s strikes landing near the back of Prater’s head, his winning streak would be long gone.

That said, Prater still has the skills to hang with Grant. He does have wins over current UFC welterweight champ Carlos Condit and a number of other current UFC competitors. As Joe pointed out, he is a BJJ black belt and more than half of his career wins have come via submission. However, perhaps ironically, Prater has lost by submission three times in his career. That could play a huge factor in the outcome of this fight.

Carlo Prater (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

Why, you ask? His Canadian opponent is a ground ace. In fact, 13 of Grant’s 17 career wins have come by way of submission and he has only been submitted once in his career. That’s a tall order for even someone like Prater to overcome. Prater should survive until the final bell, but look for Grant to take home a lopsided decision victory in this lightweight affair.

Henderson: I like the potential for a ground war in this one, but when two foes come in with such vaunted submission games, a striking battle is likely to break out. If that’s the case, it could be anybody’s ball game.  Given his experience and skill set, I’d have to lean towards Prater in that case.

But let’s say our own hopes of a BJJ showcase turn out to be true.  Grant is a submission ace, but he’s still only a brown belt.  Prater supplements his BJJ black belt with a brown belt in judo.  I like Prater’s chances for ending up on top.  That’s not to say Grant won’t stay busy from the bottom and make this interesting, but having a black belt on top of you can spell trouble.

I’m going to have to disagree with Rob on this one.  I like Prater to pull off the submission win.

MW: Brad Tavares (7-1) vs. Dongi Yang (10-2)

Tatum: Former Ultimate Fighter season 11 combatant Brad Tavares suffered the first loss of his career at UFC 132 against Aaron Simpson and will look to rebound against Korean fighter Dongi Yang—who coincidentally is coming off a loss to TUF 11 winner Court McGee.

Brad Tavares (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

Tavares, at just 24 years old, is just coming into his own as a fighter. Although the Hawaiian struggled against Simpson’s grinding style, he has shown flashes of greatness in his wins over Seth Baczynski and Phil Baroni. His long frame and athletic build can pose problems for any opponent.

Meanwhile, Yang has had an up-and-down UFC run. While he possesses a black belt in judo, the Korean has been content to stand and bang with his opponents. It has twice left him on the wrong end of the scorecards, against McGee and another TUF 11 vet, Chris Camozzi.

In my eyes, this is Tavares’ fight to lose. Yang hasn’t shown much other than a strong chin. As long as the fight stays standing, Tavares should pick Yang apart with his more explosive striking. Look for the Hawaiian to take home a clear-cut unanimous decision win, which may earn Yang his walking papers from the promotion.

Henderson: Maybe the real answer here is that Yang suffers from a TUF curse.  He submitted his opponent in his first pro fight and put away nine others via TKO. But whenever he runs into a former resident of the TUF house, he goes to the judges and doesn’t end up with a happy ending. That’s not a good sign, given that Yang is facing TUF 11’s Tavares.

Yang’s loss to Camozzi came via split decision, while McGee edged him out with a unanimous verdict.  I believe Tavares falls somewhere in between McGee and Camozzi, with a solid striking game and a better grappling arsenal than Camozzi.

Dongi Yang (R) (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

I can’t say I disagree with Rob’s view on the outcome.  Yang has favored stand-up fights where he gets outpointed, and Tavares will be the third TUF alum to show Yang why that just isn’t a good strategy. Tavares takes the fight on all three judges’ scorecard for the unanimous nod.

Schafer: Urgh, nothing worse than another guy stuck on banging his own brains out on his opponents’ fists. I suppose Yang has a puncher’s chance against Tavares, but not a really reliable one. I’m also not a huge fan of superstitions, though I like this TUF theme here, but I’m running with the curse analysis as well (it’s more fun). Plus, there has to be unexplainable forces at work preventing the Chicago Cubs from winning another World Series.

On a more serious note, I don’t think there is much more for me to add to my colleagues’ solid assessment of this fight. Chin alone might save Yang from getting knocked out, but it won’t save him from the judges’ scorecards. Tavares has been in the Octagon with better guys and should prevail with a decision win.

LW: Marcus LeVesseur (21-5) vs. Cody McKenzie (12-2)

Henderson: Cody McKenzie was to fight veteran Aaron Riley, but with Riley forced out of the bout, he will now welcome lightweight prospect Marcus LeVesseur to the Octagon.

Marcus LeVesseur (R) (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

We all know McKenzie’s game plan by now: do whatever it takes to find that guillotine choke. It’s sort of like New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera’s cutter—you know it’s coming, but can you overcome it?  The answer in his days on The Ultimate Fighter 12 and prior was that opponents just couldn’t handle it—at least until Nam Phan knocked him out in the quarterfinals of the reality series tournament. Since then, opponents have found that they can use a different variety of choke to dispose of McKenzie, as Yves Edwards and Vagner Rocha both demonstrated when they took McKenzie’s back and sunk in a rear-naked choke for the finish.  McKenzie has reached a level of competition where his foes are smart enough to prepare for McKenzie’s formerly secret weapon.  He’ll still catch some guillotines, but they won’t come as easily.

That choke is a concern in this fight though, since he’ll be facing a wrestler who quite likely will have a case of the Octagon jitters.  Marcus LeVesseur went 155-0 in NCAA Division III wrestling competition and finished his amateur wrestling career on a 296-match winning streak, taking home four NCAA national titles in individual competition, as well as two team championships and four state high school individual titles.  He should be able to take McKenzie down at will.  The question is whether he’ll want to.

McKenzie’s game has narrowed to one signature move, whereas LeVesseur has a wrestling game that has helped him set up submissions and also has a set of hands that has helped him secure 10 wins via some form of knockout.  LeVesseur is a seasoned veteran who won’t just charge at McKenzie while leaving his neck exposed.  I look for LeVesseur to keep this standing long enough to rock McKenzie. Once it hits the mat, LeVesseur’s wrestling will allow him to control positioning and eventually work to McKenzie’s back for the rear-naked choke finish.

Schafer: Cody “Vendetta” McKenzie is an interesting character, not your typical athletic and/or well-rounded mixed martial artist. In fact, he’s one of the few known Alaskan fighters in the game, drinks and indulges in nicotine products, looks like he hasn’t bothered with a dumbbell his whole career, and has a notorious guillotine he has used to finish all but one of his 12 victories.

His guillotine makes descendants of Louis XVI quiver—it’s in the same realm as Ronda Rousey’s armbar. McKenzie won his first fight by TKO, second by triangle choke and then sunk 10 consecutive guillotine chokes, going undefeated until Yves Edwards. The problem with being so one-dimensional in the toughest organization in the sport is once the mystique wears thin, a fighter like McKenzie becomes far too predictable and opponents start taking advantage.

Cody McKenzie (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

Going in against LeVesseur on a two-fight losing skid, we might be in the midst of McKenzie’s less-than-graceful decline before he has the chance to really evolve his game enough to compete at this level. I hope he proves me wrong because the sport needs guys like him; they add a fun nostalgic break from the well-rounded carbon copies coming onto the scene these days. It’s not too crazy to think LeVesseur will get overconfident enough to go for takedowns and get caught in a McKenzie guillotine. That would be a blast and that’s what I’m sticking with.

Tatum: Do you know what happens to one-trick ponies? They get sent to pasture after their act gets tired. Unfortunately for McKenzie, LeVesseur is about to send him searching for a new area to graze.

Both of my colleagues have explained this one as clearly as possible. LeVesseur is one of the most decorated, non-Division I amateur wrestlers to ever transition to MMA and his only game plan will be to avoid the guillotine. That’s pretty straightforward, especially for someone with more than 25 fights and hundreds of wrestling matches on his resume.

Echoing Bryan, I don’t see how McKenzie wins this fight. LeVesseur will pick his spots on the feet before finishing off the TUF alum on the mat. If anything, McKenzie should take the third straight rear-naked choke loss as the opportunity and motivation he needs to evolve as a fighter.

Top Photo: Rafael dos Anjos (L) (James Law/Heavy MMA)

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