Taking place in Houston, Texas, UFC 166 will bring us one of the most historical match-ups in MMA. Accompanied by a stacked barrage of explosive fights in the main card, this card’s prelims brings its fair share of heat as well. We’ll see Tim Boetsch square off against CB Dolloway to regain his place among the elite at 185, we’ll see if Hector Lombard’s desperate drop to welterweight can save his career as he battles big name Nate Marquardt, and we’ll see if George Sotiropoulos can finally rack up a win. Let’s take a look at UFC 166’s prelims:

Dustin Pague vs. Kyoji Horiguchi

Starting things off in the bantamweight division, TUF 14 alumni Dustin Pague will fight to end his 3-fight skid as he takes on Japan’s Kyoji Horiguchi. Kyoji is a powerful striker trained under the legendary “Kid” Yamamoto whose only loss in MMA has come by decision to Masakatsu Ueda. It’ll be Kyoji’s thunderous boxing game against Dustin’s durable grappling game in this match-up.

Coming into this fight, Pague will have a large height and reach advantage and will also be the bigger of the two fighters. It’s fairly common for Japanese fighters in MMA not to cut weight, so expect Horiguchi to come in at a comfortable weight to him, but will be undersized compared to Pague. Pague will need this win he wants to continue as an employee of the UFC, so expect him to come in desperate, but focused. Kyoji is a tough guy, but Pague holds the advantage in experience and will not be fazed. Expect Kyoji to show why he’s such a feared striker by rocking and hurting Pague, but Dustin should be able to recover and take control of the fight once he has found his rhythm. The length advantage on the feet should be enough to keep him out of harm’s way, and his ground skills will be the deciding factor in the end.

Dustin Pague via Unanimous Decision 

Jeremy Larsen vs. Andre Fili

This next bout will also feature a UFC newcomer as the highly anticipated Alpha Male trained featherweight, Andre Fili, will debut against two-time UFC veteran Jeremy Larsen. Fili is on an eight-fight winning streak with a 12-1 record; his only loss being by injury in the 5th round. Fili is an explosive fighter on the feet and on the ground and looks for the finish each and every time. Larsen on the other hand is a strong competitor who can take the fight anywhere to his opponent. He was knocked out in both of his UFC appearances, but did well enough to let the UFC give him another shot.

It’s not often the UFC newcomer to favored over the vet, but this is one of those cases. Fili has been looked at as a bright promising prospect for a while, and this Saturday, he will get a chance to show the world who he is. Jeremy Larsen is a tough opponent, but Fili is simply too well-rounded and too dangerous. Fili’s powerful kicking and striking game will give Larsen troubles, and force him to get desperate for takedowns. This will lead him to further issue as he battles Fili’s submissions, and ultimately will succumb to strikes in the second round.

Andre Fili via 2nd Rd TKO 

Tony Ferguson vs. Mike Rio 

TUF 13 winner, Tony Ferguson, was denied entry to the upper-half of the welterweight division when he was shut down by Michael Johnson in May of last year. Now, he stands ready to bounce back against Mike Rio, who is also looking to rebound from a loss, his was to Francisco Trinaldo in May of this year. Rio is a 4-time All American wrestler and 2-time Florida State Champion. Rio’s wrestling is easily the strongest aspect of his MMA game, but he’ll need to do more than just wrestle if he wants any hopes at being impressive.

Ferguson now knows what is needed of him to move in the division and face the elite guys, and should be able to rebound from his Johnson loss with a Mike Rio win. Ferguson’s takedown defense is well sound which should allow him to keep the fight standing. On the feet, Ferguson’s counter-striking and heavy hands will give Rio problems and send him to his end in the first round. Rio simply does not offer much on the feet, and if he can’t get in control of this fight with the takedowns, it’ll be Ferguson all the way.

Tony Ferguson via 1st Rd TKO 

TJ Waldburger vs. Adlan Amagov

At 170 lbs, we’re greeted with a typical “striker vs. grappler” match-up as TJ Waldburger meets Adlan Amagov. Amagov is an experienced Sambo fighter who has fought in 3 weight classes through-out his career and comes in as a very large welterweight. At 6′ 2”, Amagov’s size will make him a dangerous force anywhere this fight goes. For Amagov, expect him to keep this fight on the feet as he favors the stand-up as opposed to using his Sambo skills in a close range scenario. Perhaps tying up with TJ Waldburger would not be a smart idea, as 13 of his 16 wins are by submission and has proven to be quite the dangerous foe. With a 16-7 record and several bouts against top-level competitors, Waldburger is not a stranger to dangerous fighters and often shows them a thing or two on the ground. That being said, he’ll have to get the fight to the ground if he wants it there.

Amagov’s size and expertise in Sambo should do wonders in fending off Waldburger’s takedowns. TJ’s only chance is to tuck his chin, push forward, and try to make Amagov crack with constant pressure. However, Amagov’s vast arsenal of kicking techniques will make that difficult and will most likely be forced to fight in the Russian’s range for the better part of 3 rounds. It’ll most likely be a close fight, as Waldburger may score a takedown eventually, but Amagov should take the decision in the end.

Adlan Amagov via Split Decision 

KJ Noons vs. George Sotiropoulos

Both KJ Noons and George Sotiropoulos have something in common, a current 3-fight losing streak. Luckily for Noons, his is not all inside of the UFC like George’s is, but both are close to being put on the chopping block. Sotiropoulos, once thought of as a dark-horse in the talented lightweight division, has had his striking game exploited in knockout defeats to Rafael dos Anjos and Ross Pearson, not to mention his decision loss to Dennis Siver prior to those. George is an extremely talented grappler, but his opponent, KJ Noons, will have none of that.

KJ is known for his fluid boxing and utilization of angles, feints, and all the little sneaky stuff you don’t really pay attention to when watching someone fight. While his talent isn’t always reflected by the outcome, Noons is still one of the better boxers in the 155lb division. His loss to Cerrone should act as a wake-up call that he needs to do more work about adjusting in the middle of fights, as Sotiropoulos could take control of this fight from the beginning if he lets him.

With that said, it’ll be the footwork of Noons that will depict the outcome here. If he can keep moving, circling, and staying off the cage like I think he will, then he should have his way with George on the feet as he batters him and avoids the takedowns. It’ll be a back-and-forth war on the feet, but George will finally fall in the third.

KJ Noons via 3rd Rd TKO 

Jessica Eye vs. Sarah Kaufman

Two bantamweight women will make their ways to the UFC for the first time this Saturday in what should be an explosive bout for women’s MMA. The long-awaited and much talked about Canadian, Sarah Kaufman, will take on Ohio’s underdog Jessica Eye who normally competes at 125lbs, but will be moving up to seize this opportunity.

Kaufman is a true warrior in the cage and often lets her opponents have a little too much success than they should, let’s hope she doesn’t do that here as Jessica Eye would take no hesitance in taking advantage of any situation. Kaufman is a powerful force everywhere the fight goes, but is primarily a strong striker. Eye will have to stay cautious on the feet if she wants to catch Kaufman and take her down, which is where she is arguably at her worst. Eye’s size disadvantage will make that hard, as will Kaufman’s pressure and aggression. Expect these two to go at it for three rounds, but it’ll be Kaufman’s volume and arsenal of strikes that should garner her a much-deserved decision.

Sarah Kaufman via Unanimous Decision 

Nate Marquardt vs. Hector Lombard 

This fight has been meant to happen ever since Lombard called Marquardt out back when they were both in different organizations. Now they find themselves scheduled against eachother in a grudge-match in the UFC with both fighters desperate for a win. Lombard hasn’t quite lived up the hype that has been presented to him, but could perhaps seize this opportunity to do that. With a drop to 170lbs, Lombard’s hopes of rejuvenating his career could be at its final moments. Rousimar Palhares showed the impossible by dropping down to welterweight, and was successful, so we’ll see if Lombard can do the same. Marquardt on the other hand is also a very large competitor at 170lbs, but unfortunately that size did nothing for him when he was knocked out by Jake Ellenberger in his UFC return.

Stylistically, this is a very intriguing fight as Lombard and Marquardt are perfect matches against eachother. Both fighters have the desire to keep fights on the feet and entertain the crowd, but both can tie up and use their appropriate skill sets to win fights. When Lombard isn’t swinging lightning-fast haymakers, he’s often creeping forward flat-footed waiting to explode. Marquardt will need to exploit this and use his kicking game to chop down Lombard. It’ll be the strategy of investment that Nate will need to use against Lombard; landing small techniques early in the fight for them to pay off later. However, Lombard’s explosive power can end this fight in an instant and seeing as how he is desperate for a victory, we could see a very aggressive Hector Lombard. This will spill trouble for Marquardt as he really as no means of countering the crushing haymakers of Hector Lombard. Expect this fight to look much like Marquardt/Ellenberger as Hector Lombard waits, but finds his chance to explode and end this fight in spectacular fashion.

Hector Lombard via 1st Rd KO 

Tim Boetsch vs. CB Dolloway

Originally slated against Luke Rockhold, Boetsch now faces the grinding wrestler CB Dolloway to headline UFC 166’s prelims. Dolloway was last seen in a fight-of-the-night performance against Daniel Sarafian which saw vast improvements in his striking game. On the other side, Tim Boetsch will be fighting to avoid a three-fight skid in this bout, and is also fighting to get back to being a front-runner in the middleweight division. Two upset victories over Yushin Okami and Hector Lombard placed Boetsch high in the rankings, but two straight defeats saw him plummet downward.

Unfortunately for Boetsch, Dolloway is a stylistical nightmare for him. Boetsch has always suffered from the hands of stronger wrestlers who can take him down, and soften him up with ground and pound, which is exactly what CB will be looking to do. Now with some new-and-improved striking to Dolloway’s arsenal, he can keep the fight somewhat competitive on the feet. Look for Boetsch to be more fluid and perhaps have the larger chance of getting a knockout, but CB knows how to fight smart and avoid getting caught. Dolloway’s lightning-fast takedowns coupled with his ground and pound will tire out Boetsch and carve the path to victory for Dolloway.

CB Dolloway via Unanimous Decision