Headlining off UFC Fight Night 78’s Fox Sports 1 televised preliminary card is a bantamweight contest between Erik Perez and Taylor Lapilus that should produce fireworks. Perez is returning from a 17 month layoff due to a shoulder injury he sustained in training, while Lapilus has recorded two dominant victories since being signed to the UFC last year. Erik Perez (14-6 MMA, 4-2 UFC, -115 favorite) The now 25-year old Perez had a ton of hype during his first few UFC fights. He finished his first three opponents in the first round, two by knockout and one by submission. Albeit, the competition he beat was not exactly top-notch. Nevertheless, many fans were calling him the next Mexican fighter that had superstar potential and could help the UFC gain a foothold in the region, which has traditionally been a very boxing-heavy market. However, Perez’s hype train was soon derailed, as he lost two out of his next three contests. Veteran Takeya Mizugaki beat him by decision and Bryan Caraway exploited his ground game and forced him to tap to a rear-naked choke. It has now been 17 months since his fight with Caraway, as he had to take time off to have surgery on and then rehab his injured shoulder. Perez will look to get back on the winning track in front of a hometown crowd in Mexico on Saturday night. Perez, a member of Team Jackson-Winkeljohn in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is an interesting fighter because at times he can fight quite technically, but there are other occasions when he just bites down on his mouthpiece and wings punches as hard as he can, which is something that has traditionally made Mexican fighters very popular. The 25-year old has a decent jab and a wild, yet powerful overhand right that he throws regularly. He often fires a double jab followed by an overhand right, which he telegraphs. Body kicks, flying knees, and step-in knees are also weapons of choice for the young Mexican. Perez has been diligently working on his ground game but he is still raw in that area. His wrestling is decent; he can hit an occasional double or single leg takedowns, but his takedown defense is suspect and he often makes poor decisions on the ground. A poor decision on the ground in his last contest eventually cost him the fight. Conditioning should not be an issue for the youngster and he should be able to push a hard pace for three full rounds. Taylor Lapilus (10-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC, -105 underdog) Facing Perez will be another young fighter in Taylor Lapilus from France. Lapilus pretty much came out of nowhere in late 2014. He was supposed to fight Dennis Siver in October of 2014, but the Swedish Mixed Martial Arts Federation deemed him an unsuitable opponent. Not to be discouraged by this setback, Lapilus made his UFC debut against Rocky Lee in April of this year. He absolutely dominated Lee for three rounds and picked up an easy unanimous decision victory. However, the biggest win of his career came in his next outing against Ulka Sasaki, who at one time was a super hyped prospect. Lapilus beat the brakes off him for a little over one round before finishing him with a beautiful combination against the fence. He now looks to keep his undefeated UFC record intact by defeating Perez on Saturday night. The 23-old is a smooth, technical striker that utilizes good footwork and cuts excellent angles. Fighting out of a southpaw stance, he fires a crisp jab and a thudding straight left hand. Additionally, his leg and body kicks are very damaging. Shooting a double-leg on Lapilus is also dangerous, as he excels at timing a step-in knee to his opponent’s body or head. Further, the Frenchman’s ring craft is proficient, as he cuts the cage off nicely and does great work when he gets his opponent trapped against the fence. The one question mark we don’t have a full answer to is his defensive grappling and wrestling. Lapilus’ takedown defense has held up so far, but he has not faced any really good wrestlers that can test him in that area. Further, his submission defense against high-quality competition is a question mark as well. However, Lapilus does have six submission victories out of his ten career wins. Like Perez, he has strong conditioning and can push a hard pace for 15 minutes. Thoughts This is excellent matchmaking by the UFC. Perez was once a considerably hyped prospect that is now coming off a 17 month layoff, while Lapilus is a young prospect on the rise that has looked great in his first two appearances inside the Octagon. Both like to stand and trade with their opponents, though Perez is more likely to mix in takedowns to keep his opponent guessing. I think Lapilus’ takedown defense should be sufficient to keep this fight on the feet. If it remains standing, Lapilus is the superior technician and has better footwork and angles, but Perez is wild and throws a lot of volume. If this comes down to purely a standup fight, I like the Frenchman’s chances. His attacks are more effective and precise, but that may not matter if all the judges see is Perez throwing more punches but not really landing anything significant. This could come down to a controversial decision, especially with this fight taking place in Perez’s home country. Still, I have to pick Lapilus based on his skillset and the significant amount of time that Perez had to take off due to injuries. The Prediction: Taylor Lapilus defeats Erik Perez by unanimous decision
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