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UFC Vegas 43 Main Card On ESPN+ (6 p.m. ET):

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135 lbs.: Ketlen Vieira vs. Miesha Tate – This is an intriguing fight and a tough one to call in many ways. At one time, Ketlen Vieira looked to be a legitimate challenger to Amanda Nunes. The Brazilian had won her first four UFC fights, including a big victory over Cat Zingano. Unfortunately, Vieira’s fifth fight saw her get flatlined by Irena Aldana. It was Vieira’s first professional loss and a minor hiccup. However, after bouncing back against Sijara Eubanks, Vieira once again lost, this time to Yana Kunitskaya. With only four fights in four years, Vieira has not only been inactive, but in ways, figured out. Then there is Tate, who retired in 2016. The itch however came back for the former Women’s UFC Bantamweight Champion, as she returned to the octagon 56 months later. Successfully I might add, as Tate looked in more ways than not, better than ever. I will say though, while she fought a tough Marion Reneau, it was also a fighter not only retiring, but one who had lost four consecutive fights heading in.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Tate. If the Cupcake that fought Reneau shows up, Vieira is in for a tough night at the office. A low output striker, Vieira more often than not, looks to takedown her foes and control them. The same could be said about Tate, except that in her fight against Reneau she showed excellent striking. In fact, the 65 significant strikes she landed in a little more than two rounds of action, was the most she has ever landed in her previous nine UFC fights. As a new look Tate, and someone known for having excellent cardio, the longer this fight goes, the more the veteran will take over. So with that said, I predict Tate wins via late submission.

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170 lbs.: Michael Chiesa vs. Sean Brady – As coined by Ariel Helwani, this is the people’s main event. In one corner, you have a UFC veteran in Michael Chiesa. The Ultimate Fighter 15 winner in 2012, Chiesa has racked up eleven wins in his sixteen fights. Perhaps the best version of Chiesa though, has come at Welterweight, as he no longer has to kill himself to cut weight. With four wins in the weight class, including huge wins over Rafael Dos Anjos and Neil Magny, Chiesa isn’t too far off from getting his shot at the title. However, he has a tough task in front of him, as you have a rising star in Sean Brady in the other corner. In just four fights inside the octagon, Brady has already cracked the division’s top fifteen. Undefeated in mixed martial arts, Brady has not only shown immense talent, but a style that breaks opponents. With stoppages in back-to-back fights, Brady heads into the biggest fight of his life with momentum.

As for a prediction, I have Chiesa. While Brady has a bright future in the UFC, I believe that the jump from fighting Jake Matthews to Michael Chiesa is substantial. Not that Brady isn’t capable of fighting the likes of Chiesa, but the talent gap between Maverick and Matthews is glaring. However, I still believe this fight will be competitive and that’s more or less due to Brady. The Philadelphian is a well rounded fighter and a real workhorse. Landing nearly five significant strikes per minute and over 2.5 takedowns per fifteen minutes, Brady has several routes to victory. The problem though is that Chiesa is a relentless grappler and grinder. Massive for the weight class, Chiesa will impose his will on Brady and rack up valuable control time. In the end, Chiesa will walk away the victor via decision.

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135 lbs.: Kyung Ho Kang vs. Rani Yahya – In what is becoming a tough division to crack the top fifteen, both men have a chance here. Since joining the UFC in 2011, Rani Yahya has been excellent. In eighteen fights, Yahya is 12-4 with two no contests. However, Yahya has been more inactive than not of late, costing a real chance to finally get himself a ranked opponent. The same could be said about Kang, who served his mandatory two-year military commitment in the midst of his UFC career. Since returning in 2018, Kang has won four of five fights. The last of which came in December of 2019, nearly two years ago.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Kang. In what I expect to be a close fight, I believe Kang’s slightly higher output and wrestling ultimately edge this out. Obviously Yahya is an excellent grappler and would welcome the fight to hit the mat, but Kang’s strength and wrestling chops should aid him in keeping this upright. While Yahya has improved his standup, it’s not a strength of his. On the other hand, Kang isn’t world class on the feet, but he’s good enough to give Yahya fits. Behind a simple jab and timely takedowns, I see Kang outpointing Yahya over three rounds for a decision victory.

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125 lbs.: Joanne Wood vs. Taila Santos – This is excellent matchmaking, as both women are closing in on a title shot. For Joanne Wood, it seems like she has lost three title eliminator fights since joining the Flyweight division in 2018. However, in a shallow division that needs fresh title contenders, Wood remains a win or two away from a title shot. With excellent striking, Wood ranks number all-time in the Flyweight division in total strikes landed, significant strikes landed per minute and strike differential. Given Valentina Shevchenko has fought one more fight at Flyweight than Wood, it’s a real nod to just how talented on the feet Jojo is. Where she had her issues is with her submission defense and at times, leaky takedown defense. Something that Taila Santos will test, as the Brazilian has been a takedown machine during this three-fight win streak. In fact, Santos has landed a combined eleven takedowns in that span. With immense physical strength and good striking, Santos may be a legitimate looming test for Shevchenko in due time.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Wood. While I expect Santos to implement a heavy wrestling approach, I believe that the later the fight goes, the more you’ll start to see Wood shrug off her takedown attempts. While on the feet, Santos throws excellent leg kicks, but Wood is the better of the two. Nearly doubling Santos’ significant strikes per minute, Wood’s high output will be the difference. In the end, I expect this to be close, but Wood gets the nod via decision.

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135 lbs.: Davey Grant vs. Adrian Yanez – I’m excited for this fight. At one point, Davey Grant barely ever struck with his opponents. Since working on his standup, he doesn’t seem to mind going toe-to-toe with anyone. That could be problematic however, as Adrian Yanez is not only a rising star, but an excellent striker. With legitimate power, Yanez has already recorded four knockdowns in three UFC fights. While Yanez was met with adversity in his last fight against Randy Costa, he turned it up in the second round and put down Costa for his third straight knockout victory in the UFC. If I’m Grant, I’m using my grappling in this fight. Not because he can’t win on the feet, but Yanez lives there while Grant is renting it out.

As for a prediction, I have Yanez winning. He’s just a clean and technical striker, with a good chin and legitimate power. While Grant has seen improvements in his striking, he has fallen in love with it just a little too much for my liking. Having never been knocked out, Grant boasts an excellent chin. However, Grant has never faced a striker like Yanez. And for that reason, as well as Grant believing in his striking abilities a little too much, I foresee Yanez winning via knockout.

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UFC Vegas 43 Prelims Card On ESPN+ (3 p.m. ET):

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145 lbs.: Pat Sabatini vs. Tucker Lutz – This is an excellent fight and one that will catapult the winner to potentially fighting a top fifteen foe. Tucker Lutz is a well rounded fighter. In his UFC debut against Kevin Aguilar, Lutz did a great job of mixing up his attacks, landing 99 significant strikes and three takedowns. While round three had some dicey moments, Lutz looked excellent for the majority of the fight. This second go around will be tougher though, as Pat Sabatini is a tough man to face. With excellent grappling and submission abilities, Sabatini can be a nightmare for those who elect to grapple with him. Just ask Jamall Emmers, who was dominating Sabatini and eventually overstayed his welcome on the ground with the submission expert, succumbing to a heel hook.

As for a prediction, I have Lutz winning. While Sabatini is dangerous on the ground, it’s apparent that he can be neutralized by keeping the fight upright. Given Lutz’s well rounded abilities, I believe that his wrestling can dictate where the fight goes. With solid crisp striking and being a high output striker, Lutz has a vast advantage in the standup department. In the end, anything can happen, but I believe Lutz has the abilities to lean this fight in his favor. So with that said, I predict Lutz wins via decision.

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155 lbs.: Rafa Garcia vs. Natan Levy – This is a tough fight to call, and the oddsmakers agree given it’s a near pick’em. Rafa Garcia came into the UFC with some steam, and while had a tough opponent in his debut, it was more the second fight that kind of changed perspectives. Not to discredit Chris Gruetzemacher, but Garcia was a -330 favorite for a reason in that fight. Regardless, he will get a third chance at a UFC victory against UFC debutant Natan Levy. A rather inexperienced fighter, Levy made the most of his opportunity in Dana White’s Contender Series. He submitted Shaheen Santana in the third round, earning a contract in the process. The one concern I have for Levy, is that other than the DWCS fight, he had predominantly fought at Featherweight.

As for a prediction, I have Garcia winning. As the more natural Lightweight and with excellent cardio, I feel like he will be able to grind down Levy. Obviously the Gruetzemacher fights looms in the back of my mind, but Garcia literally beat Estevan Payan, Erick Gonzalez and Humberto Bandenay before being signed by the UFC. For anyone’s count, that’s two former UFC fighters and one current. Regardless, with his job on the line, I expect Garcia to fight with urgency to win. Using his size and wrestling, I predict Garcia will win via decision.

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115 lbs.: Loopy Godinez vs. Loma Lookboonmee – When Lupita Godinez steps into the octagon, it will be her third fight in 42 days. A UFC record. Most recently, Godinez lost to Luana Carolina. While she made history in the UFC with the quickest turnaround from a fight, she unsuccessfully set another record with two victories in a seven day span. However, a month later, Godinez returns to the octagon. She will have her hands full though, as she fights the Muay Thai specialist Luka Lookboonmee. A pure striker, Lookboonmee likes to set the tone on the feet with her high output and accuracy. With nearly six significant strikes landed per minute, Lookboonmee is not an easy fighter to go toe-to-toe with.

As for a prediction, I have Godinez winning. While she faltered in her last fight, the size difference and time span in between fights were just too much to overcome. The one positive I did get from that fight, is that Godinez isn’t afraid to commit to a heavy takedown game plan. With excellent size and strength at Strawweight, that same plan should work here. Lookboonmee isn’t the biggest Strawweight and while she has done a fairly good job of fending off takedowns, a strong wrestler like Godinez isn’t something she’s had to deal with. So with that said, I have Godinez winning via decision.

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155 lbs.: Terrance McKinney vs. Fares Ziam – This should be an interesting fight, and one that should last more than the seven seconds Terrance McKinney’s debut lasted. McKinney is a rather well rounded fighter, who has been absolutely devastating on the feet of late. With four consecutive knockouts, three of which have lasted seventeen seconds or less, McKinney is becoming a feared man to stand across from. Fares Ziam though is a tough challenge, as he is not only defensively sound, but a patient striker. Landing a mere 2.13 significant strikes per minute, Ziam takes his time and looks to pick opponents from the outside. The one problem Ziam has shown vulnerability to, is being taken down. Given McKinney has some wrestling chops, it will be interesting to see if he mixes in some takedowns with his striking.

As for a prediction, I have McKinney winning. While Ziam has done a good job outpointing foes, his low output isn’t exactly a great quality. Having little to no urgency, and lacking the volume necessary to discourage opponents, Ziam is a ticking time bomb to be beaten. Throw in his iffy takedown defense and I feel there are several ways for McKinney to win. As long as McKinney doesn’t get too wild on the feet or gas himself out, I believe he will get the job done. So with all that said, I predict that McKinney wins via TKO.

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125 lbs.: Cody Durden vs. Aori Qileng – This is an early contender for ‘Fight of the Night’, as both men have established themselves as high action fighters. Cody Durden however, is the finisher among the two. Winning ten of his eleven fights via stoppage, Durden entered the UFC with potential to be a contender at Flyweight. Primarily a wrestler, Durden isn’t afraid to spam takedown attempts to get the fight to the mat. Durden also has some striking chops, often pumping a solid jab to set up his other attacks. In his previous two fights, Durden had moments of dominant control time, but ultimately settled for a draw in one fight and was submitted in the other. This third attempt at a victory won’t come easy either, as Qileng Aori is a relentless fighter with loads of heart. Using pressure, an iron chin and high output, Aori looks to break fighters. Against Jeff Molina, Aori looked better than a fighter with seven losses and more powerful than his five knockouts in eighteen wins indicate. If there is any certainty however, it’s that regardless of round, Aori will never stop fighting and never stop coming forward.

As for a prediction, I have Durden. While this is a tough fight to pick, I believe Durden’s wrestling is going to be key to neutralizing Aori and winning the fight. The one worry I do have though, is if Durden struggles to take Aori down. Not only will the striking be closely contested, but the cardio and pace of Aori will take over the later the fight goes. However, I’m fairly confident in Durden’s wrestling and the fact that in past fights, Aori was taken down by lesser foes. In the end, I predict that Durden gets it done via submission.

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145 lbs.: Shayilan Nuerdanbieke vs. Sean Soriano – In regards to how this fight plays out, it seems very simple. Sean Soriano is a striker, who has struggled against wrestlers and grapplers. Should he succeed in keeping this fight upright, he will win. However, if Shayilan Nuerdanbieke, who is a wrestler, manages to bully Soriano down to the mat, he will win. Given Soriano has been taken down three or more times in each of his four fights, as well as fifteen total times, a path to victory is certainly there for Nuerdanbieke. The only problem is, Nuerdanbieke will have to fare better in the wrestling department than his UFC debut, which saw him land only two of his fourteen takedown attempts.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Soriano. While the American has struggled with fighters that wrestle or grapple, Nuerdanbieke isn’t at the caliber of his past opponents. Upon further review of Nuerdanbieke’s resume, before debuting in the UFC, in twenty-five fights, he fought no one notable. While I could see Nuerdanbieke succeed early in grinding Soriano, as the fight wanes and the striking battles ensue, Soriano will walk away with the victory. Let’s say via late TKO.

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115 lbs.: Sam Hughes vs. Luana Pinheiro – Since making her UFC debut in December of 2020, Sam Hughes has had a tough time finding her footing. Perhaps signing with the UFC after five professional fights and in back-to-back UFC bouts, fighting the likes of Tecia Torres and Loma Lookboonmee wasn’t exactly a recipe for success. Stepping in on short notice with your job on the line against Luana Pinheiro isn’t either. In fact, given Hughes’ issues with pressure and grappling, and the fact that she was taken down four times by Muay Thai specialist Loma Lookboonmee, one would have the foresight to believe this is a difficult fight for Sampage.

As for a prediction, I have Pinheiro winning. Against Randa Markos, which was a fast and furious fight, she had several memorable moments. Perhaps the most memorable was her fast hands and strength, as she literally tossed Markos around in the octagon. Landing a total of five takedowns before an illegal upkick that halted the fight in the opening round, one can fathom how Pinheiro fares against Hughes, who as I noted previously, was taken down four times by a Muay Thai specialist. In the end, I believe Pinheiro dominates Hughes, eventually winning via TKO.

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