UFC Vegas 54 Main Card On ESPN2/ESPN+ (10 p.m. ET):

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205 lbs.: Jan Blachowicz vs. Aleksandar Rakic – The main-event comes in the Light Heavyweight division, as the former Champion Jan Blachowicz takes on Aleksandar “Rocket” Rakic. Returning to the octagon for the first time since losing the Light Heavyweight Championship, Blachowicz will look to rebound here. Still ranked number one in the division, Blachowicz could very well be one victory away from a title shot. Meanwhile, Rakic comes into this fight a winner of two straight. Improving his UFC record to 6-1 with back-to-back wins over title challengers in Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos, Rakic appears to be a victory over Blachowicz away from fighting for the title next.

As for a prediction, I have Blachowicz winning. While this a tough fight to call, I believe Blachowicz’s five round experience will loom large. Having recently lost his title, in a manner that included being taken down, Blachowicz seemingly was re-visited by old demons. One’s that saw Blachowicz lose four out of five fights early in his UFC tenure. However, to his credit, since that stretch of losses, Blachowicz has largely improved upon keeping the fight standing. In Blachowicz’s last eleven fights, he has shrugged off eighteen of twenty-two takedowns attempts – which includes Glover Teixeira’s two takedowns.

Given Rakic, who is a solid striker with legitimate power has resorted to wrestling of late, one could assume he may try to look to follow Teixeira’s blueprint. The one problem I foresee though for Rakic, is that he poses no submission threat. While it’s plausible he can rinse and repeat, I’m not so certain he can do such for five rounds. Blachowicz having fought for twenty-five minutes twice gives him a vast edge. One in which I see aiding Blachowicz to outlast Rakic, and win via TKO.

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205 lbs.: Ion Cutelaba vs. Ryan Spann – The co-main event comes in the Light Heavyweight division, as Ryan “Superman” Spann takes on Ion “The Hulk” Cutelaba. After storming into the UFC with four straight wins, Spann has hit a minor roadblock. A loser of two of the last three, including the most recent fight against Anthony Smith, Spann will look bounce back here. Still ranked 13th, Spann is positioned to climb back into the top ten with a victory. Meanwhile, Cutelaba comes into this fight off a victory over Devin Clark. A much needed win for the Hulk, who had previously been 1-3-1 in his last five fights.

As for a prediction, I have Cutelaba winning. Before rattling off why, I must say, from a marketing perspective, this fight is a home run. The fact that these two men’s nicknames are Superman and Hulk, set up an unlikely DC verse Marvel clash inside the octagon. One in which, I don’t see lasting all that long. Cutelaba is a wild-man, who has power and immense physical strength. Utilizing his wrestling the last two fights, Cutelaba has secured seventeen takedowns and over thirteen minutes of control time. The concerns whenever he steps inside the octagon are his wildness, durability and cardio. With the last two fights going to a decision, there have been some improvements made to the later two concerns. However, like I mentioned before, I don’t think this one is going to the scorecards.

Spann is good striker with power, but the best aspect of his game lies with his submissions. Often looking for an opportunity to latch onto a neck, Spann has claimed eight of his eleven submission victims via guillotine choke. While he doesn’t necessarily need to get the fight down the mat to secure a choke, he will often look to get his opponents against the cage to decide his next step. The problem with Spann lies with his durability. Having been stopped in five of his seven losses, including the last three in round one, Spann’s chin can be suspect. It’s a reason why I see various ways Cutelaba can get the job done. So with that said, in a wild one, give me Cutelaba to win via KO.

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135 lbs.: Davey Grant vs. Louis Smolka – A performance bonus is likely to come out of this fight in the Bantamweight division, as Louis “Da Last Samarai” Smolka takes on Davey “Dangerous” Grant. Having traded wins and losses for the past six fights, Smolka will need to start to find some consistency. A true live by the sword, die by the sword fighter, Smolka hasn’t seen the scorecards in the past nine fights. Meanwhile, Grant comes into this fight looking to halt a two-fight skid. Having developed himself into a formidable striker, Grant has shown even in defeat to Marlon Vera and Adrian Yanez, that he can go toe-to-toe with more experienced strikers. Prior to the two consecutive loses, Grant has won three straight – two of which came via knockout.

As for a prediction, I have Grant winning. Stylistically speaking, this matchup favors Grant. With already established grappling abilities to go along with evolved striking, which has legitimate knockout power tied to it, Grant should be able to withstand whatever Smolka brings to the table. Smolka being once a flyweight contender, has seemingly lost his durability. Since returning to the UFC in 2018, he has been stopped in all three of his losses in round one. Now, Smolka having submission abilities is a little concerning given Grant has been stopped via submission four times in his career. However, in Grant’s last six fights, he’s only been taken down twice by Marlon Vera. Should he be able to keep this fight standing, it’s only a matter of time before the granite chinned slugger turns off Smolka’s lights. So with that said, I predict that Grant will rebound here via KO.

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125 lbs.: Katlyn Chookagian vs. Amanda Ribas – We have a pivotal fight in the Women’s Flyweight division, as former title challenger Katlyn “Blonde Fighter” Chookagian takes on Amanda Ribas. A winner of three straight and four of the last five, Chookagian appears to be closing in on another title shot. Having continually defeated potential contenders, Chookagian has held down her number one ranking in the Flyweight division. A win here, would make it awfully difficult to deny Blonde Fighter of a rightful second chance to dethrone Valentina Shevchenko. Meanwhile, Ribas is coming off an impressive victory over Virna Jandiroba. Returning to the Flyweight division, Ribas has been given a massive opportunity. One in which would catapult the Brazilian inside the top five, maybe even the number one spot.

As for a prediction, I have Ribas winning. Despite the six inch height disadvantage, Ribas brings a more well rounded and dangerous aspect to this fight. Physically strong, Ribas has had little issues getting opponents to the ground. In all six of her UFC fights, she has landed one or more takedowns. Mainly a striker, Ribas brings forth high ouput with a little blend of power. Averaging 4.65 significant strikes per minute, and eclipsing over 70 strikes three times, Ribas isn’t afraid to let her hands go.

The one knock on Ribas, could be her chin. She has been stopped via strikes twice in her career and dropped in each of her last two fights. However, Chookagian is far from a knockout artist. Of her seventeen wins, only two have come via knockout. The last of which came back in 2016 on the regional scene. An active striker herself, Chookagian averages 4.59 significant strikes per minute. A solid number, but given her 35% accuracy, means she hits air more often than not. Looking to keep range and pick foes apart, Chookagian has found success against those unwilling to pressure. Ribas being of the stalking variety, will be problematic. Throw in the fact that despite the chin concerns, Ribas is one of the more unhittable fighters with a 70% striking defense, and I believe Chookagian may hit more air than ever. With that said, give me the more complete fighter in Ribas to score the upset via decision.

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155 lbs.: Frank Camacho vs. Manuel Torres – We have a scrap in the Lightweight division, as Frank “The Crank” Camacho welcomes newcomer Manuel “El Loco” Torres. A loser of two straight and four of the last five, Camacho desperately could use a victory. Having been out of action for nearly two years, the hard hitting striker will need to quickly shake off any rust in what should be an action packed fight. Meanwhile, Torres comes into his UFC on three-fight win streak. Most recently competing on Dana White’s Contender Series, Torres earned a contract with a controversial TKO win over Kolton Englund.

As for a prediction, I have Torres winning. While this is the technically Camacho’s lowest level of competition since joining the UFC in 2017, at this juncture in his career, it almost doesn’t matter. A grappler, who has ignored implementing that part of his game inside the octagon, Camacho likes to trade hands. Active on the feet, Camacho is landing an excellent 6.67 significant strikes per minute. However and this is where Camacho falls short, he is absorbing an absurd 7.31 significant strikes. To put that in perspective, over a fifteen minutes fight, that’s nearly 110 strikes. Seeing that he’s coming off a 41-second knockout defeat, which was the fifth time he’s been knocked out and seventh time overall he’s been stopped, I’d say Camacho’s durability is unreliable.

On the other hand, Torres is a finisher to the core. Not looking to fight long, Torres has won eleven of his twelve victories via first round stoppage. In fact, the lone decision victory is the only time he’s even seen a second round in fourteen professional fights. Looking more composed than ever in his most recent fight, I’d have to say that this version of Torres may have some success inside the octagon. Despite Camacho being notoriously tough, the damage seems to be catching up, as his once granite chin has become brittle. So with that said, I predict that Torres will win via knockout.

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125 lbs.: Jake Hadley vs. Allan Nascimento – A Flyweight fight between newcomer Jake “White Kong” Hadley and Allan “Puro Osso” Nascimento kick off the main card. Making his UFC debut, the undefeated Hadley will look continue his dominance under the brightest lights. Having fought for Bellator, Cage Warriors and on Dana White’s Contender Series, Hadley looks to be more experienced than his eight professional fights make it seem. Meanwhile, Nascimento comes into this fight off an unsuccessful UFC debut. A fight in which was close, but saw Tagir Ulanbekov edge out the Brazilian via split decision. Looking to rebound, Nascimento will hope the second’s time the charm for his first UFC victory.

As for a prediction, I have Hadley winning. Flying under the radar, this fight could easily be a frontrunner for Fight of the Night. Hadley comes into this debut, UFC ready. He’s fought in several big organizations and has defeated opponents with a combined 40-9 record in the last five fights. A serviceable striker, Hadley’s area of expertise is his wrestling and BJJ. Smooth on the ground, with beautiful transitions, Hadley can be a headache to deal with on the mat. Especially if an opponent isn’t careful about defending his back. The result of which has seen Hadley win four times via rear-naked choke. No slouch on the mat though either is Nascimento, who has won thirteen of his eighteen victories via submission. However, as we saw in Nascimento’s debut, he has porous takedown defense and he can be controlled on the ground. Given Hadley’s skillset, he shouldn’t have many difficulties following the blueprint Ulanbekov laid out. The only concern is avoiding being submitted. Which to this point, hasn’t been something Hadley has as a professional and amateur. So with all that said, I predict that Hadley will successfully win his UFC debut via decision.

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UFC Vegas 54 Prelims Card On ESPN2/ESPN+ (7:30 p.m. ET):

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125 lbs.: Viviane Araujo vs. Andrea Lee – We have a pair of top ten ranked fighters clashing in the Flyweight division, as Viviane “Vivi” Araujo takes on Andrea “KGB” Lee. Returning to the octagon for the first time in 2022, Araujo will look to rebound from here recent defeat to Kaitlyn Chookagian. A fight that could of very well catapulted Araujo into a title shot. Meanwhile, Lee comes into this fight on a two-fight win streak. A much needed win-streak, as Lee had previously lost three straight and potentially could of been out of the UFC entirely should of it continued. However, with back-to-back wins, both coming via finish, Lee finds herself closing in on the division’s top five.

As for a prediction, I have Lee winning. While Araujo is a talented and well rounded fighter, she has struggled against high-output strikers. Odd, considering she herself is a high-output striker that averages 5.14 significant strikes per minute. Throw in the 2.10 takedowns per fifteen minutes and 94% takedown defense, and it’s baffling how Araujo struggled with Jessica Eye and Katlyn Chookagian. Lee fitting the mold, offers more output, accuracy, wrestling and striking defense than those two. Obviously every fight is different, but sometimes styles make fights. In my opinion, this is one of those fights. So with that said, I predict Lee to outpoint Araujo in a decision victory.

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155 lbs.: Michael Johnson vs. Alan Patrick – The Lightweight division see’s a pair of veterans clash, as Michael “The Menace” Johnson takes on Alan “Nuguette” Patrick. Looking to put a halt to a four-fight skid, Johnson enters the octagon with a sense of urgency. Having been out of action for over a year, Johnson should be recharged and ready to rumble. Meanwhile, Patrick returns to the octagon for the first time in 2022. Having failed to win a fight since 2018, Patrick enters with his UFC tenure likely on the line.

As for a prediction, I have Patrick winning. While this fight is every bit of a crapshoot, I just can’t side with Johnson anymore. Dating back to August of 2015, Johnson has won only won three of twelve fights. Albeit the competition was stiff, there were plenty of fights that Johnson had won until he didn’t. A story that has be re-written over and over. And while Patrick isn’t particularly great, especially given his questionable durability, he’s stylistically a fighter that has given Johnson issues. A grappler, Patrick’s game plan mainly centers around taking opponents down at will. Averaging 3.25 takedowns per fifteen minutes, Patrick does a pretty job following suit. When looking deeper into this fight, Patrick is 5-1 when landing one or more takedowns. Whereas Johnson is 2-7 when being taken one or more times. So with that said, I predict that Patrick wins via decision.

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115 lbs.: Angela Hill vs. Virna Jandiroba – We have a pair of ranked fighters clash in the Women’s Strawweight division, as Virna “Carcara” Jandiroba takes on Angela “Overkill” Hill. Coming off a tough loss to Amanda Ribas, Jandiroba will look to bounce back in short order. Having had difficulties defeating ranked foes, Jandiroba is given another opportunity here to change that narrative. Meanwhile, Hill comes into this fight a loser of two straight and four of the last five. Fighting top notch opponents, Hill has been in competitive fights. Unfortunately for Overkill, the judges have not been kind – as three of the last four defeats have come via split decision.

As for a prediction, I have Hill winning. In what seems likely to be a close fight, it’s tough to side with Hill. Especially considering she is 8-9 in decisions, with four of those coming via split decision. However, Hill is the more complete fighter of the two. She has vastly improved her takedown defense and ability to pop up throughout the years. She is an excellent striker, who’s high output, cardio and durability allow her to never stop coming forward. She also had added some wrestling into her game, landing one or more takedowns in five of her last seven fights. The only concern I have for Hill against Jandiroba, is if she can avoid being pushed up against the cage and controlled. Jandiroba being a grappler, will look to grind on Hill and attempt to get the fight to mat. An area in which the Brazilian thrives in. If this fight happened a few years ago, I’d a probably sided with Jandiroba. However, Hill vast improvements on keeping the fight standing has me leaning towards her to edge this one out via decision.

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125 lbs.: Carlos Candelario vs. Tatsuro Taira – We have an intriguing fight in the Flyweight division, as newcomers Tatsuro Taira and Carlos “The Cannon” Candelario clash. Having fought solely in Japan, Taira will come to the US looking to prove that he is the best Flyweight on the planet. A perfect 10-0, Taira has impressively defeated four opponents with over ten victories. Meanwhile, Candelario comes into his UFC debut having most recently suffered his first professional defeat via split decision on Dana White’s Contender Series. Despite the loss however, Candelario earned a contract and finally will get a chance to fight under the brightest lights.

As for a prediction, I have Taira winning. From the tape I’ve seen on the Shooto Flyweight Champion, he’s very well rounded. Light on the feet, Taira likes to chop down foes with leg kicks and barrage them with quick strikes. Where his game is at it’s best though, is on the mat. With solid takedowns, devastating ground-and-pound and excellent submissions, Taira is not someone you want to be grappling with. If given even the slightest opening, he will be on you back with a locked in Rear Naked Choke. While Candelario looks UFC ready and could give Taira some fits, ultimately his lack of takedown defense and suspect cardio are going to be factors in this fight. So with that said, I predict Taira will win via submission.

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185 lbs.: Nick Maximov vs. Andre Petroski – The curtain jerker comes in the Middleweight division, as Nick Maximov takes on Andre Petroski. Undefeated, with two UFC wins under his belt, Maximov returns to the octagon looking to continue his climb. In Maximov’s most recent fight, he showed off his excellent wrestling, scoring eleven takedowns on Punahele Soriano. Meanwhile, the Ultimate Fighter 28 contestant Petroski has rattled off two-straight wins inside the octagon. Finishing both foes, Petroski has proven that he doesn’t need the judges to decide his fate.

As for a prediction, I have Maximov winning. Since fighting on Dana White’s Contender Series, Maximov has improved each fight out. While his striking is still developing, his wrestling abilities have yet to fail him. Landing fifteen takedowns and eighteen minutes of control time in two fights, Maximov isn’t shy about what his game plan is. The same could be said about Petroski, who too is a wrestler. In his two UFC fights, he has landed eight takedowns and a little over seventeen minutes of control time. With some power on the feet, Petroski can threaten if the fight stays standing. The one concern, which is ultimately why I’m not siding with Petroski, is his cardio. Often slowing down as the fight wanes, Petroski can be taken advantage by the right opponent. In my opinion, Maximov is that guy. Averaging 15.5 takedown attempts in two fights, expect this to be grueling and tiresome fight. One in which Maximov wins via late submission.

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