On the heels of potentially the biggest PPV of the year, UFC Vegas 25 has been dwarfed by the immense success of UFC 261. It’s a shame as the main card appears to be one of the better UFC on ESPN cards thus far. It’s possible the winner of the main event between Dominick Reyes and Jiri Prochazka could be fighting for the light heavyweight title in their next contest. The co-main between Cub Swanson and Giga Chikadze looks like it could potentially be FOTY, if it’s possible to predict a FOTY. And while the three other main card fights aren’t as high profile, they are well-matched and appropriately placed on the main card, including an appearance by hardcore fan favorite, Merab Dvalishvili.
Dominick Reyes vs. Jiri Prochazka, Light Heavyweight
Given he only has one UFC fight under his belt, there are a lot of fans who are unaware of how good Prochazka really is. Sure, there are a lot of UFC washouts on his recent ledger – not exactly the most impressive thing – but it’s the way he’s been winning that fans should pay attention to. How many decisions has Prochazka won out of his 27 career victories? Exactly one. The Czech native is a violent finishing machine.
At 6’4” with an 80” reach, Prochazka is arguably the lankiest elite light heavyweight in the organization now that Jon Jones has taken his talents to heavyweight. Though not as skilled as Jones in using his length, it could be argued no one is and Prochazka is pretty damned effective at utilizing his reach in a creative manner. Regularly switching stance and utilizing stop and start movement in hopes of throwing off his opponents, his movements are designed to confuse and/or lull them into a false sense of security. It works pretty damned well too. Granted, Prochazka has been hurt on several occasions himself, but his chin has held up well enough to allow him to recover before he finds a way to end the contest himself.
What does appear to be a hole in Prochazka’s game is his wrestling as it hasn’t been unusual for him to get dragged to the mat and be pounded away upon for lengthy periods of time. Granted, Prochazka tends to find a way back to his feet eventually. However, the real question is whether Reyes might be able to apply that strategy. Based on what we’ve seen thus far, it doesn’t appear to be likely as Reyes has only secured one takedown in his UFC run thus far, that against Jeremy Kimball, hardly a comparable athlete to Prochazka. Reyes may or may not have a grappling advantage – neither are known for their ground games – but it doesn’t appear likely that we’ll find out.
Just because Reyes isn’t much of a wrestler doesn’t mean he doesn’t stand a chance. The former collegiate football player has proven to be durable thus far – being finished by Jan Blachowicz for the title notwithstanding – and is the more consistent striker between him and Prochazka. Though not quite as rangy as Prochazka, Reyes proved he can find ways to score his offense against a longer opponent, outlanding Jon Jones in their contentious decision. A plethora of low kicks and a steady stream of jabs to the face and body help to set up his power hooks from both hands. It isn’t nearly as flashy as Prochazka’s flying knees, spinning attacks, and looping punches, but it could prove to be the difference should the fight go the distance.
There’s a reasonable case to be made for both, but for me, it comes down to whether one believes Reyes can go all five rounds with Prochazka without being finished. That’s no small feat, but it doesn’t seem like an impossibility by any means. If the fight makes it to the championship rounds, it feels safe to say Reyes takes it as Prochazka hasn’t gone 25 minutes whereas Reyes has. Regardless, I favor Prochazka’s underrated ability to make reads to result in a finish before it gets that far. Prochazka via TKO of RD2
Cub Swanson vs. Giga Chikadze, Featherweight
Chikadze’s ascension up the featherweight ranks should be noted by young fighters. Rather than be in a hurry to climb the ladder, Chikadze was taking whatever fight he could get, all the while working out the kinks in his game. Now, after five appearances in the UFC, Chikadze was able to remain unbeaten while steady improvement can easily be seen from the time he entered the organization up to his most recent appearance.
Entering the organization with extensive kickboxing experience, nobody questioned his striking chops of Chikadze. What was questionable was his ability to remain standing, especially given how much he enjoyed throwing kicks. As Chikadze gained more experience, he began to throw his kicks with more confidence and better timing, culminating in a head kick KO of Jamey Simmons. Also, after some early struggles with remaining vertical, Chikadze has been able to stuff every takedown in his last three contests. Granted, none of those three opponents takedown artists who regularly compete at 145, but the flexibility in his hips and improved wrestling technique has been on display.
Chikadze’s style is tailor-made for another classic Swanson slugfest. The longtime veteran came back from a torn ACL in his most recent appearance and the time off appeared to do him some good. He looked like he enjoyed being in the cage again, displaying enthusiasm and excellent timing. Swanson has always been known for his boxing prowess, to the point where some would say he relied a little too much on it, forgetting to use his kicks or wrestling. Nonetheless, Swanson does have sharp hands and few work the body over the way Swanson does on a consistent basis.
Unfortunately for Swanson, his age also needs to be taken into account as he’s now 37. That would be youthful at heavyweight, but it’s approaching ancient at featherweight. Plus, he’s been fighting at a high level for a very long time, his brawling nature leading to his taking a lot of damage over the course of his career. Then again, Swanson tends to rise to the occasion when up-and-comers are looking to make their name off him, Doo Ho Choi coming to mind.
Given the questions that remain about Chikadze’s ground game, it would be wise for Swanson to at least threaten takedowns. To Chikadze’s credit, he has shown solid defensive grappling chops, but hasn’t made any real threat of his own on the mat. Even with that said, Swanson tends to get sucked into brawls, thus why I said this is tailor-made for a classic Swanson bout. Given how much at ease he appeared to be against Daniel Pineda, I’ll bet Swanson has at least one more in him. Swanson via decision
Sean Strickland vs. Krzysztof Jotko, Middleweight
After a two-year absence due to a knee injury suffered in a motorcycle accident, Strickland stormed back with two victories within two weeks of his return. Not only did he get two quick wins, he also did so in style, one featuring him trash talking Jack Marshman audibly in an entertaining fashion and the other a violent KO of Brendan Allen. It looks like the former welterweight is in the best form of his career.
There isn’t anything special about Strickland’s approach. It’s mostly composed of simple boxing combinations and jabs. What is impressive about it is Strickland proved he can successfully counter with power while moving backwards. That isn’t to say that he doesn’t ever move forward, but Allen and Marshman are both pressure fighters and ended up eating all sorts of shots from Strickland. His ability to stick and move is his most underrated ability.
In Jotko’s case, sticking and moving is clearly his best attribute. Despite not having anything more than average athletic ability for the division, his continued ability to pivot and move out of danger have allowed him to reel off three wins in a row after it looked like his career might be headed south. Beyond being a southpaw, his unorthodox movement tends to throw off his opposition. Though he isn’t particularly powerful, Jotko can surprise and is far more effective in the clinch than you’d expect given his less-than-imposing frame. He’s excellent proof of what savvy and smarts can do for a limited athlete.
Unfortunately for Jotko, the limited part always comes to roost sooner rather than later. Not that Strickland is an impossible obstacle to overcome. Strickland has had issues with inactivity in the past, but initial returns indicate it was likely due to him cutting a lot of weight to make 170. Now cutting to just 185, he’s grown into his frame more as he’s matured and still represents a physical presence despite being up a weight class from before the motorcycle accident. Part of Jotko’s success is due to his ability to threaten with takedowns and in the clinch. Given Strickland’s apparent edge in strength, it’s hard to see him dropping this without a major mental glitch playing a role. Strickland via decision
Merab Dvalishvili vs. Cody Stamann, Bantamweight
There’s a reason Dvalishvili has struggled to get a fight booked recently. Even if his opponent is able to defeat him, Dvalishvili tends to muck up a fight so much that their stock takes a hit, even in victory. It isn’t that a win over Dvalishvili wouldn’t mean anything; those who pay attention know that it means a lot. It’s that it’s so hard to do so in a manner that makes people sit up and say wow. Aesthetics mean more than many fight fans would like to admit.
That said, the biggest strength of Dvalishvili isn’t his wrestling. That may come as a surprise for me to say to many given Dvalishvili is considered to be one of the best wrestlers in the division, perhaps even the sport. That reputation is rightfully deserved, but it’s his gas tank that makes him such a scary opponent. It’s one thing to take an opponent down at will for the first five minutes of a contest. It’s an entirely different thing to be riding their ass for the entirety of a 15-minute fight. Dvalishvili’s attack is as relentless in the final round as it is in the opening, helping him to overcome the difference in athleticism he faces as he continues to climb the bantamweight ladder.
Fortunately for Stamann, he possesses some of those same strengths. Built like a brickhouse, Stamann is on the stiff side, but he’s also in possession of an incredibly powerful base that’s difficult to move. Not that it’s impossible to move him, but Stamann’s first level of takedown defense is his fast hands as he puts together tight boxing combinations that make opponents think twice about stepping into the pocket. However, given Stamann’s short reach, many have figured out they don’t need to step into his range. Plus, Stamann isn’t the most explosive puncher. He can string combinations together and mixes his punches to the body, but they rarely result in a finish. Provided he can keep the fight standing, Stamann is by far the more consistent striker.
This is a very difficult contest to pick. Dvalishvili will certainly enter into Stamann’s range and could struggle with Stamann’s ability to stick and move. However, Stamann has struggled to let his hands fly at times and nobody outworks Dvalishvili. Initially I was going to go with Stamann given his tight striking and Dvalishvili’s wildness on the feet, but I don’t trust he’ll do enough damage to overshadow Dvalishvili’s consistent attack. Regardless, it will be a close contest. Dvalishvili via decision
- It’s hard not to be rooting for Dustin Jacoby. After an eight-year absence from the UFC, he comes back and picks up his first two UFC wins in the process. He clearly improved his striking technique during his time away, utilizing a heavy dose of jabs and low kicks with the occasional power shot mixed in there for good measure. However, one thing that hasn’t been tested yet has been his wrestling and grappling, the biggest factors that saw him wash out of the UFC in his first stint. Unless Ion Cutelaba bull rushes him with a barrage of punches out of the opening gate for a quick finish – a proposition that’s easy to see happening – we’re about to find out if those areas have been shored up. Those he’s generally a mad man inside the cage, Cutelaba’s wrestling has been an underrated tool of his. The Moldovan tends to time his shots well and tends to finish takedowns on the second and third efforts if he can’t get it on the first. Plus, his GnP is absolutely brutal. Where Cutelaba gets into trouble is his tendency to burn through his energy reserves in a hurry, leaving him in survival mode should the fight hit the third round. Jacoby isn’t easy to put away, but it can be done. It’s a tough call, but I still don’t trust Jacoby’s wrestling to keep him upright against a bull like Cutelaba. Cutelaba via TKO of RD1
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