UFC Vegas 66 staff picks and predictions: Cannonier to rebound with a win?

The UFC’s 2022 season is coming to a close with a... well, not a bang. The last show of the year is not a…

By: Tim Bissell | 10 months ago
UFC Vegas 66 staff picks and predictions: Cannonier to rebound with a win?
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

The UFC’s 2022 season is coming to a close with a… well, not a bang. The last show of the year is not a big tentpole event. Instead it’s one for the MMA sickos with a few known characters, but largely filled with fighters looking to make statements and put themselves on the radars of MMA casuals everywhere.

The UFC Vegas 66 main event has two guys who have made some waves in the middleweight division, not just for their performances in the cage. Jared Cannonier is coming off a lopsided loss to Israel Adesanya for the title. Sean Strickland is coming off a thunderous TKO loss to Alex Pereira. Both need a win to show they are still relevant in the divison, but only one can have it. So, who will it be? Here at BE, our staff is mostly siding with Cannonier to rebound from his last defeat.

The co-main event for this one is Arman Tsarukyan vs. Damir Ismagulov in the lightweight division. Opinion on this one is more split, with the staff slightly siding with past main eventer Tsarukyan.

You can check out all our picks below and please remember to share yours in the comment section!

Jared Cannonier vs. Sean Strickland

Anton Tabuena: Strickland will stick with his normal approach, walk him down and try to wear him out, but he will probably eat a lot of big shots, especially leg kicks here. If Cannonier should be the more potent striker that lands the best shots early, but to me the question is if he can handle Strickland’s pace if the fight reaches the latter rounds. I’m not sure, but I’m going with Cannonier. Jared Cannonier by TKO.

Tim Bissell: The nice thing about a match up like this is at least one of these guys is going to lose. I’m picking Strickland to win this one because I think it will go to the scorecards and I don’t trust Cannonier’s ability to do enough over five rounds (or three) to impressive the judges. In judges’ decisions Cannonier is 1-4 in the UFC, having lost on scores to Israel Adesanya, Rob Whittaker, Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira. The only decision he’s won was against Ion Cutelaba back in 2016. The reason for this, I feel, is that Cannonier is great in bursts but those bursts are too often followed by lapses and lulls (perhaps because of the energy spend in those bursts). So if one of his high intensity attacks doesn’t finish the fight, he has to struggle to keep up. Strickland is very hard to put away. He’s only been finished twice in his career, once by a spinning back kick delivered by Eliseu Zaleski dos Santos. The other loss was thanks to one of the hardest punchers in combat sports: Alex Pereira. I don’t think Cannonier will be the third man to stop Strickland, so I’m expecting a long fight where Strickland does more, both on the feet and in the grappling exchanges, much to the delight of the judges. Sean Strickland by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: It’s not just Alex Pereira. I have a lot of questions as to just how Sean Strickland’s style translates against a number of top ranked opponents in the middleweight division. His straight-up, active hand, high-volume pressure style is made to win rounds against opponents who don’t have the consistency of form and power to hurt him. But a lot of elite talent at 185 does have that. Cannonier isn’t the slickest technician or deepest striker, but he is awfully consistent in throwing big power shots round after round. Can Strickland push forward aggressively and stay safe enough to see the final bell? I’ll bet he can’t. Jared Cannonier via KO, round 3.

Tim Burke: Might as well wait till the last show of the year to finally start making picks. I think I can still win this thing! And speaking of this fight, I still don’t really get what makes Cannonier so great. He certainly does hit with the power or accuracy that Alex Pereira does, and he’s not going to out-grapple Strickland here. I may be repeated what some have said above, but I see Strickland taking a semi-wide decision here. Sean Strickland by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Cannonier: Chris, Kristen, Anton, Lewis, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Strickland: Bissell, Dayne, Tim

Arman Tsarukyan vs. Damir Ismagulov

Tim Bissell: Tsarukyan wins when it comes to fun factor here. But I think Ismagulov will be too crisp and clinical for him. If Tsarukyan doesn’t find joy when striking, he will be tempted to shoot for takedowns, but Ismagulov’s 90% takedown defense rating will make that difficult. I think this one will go the distance with Ismagulov stifling Tsarukyan for a close decision. Damir Ismagulov by decision.

Zane Simon: We’ve seen it a couple times now. Give Arman Tsarukyan an opponent that can wrestle with him, and he’ll get stuck in a pretty unconvincing kickboxing bout. He’s got a lot of grit and willingness to throw, and some decent kicks to his name. But the longer he has to stand, the more his striking feels awkward and forced. That’s never been a problem for Damir Ismagulov, who makes up for any potential lack in speed and power with a fantastic consistency of technical form everywhere. His jab, especially is a thing of beauty, and he fights behind it remarkably well. If Tsarukyan can hulk him to the mat and keep him there, then he’s got the guts and grit to win, but I’ll take Ismagulov to win by decision.

Tim Burke: As a guy who does play-by-play for a living, Ismagulov is slightly easier to spell than Tsarukyan. I always lean towards the least work for me. Damir Ismagulov via decision.

Staff picking Tsarukyan: Kristen, Dayne, Anton, Lewis, Stephie
Staff picking Ismagulov: Bissell, Chris, Zane, Tim

Amir Albazi vs. Alessandro Costa

Tim Bissell: This event was supposed to be the litmus test for Albazi as a potential flyweight contender. Prior to getting Costa on short notice he was matched up against Brandon Royval and then Alex Perez. In Costa he meets a guy who’s lone Octagon appearance is a Contender series split decision that wasn’t good enough to earn him an immediate contract. Albazi has already shown he has what it takes to beat actual UFC competition, so he has to be the pick here. I think he’ll overwhelm Costa on the feet before snatching up his neck or an arm. Amir Albazi by submission.

Zane Simon: Costa’s not bad, but I don’t think he’s at all ready for this kind of pressure, pace and wrestling. Albazi’s good and he’s going to get a great opportunity to push his A-game in this one. Amir Albazi via TKO, round 2.

Tim Burke: Why is this this the flyweight bout on the main card over Kape/Dvorak? Dumb. I understand wanting to showcase Albazi but and he’s good, but I don’t think this will be that entertaining. Amir Albazi by decision.

Staff picking Albazi: Bissell, Chris, Kristen, Dayne, Anton, Lewis, Zane, Stephie, Tim
Staff picking Costa:

Alex Caceres vs. Julian Erosa

Anton Tabuena: Did you know that Caceres has already been with the UFC for 12 years? He’ll never be among the elite, but it’s really impressive how he’s made a nice and long career being a gatekeeper of sorts. He’s an underrated and crafty vet that I’d pick over most of the newer prospects he’s been facing, but this should be a lot tougher against someone like Erosa, who also has a lot of experience and can more than match his ground game. Julian Erosa by decision.

Tim Bissell: I’m picking Juicy J here because I think he has more tools to finish the fight than Bruce Leeroy. Of his 14 UFC wins Caceres has only had 5 stoppages (1 KO and 4 submissions). He’s also been finished six times in his UFC career (which amounts to more than half of his UFC losses). I also feel like now is a terrible time for anyone to face Erosa, who seems to have figured out his strengths in the cage, shown by his 5-1 record since rejoining the UFC in 2020. Last time out he looked fantastic in disarming and hurting Hakeem Dawodu and I think the same gameplan he employed there will pay dividends this weekend. Julian Erosa by submission.

Zane Simon: Alex Cacere’s principal issue has always been that he’ll allow opponents to have whatever bout best suits them. I think, for the most part, he’s just happy to focus on having big moments in fights and trying out fun, creative techniques. If that happens to be standing or in the clinch or on the ground, it doesn’t really matter, he’ll compete there. That’s a very dangerous way to fight Julian Erosa, who’s always at his most vulnerable when opponents can strand him at range early and force him to leap into the pocket unguarded to meet big counters. Let Erosa have his fight, his way, and his a momentum-building pressure fighter who will find ways to hurt you every step along the way. Julian Erosa by decision.

Tim Burke: Back when Cacares wasn’t the somewhat well-rounded fighter he is now, he lost a lot via submission. And his solution was to keep dropping weight classes. When he finally got to bantamweight, at the first UFC show on big Fox against Cole Escovedo in 2011, I gave one of my best predictions of all time on this very site.

“Alex Caceres sucks. He could drop to amoebaweight and he’d get submitted by a virus.”

Yeah, I wasn’t the wordsmith I am today. But he won that night, and impressed me, and made me a fan. Alex Caceres via TKO, round 1

Staff picking Caceres: Chris, Tim
Staff picking Erosa: Bissell, Kristen, Dayne, Lewis, Zane, Stephie

Drew Dober vs. Bobby Green

Zane Simon: Single exchanges and moments feel like they should reward Green an awful lot. He’s the slicker striker and a great reactive counter fighter. Dober is going to bull forward with power constantly, Green should be able to pick him off a lot. But, Green’s style of defensively-minded offense doesn’t always jive with judges, and it also requires him to make the exact right read a lot. Opponents who can stay in the bout and keep pace with Green tend to land plenty of their own strikes, and get a lot of rounds scored for them. Dober may be less refined and he may be more hittable, but he’s incredibly tough and lands big. Drew Dober by decision.

Tim Bissell: I’m not sure what Bobby Green has left in the tank. Against Drew Dober, I can’t seem him either staying with Dober for pace or doing enough to force his opponent to slow down. So I think Dober will do enough for a decision or force Green to fade and score a late TKO. Drew Dober by decision.

Tim Burke: Dober does a lot. Green doesn’t. Judges like guys that do a lot. Sometimes it’s that simple. Drew Dober via decision.

Staff picking Dober: Bissell, Dayne, Lewis, Stephie, Zane, Tim, Kristen
Staff picking Green: Chris, Anton

Cody Brundage vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk

Zane Simon: I like a lot of the ways Brundage has been using his skills in the Octagon. It seems like he’s got a good head for opportunities when they strike and like he gets better and better ideas as fights go on. But he’s very willing to cede pressure and pace and Oleksiejczuk looks like a bulldozer at middleweight. Michal Oleksiejczuk via KO, round 1.

Tim Burke: See above about the whole PBP/having to spell names thing. Cody Brundage via TKO, round 1

Staff picking Brundage: Chris, Tim
Staff picking Oleksiejczuk: Bissell, Kristen, Dayne, Anton, Stephie

Cheyanne Vlismas vs. Cory McKenna

Zane Simon: If McKenna can push the kind of takedown and grappling-heavy game she’s capable of, she’s got a path to victory here. But, she really loves to box and she doesn’t have a great command of range at all. Vlismas, on the other hand, seems to have superb range and timing, and some decent pop in her punches to go with it. If she keeps to her distance and keeps McKenna scrapping, she should come out ahead. Cheyanne Vlismas via decision.

Staff picking Vlismas: Bissell, Kristen, Dayne, Anton, Stephie, Zane, Tim
Staff picking McKenna: Chris

Jake Matthews vs. Matt Semelsberger

Anton Tabuena: Matthews has more upside, but I’m guessing he’ll end up with a similar Caceres type of long career. I don’t think he’ll ever reach the heights some people projected early on, but he’s found his niche and I think he’ll be good enough to beat guys on this level. Jake Matthews by Decision.

Zane Simon: A big step down for Jake Matthews and another step up for Semelsberger that I’m not sure he’s prepared for. I like the game Semelsberger is working on. He knows how to strike in volume, he can land with power, he’s got a good chin. But he still has to convince himself that he can compete with other big punchers, especially when he can’t seem to obviously deter them with his own strikes. Matthews may still be a one-punch/kick at a time kind of guy, but he’s choosing his moments with better form and timing than ever. By the time Semelsberger grits his teeth and really tries to make this fight his, it may be too late. Jake Matthews by decision.

Staff picking Matthews: Bissell, Chris, Kristen, Dayne, Anton, Stephie, Zane, Tim
Staff picking Semelsberger:

Said Nurmagomedov vs. Saidyokub Kakhramonov

Zane Simon: This fight feels like a terrible trap for Nurmagomedov, and I’m not at all sure why he took it. Kakhramonov is a relatively unknown newcomer and Nurmagomedov has already had a couple signature wins. Beating this guy won’t do much for his stature in the division, but losing would hurt a hell of a lot. Add in Kakhramonov’s high cardio, high pace wrestling style, and there’s every chance Nurmagomedov gets out hustled to a decision loss. I’m gonna stick with him, though. Kakhramonov’s dedication to takedowns make his entries somewhat predictable and often wild. There’ll be a lot of chances for Nurmagomedov to catch him coming in. And if it stays at range, his kicking game could be a huge issue. Said Nurmagomedov by decision.

Staff picking Nurmagomedov: Chris, Anton, Zane, Tim
Staff picking Kakhramnonov: Bissell, Kristen, Dayne, Stephie

Maheshate vs. Rafa Garcia

Zane Simon: There’s no really good reason to pick Maheshate here. He’s a slick, trigger-counter puncher with solid size, speed, and power, but that’s not a fight Garcia tends to lose. Garcia may not be the best at anything as a lightweight, but if opponents can’t keep him from wrestling, he puts together a really nice all-round MMA style that does well to get him rounds. And he’s never been KO’d. That said, I just have a gut feeling that Maheshate pulls it out. If nothing else, I’m sure he’ll get to land a couple huge shots early that will have Garcia hurt. What he can make of it from there is anyone’s guess. Maheshate via KO, round 1.

Tim Burke: Miesha Tate via decision.

Staff picking Maheshate: Bissell, Kristen, Dayne, Stephie, Zane, Tim
Staff picking Garcia: Chris, Anton

Bryan Battle vs. Rinat Fakhretdinov

Zane Simon: I’m still not that sold on Brian Battle’s skill set. He’s got a very regional ‘I can tough my way through anything’ kind of vibe, and has benefited a lot from pretty soft UFC matchmaking so far. Fakhretdinov isn’t any kind of consistent striking threat, but his wrestling game is exactly the kind of thing that’s hard to just gut through and come out ahead. Battle’s takedown defense hasn’t been any great shakes so far either. Rinat Fakhretdinov via decision.

Staff picking Battle: Bissell, Kristen, Dayne, Stephie, Tim
Staff picking Fakhretdinov: Chris, Anton, Zane

David Dvorak vs. Manel Kape

Zane Simon: Think Kape is just too fast and too powerful for Dvorak to play a busy, bullying striking/grappling game against. Especially since Kape is more likely to pressure and keep Dvorak away from the parts of his style where he feels most comfortable. Manel Kape via TKO, round 2.

Staff picking Dvorak: Bissell, Chris, Tim
Staff picking Kape: Kristen, Dayne, Anton, Stephie, Zane

Sergey Morozov vs. Journey Newson

Zane Simon: Too many questions about Newson’s durability still linger. Morozov isn’t elite, but he doesn’t have a lot of gaps in his game where Newson can stay safe. Sergey Morozov via KO, round 1.

Staff picking Morozov: Bissell, Kristen, Dayne, Anton, Stephie, Zane
Staff picking Newson: Chris, Tim

After a bad week of picks for UFC Orlando, the staff responded with some excellent prognosticating ahead of UFC 282. Anton and Zane went 11-1 with their picks (the draw between Blachowicz and Ankalaev marring their attempt at a perfect record). Kristen was close behind with a 10-2 record. Those records launches Zane and Kristen into the first and second spot in the leader board. Myself, Steph and Victor went 9-3. Chris, who determines his picks with a coin flip, hilariously went 6-6 on the night.

Leader board (as of Sept 3):

1. Zane – 96-49 (.662)

2. Kristen – 92-42 (.687)

3. Dayne – 92-50 (.621)

4. Bissell – 90-55 (.635)

5. Stephie – 89-56 (.631)

6. Anton – 51-23 (.689)

7. Victor – 36-17 (.679)

8. Lewis – 12-8 (.600)

9. Chris – 17-20 (.460)

Leader board position is based on number of correct picks. Correct pick percentage acts as a tiebreaker.


Who wins?

This poll is closed

  • 37%

    Sean Strickland

    (47 votes)

  • 62%

    Jared Cannonier

    (78 votes)

125 votes total

Vote Now

UFC Vegas 66 Fight Night: ‘Cannonier vs. Strickland’ | LAST UFC EVENT OF 2022

WATCH LIVE ON ESPN+ — UFC Vegas 66 Fight Night: Cannonier vs. Strickland * Tsarukyan vs. Ismagulov!

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About the author
Tim Bissell
Tim Bissell

Tim Bissell is a writer, editor and deputy site manager for Bloody Elbow. He has covered combat sports since 2015. Tim covers news and events and has also written longform and investigative pieces. Among Tim's specialties are the intersections between crime and combat sports. Tim has also covered head trauma, concussions and CTE in great detail.

Tim is also BE's lead (only) sumo reporter. He blogs about that sport here and on his own substack, Sumo Stomp!

Email me at tim@bloodyelbow.com. Nice messages will get a response.

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